Monday, April 17, 2006

Iran: The "Charm Offensive"

It's so fucking obvious, yet I haven't heard it much until just today, when I read this column by Barry Rosen in today's Daily News.  For those who haven't heard of Barry Rosen (and I didn't until I read his column), he is one of the hostages who was held for 444 days in Iran years ago.

And I read a small snippet in Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker, but it was really in passing.  I guess I never really stopped to think too much about it but the solution for what is going on in Iran is really quite simple.

No bombs, maybe sanctions, who knows what other international pressure, but the best way to effectuate "regime change" - the way that would be helpful, ESPECIALLY in a country like Iran, can be summed up in 2 words:  Charm Offensive.

Putting aside the debate over how far off Iran is from obtaining a nook-you-lur weapon, or that this whole mess could have been avoided if Dear Leader didn't reject overtures by Iran in 2003 to open up dialogue.  Or that the Plame leak seriously impeded the ability to track Iran and nuclear weapons.

It is no secret that the general population of Iran is pretty "westernized".  Hell, if you want some proof, check this out from earlier this year:

The steps are obvious: Communicate directly to Iran's very westernized population, through radio, the Internet and other media; organize international support for unions and human rights and other civic groups, as well as religious groups that oppose the regime; provide covert support to those willing to use it; and impose sanctions, not so much to stop the nuclear program -- since they probably won't -- but to squeeze the business elite that supports the regime.


This doesn't mean giving up on diplomacy. A strategy aimed at changing the Iranian regime is entirely compatible with ongoing diplomatic efforts to slow Iran's weapons programs. It might even aid diplomacy, since Iran's leaders fear internal unrest more than external pressure.

Or this from Hersh's New Yorker article:

Other European officials expressed similar skepticism about the value of an American bombing campaign. "The Iranian economy is in bad shape, and Ahmadinejad is in bad shape politically," the European intelligence official told me. "He will benefit politically from American bombing. You can do it, but the results will be worse." An American attack, he said, would alienate ordinary Iranians, including those who might be sympathetic to the U.S. "Iran is no longer living in the Stone Age, and the young people there have access to U.S. movies and books, and they love it," he said. "If there was a charm offensive with Iran, the mullahs would be in trouble in the long run."

Or this comment from Thomas Friedman on PBS Newshour in 2002 about Iran's population and attitude towards the US:

Well, basically what's happened, there's enormous longing there. I would say generally speaking for resumption of relations with the US and again particularly among young people. Part of that, I think, Margaret, is a reaction to the failed reforms of Khatami, President Mohammed Khatami. He was really elected to represent that base of reformers. He's been kind of a bust for people.

He really hasn't confronted that hard line, you know, those hard-line clerics. People hoped he would be Gorbachev. He turned out to be Khrushchev, if anything. But at the same time -- so the failure of Khatami has really left a lot young Iranians very disappointed and looking for a kind of deus ex machina... something that will magically make all those reforms happen.

Many of them have seized on America or American relations as a thing that will reverse everything. The unemployment, the isolation, the over, you know, over, you know, the intense theocracy of the country. And so that's what people are really longing for.


Iran is a country getting younger, poorer, less Islamic, more pro American, because young Saudis are reacting to a regime that they see as corrupt, irreligious and pro American, and because they see that regime in bed with America and they don't like the regime, they're reacting the other way. Iranians look at their regime as anti-American, overly religious and young Iranians are reacting just the opposite. And so it's quite interesting. There's a huge cohort there of potential support for America.

Of course, that didn't work out quite the way that was expected, with another hardliner but more theocratic, more conservative (and more crazy) being in charge....But the point is, there are numerous accounts that point out how the Iranian population, especially the younger people, like a lot of things associated with American pop culture.  

Take this for an example from last month:

Well there's a real tension in Iran between a youthful population and the dead hand of the theocratic state, and that tension manifests itself in sometimes contradictory ways. One of the more puzzling things that emerges when you survey opinion in Islamic countries, is that while they say they hate the United States, they like a lot of things that we tend to associate with American popular culture. And so you have the paradox really of the quasi-Americanised young, say, Palestinian, who might listen to Eminem but then becomes a suicide bomber. And I think this is something that's really hard to grasp about what's going on in these societies. If you're a teenager in the Islamic world, you have a very, almost schizophrenic attitude towards the West. You may be attracted by its pop culture because so many aspects of it are irresistibly cool, but you have a tremendous sense of inferiority and under-achievement in terms of your national culture. And of course economically you're doing pretty miserably. You may well be unemployed or in a lousy job, and you may think economically, `Gosh wouldn't it be great to go to the Untied States and become part of the most dynamic and wealth-creating society on earth. And at the same time you feel God, how arrogant these Americans are, how I'd like to give them a bloody nose. I think perhaps the inherent tension which is at work here, and it could of course flip either way, I mean in a really happy ending type scenario, ultimately the attraction of the West is just more powerful than the sense of frustration and inferiority that pushes in the other direction. But right now, I don't feel optimistic, it seems to me that the other tendency is gradually prevailing in conditions of relative economic instability.

And therein lies the issue.  It can still go either way - but there is little time.

Rosen's piece is very good - I recommend that you read it (it is short...).  He makes these points better than I can, so I will give you a few snippets.  He is realistic as well, so this is no "pie in the sky" approach either:

Make no mistake. The news out of Iran is a setback for the longstanding attempt to dissuade the country's officials from expanding the scale of its uranium enrichment program. But Ahmadinejad's bluster was more a political statement than a big step toward an atomic bomb.

And we arrived at this point because Secretary of State Rice failed to get the UN Security Council to step up and impose heavy sanctions on Iran.

Nice.  Just getting it out there that (1) this is pretty serious and not to be taken lightly, and (2) it could have been avoided, at least to a degree but for the fuckups we have in charge here.

He continues:

Now, the Iranian president's nationally televised stage show needs to be challenged - but not by bunker-busting bombs from the American military. This demands a reinvigorated and unrelenting UN Security Council program of aggressive diplomatic intervention that steadfastly supports the human rights movement in Iran.

This is the key to isolating the regime, weakening its totalitarian hold over the Iranian people and creating a united front of Iranians calling for a more open society.

Far more than military threats from a hated superpower, that would be Ahmadinejad's worst nightmare.

How about that?  Actually using the UN for something that is beneficial, and to help the human rights movement in Iran.  What a novel idea - not starting a pissing match to aggravate pretty much everyone.

His nuclear sideshow is a convenient ploy to distract the unemployed poor from their own serious needs. Rattling sabers about using force - or actually using it before absolutely necessary - would only strengthen that ploy.

Fairly obvious, but something that needs to be said.  And the more obvious conclusion:

What we have to realize is that we are unable to control the world with our weaponry. Unless we use diplomacy and other forms of social, economic and diplomatic pressure more effectively, the best we can expect is the status quo.

The charm offensive.  So simple.  The people there, as much as they hate what we are doing in Iraq, like what our country (used to) stand for - or what many of us still do stand for.  The people in Iran have, by and large, been looking to have a dialogue with the US for years now.  Put simpler, they like our stuff.  In Hersh's article, the Administration's idea of bombing Iran until the leadership was so ashamed that the people would rise up and revolt is as stupid an idea as I have heard since, well, the reasons to invade Iraq.  But, to help the human rights effort there, and to show Iran what We the People are REALLY about, is what will have a much better chance of "making the people rise up" in Iran.

Not bombs, but charm.  Even if our leadership has none, We the People still do.  And done right, we can maybe start to do things the right way......

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