Last night’s re-election of President Barack Obama as well as the Senate elections and the ballot measures will alter the political landscape in the US more than the 2008 election did, but the rest of the world has mainly been watching this US Presidential election because of its effect on how to deal with Iran.
How urgent of a problem is Iran?
First of all, Iran is not that important as the world and Iran itself believe. It’s in the news all the time because it’s a mysterious, fascinating country which conjures up a lot of pre-conceived notions which nobody can verify because (except for me) nobody has ever been to Iran. If I was the US President, I would worry about Afghanistan, I would have sleepless nights over Pakistan, I would worry about Syria for the time being, I would worry about China’s and Russia’s continuing obstruction at the UN, I would worry about Egypt. Honestly, I may even worry more about Greece and Saudi Arabia than about Iran.
Sure, Iran has a nasty and brutally oppressive government which sows terror in the region and is striving to get the nuclear bomb. But Iran is becoming completely isolated, except for friendly relations with the current Iraqi government. Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Iran’s last ally in the Middle East, will fall next year at the latest. Iran has the moral support of Hugo Chavez and similar lunatics, but he is far away and has problems of his own.
The Iranian economy has collapsed. It is completely in shambles. Its civilian aircraft are dropping from the sky for lack of maintenance. The rial suffers from galloping inflation, so much that in some shops in Iran the prices are now indicated in US-$, so that they don’t have to be amended every day. People are selling their kidneys in order to survive. The sanctions have some holes, but overall they have been working quite well.
Whoever has the chance to leave Iran does so. Whoever is young and bright and productive is leaving the country. The rest of the young and bright are in prison. Iran is on the way to become a country of old men and religious fanatics. If it won’t change, it will collapse or implode.
But what about Iran’s nuclear program?
OK, that is a problem. It is clear that Iran is working not only on a civilian, but a military nuclear program. The evidence is overwhelming and the Iranian government has been caught lying about it repeatedly.
We need to continue our course of sabotage, planting viruses, killing nuclear scientists, blowing up weapons factories and so on. This has been very effective in delaying and derailing the Iranian progress. Let’s keep in mind that we are not talking about a country with extraordinary technological or organizational abilities (remember the brain drain). The Iranian space program’s proudest moment was when a mouse, a turtle and a can of worms were sent into space. They all died. The Iranian nuclear program began in 1957 and look where it is now.
If all the sabotage won’t work and Iran will become too close to building a nuclear weapon, we could still launch military attacks against specific nuclear sites, as Israel successfully did against Iraq in 1981 and against Syria in 2007. Ironically, Israel’s destruction of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program helped Iran which was at war with Iraq at the time. Both Iraq and Syria never responded or retaliated against the superbly executed Israeli missions, probably because they were too embarrassed that foreign aircraft could invade their airspace, destroy the country’s nuclear program and return home unharmed. Admittedly, destroying Iran’s nuclear program would be much harder because it is spread out to dozens of sites, but if delaying is our goal for now, we don’t need to attack all of these sites.
It would be a shame if Israel again had to do all the dirty work, while the rest of the world, including all of Iran’s Middle Eastern neighbours, are secretly hoping for Israel’s success. This is not a matter for Israel to take up, but for the world, and NATO countries should therefore fully support such an action (or actions, if they have to be repeated every few years).
“But this would end in World War III,” I hear you scream out with horror. No, it wouldn’t lead to war at all. Iran is too weak politically and militarily (and will run out of money if the sanctions continue) and not in a position to lead a war, especially not against NATO. Iran would grumble and protest, Mullahs would try to incite the geezers who attend mosques, and Iran would retaliate through its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah. But it is doing so all the time anyway and we have learnt more or less how to deal with this threat.
Why can’t we negotiate with Iran?
I am for continuing negotiations with Iran because they don’t cost much and we have nothing to lose. But based on the experience of the previous and current negotiations, I see no reason for optimism. Most meetings between the EU and Iran are over after 5 minutes because there is no agreement about the agenda of the meeting or they are limited to exchanging friendly words and empty rhetoric.
Just read how two representatives of Iran’s regime have responded to the re-election of Barack Obama:
“An overnight resumption of relations is not possible. The Americans should not think they can gain concessions from the Iranian people by coming to the negotiating table.”
And, more flowery:
“If the interest of the regime requires it, we are prepared to negotiate with the devil in the pits of hell.”
What can you seriously expect from negotiations with such a regime? Let alone the question of what to negotiate about: (a) Iran’s main concern is that it wants to be respected as a player in the region. Iran will mention its “thousands of years of history and culture” (which it admittedly has) at each meeting, but will behave like a 16-year old teenager who wants a nuclear program because he thinks it is part of becoming an adult, much like buying a first car. (b) The world has no problem with a civilian nuclear program in Iran, but doesn’t trust Iran that it will restrict it to peaceful means. The past behaviour of Iran’s regime has not given us any reason to trust it. (c) We could trust Iran if it became more open, liberal, democratic and would stop supporting terrorists and issuing fatwas. In two words, regime change. (d) It is of course impossible to negotiate regime change with a sitting regime, especially one which faces no real opposition at home.
What are the chances of regime change in Iran?
Oh, how I wish that Iran would become free and democratic! I have been to Iran twice and it is a fascinating country with fascinating, kind, intelligent, humorous, sweet people who deserve and would cherish liberty. I have fallen in love with one of the country’s daughters and part of my family lives in Iran and I wish I could visit them without fear of being arrested again, like during my last visit. I battled the police and militia in the streets of Tehran in June 2009 with thousands of brave Iranians during the attempted “Green Revolution”.
Sadly, the protests fizzled out quickly when the government cracked down violently. Iran lacks any kind of effective opposition and the large diaspora around the world seems to forget the plight of their fellow citizens left behind as soon as they come to Europe or America. Compared to Libyans and Syrians who have returned to their home countries to fight the dictatorship, Iranians abroad mostly seem to relate to their country by regularly congregating in Persian restaurants. No, I don’t see any hope for regime change in Iran in the near future. If there is nothing at all coming from Iranians inside and outside of Iran, then the rest of the world doesn’t have anything to support, even if it wanted to. However, once there is any sign of an opposition or a civil society forming inside of Iran, I think it deserves our full support.