Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Democracy and Diplomacy Rather Than War

Arash Motamed, Rooz Online: a pro-reformist website
On Iran's nuclear policy and crises, the various political factions of the Islamic Republic all agree on one point: Heavy consequences for Iran. But that is where the agreement ends. Each group presents its own strategy in resolving the issue which appears to be the "“Iraqization of Iran'’s project" that ranges from confrontation to retreat. But a third strategy seems to be gaining support that attempts to combine democracy with diplomacy. This could be beneficial to both, the regime and Iran. READ MORE

Mohsen Rezai, the former Passdaran Revolutionary Guards commander proposes the policy of "“heaping over the West and the US"” to avoid a confrontation with it. What he advocates is to bypass the West and establish relations with others.

At the other end of the spectrum is a faction lead by Ahmad Tavakoli that is known as the "“rightwing activists"” whose members refrain from taking the hardline approach of the military-security faction. Their strategy is outlined by Saeed Hajjarian who is a former high-ranking security official and is now considered a theoretician of the official reformers within the regime. During the eight congress of the Mosharekat front (Iran Participation Front) Hajjarian said in reference to president Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani's policies that "with the current Iranian approach, Iran's nuclear case will definitely be referred to the UN Security Council."” And when he warns that "“Should the Security Council take up Iran’s case, then Iran’s situation will be very similar to that which existed during the last days of Saddam Hossein’s regime because the US intends to impose on Iran the same calamity that it has imposed on Iraq", he is expressing the fears of all Iran'’s political factions. It should be noted that Ali Larijani, a family whose five brothers all hold key posts in the Islamic Republic, has also warned that "Our problems with the US are not confined to the nuclear issue. This is a war in which if we retreat from this battle then there will be human rights issues, then Hizbollah, and a whole list of other issues to deal with."”

In the words of France'’s Sorbonne University sociologist "“The secretary of the Iran's Security Council refers to the greater plan for the Middle East as '‘war'’", which is the calamity that Hajjarian talks about. This is in fact the grand strategy for the Middle East which Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security advisor to former president Jimmy Carter, calls the heart of the world. In the pursuit of this grand strategy for the region, Iran too must either accept the changes or be neutralized by force.

In the words of an Iranian journalist in London, Iran has three files or cases to deal with. These are the very ones that Ali Larijani has listed too: the nuclear issue, human rights, and, Israel. "“Iran must forego the dream of acquiring nuclear weapons by ending its nuclear enrichment drive. It must also acknowledge human rights by providing the right of expression and political participation for all Iranians, and finally it must accept the peace process in the Middle East, which would amount to recognizing Israel’s right to exist."

Iran'’s acceptance of these issues, whether at the negotiating table or through the battle field, will amount to the strengthening of neo-liberal capitalism at the global level and the shift of the balance of power in America'’s favor.

In the words of a political analyst while Iran was used to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War period, it is now playing a critical role in the new division of power and the realignment of the new blocks in the 21st century. "“

According to an official close to Iran's nuclear talks, "“The war provided Iran with a sense of self esteem that lead to advances in technology towards the development of advanced weapons and nuclear energy."” He adds on that regardless of which government is in the driving seat in Tehran, this achievement belongs to the Iranian nation. He sees three ways to accomplish this.

Three Options for Iran.

The middle road, which was pursued by former president Khatami. A hard effort was successfully made to endow Iran with some level of international credibility and thus avoid a confrontational situation while Iran could still pursue its nuclear ambitions, albeit differently. Khatami'’s government tried to institutionalize democracy, maintain the nuclear energy program and, by finding a place for itself in the differences between the major international players, protect its national interests. But this process and its achievements ended when the opponents of democracy and reforms in Iran managed to snatch political power from their hands and ride the victorious horse into town.

The new guys replaced resistance with confrontation. By misreading the international atmosphere they tried to pursue their suppressive policies at home - that for all practical purposes ended the democratic drive - in the foreign realm as well. A former Iranian officials compares Ahmadinejad's situation to that of Khatami'’s and says that both came to power unpredictably, both placed cultural issues above politics and had ideas on them, and neither had any plans for the complex international issues or solutions to Iran's economic dilemmas. Khatami'’s domestic openness and reforms also spilled over to its international politics. It may be argued that even Khatami's pale democracy positively responded to the three issues that are said to face Iran, i.e. human rights, which is a requirement for solving the other two. When Ahmadinejad came to power, the ground work for his management had already been set: reform and liberal media had been shut down, power had been consolidated in the hands of hardliners in other branches of government, and even political groups that opposed hardliners were out of business and influence. According to a university professor, "Iran’s closed society cannot be closed any further. Recent developments indicate that the extremists will be removed from the conservative judiciary so that with the release of many high profile political prisoners, the groundwork will be ready for separating the social structures of the reformers from their leaders to the benefit of the hardliners."”

Hardliners who looked at Khatami as Iran'’s Gorbachev, viewed his policies with similar suspicions as those reminiscent of the collapse of the former Soviet Union. So as soon as they came to power, they altered the approach in the nuclear policy and took a hardline view with confrontational tactics. They see their survival in the success or failure of this policy. The second element of their confrontational approach is their use of "people'’s initiatives. This is nothing other than what we witnessed in front of the British embassy after London’s initiative and resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency, i.e. organized people'’s demonstrations under the guise of "popular and unorganized events."” The target audience for these demonstrations are the European governments and public. A policy which after stopping the marchers from taking over the British embassy replaced them with women protesters and demonstrators. The intensification of the verbal attacks between Iran and Israel is another component of this confrontational strategy. In this regard the Indian Express news agency writes that three representatives of the Israeli Knesset visiting the US have warned their hosts that if the US does not solve the Iran nuclear issue, it will undertake to do it by itself. In response, Haddad Adel the speaker of Iran’s parliament warns that "“If Israel acted in a crazy way and tried to attack Iran’s nuclear installations like it did with Iraq, we would teach it a lesson that it would remember forever."”

Neither of these two policies i.e. Khatami'’s moderation and middle road on one hand and Ahmadinejad's hardline and confrontations on the other are constructive approaches. Khatami'’s steps to open up society and allow democratic institutions to take root failed. Hardliners who view democracy as a means to unseat them from power, and thus oppose it with all their might, have created an unprecedented national and international crises for Iran that threatens the very existence of the country as a state.

A third option that finds its roots in the Expediency Council and thus pins Hashemi Rafsanjani, its leader, against Ahmadinejad's hardliners is rapidly gaining support. Events such as the presence of Khatami and Abdollah Nouri in the reformist camp, the invitation for Karoubi to join it, the retreat of some confrontational positions of certain hardliners and the identification of a new group within the hardliners that openly calls Ahmadinejad'’s policies a failure, can pave the way for the creation of a structure or an organization that can lead to real resistance to protect Iran'’s national interest. This approach would be based on democracy, i.e. the participation of national political groups, which would be reflected in Iran'’s diplomacy over the nuclear issue. In the words of a university professor,Reformers who warn of a repeat of the Iraq scenario for Iran, continue to remain silent on these issues, making yet another tactical blunder. They have left the field open to the hardliners out of fear that they will be blamed for the negative outcome of the current policies.
While I disagree with many of the assumptions of this article, still it provides valuable insight into Iranian thought on their current crises.