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JOSEPH C. PHILLIPS: Détente Through Strength

March 20, 2007 by  
Filed under Weekly Columns

The Islamic Republic of Iran is not going to give up its nuclear ambitions, at least not voluntarily.   The regional dominance Iran desires is bolstered by nuclear capability and the international respect they have long coveted is dependant upon it.  More importantly, Iran will have nuclear weapons because as the Ayatollah Khomeini once famously remarked, “ America cannot do a damn thing about it.”  More accurately, we won’t do anything about it, not because we are unable, but because we do not have the will.  VietNam has cowed Democrats into timidity and fear of Iraq has rendered Republicans toothless.   Iran views us as weak and frankly if we withdraw our troops from Iraq, as some have suggested, Iran and the Arab world will view it as surrender and our ability to affect real change in the region will be severely damaged. 

It doesn’t then follow that we must rattle our swords at Iran at least not yet.  Iran ’s decades old ambition for international recognition betrays their wish not to be isolated.  Ratcheting up pressure through the use of sanctions can exert tremendous influence even if ultimately Iran will have it’s way.  In the meantime, the United States must maneuver to be in position to leverage the regional influence of an ascendant Iran. That means we must be engaged.

The Bush administration has finally agreed to accept the Iraq study group’s recommendation and participate in a regional meeting with Iran and Syria.  This is a part of the equation this administration may have finally gotten right.  It is the 21 st century version of détente.   Of course, diplomacy backed up with strength makes detente effective.

The policy, which has been endorsed by Republicans and Democrats alike, seeks a thawing of relations with Iran and recognition of their presence as the region’s dominant power.  This stabilizing of relations would conceivably lead to Iran ’s greater willingness to help stabilize tensions in the region.  Sure, they have expressed a desire to wipe Israel off the map and live in a world without America, so there would seem at first glance to be very little wiggle room for any negotiation. The truth is, however, that as much as Iranian President Ahmadinejad is reportedly looking forward to the apocalypse, there is strong evidence that his fervor is not shared by the vast majority of Iranians.  Israel has been very clear that any nuclear device that “finds” its way from Iran (or anywhere else) to downtown Tel Aviv will be greeted with a swift and devastating response by the Israelis.  As for the hostility towards America ?  As the saying goes: “my enemy today might be my friend tomorrow.” It is worth considering that it is our Saudi “friends” that are funding the mosques and schools that are preaching jihad all around the world.     

There are already winds beginning to blow through Persia that portend a less strident Iran.  One of the most significant is the campaign Iranian women have launched over the last year to stop the sanctioned abuse of women and for increased women’s rights.  Iranian authorities have been attempting to snuff it out, but the seeds have been planted.  With the burgeoning women’s rights movement, there is no telling where Iran might be a generation from now.  Prudence dictates that America is there to help nurture its growth.

The key is fortitude.  “By nature people like a strong horse.” With a population of more than 70 million, a land rich in oil and rich as well in culture, the Republic of Iran is a goliath longing to exert it’s influence in the region. Constructive engagement will only work if America is the strong horse.  If we cannot find the will to see our venture in Iraq through to the end, the rattling of our swords will be but hollow music and our friendship won’t be worth a warm bucket of sand.

Joseph C. Phillips is the author of “He Talk Like A White Boy” available wherever books are sold.

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