As the world grapples with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, discussions abound in think tanks and capitals around the world concerning a key question: what makes Iran tick? The real question should be: which Iran?
The Iran of the government of the Islamic Republic, a serial human rights abuser that executes more people per capita than anywhere else in the world, undermines Iran’s enormous economic potential with corruption, mismanagement, and needless diplomatic spats, and sends money and weapons to Hezbollah, Hamas, and Bashar al-Assad’s goons killing the Syrian opposition?
Or the Iran of a young, dynamic populace hungry for democracy, dignity, and jobs, a population that, as Nicholas Kristof has reported recently in the New York Times, harbors little antipathy toward the United States and wants the same freedoms we all want, who are heirs to one of the world’s greatest civilizations that has produced some of the finest thinkers, artists, scientists – and even political leaders — the world has known?
The first Iran, of course, has the power, and sits at the negotiating table, but we must be very careful not to forget that second Iran, the one that will play a more important role in the future of this geo-strategically vital nation.
Let’s call the first one “the Iranian regime.” Let’s call the second Iran “the real Iran,” because it is composed of real people with real dreams living real lives, while their government lives in an alternative universe of decaying, rotten revolutionary ideology totally devoid of any meaning in today’s Iran.
Let me give you three examples from this past week.
Iran’s Sports Minister announced this week that Iranian athletes would be prohibited from competing against Israeli athletes in the upcoming Olympic games in London – a gross violation of Olympics rules and the Olympics spirit.
He described this policy as “one of the values and sources of pride of the Iranian people and its athletes.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Iranian people take pride in their poetry – Rumi, Hafez, Saadi, Omar Khayyam. They take pride in the Persian empire and the tolerant king Cyrus – renowned for freeing the Jews from their Babylonian captivity. They take pride in their national cuisine, their scientific achievements (both past and present), and their brave youth who fought for freedom on the streets of Tehran over the past two years.
What’s more, with a deteriorating economy, high rates of inflation and unemployment, an oil sector in rapid decline, the danger of an Israeli and/or U.S. military strike, high-level political elite squabbling, high rates of drug addiction and divorce, the sustained brain drain of Iran’s best and brightest, and rising poverty in rural areas, does it make any sense to assume that Iranians would take pride in this ridiculous and hateful anti-Olympic spirit declaration?
On talk shows and on Persian language web sites, “the Iranian regime’s” obsession with Israel is often ridiculed and condemned by the “real Iran.” The web sites had another opportunity this past week when Iran’s Vice President shocked an audience of international diplomats at a mundane conference on global drug addiction by blaming the entire phenomenon on “Zionists” and the Talmud. He said that “you cannot find a single addict among the Zionists,” asserting that “they” have a grand plot to addict the world to drugs because “they” believe themselves to be “a master race” that views others as their slaves.
Beyond adding the statement to the “Iranian regime” hall of shame of speeches, it was totally devoid of the reality of the Iranian condition today. Some 2 million poor souls are addicted to drugs in Iran and a heroic team of NGOs and volunteers are working behind the scenes to help them. Meanwhile, on Iran’s borders courageous young men die in the fight against drug smugglers from Pakistan and Afghanistan, a fight takes place every day. How about acknowledging those Iranian heroes of “the real Iran” rather than spouting hateful anti-Semitic rhetoric?
And let us pause for a moment to remember that the Persian king Cyrus is referred to in the Old Testament as “the Lord’s Anointed one” for his role in freeing the Jews from their Babylonian captivity. “The Iranian regime” is obsessed with Israel, “Zionists,” and Jews. “Real Iran” is not: they remember Jewish contributions to Iranian life and the large Jewish communities that had thrived in Iran for centuries.
But it’s not just their obsession with Israel that sets them apart from their people. It’s also the alternative universe they live in on the economy. Iranians suffer from chronic inflation, stagnant wages, soaring rents, and a host of economic ills that have decimated the middle class. Sanctions have only exacerbated this downward economic spiral.
Meanwhile, Iran’s most important commodity – the one that accounts for more than 80% of hard currency earnings and more than 50% of fiscal revenues – is experiencing a rapid decline. Owing to sanctions, corruption and mismanagement, oil exports are down by almost a half and production is nearing twenty year lows. Before the late Ayatollah Khomeini announced that “economics is for donkeys” Iran’s oil production stood at close to six million barrels per day. Today, after thirty-two years of “the Iranian regime” it is down to three million barrels per day.
Given the absence of capital and foreign investment, there is absolutely no chance that production will be raised in any meaningful way. The trajectory is muddle through and downward. And yet, Iran’s Oil Minister, Rostam Ghassemi, announced boldly that Iran would quadruple production by the year 2015 – an absolutely laughable assertion that defies the laws of gravity, markets, and reality.
And lastly, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, told a gathering of Qu’ran reciters this past week, according to the
DC-based Iran Times, that “the Islamic Republic is progressing at a speed 11 times the average world index.” The newspaper noted “it wasn’t clear what he was talking about.”
All of these pronouncements from the alternative universe of “the Iranian regime” would be farcical were they not so tragic and hateful and detrimental to “real Iran” – the Iranian people.
U.S. policy, thus, must be focused on how we can support “real Iran” in their struggle to win the freedom and dignity they deserve. Military strikes will not be helpful in this regard. What is needed is a “real Iran” policy agenda, one that takes into account the aspirations and needs of ordinary Iranians.
That is the best “security guarantee” against Iran’s game-changing nuclear program.
Read the original article in Forbes here