View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Saturday, May 24, 2003
Tomorrow's Washington Post describes what can only be a step forward in our plans for dealing with Iran. Since it appears that Iranian-based al Queda units were involved in the Saudi bombings, we've given up trying to "engage" the mullahs, and have decided to support the Iranian people in their efforts to banish them back to Qom.

This is an excellent policy move. The goals are laudable: freeing the Iranian people, taking the spiritual and financial font for Hezbollah off the table, and turning a creating, pro-Western, pro-American people loose. (Pro-American? Yes. Michael Ledeen has done yeoman work describing the pro-American demonstrations that have taken place in Iran over the last year or so.) It is based in reality. The Iranian people have some experience with actual democratic institutions. Also, we're not going to spend any more time kidding ourselves about the mullahs' intentions. It doesn't matter if they say one thing for public consumption and do another, our policy will be based on the facts. This is hard-headed, tough, and common-sense policy that means business.

Of course, the article itself is a laundry list of claims that it's a bad idea, that the central government can't control what's going on, etc. There's virtually no comment on why this is a good idea, but most disturbing are the comments coming from Foggy Bottom:

The State Department, which had encouraged some form of engagement with the Iranians, appears inclined to accept such a policy, especially if Iran does not take any visible steps to deal with the suspected al Qaeda operatives before Tuesday, officials said. But State Department officials are concerned that the level of popular discontent there is much lower than Pentagon officials believe, leading to the possibility that U.S. efforts could ultimately discredit reformers in Iran.


"We're headed down the same path of the last 20 years," one State Department official said. "An inflexible, unimaginative policy of just say no."


In an interview in February with the Los Angeles Times, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage drew a distinction between the confrontational approach the administration had taken with Iraq and North Korea and the approach it had adopted with Iran. "The axis of evil was a valid comment, [but] I would note there's one dramatic difference between Iran and the other two axes of evil, and that would be its democracy. [And] you approach a democracy differently," Armitage said.

In the first place, the State Department had damned well better accept any policy the President chooses. They don't get not to accept a policy. Secondly, they consistently underestimate pro-American feelings in countries with regimes that don't like us, and over-estimate anti-American sentiment in countries with regimes that are friendly. Also, with people marching on the anniversary of the Shah's installation waving American flags, I think it's already clear who the reformers identify with. Funny how they're never concerned that payoffs to Egypt and Jordan will discredit us there.

The policy of the last 20 years may have been "just say no." But for an official in the most hide-bound, change-resistant bureaucracy since the medieval Papacy to argue for imagination is bizarre. In any case, the policy for the last 20 years has never been active support for regime change, so this official is just plain wrong. Before, we weren't talking unless we had to. Now, we're talking to the opposition.

Finally, Armitage needs to buy a dictionary. Iran is a democracy like the FSU was a democracy. The mullahs choose the legislative candidates, control the executive, shut down papers they don't like, and arrest Jewish butchers for spying. Makes you wonder who's really "off his meds and out of therapy." If anyone doubted that the State Department has a foreign policy of its own, this article is fine evidence to the contrary.

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