November 21, 2004

Taming Tehran

Last week at Mother Jones, I (rather non-controversially) noted that the European deal on Iran did nothing to address why Iran wants nuclear weapons. Only a direct deal with the U.S., focusing on security concerns, would do that. Well, that and an invasion—though it should be noted that all but the "new wave" of student reformers want Iran to go nuclear, for reasons of either geopolitics or national glory. Some sort of security guarantee that mitigates (at least in part) Iran's motivations is necessary. Anyways, Matt Yglesias has something along these lines today:
[N]evertheless, in order to understand what's happening, one needs to understand how things look from their perspective. It's obvious now that the US national security establishment went badly awry by failing to understand how the world looked to Saddam Hussein. In retrospect, as we see, he had some perfectly good reasons for pretending to have more in the way of WMD than he really had.
The other part of this is that United States policy towards the Middle East does little to address the various strategic tensions at work—especially those tensions that have nothing to do with us. It's all well and good to say that democracy promotion will promote peace, but that's only part of the story. Pakistan was a democracy when it decided to push through with its nuclear program—both out of concern towards India and those nebulous "national glory" reasons. In a similar vein, even a democratic Iran would worry about the balance of power vis-à-vis Pakistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, would almost certainly ramp up its programs if the Shiite center of the universe went nuclear and could control shipping lines in the Persian Gulf.

It's Europe, circa 1914, all over again. Our current haphazard policy of chucking about carrots and sticks addresses none of this. To my eye, signing treaties and setting up a multilateral security framework, as in Europe after 1945, is the only to achieve long-term stability—though the parallels to Europe are hardly exact.

Of course, there's more to life than settling the balance of power. Economic incentives could go a long way in Iran. Right now you have a new wave of Iranian protestors unhappy with their job prospects in a country with rampant unemployment and rapid population growth. They're trying to boycott next year's elections. The temptation is to look at this and think revolution is around the corner. But you could also note that two of the three leadership groups in Tehran have a great deal of incentive to push for increased economic opportunities—trade agreements, aid, entry into the WTO. This is the way to go. Integrating Iran into the global economic community, I think, should be a higher priority than imagining that a bunch of student protestors will topple the clerics in charge. As a general principle this won't always be true—sometimes democracy will need to precede economic integration—but in Iran's case it seems like the case.
-- Brad Plumer 4:05 PM || ||