As the war in Iraq ended and the war in Afghanistan is winding down, new saber-rattling has emerged with Iran and their nuclear program. It is very difficult to ascertain exactly what is going on in Iran. It is difficult to understand that their President Ahmadinejad is not the top person in Iran. It is also easy to overlook that when Ahmadinejad is threatened politically at home with low popularity, he has an interest in stirring up anti-West sentiment in order to boost his popularity. We in the West need a more nuanced and informed approach to Iran in order to create a responsible peace.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER:
- MODERN HISTORY: The Iranians look at their “modern history” with the United States as stemming from 1953 when the U.S. helped in the overthrow of the democratically elected Iranian government and re-installed the Shah. The Shah became a brutal dictator who was intensely despised by many in Iran. The United States views “modern history” as beginning in 1979 when the Iranians took the U.S. embassy personnel hostage. Both countries feel wronged by the other.
- IRAN SIGNED THE NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY: Iran is a signer to the NPT and thus has inspectors in to view their nuclear facilities. Everyone agrees that if they decided to try to create weapons grade uranium, inspectors would catch that within 30 to 60 days. It is also agreed that it would take at a minimum six months to a year for the Iranian government to create enough material for a nuclear weapon.
- U.S. MILITARY SAYS THERE IS NO MILITARY OPTION: The U.S. military has repeatedly said that there is no good military option in the confrontation with Iran. They say that a war is easy to start, but there is no good end. Iran is three times the size of Iraq in both area and population and would require at least 700,000 troops if there were to be war with Iran.
- A UNILATERAL STRIKE BY ISRAEL OR OTHERS RISKS ALL OUT WAR: Some pro-war hawks have been urging Israel to make a “unilateral strike” against the Iranian nuclear sites. However, if they did, it is quite likely that there would be retaliation at a level that would further inflame the conflict in the region. Additionally, if attacked (or even if threatened with attack) Iran could pull out of the NPT under Article X. This would end the inspections and not allow those outside to know what Iran is actually doing in their nuclear program.
- INCREASE IN MILITARY PRESENCE IS RISKY: Iran has a long coastal border and a significant naval presence in the region and the United States has built up its presence in response. There is increasing traffic between Iran and Iraq as Iranians business personnel travel to Iraq for banking in order to evade some of the sanctions. This increased traffic and increased military presence increases the potential for inadvertent military escalation through some misunderstanding.
- ECONOMIC SANCTIONS CAN HURT THE GLOBAL ECONOMY: Sanctions have been the response of choice for the international community. While this can hurt the Iranian economy and put pressure on the government, it can also hurt the global economy by curtailing oil production or limiting shipping from the Middle East. Additionally, historically sanctions have not succeeded in changing a government’s policy as is evidenced by North Korea, Iraq before the invasion, etc.
- SHORT TERM DIPLOMACY WILL NOT WORK: The relationship between Iran and the United States and the rest of the world is complex and the product of more than 30 years of hostility. It will not be quickly resolved. It should be noted that any peace worth achieving takes a long term commitment. It was eight years in the making with Viet Nam, three years with the brokered peace in Northern Ireland. The United States needs to commit to a long term strategy of peace building with Iran for the benefit of the region and the globe.
NETWORK calls for sustained diplomacy with Iran in order to find a way forward toward constructive relationship. The United States must take the lead in the international community to engage Iran and ensure that there is direct communication between the Iranian government and the other nations of the world. NETWORK urges all members of the House to co-sponsor H.R. 4173 the “Prevent Iran from Acquiring Nuclear Weapons and Stop War Through Diplomacy Act.” This bill, introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, would direct the president to appoint a high-level envoy who would focus on negotiations with Iran in order to ease tensions and normalized relationships and work within the international community to prevent the expansion of nuclear weapons in the region. This bill is a much better alternative to increasing sanctions. There is very little evidence that sanctions ever work to change policy. The responsible way forward is through dialogue and engagement over the long term.