Because of the apparently short-winded standards at the HuffPost regarding comment length (and my own long-winded nature) I place below my full comment/response to HW’s recent post, “Engaging the Other Iran.”
Is American policy towards Iran aimed at regime change or behavior change? The Bush administration’s approach to Tehran has been hampered by an unwillingness or an inability to explicitly decide on one policy or the other. And yes, they are mutually exclusive.
Westbrook is admirably clear on this most important distinction between the various approaches being advocated. Perhaps chastened by Iraq, Westbrook is outright opposed to undertaking military action to topple the regime in Tehran. “We have already seen the disaster wrought by American-sponsored regime change,” Westbrook writes. “Better not to repeat the mistake.”
Yes, we better not. But the corollary to this position is a willingness to live with a nuclearized Iran. It has long seemed to me that many of the people who are four-square against military action (either by Israel or the USA) to divert the Iranian’s nuclear ambitions fudge the fact that this means they have decided that it would be less dangerous in the long-run to deal with a nuclear Iran than to deal with the ramifications of a (quite reasonably unsuccessful) military strike. It is not an unreasonable position, I just think intellectual honest demands clarity on this point. Too many, particularly on the left, want it both ways.
And yes, though I am not familiar with the Iranian scene, indications for a long time are that a large percentage of the young and urban have an insatiable hunger for American culture and some form of liberalized politics. But as Neil MacFarquhar explained in a harrowing front page story in the Sunday New York Times, these very same people are getting the crap beaten out of them by theocratic thugs doing the dirty work of the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad. But MacFarquhar also noted that this tide of repression “is occurring against the backdrop of an economy so stressed that although Iran is the world’s second-largest oil exporter, it is on the verge of rationing gasoline.”
And so self-interest and solidarity demands that America support these liberalizing forces. It is here that Westbrook’s analysis is so keen, and where it diverges from many on the interventionist right (i.e. hang out at The Corner on National Review Online and in the pages of The Weekly Standard and Commentary) who seem to think a public American embrace is something other than what it is: A Fatal Embrace. Laura Secor got it right in her contribution to a typically top-notch TNR symposium on Iran. And it is equally correct to call on America to greatly expand the number of student visas available to Iranian scholars, journalists and activists. But as The Chronicle of Higher Education has pointed out in a series of recent articles, intellectuals and scholars from a wide variety of countries – including Iran – are having a terrible time getting visas.
The security concerns are real, but the culture at INS and Homeland Security needs to shift from foot-dragging and ass-covering to doing everything possible to open up America to those who are coming for the right reasons, especially from countries like Iran. Because in the end, America itself is its most potent weapon against the forces of theocracy and intolerance.