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