A couple of weeks ago, I received the results of a poll conducted by NIAC asking what to advocate on behalf of the membership in the aftermath of recent upheavals in Iran. Almost five hundred NIAC members responded to the poll. Below are the reported results with some commentary by me [see footnote]. The number below each italicized statements is the percentage of responders who agreed with that statement.
The US government should not pursue diplomacy with the Iranian government.
The Enchanted Sulk Principle (ESP): ignoring someone magically compels him to do what you want.
The US government should pursue diplomacy with the current government in Iran at the earliest possible opportunity.
This is how I voted. How can a Green supporter want diplomacy with a government he considers illegitimate? Go figure. Yet this same Green supporter favored strong participation in the last election, when there was a danger the vote could help legitimize the regime’s policies. As we saw, the election actually dealt a blow to the status quo. Engaging a political opponent without hesitation is a show of confidence, sometimes a show of force, but never a concession.
As a matter of routine housekeeping, Iran needs some sort of government to carry out affairs of state with foreign nations. As a recent example, when unauthorized foreigners strayed across our borders into Kurdistan, who could we go to for a national response? So while Ahmadinejad is an election-stealing demagogue to me an Iranian, he better be Mr. President to foreign leaders until our nation reaches a consensus to say otherwise
The US government should put diplomacy on hold until the election process in Iran has reached a conclusion.
By a large majority vote this is the NIAC position. Not the best outcome in my mind, but certainly not wrong enough to make me sent nasty letters to NIAC canceling my membership. Putting off talking to any powers in Iran, waiting for some uncertain and undetermined event is sloppy politics. What if it takes too long for Iranians to topple the hardliners, and a war happens as a result of this “temporary” non-engagement?
NIAC should support war with or military strike against Iran
I urge responders in this category to go fight the IRI on their own. Don’t expect Americans to lose their lives for your interests. If American lives are risked, it is only fair that there should be a reward in it for Americans. What chunk of Iran were you planning to offer as that reward?
NIAC should continue to oppose war with or military strike against Iran
Absolutely! War is the ultimate human rights violator, by a wide numeric and moral margin.
The US should impose broad and comprehensive sanctions affecting the entire economy and population.
Place a siege on Castle Iran, and the starving masses will overthrow the tyrant. A theory functioning at 2.9% efficiency.
The US should not impose any additional economic or political sanctions against Iran
This is how I voted. And you may ask, “Don’t we want IRI’s repressive policies to go away?” The response is, sanctions may or may not impact Iran’s nuclear policies, but where did we get the idea that this has anything to do with Iran’s internal state of political repression? It is a near certainty that the moment the US gets concessions on the nuclear issue, she will defer to the Regime any survival measures to stay in power and deliver on the deal. Risk the dealmaker, risk the deal.
Does this contradict my position regarding diplomatically engaging Iran right away? Wouldn’t we be assuring the dealmaker’s longevity? The answer is “yes” only in the mindset where a foreign country’s support for an Iranian regime is deemed important. That is not my mindset. So my answer is, “No. Whatever regime the US supports or does not support is helpless to stop the democratic system slowly being willed into existence by Iranians themselves.
The US should impose additional targeted sanctions, such as: I) freezing international bank accounts current political leadership of Iran, II) placing international travel restrictions on individual representatives of the current government, III) placing restrictions on companies that sell supplies, equipment and/or services that monitor, restrict or disrupt communications and invade the privacy of Iranian citizens
By a slight majority vote, this is the NIAC position. It’s not objectionable enough to break ranks over, but here’s some discussion on the matter: The worst targeted sanction in the list is placing international travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats. Anything to disrupt communication risks misunderstandings and a possible war. Another targeted sanction, freezing the bank accounts of IRI leaders, is a good idea if the funds are held as collateral for human rights improvements. Are they? Or will the funds be released as soon as the nuclear issue is favorably settled? The devil is in the details. NIAC should make sure to securely piggyback human rights concerns on the Machiavellian agendas.
As for boycotting companies that sell tattletale cell phones, NIAC should make sure this couldn’t be used as a toehold for citizen boycotts of other goods and services to Iranians. Once Nokia takes a hit, other providers of goods and services will become responsive to citizen boycotts. Manipulated by mass media oblivious to the suffering of ordinary Iranians, loose cannon citizen boycotts may indulge in racism or religious bigotry, and attempt to choke off essentials like food and medicine.
Should NIAC advocate for the lifting of sanctions restricting exchanges, communications and interaction between ordinary Iranians and Americans?
I know a lot of ordinary Iranians--business people, academics, members of philanthropic organizations—who would benefit from this aspect of NIAC’s advocacy.
NIAC should extend its involvement on human rights to also influence US policy towards human rights violations in Iran and ensure the inclusion of human rights in any US-Iran negotiation.
To be safest from human rights violations, the rights of Iranians should primarily be protected by Iranian institutions, and only as an emergency backup by international organizations, or foreign power mediation. The website for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center contains a useful thought: “…the removal of an authoritarian regime does not necessarily lead to an improved human rights situation if institutions and civil society are weak, or if a culture of human rights and democratic governance has not been cultivated.” Since our embryonic local human rights institutions are under attack at the moment, I am very thankful to the global humanitarian support system. As I stated before in the case of the freezing of IRI private assets, NIAC should advocate piggybacking human rights concerns onto the un-freezing negotiations. This is an example of “…inclusion of human rights in any US-Iran negotiations.”
Deleting the word “any” in this proposal to extend the NIAC mandate may have gotten it the majority votes, and my vote. I balked at the word “any” because it can interfere with some indirect actions with longer-term positive yields. An example would be advocating for easier US visa procedures for Iranians. NIAC could hardly make such issues conditional to the improvement of human rights behavior of the IRI.
NIAC should continue its current policy and activities to condemn human rights violations in Iran, working to educate legislators on overall human rights trends and conditions and working in coalition with leading human rights organizations including Amnesty [International]
I’m perfectly in line with this original NIAC mandate also. Human rights advocacy is hard work. For NIAC to be effective in these goals, I assume the organization is going to need more resources. I would be happy to lend an extra hand and/or Dollar here. In this way human rights activists among the membership can democratically influence the organization to press harder on human rights issues. As it turns out, NIAC has lumped the two categories together as 42.5 + 46.6= 89.1 (higher decimals rounded up to 89.2) percent on its website, taking on the extended mandate anyway. The poll analyzers may have realized that nitpicky members like me would have voted for the extended mandate if it had been phrased with more care.
NIAC should not involve itself in the human rights situation in Iran or the US policy response to it.
As war is the biggest human rights issue everywhere and forever, NIAC’s anti-war position already had a significant component in this direction, with or without an explicit human rights assertion.
To overview NIAC’s US-Iran advocacy, there are places for compromise, and places where the line should be held. I would compromise on the sanction issues because the sanction glass can be seen as half full. For example economic boycotts could urge Iran towards self-sufficiency. This is a less macho way of saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” After years of neglecting Iran’s capacity for gasoline production, finally the threat of a refined petroleum sanction is forcing the government take this critical issue seriously. Iran may emerge from sanctions like a spoiled brat from boot camp. But war leaves no consolation prize for those who suffer it. Ultimately, anti-war advocacy is the line NIAC should hold.
A comment on volunteer survey responses in general:
The sample population will be biased because it has not been selected at random. As an example, consider a volunteer survey wanting to know if traffic fines are fair in California. The self-selected sample population will include a higher proportion of fast drivers than a randomly selected population. Attempts can be made to account for these statistical biases in the NIAC membership poll, but the anti-war and anti-sanction numbers are so overwhelming that the gist of the results can’t be reasonably doubted.
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