Iran presents the United States with the most potent opportunity for a comprehensive breakthrough in foreign policy affecting the whole of the Middle East. Current dissatisfaction of Iranians with their current President’s mismanagement of the country’s economy, and the upcoming summer elections, present the United States an exceptional opportunity. A relationship can be forged with Iranians, first, and their leadership, second.
There is much common ground between the two countries that gets all but ignored or lost in the noise of rhetoric by leadership, and misrepresentation in the media. The U.S. should focus some attention on the people of Iran rather than strictly addressing itself to the governing Mullahs and President. Iranians have more in common with the West than is generally accepted or admitted, and they should not be confused with the Muslim fundamentalism that permeates countries such as Saudi Arabia or Syria. Iranians are well educated, and unlike their current leadership, have distaste for ideological governance. They are generally suspicious of most rulers in the Middle East.
Beyond the prying eyes of their leadership, Iranians dress in the latest fashions, and are as anxious to conduct business and build companies with the kind of fervor and enthusiasm that most in North America would readily recognize and applaud. One only needs to look at companies that Iranian expatriates have built in Western nations for further evidence of Iranian entrepreneurialism. They enjoy a beautiful country with sometimes subtropical climate, bordering the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, and benefit from a wealth produced by such resources as oil, gas, coal, chromium, copper, lead, manganese, zinc and sulphur.
Although it is Muslim, Iran is not an Arabic country, which is a significant differentiation evidenced in its strained relationships with neighboring countries. Analysis of Iran’s fueling of Arabic insurgents in its Middle East neighborhood suggests that its unsettling of the Arab world is an inexpensive implementation of a methodology that achieves a great degree of self-security. Iran is really more concerned with its immediate neighbors than it is about the United States, or even Israel, nevertheless, under the current circumstances it’s leadership is taking actions that are in the nationalistic self-interest.
Afghanistan is a neighbor providing it with little other than a mountain of trouble, including heroin (Iranians have one of the highest rates of drug addiction), and a long history of hostile governments. On its Iraqi front, the West witnessed, even participated, in Iran’s war with a wayward and ruthless dictator. While Iran presently supports insurgencies in Iraq, those strategic gambits would come to an abrupt end if the U.S. were to build a broad based relationship with its population. The same goes for its arms sales to Hamas, and its support of Palestinian insurgents. Israel would have a much less aggressive neighbor, and a weakened capacity to launch terrorist attacks.
Some self proclaimed experts on Iran suggest that any overtures made to the Iranian government should include acknowledging the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic’s government, and make representations or commitments that the U.S. would not seek to change it. This would be a mistake. The U.S. should abstain from making such overtures, and leave that to Iran’s 66 million people to decide. The Iranian population in majority has little affection for its own leadership. Approach should be very public, and any “meeting” must be held under the glare of the media’s prying eyes. Any meeting should not be restricted to the “political” sphere. This would be a mistake. Rapprochement should include representatives from both U.S. and Iranian business communities even though much of economic activity in Iran is controlled by the state. As a comprehensive relationship becomes structured for the advantage of both Americans and Iranians, each stage should be shared through effective PR with the population.
The U.S. should also side-step the European Union in such meetings. Europe has little to gain by a normalization of relations between the U.S. and Iran. Iran presents a large market for European products. Its objective should be to lift sanctions, normalize bilateral relations including the opening of trade routes, and concluding some initial deals for goods and natural resources. This effort would be a forward step in the reversal of the ravaging effects that unemployment and inflation have administered on Iran’s economy, along with the heavy hand of a rigid and backward government.
If a threshold is built on such a basis, the people of Iran will quickly step into the fray, and the architecture of mutual respect will crystallize rapidly. From there it may well be a matter of months before the people of Iran replace the conservative clerics ruling them, with a secular government which is the preference of their vast majority. Once Iranians have developed the confidence that their security concerns are shared with a resilient partner, it can be expected that Iran will open its nuclear ambitions to more scrutiny. In time, it might even agree to the dismantling of the nuclear infrastructure. The tide that has created the “brain drain” of the past twenty years would reverse, and find many expatriates who now reside in places like Canada and Great Britain, returning in droves to enjoy their unique position as Persians in the Middle East, in from the cold of isolation.
James Raider writes The Pacific Gate Post