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March 03, 2010

Re: What if the Next Iranian Regime is Just as Bad as This One?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

In my last post, I argued that a democratic Iran, led presumably by the Green movement, would not only have a better foreign policy than the current regime but better relations with the U.S. as well. Daniel Larison and Spencer Ackerman both took issue with some of my claims. Larison writes:

One of the main points I was making was that the military establishment and IRGC will likely remain in place no matter what form the civilian government takes.

It is hard to imagine a powerful IRGC – being the apparently maximalist actor it is – ever allowing the Greens to take power, unseating its pro-Ahmedinijad allies in the process. A democratic Iran, if it comes to be, will be an Iran where the IRGC is neutralized or forced to become something it currently isn’t. Larison then raises a strong objection:

Besides, if we review the last ten years, can we really say that it has been the democracies of the world that have been 'less reckless' in the use of military force?

He points to the examples of the U.S., Georgia, and Israel. There is a bit of cherry picking here, and I suspect these are exceptions to the rule. The U.S., under Bush, was something of a historical anomaly and it was, in part, his recklessness that encouraged both Georgia and Israel to overreach militarily. That said, democracies, particularly young ones, can and do take needlessly aggressive action in their foreign policy, but it’s certainly possible that if they were autocracies, their actions would have been even more reckless and aggressive.

There are other causal mechanisms which would seem to suggest there is something about democracies, in particular, that affects and alters the formulation of foreign policy. Here are two hypotheses I offered in a post from last year:

1) If you delegate parts of the foreign policy apparatus to professional bureaucracies (as is usually the case in democracies), the result is a greater degree of professionalism and consistency, across different administrations.

2) Since democratically-elected government are accountable to the electorate, they have a greater incentive to demonstrate a willingness to increase ties, especially economic ties, with neighboring countries.

All of this raises some interesting questions which are difficult to address without doing large-N empirical studies. If anyone knows of any that support or undermine my and Larison's suppositions, please send them over.


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