Beyond Sanctions, Before War

flickr-3630995591-hdThe United States is in a dangerous stalemate with the Iranian Regime.

The US, and the rest of the Western world, agrees that Ayatollah Khamenei must not acquire a nuclear weapon lest he gain an unacceptably destabilizing level of influence. That said, sanctions are failing to put sufficient pressure on the Iranian government; although they have placed a heavy burden upon ordinary citizens, a small elite tied to the Revolutionary Guard may actually be benefitting from a practical monopoly over inputs. Despite the sanctions’ failure, however, the American people are understandably averse to taking the next step of military engagement, leaving the regime free to continue developing its weapon.

This deadlock is dangerous, yet the upcoming Iranian Presidential election, currently scheduled for July 14, may allow the US to disrupt the pattern.

The last Presidential election in 2009 did not go as the Ayatollah planned. Amidst accusations of electoral fraud, more than a hundred thousand citizens took to the streets, chanting, “Give us our votes back.” Not uncharacteristically, Khamenei responded to these massive, yet mostly peaceful protests through proclaiming the result “divine assessment” and suppressing demonstrations with brute force. The resulting escalation and defiance of the regime, although insufficient to topple the government in 2009, may well resurface five months from now if the upcoming election is faces similar challenges.

The Iranian regime is well aware of this possibility. In a recent public address, Khamenei condemned talk of free elections, arguing that it strengthens the regime’s critics and suppresses his people’s “lively and massive participation.” Pinky-promising that the elections would be fair and free, he asked citizens to refrain from discussing them.

In a similar vein, Ali Saeedi, of the Revolutionary Guard, recently proclaimed that the military has a “responsibility to engineer rational and logical elections.” These statements, although projecting the image of strength, demonstrate a well-substantiated fear of further unrest.

With this in mind, perhaps there is some hidden wisdom in suggesting that the US listen to Iran’s government.  When in doubt over how to break the deadlock, it may be wise to foster what our enemy fears most. How the US might promote another, larger Green Revolution is certainly a debate in itself. In the upcoming months, we may want to start with the Ayatollah’s recommendation: increasing the international pressure and demands for free elections that he so dreads.

It will for now be sufficient to acknowledge, however, that by moving beyond sanctions, we can break our stalemate with Iran before turning to costly and wholly undesirable warfare.

 

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