Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Iran Problem

In an editorial in today's New York Times, Thomas Friedman asks us to take a small test:

Let’s start: Country A actively helped the U.S. defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and replace it with a pro-U.S. elected alliance of moderate Muslims. Country A regularly holds sort-of-free elections. Country A’s women vote, hold office, are the majority of its university students and are fully integrated into the work force.

On 9/11, residents of Country A were among the very few in the Muslim world to hold spontaneous pro-U.S. demonstrations. Country A’s radical president recently held a conference about why the Holocaust never happened — to try to gain popularity. A month later, Country A held nationwide elections for local councils, and that same president saw his candidates get wiped out by voters who preferred more moderate conservatives. Country A has a strategic interest in the success of the pro-U.S., Shiite-led, elected Iraqi government. Although it’s a Muslim country right next to Iraq, Country A has never sent any suicide bombers to Iraq, and has long protected its Christians and Jews. Country A has more bloggers per capita than any country in the Muslim Middle East.

The brand of Islam practiced by Country A respects women, is open to reinterpretation in light of modernity and rejects Al Qaeda’s nihilism.

Who is Country A? Answer: Iran.

Friedman suggests that we need to re-open a dialogue with Iran:

More important, when people say, “The most important thing America could do today to stabilize the Middle East is solve the Israel-Palestine conflict,” they are wrong. It’s second. The most important thing would be to resolve the Iran-U.S. conflict.

That would change the whole Middle East and open up the way to solving the Israel-Palestine conflict, because Iran is the key backer of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Syria. Iran’s active help could also be critical for stabilizing Iraq.

This is why I oppose war with Iran. I favor negotiations. Isolating Iran like Castro’s Cuba has produced only the same result as in Cuba: strengthening Iran’s Castros. But for talks with Iran to bear fruit, we have to negotiate with Iran with leverage.

How do we get leverage? Make it clear that Iran can’t push us out of the gulf militarily; bring down the price of oil, which is key to the cockiness of Iran’s hard-line leadership; squeeze the hard-liners financially. But all this has to be accompanied with a clear declaration that the U.S. is not seeking regime change in Iran, but a change of behavior, that the U.S. wants to immediately restore its embassy in Tehran and that the first thing it will do is grant 50,000 student visas for young Iranians to study at U.S. universities.

I understand the feeling. But how much connection is there between the people on the street and Iran's leadership? In a recent issue of National Geographic Adventure, a reporter published a report of a trip she had taken through the backcountry and the mountains in Iran. Included in the report were some photos of the old American embassy. Her guide was nervous about her fellow reporter's "transgression." The fellow reporter, a photographer that accompanied her, had taken a picture of the wall outside what used to be the American embassy, which has a mural of the Statue of Liberty with the face painted as a skull. The old embassy is now the headquarters of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. It is known locally as "the U.S. Den of Espionage."

A lot of this kind of imagery could probably be alleviated with dialogue. But here is something that concerns me more: yesterday on Charles Smith's blog Of Two Minds Charles mentioned how Iran's current leaders see Israel as a "one-bomb state."

The President of Iran has made no secret of his desire to destroy Israel, a small nation which zealots gloatingly describe as a "one-bomb state," meaning that one nuclear bomb would wipe the country from the map.

Thomas Friedman has previously stated somewhere that the Islamic militants need to learn to love life (or their children) more than they hate us. I think it is that kind of irrationality that we fear. The "one-bomb solution" would kill not just Israelis, it would kill all Palestinians, too. Not to mention a lot of Jordanians, Lebanese, Egyptians and others.

Instead of Sting's Russians, maybe we now need to say: I hope the Muslims love their children too.

One of the innovations in Christianity was the development of the belief in the Brotherhood of Mankind: the idea that God loves every person regardless of where they are from. It hasn't always been followed, but the concept was there in Christianity from the very beginning. Is it possible for this same concept to be adopted by Islam? Or is it there already, but we just never hear about it because the militants are just so vocal and sensational?

Or does Everybody Love a Holy War?


Independent Accountant said...

Golda Meir used to say, "there will be no peace with the Palestinians until they love their children more than they love death".

prosaical said...

please, lets stop calling it a problem .. its a country fgs.

As for Ms.Meir (bless her interred heart of stone) hate to be a party pooper but that woman was closer to Arafat in her demagoguery than any palestinian will ever be.