Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

A Retort to Dr. Richard Haass; Democracy Or Not, Iran’s Nuclear Program Is There To Stay

Posted in Iran by Dan on February 3, 2010

In Washington’s hustle-and-bustle atmosphere, it’s often hard to find an individual who is both non-partisan and deeply admired for pragmatic thinking.  Travel in all corridors of the capital and I guarantee you that one man’s (or woman’s) hero is another man’s (or women’s) villain.  Just to take an example, some people view President Obama as a man of deep strategic vision, while others across the street consider him an inexperienced politician who “appeases” his enemies (I use the word appease loosely in this context).

Thankfully, Dr. Richard Haass- a former director of policy planning at the State Department and current President of the CFR- is one such individual.  Well-known for his experience, candor, and pragmaticism, it is often hard to bypass Dr. Haass’ opinions when important foreign-policy problems are discussed.  Whether the issue concerns Iraq’s political future or Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban, officials and analysts tend to line up in front of his office to hear what Haass has to say.

I have come to expect this sort of rationality when I read Haass’ work in Newsweek, Foreign Affairs, and Foreign Policy.  This is why I was somewhat shocked when Dr. Haass did a complete 180-degree turn in his latest mass-media publication.  The topic at hand: Iran’s nuclear program.

The same CFR President that once called for calm and tolerance over the Iranian nuclear issue is now arguing for peaceful regime change.  With the Iranians continuing to stonewall the world’s nuclear demands- and with the Iranian people victim to their government’s oppressive policies- he vows that “enough is enough.”  Time for an about face in the President’s Iran policy; one that empowers Iranian democrats and creates schisms among Tehran’s ruling clerics.

There is only one problem with Dr. Haass’ new approach; there is no guarantee that a democratic Iran would view the nuclear program any differently.

It is all fine and dandy to promote regime change in Iran through peaceful means- like empowering the Iranian opposition, causing rifts among the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad alliance, and boosting internet access- but who is to say that a democratic Iran would act differently on the nuclear issue?  Unfortunately for the United States and its allies, evidence on the ground points to a regrettable answer; Iranians, despite their political and ideological orientations, support the country’s right for a nuclear capability.

Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami- the so called heads of the Green Movement- are fully supportive of an Iranian nuclear program.  In fact, there political weight is precisely why President Ahmadinejad back-peddled after he agreed “in-principle” to a nuclear deal created by the United Nations.

When Ahmadinejad and Iranian nuclear negotiators came back home from Vienna after a deal was struck, they were surprised to find outright opposition from the Mousavi coalition.  Threatened with an empowered Green Movement and the perception of giving away Iran’s nuclear program to western powers, Ahmadinejad renounced the U.N.-brokered agreement just days later.

Let’s take a step back and pretend that last summer’s Iranian presidential election was conducted in a free, fair, and legitimate way.  Mousavi would surely be elected president, but Iran’s foreign and defense policies would largely carry-on.  We have to remember that it is not the President of Iran, but the Supreme Leader that is in absolute control of Iranian foreign-policy.  Would Ayatollah Ali Khamenei really change his stance just because a reformist was elected by the people?  Taking his absolute authority into account- and the political support he has from conservatives and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps- the answer is no.

If you want to speak in broad terms, regime change in Iran would be highly helpful for the United States, Israel, and its Arab allies in the Middle East.  Human rights, personal freedoms, Women’s rights, and political tolerance would undoubtedly improve.  But on issues the United States really cares about- like the nuclear program and U.S. interest in the Persian Gulf- a Green takeover would not do that much good.

As I have said before, the Iranian nuclear program is much more than a simple research project.  It’s transformed into an ever-lasting part of Persian nationalism.

-Daniel R. DePetris


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9 Responses

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  1. omar ibrahim said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    Nowhere in Haass’ article do I spot any concern about what the MAJORITY of Iranians think and want.

    His call is for an all out intervention in Iranians’ affairs short of a declared or semi declared, war.

    Granted there is now a more open, and seemingly powerful, opposition to the present regime than at any other time in the last thirty years BUT is a vocal opposition, emboldened by such articles, to be deemed as speaking for IRAN?
    Does this opposition in any way command the support of a Majority of Iranians.?
    Is this opposition for “reforming” or “uprooting” the present regime?

    The question is NOT rhetorical for that, what and whom a majority of Iranians support, will ultimately decides what will happen in Iran ; democracy or no democracy , it is up to a majority of Iranians to decide what form of governance should rule over them and for that majority to implement their decision via a “revolution”/public uprising or elections!

    The only safe road for the USA to tread is to go along with what the majority of Iranians wants; that will ultimately include better relations with the USA.
    The alternative would be a West/USA supported elitist minority to meet, ultimately, the fate of the Shah.

  2. Abdul Aziz Mohmand said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Present Iran leadership is running the system like military dictators with near to the ground level tactics with their own people and low mentality level understanding with its neighbor???s countries. After so-called nuclear munitions store built up, Iran is an unsafe state for itself similar to recently Iran government killed its scientist and blamed to the world.

    We are waiting for the day that there will be a blast in nuclear surface and than Iran government will culpability to the rest of the world. Iran government is harassed to continue its authoritative rule of the people of Iran but if we say that Iran leadership of few scoundrel people has kidnapped the nation of Iran will be absolutely right.

    Freedom of speech, independence of press and foreign people and especially foreign media is totally deprived of by the Iran crook state. Why international society soundless over the Iran rascal measures. World top elders, President Obama, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Prime Minister Harper are noiseless on this issue. When they will move toward to take action when there will another 9/11?

    Iran leadership is ruling from beginning to end dictatorial way to control its mass and from the other part it???s providing the explosive material, weapons and money to the insurgents of Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan for unconstructive activities to damage the world tranquility development. By evidence and stroke this country is not trustworthy and can hurt any time to anyone. Therefore world should center on first rule of law and second nuclear arsenals should be smashed by force as early as possible. This action, of course, will save the rest of the world.
    Abdul Aziz Mohmand

  3. erielhonan said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Over and over and over again I hear the same arguments against Irans “illegal” nuclear programs, while Israel sits upon an illegal hoarde of nuclear weapons itself and no one breathes a word about it. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel is not (not least of all because Israel will not tell the truth about it’s own weapons cache). Has anyone ever heard of regional arms races? Pakistan and India? Until Israel is brought in to international conformity on this issue, how can we expect any of it’s neighbors to be?

  4. sam_lowrey said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Revolution in Iran? They had one in 1979 when they threw out he dictator that OUR ROGUE CIA had placed there in Operation Ajax. They certainly don’t need another. Looks like the US may be due for one after a small cabal has absconded with our wealth and exported it to other countries (especially Israel who you are clearly shilling for.) Iran has abided by the NNPT – a treaty the rogue group Israel (without declaring their borders they can no longer be considered a nation!) refuses to sign or abide by. Where are the inspections of their illegal WMD program – built initially with stolen nuclear material from the US (Savannah site).

    Iran DISCLOSED the uranium enrichment (a right under the NNPT) site – so it isn’t a secret nor was it discovered by the US. Quite frankly, after the many convenient “mistakes” (lies) made to build up the war in Iraq (for Israel) I would trust the Iranian government before the regime controlling the US (hmmmm, I guess you people are big Obama fans to be willing to go to war for him, hmmmm?)

  5. WRH_Mike_Rivero said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    The facility at Qum was not “discovered”; it was announced by Iran to the IAEA, in accordance with the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran is in compliance with, the US is not, and Israel has never signed.

    I really miss the days when Newsweek could be trusted to report the FACTS.

  6. junkmail6 said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:15 pm

    Obviously, Iran wants to be a regional power, and they think obtaining nuclear weapons is part of the process. But just because Iran has a nuclear weapon doesn’t mean they will try to use it. That would be extremely stupid, and they are extremists, but not extremely stupid. They think having a nuclear weapon, like Pakistan, will increase their prestige. That’s stupid, but somewhat understandable.

    But since when is the U.S. an imperialist power that ravages any country that does something we don’t like? We simply don’t have the right to act like that, and the rest of the world won’t tolerate our doing so. Instead, we should back off with the threats and the control. That would force Europe, Russia, and China to take an active role in controlling their neighbors. Meanwhile, we speak softly and carry a very big stick, which we use only when attacked.

    As far as this article, tossing out terms like “regime change” shows what a fascist nut-case this guy is. I used to be a Republican, but I hope they shrink into a tiny minority given the rhetoric they have been spewing out lately.

  7. elixelx said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    My Iranian buddy, Gholam Ali, who used to be sane until he moved back to Tehran 4 years ago, now tells me that:

    a) The Iranian people see the Nuclear Development Programme as a source of fundamental National Pride. The Iranian Govt. concurs

    b) The NDP is also considered an inalienable right by the Iranians; ditto their Govt.

    c) The NDP is also regarded as the future of Iran’s energy needs, given that they do not have the refining facilities for gasoline they need. NDP is for domestic and factory use only

    d) Finally, the Iranians are CERTAIN that they will always be threatened or attacked by Israel/USA at the first possible opportunity, and hence need a deterrent puny it may be

  8. davidwayneosedach said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Let the Israelis keep bombing Iranian nuclear sights. The day will come when Iran has its own nuclear weapons and they will bomb no more.

    • XMarine said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:18 pm

      Well said. No bombing is going to stop Iran from nukes if they choose. Are people stupid thinking bombing and military intervention will change anything. If Iran was the only Muslim nation – maybe. But if Iran is bombed we still have Pakistan. The only way to stop and change the Islamic world is change ourselves. But this is not going to happen because we have our own radical religious belief telling us what to do. In the end we are as crazy as them.


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