Friday, May 23, 2008
The Iran Fallacy
In case you haven't noticed the front page, WPR has got a pretty solid one-two punch of must read articles today. The first, by Charles Crain, discusses the ways in which the Obama-McCain dust up over negotiating with enemies like Iran is divorced from the reality that we already are negotiating with enemies like Iran. The second, by Brian Burton, dissects the ways in which the consensus view of Iran as the source of all the Middle East's problems is divorced from the reality that the Middle East is the source of all the Middle East's problems.
I'd been meaning to make Crain's point for the last few days, so I'm glad he saved me the trouble. And I've been guilty of what Burton is talking about, using the shorthand of "symptom" when referring to Hamas, Hizbollah and Syria and "disease" to refer to Iran. There is the not insignificant detail of Iranian funding, supplies and training, but Burton is spot on in his argument that Hamas and Hizbollah -- and the popular discontent they represent -- would exist independently of Iranian influence. Burton's policy correctives read almost like a diplomatic version of the U.S. Army's new COIN tactics writ large:
The best way to counter expanding extremism and Iranian influence is not through more conventional state-to-state military action or diplomacy. It is by beating Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Sadrists at their own game: Standing up for repressed populations of the region, addressing their local grievances, demonstrating care for their concerns, offering aid and a clear vision of a better future. Extremist groups like these will not fade away until their constituencies have a more attractive alternative, and America should be ashamed if it cannot do a better job than Iran at providing that alternative.
You might remember the discussion we had here on the blog a few weeks back about Barack Obama's foreign policy "crusade." I think that underneath Obama's transformational rhetoric is really just an ambition to put what Burton describes into practice.
My point at the time was that presenting the case in transformational terms risks raising expectations too high. Hamas and Hizbollah didn't just suddenly appear as their constituencies' best hope to get their political grievances redressed. They are the product of over forty years of failed policy, and in many ways their rise reflects a level of desperation which will be difficult to move past. But regardless of whether we actually do end up transforming the Middle East or the world, what Burton (and Obama) is proposing is the right thing to do.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.