Most people would rejoice at seeing Iran’s theocratic rulers kicked to kingdom come and the country’s drive for nuclear weapons stopped in its tracks.
How to produce this desirable outcome is a lingering question with many answers. The most pressing question boils down to two: wage U.S. military intervention or help Iranians to do the job from within.
American bombs and missiles promise a dubious victory, world condemnation, political tears at home and, worst of all, a shattering blow to Iran’s internal opposition forces.
Surveys of public sentiment among Democrats, Republicans, independents and tea party members show that Americans are sick of war, tired of interventions and very much focused on domestic needs.
There also is a largely silent but nevertheless clearly perceptible “Fortress America” mood that extends well beyond the confines of such self-identified isolationists as former presidential aspirant Patrick Buchanan.
In bombing Iran — a nation of 78 million — every target hit would kill scores of innocents and their mangled bodies publicized worldwide as Orwellian “collateral damage.” Such mayhem carries the penalty of having potential allies transformed into enemies bent on bloody revenge and dedicated to sabotaging U.S. policy throughout the tumultuous Middle East and anyplace else where American interests can be hurt.
There is another, less costly way in Iran. Iranians have shown in two decades of repeated mass protests that they want to rid themselves of their rulers. They want to end their isolation and rejoin the world.
Rather than encouraging it, President Obama studiously ignored Iran’s Green Revolution when it mobilized millions of protesters after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blatantly stole the June 2009 presidential election.
Iran’s’ supreme religious council, you’ll recall, quickly validated the fraud by validating Mr. Ahmadinejad’s “victory” only two hours after voting had ended — a feat that beggars the imagination since the 40 million ballots cast could not possibly have been counted in a mere 120 minutes.
For Iran’s ruthless rulers it was a time of extreme peril. They knew their power hung by a hair. They knew that officers and ranks of their mainstay Republican Guard were defecting and that without the Guard’s brutal protection, they were finished.
Mr. Obama, however, already had launched his charm offensive on Tehran in pursuit of a grand deal on Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons. He would negotiate with the “authorities” in place, he said at the peak of the protest — sending that message to Mr. Ahmadinejad in no uncertain terms.
And yet, Iran’s transition to a functioning democracy along lines of that fashioned by Poland’s Solidarity movement two decades ago is waiting to happen. After all, the nation’s young majority likes Western ideas as much as they like Western goods. When the Solidarity moment arrives, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s ability to broadcast his nuclear threats and pledges to wipe Israel off the map on the world stage will vanish like a bad dream.
To restate the contrast, a muscular American military option — read bombs and missiles—offers a slim hope of success and a super-size chance of creating chaos.
These realities, however, do not mean that Washington should abandon the longstanding policy of having military contingency options available to defend the interests of the United States and its allies. But they pointedly suggest that dangling the military option over Tehran would be counterproductive.
A credible threat of American bombs and missiles almost certainly would strengthen the regime and shatter the opposition. Even without devious manipulation, patriotism would transform many of the regime’s sworn opponents into defenders of the fatherland — and the current regime.
In Iran the real hope lies in upheaval from within and American support for it with bold words and subtle deeds. The world’s television and I-Pod screens already have shown convincingly how fearlessly Iranians are willing to strive for freedom. American policymakers should acknowledge this hard reality and forego wishful thinking.
• Kipling is a Canadian columnist in Washington. Readers may write to him in care of the National Press Club, 13th Floor, 529 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20045, or email him at kipling.newsverizon.net.