Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Knives Out

First it was McCain who suggested we bomb Iran to the tune of a Beach Boys song. Now former Democrat Joe "Joementum" Lieberman suggests that we need to be "prepared to take aggressive military action" against Iran:
(CBS Face the Nation host) Bob Schieffer followed-up: “Let’s just stop right there. Because I think you probably made some news here, Senator Lieberman. You’re saying that if the Iranians don’t let up, that the United States should take military action?” “I am,” Lieberman responded.
Which elicited this response from The Onion:

Old Man
Larry Higgins, Masseur
"Wow, my uneducated 12-year-old son said the same thing!"
Young Woman
Wendy Scanlon, Furniture Salesperson
"Lieberman should stop going on that show. Bob Schieffer must antagonize the hell out of him during commercial breaks, and that leads to dumbshit comments like this."

And this response from Robert Scheer in the SF Chronic:
Having fallen for the Iranian plot to gain control over Iraq, Lieberman now seeks to undo the damage by invading Iran. He is apparently unaware of public warnings that key Shiite leaders in Iraq would take up arms again in support of their co-religionists across the border. Indeed, the Iranian arms being smuggled into Iraq that Lieberman complains about are going to the Shiite militias dominating America's surrogate government in Baghdad.

Bush seems to grasp this reality, which is why the United States is now negotiating with the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad, leaving Lieberman to play the role of a hawkish critic of an administration he apparently feels has lost its enthusiasm for yet another disastrous invasion. This is a man whom leading Democrats, including Bill Clinton, supported in his primary campaign against an intelligent Democrat who sought to end the Iraq nightmare.
Which brings me to this op-ed by one of my favorite commentators these days, Reza Aslan (author of No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam), from two weekends ago in the LATimes:
FINALLY, AFTER three decades of mutual animosity, outright threats and puerile name-calling, the United States and Iran this week engaged in a constructive dialogue about their common concerns in the Middle East. Already the optimism that followed those talks has given way to the usual tit-for-tat accusations. Still, one can't help but wonder: After all these years, could the U.S. and Iran slowly be moving toward a more diplomatic relationship or even — dare I say it — rapprochement?

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. For that to happen, Iran will have to meet certain conditions. It must stop sending arms to Hezbollah. It must cease meddling in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it must pursue a more constructive role in stabilizing Iraq.

But the U.S. has conditions of its own to meet before it too can be considered a reliable negotiating partner. Most important, it must once and for all abandon its policy of actively pursuing regime change in Iran.


Unlike most other countries in the Middle East, Iran has a long and deeply embedded democratic tradition that goes back more than a century. The country boasts what is arguably the most robust political culture in the Muslim world. Since 1980, Iran has held more than 20 elections — all of them freer and fairer than those of any of America's Arab allies — that have drawn 60% to 80% of the electorate to the polls. Despite harsh restrictions on who may run for office, Iran's elections offer lively political campaigns and raucous debates between contrasting candidates who do not shy away from any topic of concern.

Iran also boasts one of the most energetic civil societies in the region, with diverse political action groups, a fearless press and dozens of active student organizations that repeatedly stage strikes and sit-ins in defiance of the government. Thousands of Iranian nongovernmental organizations work to foster ethnic, legal and, most especially, women's rights. Iranian women now hold 60% of the college degrees in the country and enjoy literacy rates approaching 90%.

True, all of these civil organizations and democratic movements labor under the autocratic rule of an unelected shadow government. But when I talk to Iranians about their problems, few cite the restrictions on their freedom posed by the Islamic republic. Rather, their primary complaint is the country's stagnant economy. Nearly a third of the population is unemployed, almost 40% live in poverty and the annual rate of inflation is 24%, so few Iranians have the means to translate their sophisticated political activism into meaningful democratic reform.

If the U.S. engaged Iran the way it engages other "autocratic democracies" in Latin America, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet bloc, that would do far more to encourage democratic change than anything tried so far. The lesson to be learned from America's misadventure in Iraq is that democracy cannot be promoted from the top down; it must be reared from within.


Taking regime change off the table also would allow the U.S. to deal more effectively with Iran's nuclear program. It is likely that Iran's leaders do not want nuclear weapons, because of their prohibitive cost and significant security risk. But they would like to have the option of developing them fairly quickly if necessary. And why not? Iran has learned a valuable lesson from its fellow "axis of evil" nations: one did not have nukes and it was obliterated by the U.S. military; the other has nukes and it is being plied with money to relinquish them.


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