Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran After the Elections

Over at the Atlantic Council, James Joyner produces a great summary of the analysis about the "day after" in Iran.

I've just posted my own reaction to it, which I'm duplicating here:

1) Mousavi was and is not a "liberal" but a pragmatic figure who understands the need for moderation in politics. The willingness to project all sorts of reformist impulses on an "anyone but Ahmadinejad" figure is misleading. Hence, your conclusion is spot on: " ... the West is in exactly the same position vis-a-vis Iran as we were Friday morning. And more or less in the same position we would have had Mousavi been declared the 65 percent winner."

2) What was on the table. The economy may be bad in Iran but a good deal of the population is still getting some aid and handouts from the state. Mousavi could not promise economic improvements because he had no way of guaranteeing that his election would lead to a shift. I had argued last year that the West should be prepard to talk some specifics about what Iran could expect if there was a change in leadership. I wrote,

Perhaps such an offer might be sweetened, as it was in the Libyan case, by lining up specific economic incentives that would go into effect immediately after verification. In Iran’s case, this could be new international loans and a guarantee for the construction of the NABUCCO line, with firm contracts specifying prices and duration for natural gas.

Iran has presidential elections scheduled for 2009. It may be useful to recall that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005, not on a platform of developing nuclear weapons or destroying Israel, but instead by promising to tackle corruption and deliver economic growth. If, prior to the forthcoming election, the United States and its European allies laid out a very specific and detailed program that included actual projects and the projected benefits to the Iranian people—rather than more generic assurances about goodwill and some small nickel-and-dime measures—not simply Iranian voters but Iranian elites might be more energized to bring about change.

This might have cut into Ahmadinejad's support base among the poor and lower middle classes that otherwise feel there's no benefit to them to elect a candidate perceived to be the tool of the "corrupt elites of North Tehran."

Indeed. Iranian elites and the Iranian people need merely look north to at Gorbachev and Yeltsin to see what happens to countries who make concessions to the West in return for vague assurances of future Western goodwill.

Ditto for Libya.

Americans cannot give anything to Iran except normalization of relations; i.e. no US (Cold) War against Iran.
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The US could have gone public with a promise of aid for change, but this has three potential problems:

1) it provides the regime with cover for cracking down on reformists--much like the Bush NGO proposal did and why the current administration is being careful not to weigh in too heavily

2) it isn't clear whether the poor or middle classes would actually get that message unfiltered by official state media, etc.

3) Additionally, there wasn't a leadership change in Libya, but rather a policy shift. Overtly demanding a change in a state's leader in return for financial incentives is a much different campaign with different dynamics all together.
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