Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Reconcilication With Iran Is Possible

Sorry for the anemic post frequency. It probably won't get better since I'm actually doing stuff at work now. Also, I'm quitting with the column numbering. It's annoying me and probably annoying you.

"The West ... got rid of the tyrannical talons of the church ... and delivered itself from the clutches of feudalism ... with the motto of 'freedom, fraternity and equality' and finally construed and built a modern society which today... produces miracles worthy of admiration." - Mohammed Khatami, President of Iran (read the whole poorly translated document here.)

Recently, I've been hearing a lot of harsh talk about Iran, and for good reason. The Iranian government has doggedly pursued a nuclear program that may or may not be producing weapons. European attempts to find out more have failed miserably. Furthermore, the 9/11 commission found links between hardliners in the Iranian government and the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Financing Hezbollah, the group responsible for the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed hundreds of Marines, was a rotten trick to say the least. And Bush appears to be sounding the war drums again; an official from the administration was quoted as saying that a second Bush administration would oversee "much more intervention" in Iranian affairs.

And yet, I'm not convinced that the kind of "intervention" Bush is advocating - stirring up revolutions and the like - is the answer here

Iran's relationship with the Western world has always been a troubled one, but there have been a plethora of signs in recent years that Iran is ready to open its arms to the West. The election of Khatami in 1997 - with over 70% of the vote - was a definite vote for more normalized relations with Europe and America. Iran has recently opened relations with India, an important Western ally. The Iranian government has rounded up several al-Qaeda members, and has expressed support for a stable and free Iraq and Afghanistan. My point is, there's hope here.

It's obvious to me that the Iran that exists today does not hate the West or the Americans. Khatami points out that "it was in the state of backwardness, misery and humiliation, being the consequences and the scars of despotic rule in our society, that we encountered the West with two different feelings – humiliation and fear." Indeed, Iranians had much to be humiliated about, and much to fear.

Iranians asserted themselves against the Shah many times before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In 1953, Premier Mohammed Mussadiq, a Socialist, nationalized the oil industry of Iran, thus angering American and British interests. As Mussadiq continued to assert power, he was supported by the bulk of the Iranian people - for a while. A growing disaffection with Mussadiq opened the door for an American-led coup that deposed Mussadiq and put the Shah back in power. The result of this: Iranians would forget their own disaffection with Mussadiq, and would view the coup as an attempt by America to control their affairs. Continuing American support for the increasingly despotic Shah would only cause Iranians to grow more fearful and more humiliated before the West.

As a result, Iran lashed out, and the Islamic Revolution and its horrifyingly bloody aftermath were the results. This backlash causes most Americans to perceive Iran as an enemy. But it doesn't have to be that way.

Iran, with Khatami in a position of some power, is ripe for reconciliation with the West. President Bush - or, if elected, Kerry - would be well advised to begin an honest dialogue with Iran. It should begin with an expression of regret - an apology, even - for our support of the 1954 coup and of the Pahlavi dynasty. Our leaders should reassure Iranians that support for dictatorships and the overthrow of popular leaders, while disturbingly common in our foreign policy, does not align with our principles. Our leaders should recognize that Iran is far too complex a country to be buttonholed onto the "axis of evil." And most importantly, our leaders should make a pledge to support the will of the Iranian people.

Such an olive branch will not solve everything. Copious actions of good faith on both sides are needed to bridge the divide, but I daresay it is possible. After all, we are on good terms with Chile now, and our intervention in Chile was more recent and had far worse effects than our interventions in Iran. If it's possible to win the respect, if not the admiration, of Chile, we can win the respect of Iran.

Yes, there are numerous wrongs for which the Iranian government must apologize if relations are to be normalized, but this action is out of our hands. The important part is that if we play our cards right, Iran could, in time, become an extremely important ally in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terror. For now, a conciliatory gesture on our part can only help our relations. Friendly actions tend to beget friendly actions - if we apologize for supporting a cruel dictator, perhaps Iran will apologize for supporting and participating in anti-American terror. And in a land where humiliation and fear still linger, unfriendliness begets violence.


Mike said...

I accidentally read the title of this post as, "Reconciliation With Iran is Impossible", so I was confused the first time I read this. Still, you're pretty much right. Apologize for the past and try to work toward a better future -- what a novel concept!

Mike said...

I posted a comment earlier, and it was really clever and insightful, but for some reason it didn't show up. So feel free to imagine it.

Mike said...

On second thought, now it's there. Jeff, your blog is weird. Also, can you tell I'm really bored while I wait for classes to start?