Iran,  Obama

Naivety, diplomacy and threats

Guest post by Tori Egherman

Tori Egherman, an American, and her husband Kamran Ashtary, an Iranian, lived and blogged in Tehran from 2003 to 2007. Their blog is at Kamran’s guest post appears below.

Everywhere I went in Iran, I met people who claimed to despise the actions of their government and the clerical regime. Taxi drivers, hotel clerks, waiters, government employees, mothers, fathers, accountants and butchers all expressed dismay and disgust at the Iranian government. Yet after four years living there I realized that despising the regime is a kind of national sport in Iran. It’s not new or even confined to the current regime. A nineteenth century French diplomat described Persians as “full of adoration for the country itself, they do not believe in any means of running it.” (You can read that quote in Fariba Adelkhah’s great book Being Modern in Iran.) The only politicians Iranians respect are those, like Mossadeq, who never had the opportunity to screw up because they were removed from office forcibly. While the actions of their government have very real consequences for the daily life of every single citizen of Iran, in reality most Iranians see it as superfluous: at best, defenders of Iran’s national interests; at worst, another tyranny to survive.

Since my stay in Iran, I have come to see the sanctions and the lack of diplomacy as counter-productive. The lack of official diplomacy with Iran since the revolution has, on one hand, been a boon for America’s image in that country. It meant that I was welcomed and beloved in every corner of Iran, despite what you might think if you are a viewer of Fox News. It’s fantastic to be an American in Iran. In fact, I doubt there is a more pro-American population outside of Texas. Why? Because we have not compromised with a corrupt and despised regime as we have in other parts of the world. That said, I don’t see that the lack of diplomacy and the sanctions have done any favors for Iran’s opposition or its people. The sanctions have strengthened the most powerful supporters of the regime who now have a stranglehold on the economy; read Abbas Milani’s article “U.S. Foreign Policy and the Future of Democracy in Iran.” (pdf). They have forced millions of Iranians into dependency on the government itself for work, food and basic necessities.

The biggest threat to the Islamist regime in Iran is its own tolerant people and the very act of governance. It is not empty (or even real) threats from the US.

Obama’s Nowruz message had all the ingredients it needed: flattery, respect, poetic quotes, and ambiguous statements. Clearly Iran’s governing powers are freaked out at the notion of having a president in office who doesn’t offer an easy foil. They adored Bush. His animosity was clear. He was a religious man. He was someone they could deal with by not dealing with. Obama offers a more complex adversary, as he has shown in this message.

Many people have claimed that those who want to negotiate with Iran are naïve and that Obama is the chief officer of naivety. I think it’s much more naïve to believe that America can change Iran by force. It’s naïve to believe that bombing Iran will strengthen the opposition. It’s naïve to believe that threats work better than diplomacy. It’s naïve to believe that Iranians are going to bring about the end of the world, no matter how nasty the regime and its adherents are. It’s naïve to believe that China and Russia won’t step in to the void our sanctions are creating.

Most Iranians would like to be facing West and would embrace the opportunity to do so. I say, give them the opportunity. Let’s talk. Let’s open the embassy in Tehran. Let’s travel to Iran. Let’s open our universities. Let’s wrestle. Let’s pretend that the regime is here to stay.