Wednesday, March 21, 2007

the case for diplomacy

The latest move in the game of cat-and-mouse between the Iranian government and the Bush administration is Tehran's warning that they will pursue nuclear activities outside international regulations if the U.N. Security Council insists it stop uranium enrichment and uses tough sanctions to enforce these regulations. Russia has already said that it won't support what it calls "excessive" sanctions against Iran, and South Africa is proposing an amendment to soften the current (U.S.-backed) proposal before the U.N. Security Council.

I do think that the Iranian government is a belligerent one; President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust-denying conference last year was an offensive and antagonistic act. The Iranian government stifles dissent and has little respect for women's rights. It has one of the worst human rights records in the world today.

That said, I think that the Bush administration's posture toward Iran (#2 on his idiotic "axis of evil" list) has been -- and is -- incredibly foolish. The decision to try to isolate the Iranians by refusing to talk with them or negotiate with them has been a spectacular failure, forcing Iran to scramble to acquire nuclear weapons, thus further destabilizing the Middle East. When confronted with a potentially hostile situation, Bush has predictably chosen the same approach again and again: to puff out his chest in defiance, to make thinly veiled threats, and to refuse any sort of discussion. He follows this procedure with domestic "enemies" as well as with foreign ones. The only time Bush's foreign policy has been effective has been the rare moment when he has followed the same strategy of engagement and negotiation that the Clinton administration used (as in the case of Libya): the strategy he calls "appeasement" when others suggest it. The U.S. should be engaging with all the nations in the world, whether we like them or not. Diplomacy -- even when countries don't see eye-to-eye -- is almost always better than war. We should never assume that our military might is an adequate substitute for effective diplomacy. This assumption has been proven wrong time and time again (Vietnam and Iraq in particular come to mind).

One of my current students is from Iran, although she refers to herself as "Persian" to clarify that although she considers herself loyal to her homeland and its people, she does not necessarily support the Iranian government. I suspect that there are many such young people in Iran (or Persia, if you prefer). The people of Iran have seen what happens when the United States comes to "liberate" people in the Middle East, and they do not want the situation in Iraq to be repeated in Iran. Moderates in Iran want the support of the United States as they push for more freedoms, more tolerance, and more engagement with the rest of the world. We should be doing all we can to help them.

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