Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Reading the tea leaves - Bush's Strategy on Iran

I believe the President has settled on the direction he is going to pursue with Iran. If I am reading the tea leaves correctly, it would appear a pattern has begun to emerge in the recent statements by President Bush, Condolezza Rice and others.

What is the new strategy?

Let's begin with President Bush's State of the Union speech. The President warned the Iranian regime that he is willing to significantly ramp up his support for the Iranian people:
"And to the Iranian people, I say tonight:

As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

The President has recently warned Iran to end its nuclear enrichment program and that he has not taken the military option off the table. At the same time, he also made clear his interest in pursuing a "diplomatic solution."

Why A diplomatic solution?

First, military action in Iran would likely be counter productive. Military action would almost certainly have the unintended consequence of killing large numbers of civilians and thus create a "rally around the government" effect. This would provide a tremendous opportunity for the regime to argue that the US government does not really "care about the people" of Iran. Thus alienating the very people we want to support.

Second, it is also unlikely that such military action could permanently stop Iran's nuclear effort. To accomplish this would require an invasion of Iran and therefore a much larger military force than we have available at this time, so we are told.

Third, Europe is unlikely to ever support military action against Iran and the US public would also find it hard to support it unless there was an imminent threat. (Nearly everyone would want irrefutable proof of Iran's nuclear weapons program).

So what options are left?

An effective non military response to the Iranian threat would require the administration find an issue that is universally accepted in order to gain international support. Such international support was essential in the recent popular revolt in the Ukraine.

Such an issue already exists.

I believe the issue the administration intends to focus on is human rights in Iran.

If you follow the news on Iran, the administration has begun focusing on the human rights issue as it relates to Iran. Here are a few examples:

President Bush alluded to it in his inaugural address:
From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time. ...
America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies.

We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.

Condoleezza Rice:
Iranians "suffer under a regime that has been completely unwilling to deal with their aspirations and that has an appalling human rights record". BBC
Even Senator Brownback, the new chairman of the Helsinki Commission says he plans to highlight Iranian human rights issues with Europe. The NY Sun reports:
The plan by Senator Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, is in keeping with the president's commitment to spread freedom throughout the world...

Senator Brownback said he planned to publicize the plight of Iranian dissidents in hearings before the Helsinki Commission, the American body created in 1976 to engage the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe on their treatment of political prisoners and human rights. American envoys would often read the names of political prisoners aloud at commission-related meetings, at first to embarrass their Soviet counterparts. Later this technique proved effective, when in the twilight of the Cold War many political prisoners were released.

"We are going to bring up human rights issues and what is taking place in Iran aggressively," he said.
Europe and the UN have a long history of advocating human rights. Europe has tied increased trade with Iran to improvements in their human rights record. European leaders advocacy for Human Rights in Iran bought them popular political support at home at very little cost.

Europeans are proud of their leaders stand for Human Rights. It was no surprise to Europeans that the Iranian human rights lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, won the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize.

If the US makes Human Rights in Iran a centerpiece of its Iran policy, the EU and the UN will have to support it. Russia and China would find it difficult to oppose it.

President Bush's support for "their issue" will likely be perceived by Europeans generally as a European victory. Popular support could force their leaders to join the US effort.

If Iran refuses to permanently end its uranium enrichment program, as they claim, the EU will have to withdraw its offer of increased trade.

Instead, I would then expect an ever increasing demand of the international community to end all trade (the EU's only real weapon) until the regime guarantees the Iranian people's human rights.

Already British firms such as BP have declared that they will not invest further in Iran. US firms have also taken similar positions and I expect we will see an ever growing number of international firms ending their business relations with the Iranian regime.

Why will this help bring down the regime?

First, the people of Iran will at long last receive the international attention and support they have been pleading for. This support will encourage the people to stand against the regime and various elements in government will be forced to decide whether to support the people of Iran or their unpopular leaders.

Thus the regime will face a serious dilemma.

On the one hand, cracking down on dissent will further alienate the regime and likely result in an end to international investments/trade in Iran.

On the other hand, the regime cannot comply with this without risking encouraging a popular revolt.

Iran's presidential elections are scheduled for June. The hardline elements in Iran have been hoping to further consolidate their power and will not likely be interested in being pressured by the international community on human rights.

If the Iranian regime cracks down on popular dissent this time, the international community will be watching as never before. Crack downs will lead to further doubts by the international business community. As more firms pull away from Iran, investment dollars will dry up.

Iran needs the investment dollars to keep the regime in power. Unemployment is already unbearable. Significant increases in unemployment will only fuel more civil unrest.

It would appear the regime will be in a no win situation.

President Bush is about to travel to Europe. If I am right, we will see a mending of relations and a new unity among the US and the EU.

Time appears to be running out for the Mullahs of Iran. It may prove to be a very hot summer in Iran.