WINNING IRANIAN HEARTS AND MINDS
Abbas William Samii *
Iran could become a nuclear capable state in the next 24-30 months (June 2003-December 2005), in light of progress at Bushehr and other, undeclared, facilities. The military option—from preemptive strikes against nuclear facilities to a full-scale invasion—is one way to preclude this eventuality. Many Iranians have a positive impression of the United States and a dislike of their own regime, but it is very unlikely that they would react positively to an American attack or to an American-backed successor government.
Iranian attitudes towards the U.S. currently fall between two extremes. Iran and its people can seem rabidly anti-American, with a history of hostage takings and mobs continuing to chant “Death to America” on a weekly basis. American visitors to the country, however, report that such activities are almost pro forma by now, and a 2002 opinion poll in Tehran found that almost three-quarters of the population favors the resumption of direct Iran-U.S. talks. (The United States broke relations with Iran on April 7, 1980.) At the same time, visitors to Iran describe a proud and nationalistic people who retain skepticism about U.S. motives, and opinion polls refl ect this.
The United States could mitigate the impact of any military action against Iran by persuading Iranians beforehand of its positive intentions towards them, and this will take more than White House declarations of support for the Iranian people. This chapter recommends several concrete actions to win Iranians' hearts and minds. Washington should provide disaster relief to Iran, permit enhanced international cooperation in Iranian counternarcotics activities, assist Iranian HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment____________________