By Reza Ladjevardian, Houston, Texas
Although President Barack Obama's hopes are certainly with the Iranian people who are risking their lives to gain freedom, his public statements, thus far, offer them little hope. His deliberate attempt to appear impartial is part of his administration's strategy to balance promoting freedom in Iran with the realistic need to engage Ahmadinejad's administration over Iran's nuclear development. Precariously, this calibrated approach is based on a flawed reading of Iranian history and political dynamics. Unless President Obama changes course soon, he will most probably find himself on the wrong side of history just like America's 1953 sponsored coup. This time it will be a sin of omission not commission.
President Obama has mentioned our "meddling" could be counterproductive. However, just because President Obama is not speaking up for the reformists it doesn't mean that the hardliners believe he is impartial - just as they now have started accusing America of "meddling" despite President Obama's specific intentions to prevent such accusations. No matter what President George W. Bush said then or President Obama doesn't say now, the hardliners will try to paint the reformists as American stooges. It's to their benefit and it's what they do.
Another factor for the tepid response has been the lasting and bitter legacy of America's 1953 sponsored coup in Iran. This coup wasn't done for the benefit of the Iranian people but for British oil interests and geopolitical cold war fears. Presently, if President Obama were to stand up for a revote in Iran, it would be for the benefit of the Iranian people as well as America's strategic interests. By all accounts, a significant percentage of the Iranian people want the free world not to recognize Ahmadinejad's administration.
When the regime's security forces and hooligans are cracking open the heads of nonviolent Iranian women and students who only want to have their semi-free vote counted and be treated with respect by their government, America's noninterference and engagement policy is taking sides - taking the side of intolerance. Impartiality is the kiss of death for the democratic activists stuck in a lopsided struggle. Therefore, interference in and of itself is not a bad thing. The question is with what means, in what context and for the benefit of whom. It is critical not to learn the wrong lessons from history and overshoot in the opposite direction.
Another reason cited for the cautious U.S. approach is the need to engage the regime over Iran's nuclear program. However, there is nothing to gain in a quid pro quo "grand bargain" with the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad camp.. Khamenei has taken notice of the different treatments of Iraq and North Korea. And now in light of the deep fissures within the Iranian government, post election demonstrations and the shocks to the regime's foundation, it seems almost impossible that the next Ahmadinejad administration will not pursue nuclear weapons at full speed to ensure the regime's survival. Any negotiations with the West over the nuclear issue will only serve to buy time.
Some in Washington believe because Ahmadinejad's legitimacy would be compromised due to the election he would be more palpable to negotiate with the West over the nuclear issue. It is utterly naive to expect the second term of Ahmadinejad would be a Nixon-go-to-China moment. To the contrary, the next four years would most likely consist of a regime increasingly paranoid of its own people and the world and ever more belligerent both at home and abroad. Think North Korea.
Moreover, Ayatollah Khamenei has repeated on numerous times that one reason he doesn't give in on the nuclear issue is that the Americans want regime change despite their rhetoric, and as such, if he gives in on the nuclear issue then he'll be pressed on his human rights track record or something else so he might as well stay firm on the nuclear issue. Despite Obama's softer tactics versus Bush, Khamenei will never buy that America is not after regime change. He considers it as part of America's strategic interests that transcend party politics. He has an extremely suspicious, paranoid world view, founded upon over two centuries of cynical interference in Iranian politics by foreign powers.
Sadly, the Obama administration's Iran policies in so many ways resemble the bipolar policies of the Bush administration - only more exaggerated. Carrot and stick policy didn't work then and offering more carrots and threatening more sticks won't work now.
The solution is not for the U.S. to hedge its bets due to a false need to engage the regime but to assist Moussavi, Karroubi and the reformists by not recognizing Ahmadinejad's administration until there is a free and fair revote under the supervision of international observers. President Obama should also lobby America's allies, in particular, England, France and Germany to follow suit by recalling their ambassadors. A united free world with tougher economic sanctions tied to Iran's election could potentially pressure the regime to accept a revote.
Consequently, it would be much more prudent for the Obama administration to apply tougher economic sanctions now for the benefit of the Iranian people than to wait six months or a year and apply the same sanctions over the nuclear issue and for the benefit of Israel. Linking tougher economic sanctions to Iran's nuclear program versus its revote (and even worse military strikes) would be as counterproductive as the 1953 coup.
Sanctioning companies that sell gasoline to Iran until a revote has been set is a great first step. We are at a tipping point. The regime is now more vulnerable than ever, magnifying the effectiveness of economic sanctions. America must seize the moment to help the Iranian people before the regime unleashes an onslaught that may make the Tiananmen Square crackdown look tame by comparison.
However, some in the U.S. administration and especially many in the Iranian-American Diaspora have reservations about the abilities and intentions of the reformists. Can they achieve their goals? Will they keep their promises? They argue that this is a feud between a corrupt, rich old guard (Rafsanjani & Co.) and a hungry, ambitious new guard (Revolutionary Guards led by Ahmadinejad & Co.) over money and power and that the reformists are part of the regime, loyal to the legacy of Ayatollah Khomeini, and want to preserve the system with most of its foreign policies intact but with a gentler face.
Although such doubts are valid (and I share them), they are irrelevant because it is Moussavi, Karroubi and the reformists that are bringing the crowds out into the streets - despite being backed by a corrupt, opportunistic Rafsanjani. The desire to be free and the dissatisfaction with the regime have been brewing in the Iranian people's hearts for a long time but such frustrations had never translated into crowds on the streets like today - not even close. And to have a democratic Iran that is what we need. Otherwise, anything else is just talk, venting or feel-good gestures.
For such massive street demonstrations that encompass such a wide spectrum of the Iranian society to take place there was a need for organization, coordination, and leadership on the ground in Iran. This is what Moussavi, Karroubi and the reformists provide. They may yet disappoint but who said life is without risk. Waiting forever for the "ideal leadership" is no longer an option. Trial and error is the only path forward.
Like the maxim that says "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," President Obama and the Iranian-American Diaspora need to help the reformists. Then holding the reformists accountable would be a bridge that we would have to cross when we get to it, most probably in the form of South Africa's the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Khatami, Moussavi, and Karroubi may not be Iran's Nelson Mandela but they probably are Iran's P.W. Botha & F..W. de Klerk.
In conclusion, since there are no benefits to engaging the next Ahmadinejad administration, President Obama should help the Iranian people and the reformists by not recognizing Ahmadinejad's administration, lobbying the major Western European countries to follow suit and uniting the free world behind a demand for a free and fair revote under the supervision of international observers.
... Payvand News - 06/19/09 ... --