Monday, December 14, 2009

Stephen Walt at FP urges us to be careful about what we wish for with respect to regime change in Iran...

I'm not so sure. On the one hand, I agree that the current regime is chaotic, corrupt, and deplorable on human rights grounds (though far less brutal than some governments with which the United States has had close relations). The regime's treatment of women is deplorable and the crackdown following the bogus election last summer is indefensible, and its support for groups like Hezbollah is hardly consistent with U.S. interests.  Judged on purely human rights grounds, a more democratic and/or liberal government would clearly be preferable.
But we should not assume that far-reaching political change in Iran would eliminate all sources of conflict between Iran and the United States (or the West). It would have little effect on the nuclear issue: Iran has been seeking nuclear energy (and possibly nuclear weapons) ever since the Shah, and election "runner-up" Mir Hossein Mousavi supports the government's demands to control the full nuclear fuel cycle and has openly criticized President Ahmadinejad's initial support for an proposal to have France and Russia convert Iran's LEU stockpile into safe fuel for Tehran's research reactor. Iran was a more expansionist power under the Shah than it has been as an "Islamic Republic,", and the Shah also supported insurgent groups in other countries when he thought it suited Iranian interests. Nor were earlier Iranian governments beacons of tolerance and support for basic human rights. Persian nationalism and Iranian national pride remain powerful forces within the country as well, which means that a truly democratic Iranian regime would be pressed to defend Iran's regional interests as vigorously as its power permits.

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