The ideologically motivated “change” in foreign policy from George W. Bush to Barack Obama can be exemplified in the debate about the Islamic Republic of Iran. What used to be Bush's "axis of evil" along with North Korea and Iraq is what Obama calls a legitimate partner for a policy of an "outstretched hand". My thesis is that Obama's policy legitimizes and strengthens the radical forces in Iran, while it weakens the moderates. The politicians of the West Iran should adopt a confrontational strategy in dealing with Iran. This includes a consistent political and economic isolation. Only a successful international sanctions regime, particularly with Germany taking a leading role would deter the authorities from its military nuclear ambitions and prevent a military confrontation. A military confrontation would not be the worst case-scenario, a nuclear armed Iran would be.
In this respect, I think it is advisable to separate between three groups of interest: the Iranian regime, the Iranian freedom movement and Israel.
The Iranian regime is a direct supporter of Hezbollah, which is capable of launching tens of thousands of missiles from the southern Lebanese border against Israel. The regime is also connected to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and other radical Islamic forces in the West Bank, Syria and other Middle Eastern terrorist networks. The protagonists of the Islamic Revolution successfully connect their idea with anti-imperialism, which coincides with Latin American Left-populists like Hugo Chavez and their admirers. This agenda may be in doubt if unified in hatred against Israel and the US. This unholy alliance’s desire is the destruction of the Jewish State and to roll back the implementations of "Western decadence". This is precisely; the emancipation of women, the rights of homosexuals and other hard-won freedom rights. It seeks to obtain the technical resources to take this project into action. Specifically: The Iranian nuclear weapons program.
The Iranian Freedom Movement is a diffuse structure which has a characteristic feature; it does not pursue a political program as left wing revolutionaries against the Shah did. Extramarital sex, wearing Gucci sunglasses and open hair become a weapon against the repressive Islamic ideology. In addition, the slogan "No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, my life for Iran" breaks the classic despotic Middle Eastern interpretation of the world; your own (theocratic) regime is good, everything bad is the result of influences from outside, namely imperialism, Zionism and Western materialism. The slogan undermines the program of the Islamic Revolution, which is directed outward to combat these problems. It is to show that the problems are here with us and not with the people in Beirut or Ramallah. A more apt slogan of this movement is: "Freedom is not East or West, it is universal". The emancipatory content of this theorem can be applied to all other people in the Middle East, who are fed up with daily harassment. This movement includes not directly but in a figurative sense, all people who also want to have this freedom. This movement can bring forth the “moderates”, which politicians in the West always wringing her hands to search for.
Then there is Israel. The threat of Iran's nuclear and missile program is directly exposed to the people there. The Israelis were forced for 60 years to wage war to protect their citizens. Their neighbor’s call for their destruction is nothing new for the Israelis. Yet the possibility of a single weapon of mass destruction to destroy their whole, tiny state combined with the undoubted ideological motivation to use it is indeed a new threat. The situation of the Jewish people is that many people in the world can still dream of their annihilation, but now with the State of Israel they have the means to prevent it. The historic necessity to protect the Jewish people against anti-Semitism in its genocidal form with must be taken into account by western politicians. If history shall not repeat itself, the Iranian regime must be prevented from its plans to carry out a second Holocaust. In addition, Western countries should not have a strategic interest in an unstable Middle East with a nuclear-armed Iran. A peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians would not be possible by any means, nor could moderate, democratic or secular forces develop. Therefore, states which seek to promote peace and security in the Middle East as desirable goals, should share strategic interests with Israel. That is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
Formulated in concrete measures, the key to solving the problems of armed conflicts, anti-Semitism, and radical Islamism are the freedom-loving forces in the region. At first this is the peaceful, democratic and secular movement in Iran. Western politicians could be courageous. They should invite representatives of this group to discuss. They should mention the brave Iranian people protesting in the streets in their speeches. They should show that these people are the ones who can be the protagonists of a new peaceful world order. In contrast, they should recognize that there is no place for the Iranian regime in this world. They should first isolate the regime politically, i.e. remove diplomats, withdraw embassies and boycott the regime’s international political performances. Second, they should isolate the regime economically. The regime is highly dependent on imports from outside, especially in high technology. A smart sanctions regime for the energy and gas sector, as well as for engineering and technology, would make the nuclear option impossible. These two measures would weaken the regime and strength the opposition movement.
In reality, the Western politicians have ignored the problem of a nuclear-armed Iran, or have not seriously addressed it. The so called “human rights dialogue” of the Europeans with the Iranian regime is a cover for its nuclear ambitions. The regime seeks to fulfill its ideological goals pragmatically thanks to European appeasement policy. As the Islamic Republic may not be far away from the technical realization of nuclear armament, Israel is running out of options. Israel warned for years about Iran's ambitions and has been fighting for years against the immediate terrorist attacks from its aggressive neighbors. Israel has been mostly left alone. If the Western states, as well as China and Russia, do not mean to undermine the Iranian nuclear ambitions, then Israel is forced to act alone. In all the speculative action that could prevent a nuclear armed Iran, the leaders of the countries that have no interest in the destruction of Israel should stand on Israel’s side. Even if the Israelis decide a preemptive military strike. This decision would be a penalty in each case. This measure would be associated with wide-spread military mobilization of its neighbors, Hezbollah and Hamas. Terrorist violence against the people who live in Israel would follow. But the Israelis cannot get involved in any experiments. They must not make the mistake of underestimating Iran’s power. One error could be the last. Acting too late would bring the Israelis into an extremely dangerous situation. The timing of the military option is down to when the Israeli government sees no other option.
The measures that have come in particular from the European countries must be taken unilaterally in case of doubt. There is no consensus on how to assess the Iranian threat. Nevertheless, it is an urgent matter to react. Germany in particular as the lifeline of the Iranian regime in the export sector, could single-handedly stop Iranian nuclear ambitions. Germany is the biggest Western trading partner of the regime. It delivers technology that cannot be replaced by any other country in the world. Western leaders should exert pressure on Germany in the first place.
Together with the other measures mentioned there may be a perspective for the people in the region to live together in peace. Nevertheless Western statesmen have to keep in mind that they have limited time. When that time expires, they have to show solidarity with Israel.
However, the current policy of the US administration is the very opposite of these suggestions. The dialogue and appeasement policy was previously mainly a European one. But Obama has consistently failed to engage the Iranian freedom movement and instead, called the Iranian regime representatives of their sovereign state. But Obama cannot engage in dialogue with one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. This is an illusion, which prevents any progress on human rights and peaceful coexistence in the region. The Iranian regime understands only the language of force. Measures must be enforced to make it give up its murderous ambitions instead of making these the subject of negotiations.
Niklas Anzinger is a student of Philosophy and Economics at the University of Bayreuth.
This article is shortlisted for atlantic-community.org's student
competition "Ideas with Impact: Policy Workshop 2010" sponsored by the
U.S. Mission to Germany.
Read the other shortlisted articles in the category "Iran's Nuclear Program" here.