The unthinkable ally
If the US were to extend an arm of friendship to the growing
student movement in Iran
By Baha Hariri
April 9, 2003
American foreign policy has reached a crossroads that
obliges us to rethink how diplomatic lines are drawn. The allies
we choose today, particularly in the Middle East, will have a pronounced
impact on our future well-being and security. Regrettably, we are
bypassing a golden opportunity with the most unthinkable of allies
Ayatollah Khomeini, the hostage crisis, and terrorism
dominate Americans’ popular image of Iran. But past history
can no longer be the criterion upon which to base foreign policy.
If it were, Russia would be a charter member of the “axis
of evil” instead of a US ally (albeit a lukewarm one) as it
That doesn’t mean history can be ignored. The
origin of today’s stand-off goes back fifty years, when the
US helped overthrow a progressive and popular government in Iran,
replacing it the Shah. We propped up the Shah’s corrupt and
repressive regime with a brutal death squad (“Savak”)
headed by the father of Gulf War hero General Shwartzkopf. The hostage
crisis that followed the Shah’s overthrow in 1979 was a direct
result of intense popular frustration at our role.
Present day Iran looks and feels very different from
twenty years ago. The streets are frequently flooded with student
protesters demanding democracy. After September 11th, thousands
of Iranians turned out at a candlelight vigil in Tehran -- making
Iran the only Muslim nation to hold such an event. The economy is
growing fast and is attracting large investments from Europe and
Asia. The country also sits atop one of the world’s largest
natural gas reserves, the fuel of the future.
Despite all this, Iran continues to be cold-shouldered
by the Bush Administration. At the same time we remain close allies
with Saudi Arabia, one of the most corrupt and oppressive monarchies
in the region.
If the US were to extend an arm of friendship to the
growing student movement in Iran today that would pay immense dividends
in the future. With a possible long-term US involvement in Iraq
looming, we need the help of a friendly government as a partner
in dealing with regional turmoil. Europe has already seen the light
and is developing friendly ties with Iran, pouring billions of dollars
into the country. So why are we ignoring such a strategic opportunity?
The official Administration line is that Iran is
developing weapons of mass destruction. Ignoring the fact that US
allies such as Pakistan and Israel are doing exactly the same, the
truth is that Iran has built, under Russian supervision, a nuclear
power plant to ease its power crisis. To date about 60 outside inspections
have been conducted and all have deemed Iran clean. Iran is also
a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which India, Israel,
and Pakistan all refuse to sign.
America’s shortsighted foreign policy has a
habit of coming back to haunt us – including our past support
for Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Military might is not the
only (or even the most effective) way to solve the Middle East’s
problems. We must fashion strategic partnerships that will not only
aide our current efforts, but will bear fruit in the future. Iran
is the single most promising candidate for such an alliance. Holding
the country’s hand as it makes the transition to democracy
might be turbulent at times. But, in the end, we will have a key
Middle Eastern ally that will be there for us when we need it most.
Baha Hariri is pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at the John
F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
this page to your friends