Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Thoughts On Iran

There are three ways to deal with Iran. Two of these options have been discussed and debated at length in the mainstream media, and in the blogosphere. Negotiations led by the U.N. and the E.U. seem destined to fail to restrain Iran from developing nuclear weapons. A military strike would be risky in many ways.

Christopher Hitchens examines the third option: "Nixon goes to China".
The overwhelmingly young population-—an ironic result of the mullahs' attempt to increase the birth rate after the calamitous war with Iraq-—is fed up with medieval rule. Unlike the hermetic societies of Baathist Iraq and North Korea, Iran has been forced to permit a lot of latitude to its citizens. A huge number of them have relatives in the West, access to satellite dishes and cell phones, and regular contact with neighboring societies. They are appalled at the way that Turkey, for example, has evolved into a near-European state while Iran is still stuck in enforced backwardness and stagnation, competing only in the rug and pistachio markets. Opinion polling is a new science in Iran, but several believable surveys have shown that a huge majority converges on one point: that it is time to resume diplomatic relations with the United States. (The vast American Embassy compound, which I visited, is for now a stupid museum of propaganda. But when one mullah recently asked if he could have a piece of the extensive grounds for a religious school, he was told by the authorities that the place must be kept intact.)

So, picture if you will the landing of Air Force One at Imam Khomeini International Airport. The president emerges, reclaims the U.S. Embassy in return for an equivalent in Washington and the un-freezing of Iran's financial assets, and announces that sanctions have been a waste of time and have mainly hurt Iranian civilians. (He need not add that they have also given some clerics monopoly positions in various black markets; the populace already knows this.) A new era is possible, he goes on to say. America and the Shiite world have a common enemy in al-Qaida, just as they had in Slobodan Milosevic, the Taliban, and the Iraqi Baathists. America is home to a large and talented Iranian community. Let the exchange of trade and people and ideas begin!
Is this possible? Some of the best ideas sound crazy when you first hear them.