Sunday, January 08, 2006


I need to reopen the conversation on isolating Iran through sanctions. Let’s start with this presumption: the mullahs are not going anywhere. They will not be overthrown or pushed out because of a few puny sanctions. In fact, the political-fundamentalists among them will be strengthened by sanctions because it will mean that most of the population will become dependent on their good graces. Sanctions also mean that the group in power will become the lone voice inside of Iran. It’s already hard enough to have any diversity of opinion.

The regime welcomes the threat of attack. The only way for them to unite is against a common enemy. Unity is what they long for. Unity is what they do not have. Achieving unity presupposes a common enemy.

So, isolating Iran plays into the hands of the political-fundamentalists by making them an even stronger voice in this country and by giving them an enemy. Hurray.

Iran is not waiting to become America or Europe. Iran minus the regime does not equal freedom or democracy as much as Iranians would like you to believe. You need to have a public debate and free speech before you get democracy. That’s a lot harder than it might sound.

The publicly sanctioned arguments are those of degrees here in Iran. They do not represent true opposition. Those involved meticulously filter the voices that get heard. When they fall out with those in power, their voices are also filtered. Lo and behold! They are surprised that after a career of keeping others quiet, they can longer be heard.


Anonymous said...

E-- thanks so much for this editorial. My favorite columnist, Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle, made much the same points in arguing against the sanctions imposed on Iraq. They didn't work and they punished the citizens, not the rulers.

Do you think (hypothetically) that Iranians are not capable of free speech, politically? That the Iranian culture is comfortable with strong rulers, the way Russia was historically? I know many Iranians, and they all have strong opinions, but my Farsi is poor. I'm not sure if they argue as much among themselves as with me. I believe I was told that the Ayatollah was voted in with nearly 95% of the voters approving him, and Iranians I know now admit voting for him, though they regret it. I guess I'm wondering if the culture emphasizes conformity as a type of strength, needed to maintain itself in the face of outside influences, or if over 50 years of repressive government has removed the habit and will for free speech.
thanks for writing. I love your blog.

Mohd said...

I don’t think Iran is Iraq. Sanctions did not work in Iraq because it was under a one man dictatorial rule. Iran does not have a dictatorial system of government, no matter how it’s represented in the right-wing Western media. Up until now, we were told that the leader is the real decision maker in Iran and therefore he’s the dictator. Now this designation has been passed on to the president. The system has a base among the people and if it loses that base, anything can happen. People voted for Ahmadinejad to improve their lot. If things get worse as a result of economic sanctions, the same people will turn away from the system.

ET said...

NO, No, no: I would never say that Iranians need a strong arm or are incapable of free speech. All I am saying is that it is a practice that requires supporting institutions and a lot of education. What I think is that most of us do not understand what kind of practice free speech is. In societies with healthy debate, there is a lifetime of practice hearing dissenting views. Even with all of that practice, some of us would prefer to only hear the views of people who agree with us. We have institutions that protect us from ourselves and protect our speech. It is never something that we can take for granted. Iranians have opinions!! They express them to each other. But they do not (as a culture) have a practice of public debate.

Anonymous said...

There were a lot of public debates and practice of it in 79 and 80. There were also some organizations that had a chance to channel them and they had a chance to be a strong alternate to the mullahs. However they were all got destroyed by the same mullahs and the public debate took the form that you see now.
So, there is a chicken an egg problem here. Until the mullahs are there no public debate and no alternative to them, but we need an alternative that comes from an open society with a lot of public debate!
So, do you let the monsters run free and crush everything just because we don't know the answer.

Another way to look at the sanction is that it will poison the air, however the Iranian air is so poisonous anyway so what the heck?

Love you blog and wish you could do it more often.

Stan said...

Your position is a respectable one, but it may well not be correct. The counter argument is that people are not stupid and that they will understand that the grandiose geopolitical adventures of the regime are the cause for sanctions and that they will become even more disillusioned with the regime.

The Sniper said...

If sanctions could be leveled against Iran with enough global support, it would most certainly weaken the current regime. Even if the people of Iran initially feel like teh rest of the world is their enemy, they will eventually come to support wahtever is in their best interest, people nearly always do.
If the rest of the world will not respond to the regime, then the regime will either have to respond adequately to the world, or cease to exist.
I, personally, think that the "free world" should work to support non-government-censored dissident information.

ET said...

Say you have pneumonia, your lungs are filled with fluid, your family has abandoned you, and you are unhappy with your doctor. But if you question him he denies treatment. You don't have the strength to find a new doctor. What do you do?

ET said...

Frankly, I would not be against sanctions if I thought they would work. Certainly, Iranians do not want to be sanctioned. The fact is, I do not believe that they will be all that effective.

Countries like Iran effectively impose sanctions on their own populations. There are no sanctions on medical supplies, but it is a hassle to get drugs. Why? You tell me.

Stan said...

et, I hate to admit it, but you are probably right. Sanctions will almost certainly not work. That leaves the US with an even worse set of choices. The depressed real estate prices in certain neighborhoods may well be warranted. Why can't there just be a nice coup by some sensible generals?

Perhaps you should start a thread on whether the US and/or Israel should attack Iranian nuclear facilities.

Arcanum3 said...

E - I thought your analogy "Say you have pneumonia, your lungs are filled with fluid, your family has abandoned you, and you are unhappy with your doctor. But if you question him he denies treatment. You don't have the strength to find a new doctor. What do you do?" was a good one, but flawed in one important way. A more accurate analogy would indicate that the majority of this Dr.'s patients were severily ill with no alternatives but his care. If all the patients together refused his care unless he agreed to hear their questions and concerns he would would have to choose between having a Physician's practice or losing all his patients and starting a new career. The only answer is unity or competition...