Wednesday, July 28, 2004

More on Iran and the Candidates

Here are two articles that discuss the issue of Bush, Kerry and policy differences over Iran far more eloquently than I did in this post.

Lawrence F. Kaplan, in an article published on the New Republic Web site, discusses Kerry's plan to pursue a policy of engaging the mullahs:

At times, Kerry seems to be taking his cues from Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential run, sounding as though he's blasting his opponent from the right while he quietly offers up solutions from the left. Nowhere is this truer than in the case of Iran, where, when you strip away Kerry's hard-boiled rhetoric about preventing the country from acquiring a nuclear weapon, what the candidate offers is a facsimile of the Clinton-era policy of "engagement." Likening the Islamic Republic to a much less dangerous threat from long ago, Kerry seeks to "explore areas of mutual interest with Iran, just as I was prepared to normalize relations with Vietnam." Hence, Kerry says he "would support talking with all elements of the government," or, as his principal foreign policy adviser Rand Beers has elaborated, the United States must engage Iran's "hard-line element"--this, while the candidate tells The Washington Post he will downplay democracy promotion in the region. In fact, as part of this normalization process, Kerry has recommended hammering out a deal with Teheran a la the Clinton administration's doomed bargain with North Korea, whereby the United States would aid the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for safeguards that would presumably keep the program peaceful. To sweeten the deal, he has offered to throw in members of the People's Mujahedeen, the Iranian opposition group being held under lock and key by U.S. forces in Iraq.

Nor will you hear any of Kerry's foreign policy advisers calling for regime change in Iran, at least any time soon. Beers has long insisted on engaging the Islamic Republic, as have Kerry advisers Richard Holbrooke and Madeline Albright. So, too, have several big name contributors to the Kerry campaign from the Iranian-American community. Indeed, in 2002 Kerry delivered an address to an event sponsored by the controversial American Iranian Council, an organization funded by corporations seeking to do business in Iran and dedicated to promoting dialogue with the theocracy. In his eagerness to engage in this dialogue, of course, Kerry is hardly alone. The Council on Foreign Relations has just released a report calling for "systematic and pragmatic engagement" with Iran's mullahs, and the Atlantic Council is expected to release a report next month recommending the same.

Like these, Kerry's calls for a rapprochement with Teheran come at a rather inopportune moment. The very regime that Kerry demands we engage, after all, has just been certified as an Al Qaeda sanctuary--and by the very commission in which the Kerry campaign has invested so much hope. The report's finding, moreover, counts as only one of Teheran's sins. Lately its theocrats have been wreaking havoc in Iraq and Afghanistan, aiding America's foes along Iran's borders in the hopes of expanding their influence in both countries, even as they continue to fund Palestinian terror groups. Then, too, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has amassed a mountain of evidence pointing to Iranian violations of the Nonproliferation Treaty. With two nuclear power plants slated to go online in Iran, and IAEA inspectors stumbling across designs for sophisticated centrifuges, even the Europeans and the United Nations have nearly exhausted their efforts to engage the Islamic Republic.

Pejman Yousefzadeh, in a column for Tech Central Station, takes note of Kaplan's criticism's, and makes some good points of his own:

Kaplan's points are well taken. But we should also note the internal struggles in Iran that make Kerry's position not only unrealistic, but also potentially amoral -- even immoral. Iran's recent parliamentary elections were flawed and rigged to favor hardliners over reform advocates. Any semblance of adherence to democratic principles was dispensed with by the reactionary mullahs as they sought to consolidate their power, and to frustrate the aims of a reform movement that had overwhelming popular backing. Reform parliamentarians and Iranian president (and pseudo-reformer) Mohammad Khatami had their attempts to change the political system in Iran blocked by the hardline-dominated Council of Guardians and by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Religious Guide. The Islamic regime continues to engage in systematic human rights abuses, and in efforts to deny justice in the rare case when human rights abusers are put on trial.

If in the midst of these human rights travesties, a Kerry Administration decides to try once again to engage Iran, it will be giving the hardline rulers of the Islamic regime every reason to believe that the United States will do nothing to stand on the side of human rights in Iran, and on the side of a pro-democracy movement that identifies so strongly with America and the West. Meanwhile, the regime itself will be strengthened by being able to deal with the world's most powerful democratic republic, and will be able to use its newfound prestige to try to completely snuff out the pro-democracy movement. You see, the mullahs will tell the pro-democracy demonstrators, even the Americans accept our legitimacy and wish to do business with us. The international community -- led by America -- will welcome us anew and will want to deal with us as the valid rulers of Iran. Your cause is hopeless.

Additionally, there is scarce evidence that the Islamic regime is disposed to seriously bargaining with the United States. Ultimate power in Iran's government resides in the hands of Khamenei as the country's Supreme Religious Guide. As I have argued previously, various factors lead Khamenei to be a rigid hardliner in terms of his public policy stances, and Khamenei does not have the scholarly or intellectual credentials to depart from his hardline stance in a way that will not threaten his power. However, a departure from Khamenei's hardline stance is essential for negotiations between the United States and Iran to yield any serious or positive results. If John Kerry and his foreign policy team really believe that they will be able to negotiate with a country whose supreme ruler is effectively held hostage to his own reactionary stances, they are being quite naïve -- assurances to the contrary notwithstanding.

As I noted previously, Kerry's plan to engage the mullahcracy is a fool's errand that makes a mockery of his newfound hawkishness. The odds of negotiations putting a stop to Iran's nuclear program, ending its support for jihadist terror of both the Shia and Sunni varieties, and abandoning its regional ambitions, are slim indeed. Instead, engagement would have only two outcomes. One, we would settle for a flawed deal that gives the mullahs much of what they want, and that would essentially amount to appeasement. This would hand the mullahcracy a huge victory, and confirm the impression that a Kerry Administration is weak, feckless, and determined to return to pre 9/11 business as usual. The other possibility is that no deal would be reached, and we would have to confront the reality that only force can stop the mullahs from building nuclear weapons. In this situation, a Kerry Administration would be forced to act on less than 100% accurate intelligence, at great political risk, against the wishes of the Europeans, and against a regime more convinced than ever of our lack of will. Could John Kerry really bring himself to use force in any meaningful way under these circumstances? Little in his record as a politician suggests that he would.


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