Thursday, February 16, 2006

Secretary Rice's Proposal for Iran

Ok, this may be a bit long, but it is a difficult subject to approach in just a few lines. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just made a request from the Senate for $85 million to support dissident groups, unions, student fellowships and television and radio broadcasts in Iran. There is an article on this posted in the New York Times.

Although I do not agree with the way Iran is governed currently, there may be serious repercussions to openly advocating and providing this type of aid of which Sec. Rice talks about. In the following I’m going to try and address some of the problems that the US might run into (even though I realize that books would need to be written in order to thoroughly analyze the subject).

Proponents of this aid proposal cite examples of countries where the US took similar actions and was successful. One major problem with using Poland, Ukraine, or Georgia as examples of success stories is that Christianity is the predominant religion in these countries. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, which is 75 percent Muslim, it is a country which is hardly a strong enforcer and promoter of religious rule as is the case with Iran. Also, none of these countries posed any kind of serious threat to the stability of their respective regions, nor were they in any way a threat to the United States. Iran on the other hand, is a fairly homogeneous Islamic country (90% Shi’a, 9% Sunni) so that in itself could be a stumbling bloc in reception of the US aid as afore mentioned. It might be harder to get on the same page with someone who doesn’t share some of the same moral, ethical, and religious values as yourself…someone who may not particularly like the way their country is run now, but who does not necessarily see the western model as a way to go either. This is all speculation on something that may happen down the road, but would we still support a regime change even if the new one might not necessarily be a democratic one?

Even though the support for the US among young people is high, Iranians are also wary of any US meddling in their country because of the past experiences with the US. This proposed aid could be seen as a way of the US attempting to impose its will and way of life onto the Iranians.

Another problem with providing money to the political dissidents is that it might get into wrong hands, to support groups which may be against the current regime, but are not favored as alternatives by the Iranian people either (such as the supporters of the monarchy). The last thing that the US needs is to lose the support that it has in Iran because it backed a wrong group.

The radical Iranian government does not want even minimal relations with the US. How is this aid going to affect the recipients of it once the Iranian government knows who they are? We cannot seriously believe that these groups are not going to be heavily oppressed and persecuted by their government. So how effective will the aid be then? Perhaps it will be effective in the sense that it will cause a certain degree of tension and unrest in the country. But then again, in providing such aid, a question begs to be asked, is it really in our interest to cause unrest in Iran? This becomes especially relevant when talking about the current situation in Iraq. Thus far – especially in the beginning stages of the invasion of Iraq – Iran has been fairly cooperative as it is in its interest to keep stability in their neighboring country. How is Iran going to react to such open promotion of aid to the opposition of the current regime? Certainly it will try to “retaliate” in number of ways and one of the easiest and most cost efficient ones could be to cause/support as much chaos as possible for our troops in Iraq (covertly I would imagine).
These are just some of the downsides to openly/publicly supporting the Iranian government’s opposition.

In my opinion, whatever that is worth, we should try and avoid this type of open support for the opposition as it may cause more damage than good. In the case of Iran we should stick to the back channels and under-the-table types of deals because that way we risk less, as well as we do not openly expose the opposition. Nontheless, I am posting this in order to hopefully generate some discussion on the matter and how it relates to what's in our best national interest.


Faust said...

Clearly this is a dicey issue to say the least. However,in my eyes we're seeing the US taking as firm a stance on Iran as it can right now. In reality this actions are completely inline with the US Security Strategy 2002 that we read for class today in which the US states its desire to spread democracy and address the root causes of terrorism. Foreign aid and support for democratic groups is high on the list of ways in which to do just that. I believe what your post gets more directly at is whether we should announce such support so publicly. I'm inclined to say yes. As you'll read in the same article which you've cited, many US officials have resigned themselves to the idea that Iran will likley gain nuclear weapons. I would imagine that hope is that if a nuclearly armed Iran becomes democratic, they may be convinced to give up their WMD. By openly stating that we've still got our eye on Iran then we indicate to them and any other nuclear wanna-be's that the US stands firm on its principles and will do what it can to block proliferation, but likewise to spread democracy. I guess I see this action as a way to tell Iran its not over and we remain concerned and engaged over its future.

While naturally there will be a strong reaction from Iran, how much more can it do? It's no longer freely cooperating with the IAEA and it continues to attempt to inflame the region and reiterates its desire to see the destruction of Israel. Any kind of direct retaliation against the US or its allies is unlikely and a move that Iran knows would justify a harsh reaction. Instability in Iraq is not in the interest of Iran for fear that Iraq's troubles and discontent might spread to Iran. As you state, Iran does not have the support of much of its population and as such does not want to take any action which might affect its own stability. I'd agree that there is some concern over what happens to those who receive this assistance from the US, but unfortunately being the opposition under an oppressive regime such as Iran is dangerous, whether you're receiving US aid or not. We're not putting anyone in anymore danger than they're already in by giving them a helping hand.

Meow said...

No, Faust; you're right, we aren't putting anyone more in danger than we already are. Except that by giving these groups money, we're possibly making them a real threat, which raises their status on the Iranian domestic "death list". What had been merely a student group espousing radical ideas on Thursday afternoons could theoretically become an actual threat with money backing it, which could incite retaliation by the Iranian regime.

Now, as for what else, you're right, we don't think it's in Iran's interests to further destabilize Iraq, but there are many other ways in which Iran can retaliate: undermine our efforts in Afghanistan or with other Arab nations. Don't write them off just yet.

As for going nuclear, if they do, it's because they're "sticking to their own principles". Openly supporting aid to the opposition could drive Iran to go nuclear all the faster. I think we're all aware that such a thing is technically referred to as a "Bad Thing".

Also, you say that a democratic Iran might be convinced to relinquish its WMD's. Well, I'm not so certain. I think the current situation in Palestine has some rather frightening ramifications for the thesis that democracies tend to be more rational. We'll have to see on that front.

Also, what you don't deal with is the fact that sending money might not encourage Iran to go democratic. Gordon's original post references the ingrained paranoia with which many Iranians regard possible U.S. intervention. By "sticking to our principles", the United States could actually drive Iranians further toward authoritarianism because they mistrust any meddling by the U.S. Condi's proposal is meddling of the first water and don't think the Iranians won't see it as such. Let's not drive the students to agree with their parents. While the government may not have the support of the majority of the nation's population, let's not GIVE them that support by making the U.S. an obvious enemy. It's a better idea to, as Stempel says, just wait them out.

Wow...this is a really long comment.

Anonymous said...

I'm under the impression that the bulk of money will go to Farsai-language TV stations in Los Angelos. They broadcast anti-regime programming into Iran, but only operate based on donations. 60 Minutes did a story on the stations about a year ago.

Furthermore, what is the alternative? We gotta do something. Now if we're giving money to dissident group members based in London who haven't been in Iran since they were 8 years old, I have a problem.

Gordon Shumway said...

In response to anonymous' comment...I'm pretty sure that these broadcasting stations which you speak of receiving the bulk of the money are exactly the same type of people that you say in the latter part of your comment you wouldn’t want receiving the aid. Most of the Iranian diaspora (thus more then likely including the people working and running these broadcasting stations) ARE the people “who haven’t been in Iran since they were 8 years old,” and there may be other reasons for concern here. As the article points out some of them might be supporters of the monarchy for example.
Meow got to the heart of what I was trying to say, and that instead of so openly supporting the opposition, and risking problems for them and possibly for the US (as miniscule or as monumental as they may be), we would be much better off – and I would argue more successful – with funding the opposition covertly.
Foust, we don’t necessarily have to come out and say that we plan to openly support the opposition in order to let Iran know that we stick by our principles. We can continue with the same open condemnation of the Iranian uranium enrichment program as it would still let the Iranian regime know that we still hold the same stance on the issue (and with much less risk the opposition inside Iran). And as Meow points out, a democracy – if indeed it were to come about over some other form of governance – in Iran may not necessarily be what the doctor prescribed (as far as our interests go) as can be seen in the case of Algerian elections in 1991, or even more current and troubling Iraqi democratic elections.

Jesco said...

I agree with gordon and meow, it's definitely not in our interest to be openly linked to funding opposition in Iran. I think we should supplement our outward hard stance through the Security Council with covert funding of these groups.

An article in the Feb 4th Economist says the best method is "convincing Iran that it will pay a higher price for its defiance" by obliging Iran to "accept toughened inspections, maintain safeguards on all nuclear facilities and give up sensitive nuclear activities." But how effective can the Security Council be, especially since Iran thinks Russia and China won't follow through? I don't see how that can work.

What is the solution to giving "resolute words" their "resolute back-up"?