Report by: Jacquie Heffner
Jose, CA - September 17, 2006
- Bay Area
Iranian-American Democrats (www.baiad.org)
hosted a public educational event with guest speaker Dr. Abbas Milani on Sunday,
September 17. Dr. Milani,
Co-Director of Iran Democracy Project, research fellow at the Hoover Institution
and Director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University, discussed
three paradigms on how the U.S. can help Iran transition to democracy. These
paradigms are closely tied to the direction the U.S. "Iran foreign policy" will take in the
next few years. According to Dr. Milani, the United States is at a pivotal point with respect
to its relations with Iran for two reasons.
First, the U.S. has recognized that it has had no foreign
policy on Iran since Nixon's strategic vision.
The ensuing policies by the U.S. have been, according to Dr.
Milani, "in constant reaction mode with no clear sense of direction."
The second reason, according to Dr.
Milani, is that the Iranian-American community in the U.S., for the first time since exile from
Iran, is trying to find a voice and
influence. Dr. Milani noted the
financial, academic, scientific and professional successes of the
Iranian-American community. The one caveat stated by Dr. Milani was the lack of
political power within the Iranian-American community. This lack of political
power could be attributed to "difficulties of settling life in a new
Having a democratic
Iran is, according to Dr.
Milani, the common point between the Iranian-American community and the
U.S. government. The differences are
in what that democracy might look like and how to bring it about in
Iran. Dr. Milani then gave an
overview of three theories being discussed by the U.S. government and within the Iranian-American
community about how to achieve democracy in Iran.
The first paradigm assumes that the
regime in Iran is too brutal and that Iranians
are disheartened and too brutalized to create a democracy on their own.
Therefore a foreign power -- in this case the United States -- should invade
Iran and bring a regime change. This
paradigm, according to Dr. Milani, suffers from a lack of moral justification
and contains numerous logistical and analytical problems. It would also be very
costly both monetarily and in terms of human life.
The second paradigm suggests that
the regime is too powerful and the only change in Iran must come
from within the regime. This idea has been around for a long time. Since the era
of President Bani Sadr, the exile communities have been talking about this
theory, with the hope being that the regime itself slowly becomes more and more
democratic, and when enough small changes occur, one big change is more easily
achieved. There are doubts if this model could ever be
Dr. Milani presented a third
paradigm based on the premise that "during the past 100 years the Iranian people
have been wanting democracy" and that they deserve to have it. People don't need military or financial
help from a foreign country and will find their own way to democracy.
The current debate in D.C., within
the Bush administration, the State Department, think tanks, foreign policy
experts and Congress, is over the direction the U.S. policy should take with Iran. The
U.S. military has also
weighed in on the debate, and Dr. Milani interjected that the
U.S. military, being bogged
down in Iraq, has voiced its opposition to
further military actions in the region. Dr. Milani asserted that "the Kosovo
model of military air attack on Iran as being advocated by the
extremist exile groups" is a very bad idea. "As we saw in Lebanon last month, the results were devastating
for both Lebanon and
Of the three paradigms, Dr. Milani
offered that the third is most likely to be effective, as the first two are
wrong in analysis and conclusions. The third paradigm offers Iranians a way to
"import" their own democracy by creating change within Iran. Trying to
"export" democracy from outside the country is a flawed approach and it is
likely to fail. "History has proven that democracy is achieved through internal
rather than external influences."
During his 45-minute presentation,
Dr. Milani discussed in-depth many issues surrounding these paradigms and also
offered insights as to his support of the third paradigm. While Dr. Milani
cannot read the future, his view is that the U.S. will embark on a policy road with
Iran that will follow the third
paradigm. He also noted that any change in Iran will take
time, but that there are clear signs that Iranians are ready to start on the
path to democracy.