We are Ahmadinejad’s Useful Enemy

The NYTimes has an article up on Iran’s recent crackdown on dissidents, the press, and rights groups:

The shift is occurring against the backdrop of an economy so stressed that although Iran is the world’s second-largest oil exporter, it is on the verge of rationing gasoline. At the same time, the nuclear standoff with the West threatens to bring new sanctions.

The hard-line administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, analysts say, faces rising pressure for failing to deliver on promises of greater prosperity from soaring oil revenue. It has been using American support for a change in government as well as a possible military attack as a pretext to hound his opposition and its sympathizers.

Meanwhile our “tough talk” (read: warmongering) is playing right into the hands of Ahmadinejad. The Iranian President gets to follow in our own fearless leader’s footsteps. As long as we remain an obvious threat to the region, despots and terrorists have their enemy signed and delivered for domestic consumption.  This helps free them from the responsibility of addressing pressing domestic issues or adhering to the will of the people.  One of the very real effects of abdicating our place as defender of liberty in favor of naked imperial desire is we provide an opening to power hungry politicians who smell opportunity in our war cries.

Analysts trace the broadening crackdown to a March speech by Ayatollah Khamenei, whose pronouncements carry the weight of law. He warned that no one should damage national unity when the West was waging psychological war on Iran. The country has been under fire, particularly from the United States, which accuses it of trying to develop nuclear weapons and fomenting violence in Iraq.

Imagine a foreign policy towards Iran that dropped the threat of war, and took up the hard work of friendship and diplomacy. The Iranian people are being oppressed, but waving our overextended military in their face won’t help anyone. And judging by Iraq, the Iranians might be reasonably wary about the real-world effects of being “liberated”.

We should drop the tough talk on weapons, and start the tough talk on rights. But this is a discussion that will move forward with greater speed and stability if we approach it as friends, and not as useful enemies.

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