As Iran's Situation Worsens, U.S. Can Help by Not Helping at All

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As Iran's Situation Worsens, U.S. Can Help by Not Helping at All

The report in this issue of the Washington Report of riots in Iran's major cities, the large Iranian military build-up reported in this and the July issue, and widely discussed corruption in Iran's religious hierarchy are tragically reminiscent of the prelude to the political cataclysm in 1978-1979 that destroyed Shah Muhammad Reza and the Iranian monarchy. Whether sooner or later, a military-based regime is the likely successor to the present Islamic regime.

With the end of the Cold War and the advent of the "new world order," what effect does Iran's downward internal spiral have on U.S.-Iranian relations? Very little, despite unconvincing news accounts that "moderates" are now in the ascendancy after this year's Iranian elections.

Little or No Role for the U.S.

It was not democracy as Americans know it, because the Rafsanjani regime's supporters decided who could and could not run. Whether Iran continues to be governed by such "moderates," who reinforce their rule with public executions, or, eventually, by a military "man on horseback" will make little difference unless the country's rulers find a way to oust the corrupters and replace them with managers and entrepreneurs who can restore the country's badly battered economy and alleviate the internal oppression. Until then, there is little or no role for the U.S. in Iran's affairs.

From the end of World War II to the fall of the Shah's regime, mutual fear of Soviet expansion southward was the real interest that held Iran and the United States together. That potential building block for a renewed U.S.-Iranian relationship was removed with the end of the Cold War.

What remains is Iran's position as the largest of the three regional powers in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, and its own unshakable confidence in its destiny -- in Iran's "right" to greatness. Iran's history as the center of a world empire of antiquity, the prestige of Farsi as the court language of the great Moghul empire, and the enduring achievements of Persian art and literature all contribute to Iran's justified belief in its own uniqueness.

After World War II, however, misdirected U.S. interventions in Iran's internal affairs contributed to the late Shah's megalomania and illusion that in the second half of the 20th century he could, in a generation, create a new Persian empire to rival that of Cyrus the Great in the 6th century B.C. Many Iranians shared more than a touch of the Shah's pride, but his overarching vanity, and decreasing grip on reality, led to his downfall.

Mutual fear of Soviet expansion southward was the real interest that held Iran and the united States together.

In 1992, however, the Shah's successors feel little but frustration. Any Iranian regime would. Looking northward, Iran's rulers see what should be opportunity. Once dangerously expansive Russia is in decline and the Muslim republics of Central Asia have been liberated from the Soviet imperial grasp. But Iran can seize no advantage. Only in one of the six new states, Tajikistan, is Persian spoken. All of the other new Muslim republics feel an ethnic and linguistic kinship with Turkey, and seem attracted to the Turkish example of a secular Muslim state with a free-enterprise economy. …