There are many Iranians dead set on opposing any dialogue with IRI. I think it’s great that they voice their opinion, but if you disagree with them, you better make yourself heard. There are two striking aspects of the anti-dialogue view point. I’m using ‘anti-dialogue’ for the lack of a better term, not to suggest that they hate dialogue.
First, there is the notion that dialogue with IRI will give more legitimacy to IRI, as was suggested by Manesh [Checkmate]. That could perhaps be true, but even if dialogue adds more legitimacy to IRI, what’s the difference for the average Iranian living in Iran? Last week, I saw a video showing an IRI policeman kicking a girl into a police car. Would it make a difference if the policeman kicking the girl is working for a more or less legitimate regime? The IRI has been there for over a quarter of century. Has it made a difference to the IRI leaders whether they are viewed internationally as legitimate!?
During the lifespan of IRI, every approach has been made to undo it, none with any success. There have been attempts at using force internally, and the result was to tighten the grip of IRI. There was the war with Iraq during which Saddam received full backing from the many Western countries, specially the same cabal that is in the White House now. Again, the result was to strengthen the regime. There are the sanctions, with no effect. Actually, if anything, the sanctions also strengthen IRI.
There is yet another threat of external force coming form Washington. Well, one can see the results of that policy in two of Iran’s neighbors. Plus, the regime is milking these threats as much as possible. Haven’t all these belligerent approaches toward IRI made it more legitimate? After all, the regime has survived several onslaughts. So, what legitimacy can dialogue add that already is not given through other ill-conceived policies?
The problem of Iran can aptly be summed up in the classic Chinese finger trap: the tighter it’s pulled the tighter it holds. The reform movement was an attempt to break that hold from one side, namely social and cultural freedoms. That attempt was fully scuttled (or at least its demise was aided) by the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act first signed into law by Clinton in 1996 and under heavy lobbying by AIPAC, then by the Axis of Evil speech, and now by the bellicose gestures of the Bush Clan. So much for not adding legitimacy!
Another approach might be lifting the sanctions. The sanctions were as effective at weakening IRI as they were in weakening Saddam. They have had the exact opposite effect. They create a more difficult economic environment for the average Iranian. Lifting the sanctions may loosen the finger trap from the economic end. Finally, every regime, autocratic or not, is more willing to risk what it doesn’t have. In light of the fact that nothing else has worked, legitimacy (or its perception) may be exactly what the doctor ordered. Shouldn’t the priority for Iranians be to solve our problems, and not whether the problems are perceived as legitimate or not?
And, the second aspect of the anti-dialogue argument is the moral notion (with a very limited perspective of history and current events), as suggested by Sheema Kalbasi . Ms. Kalbasi has a list of human rights violations that would place a big, fat question mark on any government. But again, I have to ask what’s more important, to solve the problem or to shun engagement as a solution? Nothing else has worked and ‘ghahr kardan’ is sure as hell not going to work. The approach of Dr. Esfandiari and others does not condone what IRI does. But if abhorrent behavior of governments is a benchmark for exclusion from dialogue and engagement, then most countries should cut their ties with many Western nations. Let’s take some of the issues brought up by Ms. Kalbasi.
What IRI does to Bahais is despicable, vile, and should some day be addressed within a democratic judicial system. If the treatment of a religious group is reason to shun dialogue, then why is there a plan to build a Bahai temple in Haifa, Israel? (Note I’m not against the Bahais building a temple anywhere, I’m giving a rebuttal to a specific example.) If the execution of minors is the issue, then Ms. Kalbasi should know that until 2005, US also subjected minors to the death penalty. If torture is grounds for disengagement, well… that’s too easy… what about US and UK and their behavior in Iraq and Afghanistan? Or what about Islam Karimov, ex-president of Uzbekistan, who was a guest at the White House and both Bush and Blair called him an ally. Amongst the human rights violations in the repertoire of Mr. Karimov was boiling of his political opponents. Engagement and dialogue are precisely the solution for ending human rights violations. We should applaud and support the work of Dr. Esfandiari and others like her.