Friday, December 07, 2007

Iran Puzzle Needs Fresh Approach

Iran continues to dominate the headlines in international politics this week amid a recently released intelligence report that concludes the theocratic regime halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Despite that report, the US continues to push for increased UN sanctions against Iran and continues to paint Iran as a rogue state with strong ties to international terror. (Washington Post: Gates to Gulf nations: Stand against Iran.)

Certainly the latest intelligence report takes a fair amount of wind out of the anti-Iranian sails, although there is still a great deal of NATO support for the official US position. While Iran may have put their weapons program on hold four years ago, they do continue to enrich uranium and still have the ability to restart that program on a moment's notice. NATO agrees with that assessment and supports additional sanctions.

Not surprisingly, the major hold-out continues to be Russia. Not only is Iran a major economic ally of the once and future Soviet state but Iran offers Russian President Vladimir Putin with a fresh battlefield for a cold war style confrontation with the US. Putin, already emboldened by a strengthening Russian economy in the face of a falling US dollar, appears poised to seize any opportunity to thwart US goals in the region.

Perhaps now the time is right to change the game. Sanctions have a long history of failure. Rarely - if ever - do sanctions have the desired effect on the nation so interdicted. Certainly, time is on Iran's side in this case, and there's no reason to believe that sanctions will have any impact at all. So perhaps now is the time to change course.

Rather than impose sanctions and attempt to economically contain Iran, I propose just the opposite. Overwhelm the Ayatollah's personal playground with capitalism. Open and expand trade with Iran and target the mass marketing campaign at the student body and middle class. Prior to the Iranian lead Islamic Revolution, Iran was one of the most westernized nations in the Middle East. Even today there is a very strong undercurrent of western materialism, especially among the younger generation.

Iran is ripe for revolution. Their rate of inflation is already taking its toll and there is already a strong anti-fundamentalist sentiment in the general population. By opening trade with Iran and exposing them to much-desired western goods, we may provide the final catalyst needed to topple the oppressive regime, all without US or Israeli military intervention.

There comes a point where we must recognize that certain tactics have not been effective and that we must change our approach. Isolation did not work in Cuba, it has not worked with North Korea, and there's no reason to believe it will work with Iran. Perhaps now is the right time to unleash our greatest weapon - capitalism. Remind the Iranian people of what they could have and let nature take its course. It's certainly worth a try.

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