Saturday, December 10, 2011

Random Thoughts On Iran

In a recent debate, Mitt Romney declared:
“If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,”
Groan. It is amazing to see so many Republicans embrace the same faulty logic adopted by the Democrats during the 2008 campaign.

Three years ago Democrats made the case that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons because George Bush was in the White House. The world disliked Bush so much - the Democrat argument went - that it was impossible to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions. All we needed to do - the Democrat argument continued - is put someone universally adored like Barack Obama in the White House and Iran would be stopped. Thus, creating a nexus between the resident of the White House and Iran's weapons program.

Now it seems that Romney is suggesting the same nexus. That the mere act of electing Mitt Romney will result in a non-nuclear Iran. Unfortunately, the world is a little more complicated than who sits in the Oval Office. As we learned during the last three years.

Let's be clear. Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons because they view it to be in their national interest. It has nothing to do with who is president of the United States.

There are only two ways that Iran will stop pursuing nuclear weapons: 1) regime change; or 2) the current regime concludes that it is no longer in its interest to continue the nuclear program. That's it. It doesn't matter whether the world loves or hates our president. It doesn't matter whether his name is Barack or Mitt or George.

The reality is that there are no good options when it comes to Iran. If there were, Bush would have pursed them. Some are suggesting that we go the sanctions route. Personally, I oppose sanctions on Iran. Not because I have a great love the mullahs. But because I feel we should learn from past experiences.

When was the last time sactions worked? They certainly didn't work with Castro. And they didn't work with Saddam. As a matter of fact, Saddam masterfully turned the sanctions on Iraq into a public relations disaster for the United States. The US was blamed for the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children by the world's press. After ten years of sanctions, it was the US that found itself isolated at the UN. Not Saddam.

The same players that sabotaged the sanctions on Iraq will do the same with sanctions on Iran. Count on it. At the end of the day, the United States will find itself again isolated as images of dying Iranian children flash across the television screens worldwide. Time to learn from history.

Besides another bad PR experience for the US, the sanctions in all likelihood will increase the sense of Iranian nationalism. Sanctions will have the opposite effect than intended. They will prop up a regime that may be collapsing under its own weight. It is an absolute shame that Obama did not support the protests in 2009. In this instance, I wholeheartedly agree with Romney's criticism of Obama.

If  not sanctions, then what? First, the Iranian threat needs to be reframed. Currently, Iran is seen as being primarily a threat to Israel. And let's face it, as long as it seen as a threat to Israel, the world will not care. Iran is a threat to the whole region and Europe. Israel is not the only country concerned about a nuclear Iran. The Saudis are concerned. All the countries in the region are concerned. The US should pressure Arab countries to publicly voice their concerns about the Iranian threat.

Second, the time has come to recognize the extensive damage that was done to American credibility by failing to find WMDs in Iraq. Having American officials issue dire warnings about a nuclear Iran is too reminiscent of the rhetoric that led to the Iraq War. And, thus, the warnings are being dismissed. I realize that the reports about the Iranian nuclear program are being issued by the IAEA and not the CIA. But the subtlety is lost on most people. Again, when dealing with Iran it would be more effective if other countries took the lead and for the US to step back.

Third, by all means continue the covert operations to disrupt the nuclear program. But do not announce it to the world. Covert operations should be.... covert.

Finally, for too long the assumption has been that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the root of the problems in the Middle East. Yet, for nearly a year now, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets throughout the Middle East demanding freedom. No demands have been made for a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. No demands have been made for the right to return for Palestinian refugees. No demands for a freeze on Israeli settlements.

Judging from the demands of the Arab street, what has ailed the Middle East are oppressive regimes. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a tool used by dictators in the region to distract people from their economic misery and oppression. Instead of pushing for another round of  peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the US should focus on promoting democracy either through putting pressure on regimes to reform or support efforts to overthrow them. I firmly believe that the Iranian nuclear threat will only end when the mullahs no longer rule.