Over the past three decades, American policy towards Iran has
drifted from ineffectual to misguided while the Islamic Republic
has remained an enigma for most western strategists. The
regime’s rule is defined by oppression at home and aid to
terrorists abroad. It routinely threatens Israel and challenges
American interests where and when it can. Yet, successive
American administrations have failed to develop a coherent,
decisive strategy to face-down the fundamentalist regime.
Three basic strategies are in play today — one already deployed,
another being flirted with, and the third ominously hinted at.
Economic sanctions have been imposed since the mid 1990s with
little if any effect on the regime. Much as in Iraq under Saddam
Hussein, the regime has oil to fill its trough, but it is the
Iranian people that bear the brunt of the economic pressure and
are ultimately hurt.
Then there is the misguided counsel of direct negotiations with the regime. The
only result of direct negotiations would be bestowing legitimacy upon the
reviled apocalyptic regime. Is it wise for the U.S. government to help
legitimize an oppressive regime that has lost the support of its own people?
The third, and most wrong-headed option regularly hinted at in government
circles is military confrontation. This short sighted, ill conceived option is
another example of what ails American foreign policy today — lack of knowledge
and understanding of the adversary. It fails to differentiate between the
Iranian people, who genuinely like the Americans, and the Islamic regime ruling
Iran, which despises all things American. Besides, who in their right mind would
seriously think that the American people are ready and willing to sacrifice tens
of thousands of their sons and daughters yet again?
The Islamic Republic would actually welcome either of the two misguided U.S.
strategies — negotiations or war. Both strategies will strengthen their
repressive control over Iran and will allow them to extend their strategic
hegemony over much of the Middle East, into parts of Central Asia and the
Indian Ocean region.
The Islamic Republic has a long record of using negotiations as a tactic of
buying time to further its illicit policies. Besides, official negotiation
means officially recognizing the legitimacy of the other side — which is
something the clerical regime has longed for. Official negotiations will
also be interpreted as the U.S. government’s concession to the clerical
Do the prime supporters of global terrorism deserve rewarding? No matter how
one considers this dilemma, the fact is that the regime is despised by the
majority of the people because, besides oppressing the people, it has
mismanaged the economy to the point that the per capita income of an
Iranian, corrected for inflation, is one third of what it was 30 years ago.
Inflation today is 24 percent according to the regime's official figures,
unemployment for men is 30 percent and for women is 50 percent. The people are
on the brink and the society is ready to explode, but lack of perceived
international support and a vacuum of leadership has postponed the inevitable.
Bombing Iran would be militarily ineffective, and would lead to enormous,
and protracted difficulties for the U.S., including tremendous loss of life
as well as loss of meaningful U.S. influence in the region. It would almost
certainly lead to a much more virulent conflict in Iraq, while the
possibility of a full-scale war against Israel will increase exponentially.
Moreover, military attacks of any nature against Iran, by the U.S. and/or
Israel, would result in the devastation of Iran and un-accepted loss of life
of the people — a people who, as mentioned earlier, are not the enemies of
America or Israel, but who have genuine affection for both. Bombing Iran
could also precipitate the balkanization of the Greater Middle East.
War has been the great ally of the clerical regime. In 1982, after only 2
years in power, the regime was almost swept from office by a groundswell of
public outrage against the clerics. Khomeini embraced the war with Iraq — a
war that could easily have been avoided — and used the Iranian people’s
patriotic zeal to guarantee the survival and longevity of the Islamic
Republic. Ahmadinejad and the clerics in Tehran once again see the
possibility of using the people’s greater hatred of a foreign aggressor to
dissipate their lesser hatred of the fundamentalist regime. By taking the
bait, America will guarantee the longevity of the clerical regime.
But there is a ‘Fourth Option’ forward. The Iranian people, so
far pawns in this political morass, have always been there, patiently
waiting for any sign of real support to mount a challenge. The political
history of this people is rife with examples of a seemingly oppressed and
passive people suddenly rising to challenge the powers that be, when the
right leadership as well as the perception of support converged. The Iranian
people are fast approaching that point today.
To help leadership emerge from among the Iranian people, Washington must
take a very strong, clear-cut, unequivocal stand in support for the people. The
Iranian people must be assured that the U.S. government and the American people
stand with them in their quest for freedom.
As a prelude to this new approach, all saber rattling must cease so that the
American people and the U.S. Government are once again accepted as friends
and supporters and not as possible aggressors. Then the President of the
United States — the leader of the Free World — must demand that they be
treated with respect and dignity. If the Iranian people are convinced that
when they stand up for their own freedom, there will not stand alone, there
is little doubt that they will take decisive action. Again with history as
our guide, stabilizing Iran would have a tremendously positive effect on
stabilizing the region.
The reality is that the U.S. should have already been following this ‘Fourth
Option’. The Option should include a comprehensive psychological
strategy which would empower the Iranian people to seize the situation. To
keep control of the people, the clerics have artificially created a sense of
siege within Iran. The siege needs to be broken.
So far, conventional policies have been the norm. The State Department’s
role is to seek diplomatic solutions and open official lines of
communications with foreign powers. Some quarters are also charged with
finding military solutions. But no one is charged with thinking outside the
box. It is time to take action and implement this logical, low cost
strategy. But it is a call to help empower the people to take charge of
their own lives and to bring about the changes they desire. Also
it is time and absolutely necessary for internal/ external Iranians to
put away their tactical differences to come up with acceptable, untainted
national democratic alternative to replace the corrupt clerical government.
Dr. Assad Homayoun President of the Azadegan Foundation, and a member of
the Advisory Board of
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