Saturday, November 19, 2005

Isolating Iran is what the Fundamentalists Want

First the comment:
Anonymous said...
Ah, if only Americans could finance microbanks in Iran the evil regime would be less secure.

Sorry, the NY Times editorial is the usual Times pap about how the world be great if only we were all nice to each other and that it is always America's fault if we are not.

The Iranian regime is serious about the systematic destruction of the West. It even says so itself. Isn't that what Death to America means? Helping the Iranian people unfortunately means helping the regime. We are better off withholding our help.

My response:
Now you are thinking like the fundamentalists in Iran! You guys agree. They don’t want out help, and you don’t think we should give it.
Fundamentalists strive for isolation. Their goal is to isolate Iranians from the rest of the world: economically, culturally, and intellectually. They are itching for a fight. Sanctions and strikes would help build their power base.

Believe it or not, the Iranian regime is not 100% fundamentalist. There are dissenting voices that want to keep Iran and Iranians engaged in the world. Iranians themselves are far from 100% fundamentalist. And, guess what, they are overwhelmingly pro-American.

Sometimes I think Iran is like a tube of toothpaste. The regime just keeps squeezing people so that they leave or lose the will to fight.

Read “Soldiers of the Hidden Imam” by Timothy Garton Ash


Eric said...

Based on what I know about Iran, I think there is some truth to your argument. But I think there's also some truth to the argument that the regime has been able to hold onto power in large part due to its ability to buy public support using its oil money. Both directly, through social welfare services, and indirectly, through secondary effects on the economy.

If the economy falls on hard times because of sanctions, perhaps many people in both the lower and middle classes will be less willing to put up with the regime's abuses. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

The US should try to help its friends in Iran politically (not an easy thing to do), but it should not provide any help to the Iranian economy. Ahmadinejad came to power promising economic improvement. It is not in America's interest for him to deliver on that promise.

ET said...

I think that middle class and wealthy Iranians have an escape route. Many of them hold 2 passports, a green card, or other types of residence permits elsewhere. This means that they can leave rather than deal with the problems within Iran itself. Don't forget that the Islamic revolution is just 27 years old. That's pretty recent for a second revolution.

I believe that sanctions will simply solidify the regime's hold on the population. The poor will not get poorer: there are always subsidies. The rich will not get poorer: there's always oil revenues. The middle classes *will* get poorer: just as they have done since the revolution. They won't have the resources or energy to do anything but put up with the regime's abuses or leave. That's the way of the world.

Please SOMEONE, somewhere, show me evidence that squeezing the middle class is conducive to democratization. Everyone talks about South Africa, but I really do not believe that sanctions were the cause of the changes within SA.

I am not asking America to improve Iran's economy. I am asking America and the world not to isolate Iran. There is a critical difference. Sanctions &/or cuts in diplomatic ties mean fewer foreigners in Iran. Iranians need and crave relations with foreigners. The more the merrier, I say.

Eric said...

When I talked of sanctions, I was assuming that they would have at least some impact on oil sales. Oil really seems to be the lifeblood of the regime, and I think any major, sustained, cut in oil revenues would affect its stability. But with global oil supplies so constrained, maybe it's unrealistic to expect something like that.

You can make a good case that the collapse of the Soviet Union had something to do with economic discontent. Then again, it also had something to do with greater exposure to the outside world, and with an attempt by the West to reach out to moderates within the regime.

Thanks for the reply, and keep up the good work.

ET said...

Sanctions or not, Iran will sell its oil. There are plenty of customers out there who will not mind breaking the sanctions. That's why I do not think that sanctions on the oil industry would do anything more than harm the US & EU's economy. I mean, what leverage do we really have with China?

There are key differences between Iran and the USSR. Firstly: the USSR was desperately trying to hang on to its population. People were punished for applying for exit visas or when a member of their family emigrated. This is not the case in Iran.

Secondly: The USSR really had no infrastructure. Again, not the case in Iran.

Thirdly: Telecom. Iranians have it. 50,000 blogs from Iran alone. That's a lot.

Anonymous said...

Your last point seems to reinforce my first one. Iranians have plenty of access to information about the outside world. They don't need the odd "bridge building" contact. Look at all those bloggers. The regime deserves to be treated as a pariah. The population knows it. The US and the rest of the West should give it the treatment it deserves. Also, if the regime has to use more of its oil revenue to buy off the population it will have less to use on its nefarious schemes.

ET said...

Anonymous, I do not understand how my point about telecom makes your point about sanctions? Do you really think that Iran does not have an alternative market for its oil?

Iranians do not need a bridge to other cultures because they can talk to each other through blogs? Well, Harry Potter, we'll be looking for you to save Iran (!

Anonymous said...

I fear Iran will have to save itself, unless it does something truly egregious, like nuke Israel. In that case there probably won't be much left to save.

Of course there will always be a market for Iran's oil. The point is that every oil dollar that has to be spent to buy the acquiescence of the people is a dollar not spent on jihad.

Anonymous said...

This topic directly addresses the conundrum I have with this issue of economic and diplomatic engagement. Allow me to present the precendent which shaped my own worldview: I was in college when the Tian An Men Square massacre happened in China, and it was a blunt reminder that coupled an impotent anger at what a government will do (and with what they can get away) with a realization of my own privileged accident of being born in the United States which has a Constitutional right for freedom of speech, press, and assembly. I haven't bought a Chinese-made product since (actually that's a lie: I bought a Chinese-made computer mouse years ago after checking five electronics stores and realizing there were no alternatives for such a product's country of origin). However, this is not the case with my American government, which bent over backwards to give most-favored-nation status to China years before its induction into the WTO. The result of all this active engagement is that the Chinese government still stifles press freedoms to where even the circulation of the iconic image of the lone protestor facing down the tanks is an arrestable offense. The organization of independent labor unions is prohibited. Corruption is ingrained and expected. How have the Chinese citizenry's freedoms and expectations of state accountability benefited from the economic engagement of the United States? I have no evidence that it has. It seems that our United States trade policy in practice only pays lip service to reform and democratization provided it has the opportunity to take advantage of cheaper, less-regulated labor and opening up markets for its own consumer goods that it seems only a slim resident minority can afford. I speak to my fellow Americans when I offer this criticism: The measure of a society is not how much crap you can buy or are encourged to buy at the mall. If any other nationalities or cultures wish to eavesdrop on that comment, feel free.
The point is, I don't see the prospect of US engagement strengthening the Iranian people, certainly not by the precedent set by China or, perhaps more relevantly Saudi Arabia. President Bush literally holds hands with King Abdullah and Saudis still reserve the judicial right to execute people for apostasy. They're still imprisoning and flogging writers and teachers for their views. They still don't exhibit the need to have open courtroom trials. I could go on, and, believe me, I have. The net result is that I am embarrassed by our connivances of state policy by winking at these atrocities of liberty in the KSA, and I would argue that they're worse that that of Iran. At least Iran has a film industry of which to be proud.
I'm all for sanctioning Saudi Arabia, except our State Department, big surprise, pussied out in enforcing its International Freedom of Religion Act of 1998 back in September 2005 (while initiating the process of sanctions against less economically strategic Eritrea).
So please: I am very predisposed for these reasons to support any mechanism for complicating relations, up to and including sanctions, if it would prevent another betrayal of the principles of freedom we supposedly espouse. If anything; I wish to warn you, based upon these examples, that our American involvement will not give any leverage to the likes of Ganji, Zarafshan, Darabzand, and a whole census of other unnecessary injustices because the at least illusion of stability is paramount to our international relations and building markets, not personal names which can be swept under a Persian rug as an "internal matter."
I don't WANT to be a cynical bastard, but I need proof, not platitudes.
Please present me with a contrary argument to make sure I and others haven't missed a glaringly obvious factor regarding this issue. How shall we arrive at a solution that will enable Iranians the freedoms of expression with which I am a grateful accidental recipient? I thank you for your time.

Troy Z

ET said...

Wow Troy Z, That's quite a comment. I cannot answer your questions in a simple way because I do not believe that there are simple answers. The only thing I know for sure is that isolation is not the answer. I cannot see how isolation can lead to anything other than despair and fundamentalism. From what I know of China (which is not nearly enough), the Chinese are better off now than when Mao was in power and they were isolated from the entire world. It may not seem like enough to you. Why don't I post your comment and see if anyone else has a better answer than I do.

Stan said...

Thank you Troy. You make my case very well (I am the former anonymous, becuase I couldn't figure the name posting system out).

et's point about China is interesting. The Chinese clearly are better off than they used to be. For all its problems, this may be the best government China has had in centuries. Iran is not likely to be able to say the same thing under the current regime. Some of us hoped that Khatami could be Iran's Deng, but he just didn't have the necessary power even if he had the vision.

As to engagement vs. isolation for Iran, I can see that isolation makes despair more likely, but I cannot see how that would benefit fundamentalism. It will just make fundamentalism look like more of a dead end. That's not to say that a desperate population will be able to overthrow the regime any time soon. The lesson of Tienanmen Square (and other places like Zimbabwe and Russia) is that police states can maintain power indefinitely unless the government loses its will to be brutal (as in the USSR) or the United States invades (as in Iraq). Neither of these seems very likely in Iran. It really is too bad for the Iranians.

Anonymous said...

A family in a closed community owns BIG GUNs and intimidates many families in the comminity. It just trashed one small family.

A neighbor of the trashed family is deeply worried and trying to build BIG GUNs.

But the neighbor is told that it is not allowed to own any BIG GUNs, even though many own BIG GUNs in the community.

The neighbor says no way, and the fight starts. And many to come....

Now go to bed, kids - and have a #@! dream.