Sunday, November 19, 2006

Amenable to Ahmadinejad

Fascinating suggestion from Al Jazeera, one that I hadn't heard before: Why the West needs Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad represents a crucial break in Iranian politics – he is the first post-revolutionary who is not a cleric he fought in the Iran-Iraq war, and crucially he is seen as not being corrupt.

If the West has underestimated his government's influence in Iraq and the region, they have also exaggerated his vulnerability here in Iran.


People here feel that when it comes to Iraq and even Lebanon and Afghanistan, Britain and the US need them, not the other way round.

What they want to know is what benefits does Iran get for such assistance?

An interesting proposition. After all, we do make a great deal about the difference between Iranians and Arabs, Iran's influence in Iraq, and Iran as a powerful figure in the Middle East feared by the other nations. Unfortunately, our close ties with Israel may complicate any attempt to develop a closer relationship with Iran...but I guess that's one of the challenges of diplomacy. Ahmadinejad, for all his unpopularity, is a different kind of leader than Iran's had in a while. Working with him, in one way or the other, would be a chance for the US to cooperate with a large and powerful populations of Muslims in a crucial region in the Middle East.

It's tempting, even if it is unlikely. What would be the costs/benefits of warming up to Iran, in Iraq? in Israel? in the UN? in Europe? concerning Iran's nuclear ambitions?

We've cooperated with much worse figures in the Middle East before...perhaps this is a good time to rethink this realism thing after all. Iran is a powerful nation in the Middle East...and overlooking ideology and religion, it is theoretically possible to use them as a way to balance the region...perhaps between Iran and Israel?

Update: 11/20
For those who had a chance to catch Ted Koppel's "Iran: The Most Dangerous Nation", the attempt was made to explain what Iran and the U.S. have in common. On the issue of Middle East stability and the desire for democracy in Iran, the sentiments are unanimous. Koppel's interviews with various liberal government officials, shopkeepers, rural citizens and urban city dwellers all yielded the same response: Iranians would like a more democratic society, but they would like to enact their democratic reforms from within. Iranians would like to work with President Bush, providing he will stop labeling them as terrorists or part of the "Axis of Evil". Many Iranians interviewed sympathize with the Americans, believing that they too suffer from a populist leader, ignorant of world affairs and committed to pursuing a heavily religious, moral agenda.

Well and good, but the tension between the U.S. and Iran lies in what Koppel did not ask about - U.S. support for Israel - along with the citizens and officials he did not interview - those with a more hard-line bent.

Still, it will be hard to imagine a viable Middle East strategy that does not include greater dialogue with Iran, and specifically, with the Iranian people. The argument can still be made that U.S. strategy in Iraq is working - whatever that strategy may be. But there is no sensible way to argue that the same tactic of military occupation followed by forced democratization will "liberate" Iran from the more radical Islamic-theocratic elements. The U.S. needs a different tactic for Iran, and it needs to involve dialogue with Ahmadinejad and the Iranian people.

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