Monday, March 06, 2006

Iran Review: America, Europe, and Japan at Crossroads to Deal With Nuclear Theocracy

It is my pleasure to submit the first issue of “The Iran Review” to the German-American blog carnival. As mentioned in the previous notice, this is a new project on this blog.

In this post, I am going to explore policy gaps and cooperation among the United States, EU 3, and Japan. It is worth to note that America and Europe are acting closer on Iran, though they split on Iraq. While the transatlantic rift is being repaired, Japan does not articulate its stance on Iran. Will this disturb the common front of the Western alliance?

I will discuss policy options, including military actions, diplomatic negotiations, and sanctions. It is necessary to talk of Western assistance to Iranian civil resistance when I discuss this issue. Nonetheless importantly, we need to understand the nature of current theocracy in Iran.

Let me begin with the nature of Iranian theocracy. Reza Pahlavi, former crown prince of Iran, argues that the current regime in Iran will not abandon their ambition for nuclear power status. He says that this regime pursues to export Islamic revolution abroad, and aggression and confrontation against the global community is inevitable. In an interview with Sky TV of Italy, Pahlavi denounces that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitism ruins Persian tradition of ethnic tolerance since Cyrus the Great who liberated the Jewish from Babylonian oppression. Furthermore, he says that the current regime does not represent Iranian public.

Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, agrees with Reza Pahlavi. In an AEI policy leaflet, entitled “Iran Means What It Says”, he points out that Iran has the second largest Jewish population in the Middle East after Israel. More interestingly, Rubin mentions that many Iranians express pride that Israeli president Moshe Katsav was born in Iran. Apparently, anti-Israel policy by Ahmadinejad does not win a nationwide support from Iranian people.

Islamic extremism has become rampant since the Iranian revolution in 1979. Since then, Iran has been sponsoring terrorist organizations, like Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and so forth. A regime like this is exploring nuclear development. This is a serious threat to the global community.

In order to curb Iranian threat, it is necessary to think of policy options. Currently, military strike, diplomatic negotiation, and punitive sanction are considered. The West has to support Iranian civic movements for democracy, in parallel with those measures. Among those, military attack is unlikely. Iranian theocrats will claim holy war against Western invasion, Reza Pahlavi says in a BBC interview on February 6. Also, Flynt L. Leverett, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution argues as the following.

“The United States (or Israel) could strike militarily at Iran's nuclear installations. But these are spread across Iran, and planners may not know all of the targets that would need to be hit. Moreover, a strike could prove counterproductive by hardening Iranian resolve to acquire a nuclear weapons capacity.”

Therefore, two options remain: either to continue talks or to impose sanctions. Can the global community talk with mullahs? Reza Pahlavi told Fox News that diplomacy does not work for a fascist regime, because they need confrontations against outside world in order to survive (January 7). To examine his comment, let me review some articles. As witnessed in recent failure in the negotiation with Russia, why is Iran so adamant?

According to Michael A. Ledeen, Freedom Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Iran acts based on its assessment of the West’s strength and weakness (“A Mullah’s-Eye View of the World”, National Review Online, February 17). They are not afraid of isolation from the world, because they feel that both the US and Israel face domestic divide to stand tough against Iran. Also, Michael Rubin argues in an AEI publication that as long as Iran retains extremist ideology, more diplomacy will give Iranian theocrats time to achieve its nuclear goal.

Things are going on as Rubin says. Prior to the Russo-Iranian talk, Reza Pahlavi appeared in C-Span to warn that mullahs use this negotiation as a delay tactic. Actually, the negotiation ended in failure.

If diplomacy does not work, punitive sanctions remain as the final option. Just as Reza Pahlavi says, this must be smart, not sanctions for sanctions. How to make it effective, while posing minimum damage to the Iranian public?

I saw an interesting file in an e-news from the Regime Change Iran. According to the file, Senator Rick Santorum proposed the following measures at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 2.

1) A travel ban on Iran's leaders;
2) A ban on international flights by Iran Air;
3) A ban on receiving cargo carried on Iranian government-owned ships; and
4) Aggressive action to see that government leaders in Iran responsible for human rights abuses and executions are brought to trial.

George Perkovich, Vice President at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, advised not to speak about sanctions prematurely and too hastily at the testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. When sanctions are imposed, all important investors and traders must be involved, he says. At the committee, he testified that Britain and France had been examining their sanction models.

Sanctions must hurt the regime, not the Iranian public. This is not only because of humanitarianism. Iranian people can work with the West to topple extremist mullahs. According to a policy brief by Chris Foster and James Owen at the Foreign Policy Centre in Britain, Iranians youth are more pro-American than those in Arab neighbors, and getting increasingly frustrated with brutal police and poor economy. Michael Rubin points out that only 10 % of people around Tehran believe in Ahmadinejad’s political vision. He argues that the United States and Europe could make Iran a potential anchor democracy in the Middle East, if they succeeded in empowering Iranian citizens.

As the latest Russo-Iranian negotiation was unsuccessful, it has become increasingly important for the Western alliance to explore sanctions.

Finally, I would like to mention the repair of transatlantic alliance on Iran. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Washington last time, people realized how serious Euro-American gap is on Iraq. However, “thanks” to adamant Ahmadinejad, the transatlantic bond is cementing again. Jim Hoagland, Columnist at the Washington Post, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, welcomes this trend. A solidified unity of the Western alliance is essential to defeat mullahs’ ambition.

While America and Europe are working closely, Japan has not shown its strategy on Iran. Currently, Japan is engaged in developing a large-scale oil field in Azagaden, southwestern Iran. It is time to reconsider this project. Japan should understand its role as a key member of the Western alliance. Moreover, Japan needs to take implicit messages from President Bush seriously. The President requested India to stop the pipeline project when he offered technological assistance to civil use of nuclear energy. Also, at State of the Union Address this year, the President warned people of excessive dependence on Middle East oil.

Things have become increasingly critical, and staunch Western unity is required. America and Europe move closer together. Japan must not hesitate to join this transatlantic endeavor, if it is seriously pursuing for a leading position to manage the globe.