I remember hearing a State of the Union speech not too many years ago, when the phrase "Axis of Evil" was coined. I remember feeling punched in the gut when the American President, to the whole world, added a bit of jackassery to the trio by throwing in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Some of you may think I'm batcrap crazy for saying this, but the road to peace in the Middle East and assured victory over al-Quaeda will run through Tehran. This is not an idea that fits very well within the framework of modern American narrative - veiled women and turbaned mullahs burning American flags and calling us the 'Great Satan' - but one day very soon, we are going to have to face the facts regarding this most strategically important nation.
The Iranians have been through a lot in the last 50 years. Neo-conservatives may dismiss the importance, but they cannot dismiss the facts: Iran has been demanding constitutional & democratic changes for decades upon decades, and our hand in turning those reforms back led directly to the revolution of 1979 and the Mullahs we have to deal with today.
Memo to foreign policy wonks: When you support a brutal autocrat, and the people cry out for freedom, those people may learn to see you as the enemy, too. If the revolution gets hijacked by people who see you as the enemy, your interests are in big trouble. If those people are brutal autocrats themselves, hiding behind religion or ideology to secure their regin, then the people who cried out for freedom in the first place are still there, and they still have no freedom. (Please see also: China, Columbia, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Haiti, Nicaragua, the Phillipines & Vietnam, to name a few. Jury is still out on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia & Palestine who are at various stages of the above scenario.)
Luckily, that last part of the scenario is what puts us in an important position. The people who cried out for freedom in the first place are still there, and last time I checked, the American Dream of liberation and self determination was a Dream shared by the vast majority of freedom seeking people around the world. We know the Iranian people share this dream.
The people of Iran have staged two pro-freedom revolutions in the modern era. They elected a pro-Iranian, pro-reform cleric to their Presidency, and returned him for a second term. The people are ready, and are working for change. But like every nation, these people are proud of who they are, and with the hatchet still bright between our two nations, we walk a fine line with any action we take.
I don't often agree with much of what Christopher Hitchens has to say, but I found myself reading this one in amazement. His suggestion is so audacious, it may be the most effective. Regarding Iran:
our options are down to three: reliance on the United Nations/European Union bargaining table, a "decapitating" military strike, or Nixon goes to China. The first being demonstrably useless and somewhat humiliating, and the second being possibly futile as well as hazardous, it might be worth giving some thought to the third of these.
Appearances sometimes to the contrary, they are not mad—or not clinically insane in the way that Saddam Hussein was and Kim Jong-il is. The recent fuss about the obliteration of Israel is largely bull****
They know as well as you do what would happen if they tried to nuke Israel or the United States. They want the bomb as insurance against invasion and as a weapon of strategic ambiguity to shore up their position in the region.
But they have a crucial vulnerability on the inside. 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.
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.
Maybe I'm just naive, but I can't even imagine the sense of victory it would bring both the people of Iran and the United States to see that embassy opened up again.
Before you write that off as total fantasy, keep in mind that so far, we've buried the hatchet with the South, Germany, Japan and Russia. We rebuilt three of those four, and I think we could win in Iran without firing a single shot.