In recent months, Ms. Condoleeza Rice has emphasized the importance of using multilateral diplomatic channels in dealing with Iran. This change in policy stance toward Iran should be viewed with some caution given the preference of this administration for the use of force in the region. The change in the U.S. approach to Iran, however, may be seen more as a preparatory step in softening opposition to another limited military adventure.
One unfortunate ramification of the regime-change policy in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the relative paralysis in delivering the next stages of the transition to a more inclusive and participative model of governance and reconstruction. To avoid a further deepening and spread of the present crises, it is necessary to move away from the present state of militarized management of the conflict to developing democratic governance in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The body of evidence available to us so far suggests that existing policies are more likely to exacerbate the crisis in these countries rather than helping their governments to de-radicalize the segments of the population that have been passive supporters of the insurgents.
There is an increasing realisation in the rest of the world that the strategy of bomb-first, talk-last has not been capable of achieving its objectives of nation-building. There has been a failure to plan for the post-military stages of the conflicts and to devise strategies which respond quickly to the immediate needs of the indigenous populations and genuinely engages them in the reconstruction of their own villages, towns and countries.
Furthermore, the unwillingness of the Americans and the British to involve other members of G8 and/or regional players as partners has weakened the spirit of multilateralism and international cooperation and discredited the United Nations.
Despite these issues, the American and British policy makers seem to be even more determined to prepare the groundwork for a military strike against Iran as their last legacy in their now-defunct policy of nation-building. Recent visits by top policy-makers in the last few months to Washington and London seem to have been mostly about how to appear sufficiently engaged in the diplomatic aspects of resolving the situation.
At the same time, politician in Washington and London have been trying to apply maximum pressure to France and Germany to ensure their support for a policy that is almost certain to lead to a military attack on Iran. This attack is likely to take the form of surgical air strikes combined with a sea embargo that is supposed to expedite the demise of the regime in Tehran.
In Iran, Mr Ahmadinejad, through making inflammatory statements, seems to be a willing partner in providing the justification for the U.S. in its effort to move policy toward a military attack on Iran. For their part, American foreign policy-makers, through repeated threats of military action against Iran if it countinues with its nuclear research, have once again have provided the oppressive regime of Iran with an excuse, in the guise of “national security,” to silence discontent.
The question that must be asked is one about the real beneficiaries of the policies pursued by the U.S. and Britain. Have these policies weakened the hardline mullahs in Iran and/or the jihadist Sunnis in Iraq and Afghanistan? Can we say that progressive journalists and politicians seeking a secular form of governance in the Islamic countries have benefited from regime-change policies?
Or have these policies led to the marginalization and imprisonment of those who might lead their countries in the Islamic world towards a more open, accountable, and socially inclusive society? Do we live in a safer world or are we, in the world community, more divided and suspicious of each other and less willing to talk with those who differ from us? We seem to be heading quietly but surely towards the next military engagement.
It is time to change policy and talk, yes, talk with whoever is prepared to engage in conflict resolution. Once the threat of war, surgical air strikes, and nuclear weapons recedes, we will see a re-emergence of those young Iranian women and men who will once again challenge the dogmatic policies of religious fanatics and fight to push back the reign of terror that has been ruling Iran.
Regime change is most effective and stable when it is instigated by internal forces who seek an open and free Iran, and who, unilaterally, will disengage from developing nuclear armaments. Iran has a generation of young, capable and highly educated women and men who have demonstrated their determination and willingness to fight for their rights and challenge the violent rule of the Ayatollahs and their theocratic allies. Their opposition to the regime should not be undermined by the launch of another military-cum-regime change debacle that could spread throughout the whole region, and very possibly further, for many years to come.
Instead, the focus of policy must be on exposing the abuses of human rights and the misdirection of oil revenues by the Iranian regime, as well as demonstrating the corruption that has become the way of governance in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As the first practical step, Western governments should provide and publish a list of assets, particularly bank accounts, of the leaders of the regime in Iran, and their business partners in Europe and in the United States. This can give a tremendous impetus to the opposition groups in Iran to mobilize the urban population and seek fundamental changes.
Few Westerners can appreciate the far-reaching effects of this action and the divisions that it will create even within the ranks of the regime. There is no single solution to the problems that beset Iran. However, eroding the revolutionary credentials of the ayatollahs and their allies may be one of most effective means of loosening and eventually severing their grip over Iran and its people.