DON'T MEDDLE, BUT HELP CREATE
A TEMPLATE FOR IRANIANS TO ACT
By Dr. Michael Rubin
So what should President Obama do? The question is not whether to engage or not, but how to integrate diplomacy into a comprehensive strategy. Every strategy should have diplomatic, informational, economic, and even military components. Too often, Washington sequences components when a comprehensive approach bolsters diplomacy's effectiveness. Washington can no longer play checkers as Tehran plays chess.
Credibility matters. Adversaries test red lines wherever they are drawn. Obama should not, like his predecessors, draw his in pencil.
Moral clarity is also important. The President can support broad concepts such as liberty and freedom without endorsing any particular group. Obama should differentiate between the reformists and ordinary Iranians. As journalist Laura Secor wrote in 2005:
Those Iranians most adamantly opposed to U.S. assistance to civil society were those most loyal to the concept of the Islamic Republic. This does not mean that Washington should meddle or support any opposition group. Twenty years ago, a lone Chinese student stopped a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square. The goal of our intelligence agencies should not be to identify that student ahead of time, but, rather, to create a template upon which ordinary people can act.
Most of the budget for Bush's maligned Iran democracy promotion went to Voice of America and Persian-language Radio Farda broadcasts. Now that the Islamic Republic has clamped down on internal media, the value of this information platform is clear. Raise Radio Farda's budget 10-fold.
Lastly, the chief problem in the Islamic Republic is that the government believes itself accountable more to God than to its constituents. While workers go without wages for months on end, the Iranian leadership invests billions in nuclear and ballistic missile programs or exporting the Islamic Revolution. If the Islamic Republic had to answer to its overwhelmingly moderate citizenry, Tehran's behavior would temper considerably. Bush missed a Gdansk moment when Iranian bus drivers, under the leadership of Mansour Osanlou, formed the Islamic Republic's first independent trade union. Sugar cane workers in Khuzistan followed suit. Both forced the government to make concessions and be accountable to Iranians. The development of independent trade unions in Iran is a trend Obama should encourage.
Obama may want to engage Iran's current leadership, but he should throw them no lifeline. It is the Iranian people who matter most.
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Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University, 1999) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly, a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in the Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2009, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (Article URL: http://www.meforum.org/article/2165/create-template-for-iranians-to-act)
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