Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Engaging Iran

US President Barack Obama  is pursuing a policy of dialogue with Tehran, an approach he inherited from his predecessor George W. Bush. The Obama regime, in response to the “charm offensive” of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has redoubled its push to engage with the Iranians.

This week we witnessed another American attempt.

In an interview with NPR Radio to mark the end of 2014, Obama said he did not rule out reopening the US Embassy in Tehran – should Iran choose to permanently end efforts to develop atomic bombs.

“I never say never, but I think these things have to go in steps,” the US president said of the possibility.

Obama said the Iranians should take advantage of the opportunity to lift international sanctions, “because if they do, there’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of Iran and it would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules – and that would be good for everybody.”

For those of us with the mindset of a liberal democrat, Obama’s argument makes perfect sense. But totalitarian regimes work according to different rules. While leaders of liberal democracies use their charisma and the power of their arguments to garner support and build consensus, the dictator’s skills are different. Ruthlessness and a willingness to sacrifice any person, value or cause for the sake of maintaining control characterize the autocrat. Identifying and exploiting an opponent’s weaknesses are essential for survival.

Heads of state hailing from liberal democracies tend to project their own values onto dictators, convinced that, like themselves, dictators are ultimately governed by basic moral principles and can be reasoned with.

In contrast, totalitarian regimes see an attempt to compromise, to find a middle ground, as weakness that they are quick to exploit. Dictators must be stopped by force, history has shown.

In the late 1930s, Adolf Hitler interpreted Neville Chamberlain’s desperate attempts at appeasement as a sign that Britain was war-weary. Nazi Germany had to be categorically and unequivocally defeated.

In 1982, it was not appeasement that brought down the murderous regime in Argentina. It was Margaret Thatcher’s decision to go to war – and humiliatingly rout the junta’s forces – to reclaim Britain’s control over the Falkland Islands.

In the late 1990s, it was not “engagement” but NATO bomb strikes and military intervention that precipitated the fall of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

In 2005, Hamas did not see Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip as an opportunity to end its aggression against the Jewish state and begin the fruitful task of building an independent Palestinian state. It saw it as a sign that Israelis were caving in to terrorism.

Similarly, attempts to engage with the mullahs who run the Islamic Republic will never succeed.

However, a military attack might not be the only way to stop its march toward atomic bombs. Iran’s population is educated, sophisticated, surprisingly pro-Western and, given the right conditions, might eventually shake off its violent, reactionary Islamic leadership.

While many factors contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, intense international pressure, particularly the activism of US Jewry for the release of refusniks and dissidents, helped. Many of the people persecuted under the Soviet regime became household names in the West – Andrei Sakharov, Natan Sharansky Edward Kuznetsov and Yosef Mendelevitch, for example.

But how many of us can name even one Iranian dissident? Human rights activists presently languishing in Iranian prisons must become known to the world.

Women’s rights activists such as Shiva Nazar Ahari and Laleh Hassenpour, bloggers such Siamak Mehr and Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki, and student activists such as Zia Nabavi and Navid Khanjani must become household names.

Raising world awareness about those the Islamic Republic is persecuting and making these people’s names and faces known, coupled with economic sanctions, might set in motion internal political processes that could lead to regime change. It definitely has a better chance of working than “engagement.”


Even the Pentagon understands the need to use force against Iran if diplomacy fails. In his book A Time To Attack, Matthew Kroenig writes:

'Pentagon officials like to receive information in Power Point slides and the final slide in my presentation was a color-coded chart showing how the two outcomes under consideration ( a nuclear armed Iran or a military strike on Iran) would affect about a dozen key US national security interests. National objectives that improved in a particular scenario were colored green, those that were neutral were colored yellow, and increased threats to the national security of the country were depicted in various shades of orange and red, depending on their severity.
Two patterns stood out to everyone in the room. First there was very little green and a lot of orange and red on the slides. Second, the “nuclear-armed Iran side” of the chart was noticeably darker than the “military strike” side of the chart, meaning that the risks of the strike paled ( quite literally in this case) in comparison to the threats posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. Indeed at the end of the briefing, the senior-most official in the room looked me straight in the eye and said, “Well, if you are right, this is a no-brainer”.'


Unfortunately, the Iran policy of the Obama administration eerily resembles the Stanley Baldwin / Neville Chamberlain  policy towards Nazi Germany of the 1930s.  Here are the two final episodes of the 1981 TV series Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years 

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years - Ep.7 - The Long Tide Of Surrender

Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years - Ep.8 - What Price Churchill?