Sunday, December 27, 2009

What We Know About Iran

We in the West can argue endlessly about Iran without achieving anything as long as our viewpoints are based on assertions about the "nature" or "intentions" of this or that Iranian because we really do not know what current leaders now intend, what they may decide tomorrow, or what future leaders may desire or believe they can achieve.

But there is much that we do know.

  1. We know that Iran has suffered repeated hostility from the West over the last 150 years.
  2. We know that Iran faces two nuclear-armed enemies whose decision-makers repeatedly make threatening statements.
  3. We know that Iran is surrounded by a new archipelago of U.S. military bases and naval vessels.
  4. We know that domestic politics in Iran is highly factionalized so that it takes the Iranian political system a long time to reach a decision.
  5. We know that the regime plays for keeps so everyone in Iranian politics is under great pressure.
  6. We know that Iran has been ostracized from normal diplomatic interaction in the Mideast for the last generation.
  7. We know that the Iranian people devote a great deal of energy to politics and that an intense domestic policy debate is currently taking place.

Given those facts, how might any human society be expected to respond? Two obvious reactions are a search for increased security and resistance to being pushed around. A third only slightly less obvious aspect is that for an outsider to impose an arbitrary deadline will fail: probably because it will be resented and also because such a society/regime will not be able to make a rapid decision and stick with it.

Reasoning on the basis of facts, not some simplistic assumption about the psychological make-up of any particular individual, should be the starting point for designing policy to cope with such a country.

There is much that can be criticized about Iran. Actually, one could also say that about the U.S., Israel, and perhaps almost every other state on the planet. To say that Iran is less than perfect is irrelevant to the issue of whether or not the West should commit aggression against Iran.

If we would prefer that Iran behave differently, perhaps we should ask ourselves how we might alter the regional political environment so as to induce different behavior.

1 comment:

ckeler said...

This is a very good point about American behavior working against our very own goals. Using threats to get the Iranian regime to work with us is illogical for several reasons. First, the chances that the US gets involved in another military conflict in the Middle East is minimal and Iran knows this. Second, Ahmadinejad has already demonstrated that Iran is undeterred by sanctions. Continuing down this course will only agitate Iran and push it further from the negotiating table.

Such counter-productive policies are also demonstrated in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.