July 21, 2010

War is Bad For Democracy

Speculation abounds as, once again, the military option against Iran has come front and center. What is the worst case scenario if Israel attacks Iran? Most experts agree; there will be a significant toll on civilian life, Iran could justifiably withdraw from the NPT, and there could be prolonged regional insecurity that drags the US into a third Middle Eastern conflict.
Perhaps the most important consequence of an attack on Iran, however, is the damage it would do to the indigenous democracy movement.

Plain and simple, an Israeli attack would destroy the Green movement.  History shows that external threats have only served to buttress repressive regimes. In the case of Iran in the 1980’s, the revolutionary government used the Iran-Iraq War as a pretext to silence dissenters and consolidate its hold on power.  Without the specter of a foreign enemy, it’s unlikely the post-revolutionary regime would have remained in tact.
The Green Movement’s current efforts to protect civil liberties, combat repression, liberalize domestic politics, and improve Iran’s standing in the international community will certainly be cut off if Iran is thrust into similar circumstances. After the bombs start falling, the hardline government will ensure that only the issue of national security is allowed to dominate the domestic political discourse.  (This should be easy for Americans to imagine, given that the US experienced a similar situation in the aftermath of 9/11).
Iran war hawks like William Kristol Robert Kagan talk about how a nuclear-armed Iran would be tolerable so long as it is run by a secular, pro-American and democratic government.  Since last June, the Iranian people have begun the long slog toward freedom and democracy, and yet those who claim to support them are calling for precisely the thing that will make this dream impossible.
There is still unrest in Iran. Bazaar strikes, an ailing economy, and widespread inflation are just a few problems plaguing the lives of Iranians every day, and as this discontent lingers, the calls for reform will only grow louder.  Even more than its immediate devastation on the lives of the Iranian people, an attack on Iran will constrain Iran’s political evolution and defer the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.
Barbara Slavin often says that the US and Iran never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  The US now has a chance to keep the hope for a democratic Iran alive or, alternatively, to snuff out that possibility in one fell swoop.  We should choose wisely.

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