Written by Arash Irandoost, Ph.D.
Cautious Optimism or Obsessive Insanity?
On the occasion of the Persian New Year (Norouz), President Obama extended his best wishes, this time, directly to the Iranian people, rather than the brutal dictatorship. This was a welcome departure compared to his former Norouz message. Is president Obama gradually warming up to the idea of supporting regime change? His message was much harsher toward the regime. He stated:
For nearly two years, there has been a campaign of intimidation and abuse. Young and old; men and women; rich and poor– the Iranian people have been persecuted. Hundreds of prisoners of conscience are in jail. The innocent have gone missing. Journalists have been silenced. Women tortured. Children sentenced to death.
President Obama went on to say that the “regime cares more about its own power than respecting the rights of the Iranian people… Regime’s actions demonstrated fear rather than strength.” Mr. Obama stopped short of highlighting IRI’s long history crimes, support for terrorism and abhorrent prison rapes that took place by the basij militia and Hamas thugs as affirmed by Mehdi Karrubi, a former presidential candidate.
President Obama angered many Iranians during his last year’s message when he extended his hand to the terrorist regime. It was seen by many Iranians as turning his back on Iranian pro-democracy demonstrators, his lack of familiarity with Iran and legitimizing a regime which second to Chinais most violator of human rights.
Iranians are cautiously optimistic about president Obama’s change of direction and message of hope. The occasion is historic and momentous, especially considering Libya, Bahrain, Syria and other looming crises in the Middle East. For the past 30 plus years, U.S. policymakers have shown little interest in acknowledging the opposition and acknowledging regime’s brutalities against its citizens. They have taken the dialogue and diplomacy approach in vain hoping to alter ayatollahs’ behavior. It just may suggest that, finally, the White House has begun to realize that the dialogue and diplomacy have been abysmal failure and a new policy must be adopted.
For a very long time the United Nations and the United States have appeased dictators and only provided lip service to pro-democracy movements. Their duplicity has been a source of skepticism and distrust among various opposition groups throughout the Middle East costing the UN and the U.S. dearly.
Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. For too long various U.S. administrations have used dialogue and diplomacy, to no avail, starting with the administration of President Jimmy Carter who did everything possible to assure the new regime of American friendship and failed miserably. The more the U.S. government has tried to engage the Iranian regime, the more suspicious and hardened Iran's leaders have become. The United States cannot obsessively pursue the diplomatic path with Iran, it simply has not worked.
The United States’ misguided Iran policy can in part be blamed on Iran’s foreign agents of disinformation, regime apologists and lobbyists who operate many front religious and Iranian cultural centers, work at institutions of higher education and run not for profits organizations that have been allowed to freely roam the halls of Congress, doing regime’s bidding and providing inaccurate and biased advice on Iran.
Regime apologists’ propaganda manifests itself in various forms, depending on the political climate but their basic fallacious premise remains the same (dialogue, diplomacy, easing of sanctions, and portraying Iran’s nuclear program for peaceful civilian use), which has continued to guide the US Policy toward Iran.
These apologists, many with known affiliations with the Islamic republic, have intentionally portrayed the Islamic republic as pragmatic and a rational entity. They have suggested dialogue and diplomacy as the best course in dealing with Iran. They falsely claim, sanctions are not effective and hurt the ordinary people. Recently, primarily due to Mousavi and Karrubi’s arrests, these apologists are attempting to shift the focus from Iran’s weapon’s program to “Johnny-come-lately” human rights issues. They have falsely blamed Iran’s blatant human rights violations on U.S. pressure and have claimed that recognition of the IRI would improve the human rights situation in Iran.
There are a variety of other reasons as to why dialogue and diplomacy are not the best course in dealing with Iran. For one thing, the regime leaders consider animosity to the “Great Satan” as a hallmark of their policy, a source of pride, a badge of honor and an expression of loyalty by regime’s top echelon. Also, the regime’s leadership has normally dealt a heavy blow to those who have entertained the idea of dialogue and diplomacy with the United States with regime insiders. Any Islamic government’s official who might even give a slight hint of dialogue and diplomacy will be ostracized and considered by the regime hardliners, as a traitor and conspirator. Furthermore, Khamenei, as accurately cited by the Rand Corporation is very suspicious of the United States.
Arguably, repetitive attempts and persistence at appeasement, dialogue and diplomacy have had the opposite effect. The regime has masterfully exploited the West’s zeal to pursue a diplomatic course with it to aggrandize itself among the ordinary Iranians. Western’s attempts at diplomacy have emboldened the regime to continue its reign of terror. The regime has provided weaponry to Iraqi insurgents, Hamas, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda to do its covert war with the United States. It has used dialogue and diplomacy as a delaying tactic to achieve its extremist and expansionist ideology hoping to develop its weapon’s program and make life even more miserable for the “Great Satan.”
There was a slight overture to regime officials by Mr. Obama as well. But President Obama cannot have it both ways. He needs to make a decision. As demonstrators demanded of him and he let them down once during June 2009 uprising and his thundering silence on Neda’s death, he can not afford to continually let them down. By leaving the diplomacy door still open, the West will continue its haphazard and failed policies. The sooner, Mr. Obama gets out of dialogue and diplomacy mindset, the more seriously he and his message will resonate with ordinary Iranians.
Also, President Obama is ill-advised to connect Iran’s historic past and prominence with the present Islamic regime. The level of atrocities committed by the Arab invaders of Iran is very fresh and a source of great resentment amongst the Iranians even after 1400 years. What is more, Islamic republic itself is only 3 decades old with little historical legitimacy. Inevitably, it has waged an ideological and religious war on Persian culture and nationalism. It has repeatedly attempted to marginalize Persian holidays in favor of those that extol Shi'a Islam to denigrate Persian nationalism and identity.
Another fallacy propagated by the IRI apologists is that sanctions are not effective and hurt ordinary Iranians. Just the opposite, sanctions are very effective, if they were not, mullahs, lobbyists and IRI apologists would not bellyache about them. Regime derives approximately 80% of its revenues from oil and gas proceeds, an oil embargo will severely curtail Islamic republic’s ability to support its reign of terror. Iranians have suffered greatly under the Islamic dictatorship for three decades. They are already hurting. Most of the companies that want the easing of sanctions are the very companies eager to sell, military, oil and gas, nuclear, sensitive technologies, chemically altered teargas, electric batons and telecommunications devices to the regime, the very tools that the regime usesto brutally crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators and hurt the ordinary Iranians.
There are indeed lessons for the West. Most Iranians, identify themselves very much with their civilization and historical past, while the regime sees invasion of Iran by Arab invaders as the beginning of their conflicted legacy. Mention of Iran’s glorious civilization and past history by President Obama to Islamic government leaders, who detest Persian culture and civilization, and to Iranians, who abhor this regime, in the same sentence is much like adding salt to injury. President Obama does indeed have an opportunity to purge the White House of the intellectually dishonest agents of disinformation and side with the Iranian opposition. With Iran as a formidable and friendly ally of the United States in the Middle East, both countries can have a mutually beneficial relationship for years to come.
Dr. Arash Irandoost (pen name), founder of pro-democracy Movement of Iran (PDMI) is a human rights and pro-democracy activist who advocates Regime Change in Iran. He has been published in numerous magazines around the world as well as hundreds of Internet magazines, websites and blogs. He is also a researcher and literary translator and has been a strong voice for the struggling people of Iran. He blogs at http://hakemiat-e-mardom.blogspot.com/.