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February 15, 2006

Iraq War Epitaph Being Written in Iran
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Today Condi Rice went up on the Hill to request $85 million in supplemental funding for democracy promotion activities - like radio and TV broadcasts, fellowships and exchanges - targeted at Iran.   

(The news comes the same day as this report about how government funds allocated to advancing America's image and objectives in the Middle East are being siphoned off to poorly run and dishonest outfits like the Lincoln Group. )

Rice's announcement today underscores just how tight a corner we sit in on Iraq right now.  I am not an expert in the region, but the way I have understood the last few years of Iran policy is as follows:  there are those, like former CIA and National Security Council official Flynt Leverett, who felt that since 9/11 the Administration squandered a major opportunity with Iran. 

Leverett has argued that Iran's more reform-minded, stable government under former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani made numerous overtures toward the Administration that - if reciprocated - could have culminated in Iranian cooperation on terror and other issues, on a thawing of relations, and on continued popular support for reformers as a potential bridge between the Iranian people and the West.   

There were others, like the Senators who backed this 2002 resolution on democracy in Iran, who favored regime change, rejected any peaceable overtures, and favored funding and aid for Iranian dissidents.

The Bush Administration, guided by hardliners like John Bolton, opted to deride the prior Iranian regime as part of the axis of evil - a repressive, outlaw regime that the US was out to get.  During the same period, the Administration provided a pittance in terms of funding to promote democracy or dissidents (just $3.5 million in 2005).   So we neither explored rapprochement with the Rafsanjani, nor worked actively or effectively to try to weaken him.

Enter the Iraq war.  The war hobbled our Iran policy in some important respects: 1) it became the sole focus of the Administration, diverting attention away from the need to resolve on an approach to Tehran; 2) Iraq opened up opportunities for Iran to heighten its political influence in the region by supporting the insurgency and building popular support for Islamicist rule through social service and relief programs targeting Iraq's disadvantaged.

Now, the Administration is seeking $85 million for democracy promotion activities that - had they been undertaken nearly 4 years ago when originally proposed - could have helped us avert this potential disaster in the making.  Now this aid comes at a time when the Iranian masses are growing increasingly nationalistic and resistant to Western pressure (both egged on by and egging on the like-minded in Iraq), such that heavy-handed democracy promotion activities may only play into Ahmadinejad's hands.

The Administration is hyping this request as a way to prove to a nervous public that its "doing something" about Iraq.  Meanwhile, with oil prices at a high and the US military already tied down and overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, policy options that go beyond expanded VOA Persian language broadcasts are worryingly limited.   

Is the $85 million a day late and a dollar short?   We may find out the answer the hard way.


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After the election of Hamas and SCIRI -- not to mention the imperfect election of Ahmadnijed in Iran -- can it really be taken for granted that a democratic Iran would solve our problems in the region?

Right now the unelected clerics are reigning in the elected president. I'm all for democracy, but it's not clear to me that a truly representative gov't in Iran would pursue a different foreign policy.

Iranians don't need Rice's $75 million to see the mess that the US has caused in Iraq -- they have access to satellite TV and the Web and can watch BBC, CNN etc. all day long. And for all his faults, Iran's president has better democratic credentials than practically ALL of the US allies in the Mideast. Why not spend that $75 promoting democracy in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, or Egypt (where voters were recently GUNNED DOWN IN THE STREETS BY THE MILITARY for voting the "wrong" way)? Incidentally, we provide BILLIONS OF DOLLARS in aid and arms to these non-democratic governments whilst pointing fingers at Iran.

Not quite on topic, but thought folks here would be interested in this:

Where Fukayama calls for new ideas past neoconservativism something like "realistic Wilsonianism that better matches means to ends" and he closes with:

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