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Altered Consciousness: Put more pressure on Iran

Published: January 28, 2011
Section: Opinions


GRAPHIC BY Estie Martin/The Hoot

Perhaps the most troubling foreign policy dilemma for the United States today is the question of Iran.

According to news reports, the infamous Stuxnet virus has sabotaged approximately 1,000 centrifuges at Iran’s primary uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. The success of this cyber-attack is encouraging but it will only delay the growth of, rather than eliminate, Iran’s nuclear capacity.

Despite this setback, the Iranian regime is still a menace. With U.S. power waning in the Middle East, Iran is actively seeking to fill the vacuum in its quest for regional dominance. Indeed, Iran is constantly trying to challenge the U.S.-backed Sunni Arab and Israeli order by inciting Shiite populations in countries like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Yemen, and by leading a pan-Islamic resistance bloc, which stretches from Syria to Lebanon and Gaza. Also, Iran is behind much of the chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has funded militias in both countries with the purpose of killing American soldiers and impeding U.S. efforts in these conflicts.

Recently, several events have shifted the balance of power further toward the Persians. The collapse of the Lebanese government led by Prime Minister Hariri is providing an opportunity for Hezbollah to completely take over the country. Smaller Sunni states, such as Jordan and Qatar, sense that Iran is the strong horse in the region and are increasingly being drawn into its orbit. The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, although heartening for pro-democracy advocates, may culminate in an Islamist takeover and inspire similarly destabilizing events in other countries. Additionally, Turkey, which has long been seen as a moderate pro-Western country, is also gravitating towards the resistance bloc under the leadership of Islamist Prime Minister Erdogan.

In light of this situation, what can the United States do?

Certainly, the multilateral U.S., E.U. and U.N. led sanctions regime has had an impact. The Iranian government has been forced to cut back on subsidies for food, gas, oil and other vital goods. Additionally, the unemployment rate for the country stands at around 15 percent, its budget deficits and national debt levels are sizable, inflation is at 9.4 percent and the value of its currency, the rial, has been declining.

The U.S. needs to expand upon these efforts in the hopes of achieving two goals: change the decision-making calculus of the regime in the hopes that it is an at least somewhat rational as opposed to ideological actor; and destabilize Iranian society through economic means, which will in turn bring pressure onto the government from the bottom up.

Specifically, this would require that the U.S. tighten sanctions without fear of harming the Iranian populace.  Additionally, a strengthening of multilateral efforts needs to talk place.  Allies of ours, such as Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy, still maintain close economic ties with Iran, particularly in the energy sector—this has to change.  Also, while I am wary of China and Russia’s intentions and foreign policies, it is crucial that the Obama administration truly get these two countries on board with meaningful sanctions.  The main point, fundamentally, is that the U.S. needs to make Iran become as politically and economically isolated as North Korea.

In generating this additional international support, the U.S. should not just emphasize Iran’s nuclear program, but also on the fact that its government has, through either direct or indirect means, brutalized and repressed countless innocents and civilians at home and abroad.  Ask any imprisoned member of the Green Movement, religious minority of the Islamic Republic, defiler of shar’ia law in Iran, or victim of the savagery of groups like Hezbollah or Hamas, and they will attest to this.

If all else fails, a military strike must be an option.  The only thing worse than an attack is the advent of a nuclear Iran, which would greatly destabilize the region, disrupt international oil flows, and empower extremists and Islamists all over the world.  But before considering this, more energy ought to be put into sabotage efforts, like the Stuxnet virus and the assassination of Persian nuclear scientists.  And, a regime change strategy that exploits all of the political, ethnic, religious, and economic cleavages of Iranian society can prove potent.

In the last century, the U.S. has faced down and outlived the tide of global Fascism and Communism.  In contrast, the problem of Iran and radical Islam, although challenging, is certainly solvable.