Starting over with Iran & the Bush Doctrine

Date April 7, 2007

In perusing “Iran: An Inconvenient Truth” I was reminded again of my concerns that our current thinking on Iran will lead us nowhere useful.

Let’s start with an exercise in empathy:
You live in America. During your parents’ generation, a more powerful country (let’s call it the USSR simply to facilitate identifying emotionally w/ the exercise) executes a coup d’etat and deposes your democratically elected president, replacing him with a pro-Communist Dictator. Under him, you suffer the loss of political and free speech rights, poverty ensues as he pursues policies that favor his sponsor’s economy and you feel strong humiliation at how you are really just a puppet of their whims. You feel exploited for their gain, and that your voice doesn’t count.
After almost three decades (all of your living life), you finally overthrow the dictator and regain some modicum of autonomy. Your economy and culture have languished and you see the rest of the world leaving you behind. To add insult to injury, the USSR (still vastly superior in military and economic strength, not mention world respect) continues to have a negative view of you and your intentions. A decade later, you get into a war with your close neighbor (and bitter rival) Canada, and the USSR supplies them with immense amounts of arms and biological/chemical weapons. You lose millions of people. The certainty builds that these people are really out to get you. Yet another decade later, the USSR begins to threaten you publicly, claiming that you are dangerous to world stability (sense the injustice you feel!). Through a series of unpredictable events, this deeply feared enemy starts wars with both Canada and Mexico (despite the protests of the UN and international community), occupying both countries with hundreds of thousands of troops, not mentioning patrolling the nearby oceans with their aircraft carriers. They seem accountable to no one, and then they begin to intensify their bellicose rhetoric towards you. You know that if they invade your country, they will run you over in a matter of months. What protection do you have? Who will stop them…?

As I mentioned in my comment on Iraq , were I in Iran’s shoes, I’d be developing nuclear weapons just as fast as I could, primarily because I’d be terrified that the US is sure to attack me now or later. It’s already difficult to trust other people and other countries, but with the baggage we have with Iran, why would they ever think we have their good will in mind? We’re constantly making overtures about how they are evil, to be distrusted, potentially next on the Bush Doctrine hit list. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t say all these things, but then I don’t think we should be surprised if they take steps to protect themselves. Isn’t that normal human nature?

Some fairly intelligent people seem to be missing this perspective in the halls of power.

In summary, we have zero empathy and understanding for who they are or what motivates them. We would deny them a role as an important regional player when, were we in their shoes, we would be striving ambitiously for the same. By isolating them, we simply reinforce and empower the extremist elements in them. The common Iranian on the street doesn’t want that.

The Bush Doctrine is at best impractical (because we don’t have that many voluntary soldiers that we can afford to kill off in forays around the world) and is based, to our peril, on the premise that our world view is the right world view. We need to develop a doctrine of international engagement that takes into account all the gray zones in international relations, the intricate relationships that don’t involve us (yet signficantly impact us), as well as includes the equal validity of the very differing (from us) points of view of other countries and ethnicities. What if we gave equal weight to Iran’s concerns and goals as to our own? And then worked from there? Would that be weak? Would we really be in a worse off place than we are now? We’re about as close to a regional war as I’d care to get. Where would we be now if the leader of Britains’ 15 soldiers captured off the coast of Iran hadn’t had a cool head when the Iranian Navy surrounded them aggressively? (Remember, Tonkin Gulf never even happened).

Undoubtedly, this needs to be fleshed out in more depth, holes and obstacles found in its application. But today’s path is not working. I don’t think we have any other choice than to evolve from our ‘me first’ mentality or we are going to continue drag along behind us far too many people that want to destroy us than we can keep out for very long.

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