National Review Watch: Mansourian

To-day’s National Review piece to be scrutinized is by Farhad Mansourian who is a research fellow at the Center for Promotion of Democracy & Human Rights. His piece is short yet it is packed with arguments and assumptions that need to be dissected. This article comes on the heels of increased public discussions about reconciling with Iran and is an attempt to silence those calls by arguing for a continuation of a hard-line approach while “aiding internal efforts that strive to bring about democratic regime change from within.” I am not sure exactly what these internal efforts are or whom they are going to and I get the impression that Mansourian does not know either.

My alternative would allow for some sort of rapprochement with Iran and also allow some of these same internal efforts Mansourian lauds. By removing the demonization, I contend, moderates would have increased leverage in their contestations with non-moderates and would then be able to reform the government. People voted for Ahmadinejad because they feel increasingly antagonized by the outside world and felt he was the best way to regain some strength. Removing this fear and opprobrium might just be enough to keep people from voting for him and others like him.

Mansourian claims my policy would fail because there is no room for moderation in Iranian politics because “all Iranian politicians, regardless of faction, are subject to the dictates of the Supreme Leader.” I will hesitatingly posit that this is correct, but it still does not defeat my prescription. The Supreme Leader’s dictates are not to wipe Israel off the map. Those dictates are not to engage in a violent struggle; rather they can be interpreted as such. Those dictates can also be interpreted to allow Iran to play a more constructive role more in line with US interests. What is needed is a moderate government that interprets those dictates in such a way. Mansourian’s argument about the one style politics is a contradiction with his later claim, which I discussed above. Mansourian’s prescription is to foment internal change, yet he forecloses that very possibility in my prescription. Why does this argument carry weight with the soft-line policy and not in the hard-line policy? If anything it would be easier for the more powerful members of Iranian society to create change than the more marginalized groups, which Mansourian seems to champion.

There is one other argument Mansourian makes that needs to be addressed. He claims the soft-line policy would teach the ayatollahs to foment chaos in the region. However, Mansourian again betrays himself. He says they will “sense that all they have to do is keep the Middle East in chaos.” The word I want to focus on is ‘keep’. The Middle East is already in conflict so where then is the risk of the soft-line policy? Iran is actively fomenting chaos under a US hard-line approach. Maybe the soft-line approach, for a change, is the way out of the morass into a new status quo. Mansourian hints at what would be his response: deterrence. The US can punish Iran for bellicose behavior by letting them “understand that there are consequences to their actions.” This punitive function of US foreign policy, I contend, lacks credibility in to-day’s world. The US military is over-extended and US public opinion for another engagement with a larger-then-Iraq adversary is likely to be non-existent. A punitive option would also be easier to secure with a soft-line policy because it can then be demonstrated that we tried and Iran is intractable in their aggression. Not only would the world be more in line with our policy (see Putin’s recent comments) but US public opinion would also be more easily secured.

Mansourian wants the US to match Iranian bluster with American bluster, meanwhile people are dying and an irreversible course towards more chaos and death is being set upon. It is time for a change and as long as we keep up the saber rattling we cannot honestly expect the change to come from Tehran first. It is time to look within and realize how we have helped create this mess.

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