Back in the 1980s, Timothy Garton-Ash was one of the most perceptive commentators on Eastern Europe, and even if in later decades he tended to drink rather too much of the Brussels Kool-Aid, this article is well worth reading for what it has to say about Iran, and his ideas as to what should be done:
“many Iranians, especially among the two-thirds of the population who are under 30, hate their regime much more than we do. Given time, and the right kind of support from the world’s democracies, they will eventually change it from within. But most of them think their country has as much right to civilian nuclear power as anyone else, and many feel it has a right to nuclear arms. These young Persians are pro-democracy and rather pro-American, but also fiercely patriotic. They have imbibed suspicion of the great powers – especially Britain and the United States – with their mother’s milk. A wrong move by the west could swing a lot of them back behind the state. “I love George Bush,” one young woman told me as we sat in the Tehran Kentucky Chicken restaurant, “but I would hate him if he bombed my country.” Or even if he pushed his European allies to impose stronger economic sanctions linked to the nuclear issue alone.
“Our problem is that the nuclear clock and the democracy clock may be ticking at different speeds. To get to peaceful regime change from within could take at least a decade, although president Ahmadinejad is hastening that prospect as he sharpens the contradictions within the system. Meanwhile, the latest US intelligence assessment suggests that Iran is still a decade away from acquiring nuclear weapons. But significant, non-military action to prevent that outcome clearly has to come sooner; for as soon as dictators have nukes, you’re in a different game. Then, as we have seen with North Korea and Pakistan, they are treated with a respect they don’t deserve.
“This is where we need to hear the other half of the message from my friend in Isfahan: stick together and be consistent. If Europe and America split over Iran, as we did over Iraq, we have not a snowball’s chance in hell of achieving our common goals. To be effective, Europe and America need the opposite of their traditional division of labour. Europe must be prepared to wave a big stick (the threat of economic sanctions, for it is Europe, not the US, that has the trade with Iran) and America a big carrot (the offer of a full “normalisation” of relations in return for Iranian restraint). But the old transatlantic west is not enough. Today’s nuclear diplomacy around Iran shows us that we already live in a multipolar world. Without the cooperation of Russia and China, little can be achieved.
“And we have to be consistent. Consistent in our policy to Iran, embedded in a kind of Helsinki process for the whole region. Consistent in advocating an international set of rules governing the use of nuclear power, not just for Iran but for others as well. Consistent, too, in recognising that our policy must be addressed as much to the people as the regime. For every step we take to slow down the nuclearisation of Iran, we need another to speed up the democratisation of Iran. At every stage, we need to explain to the Iranian people, through satellite television, radio and the internet, what we are doing and why. Isfahan is not just the increasingly notorious location of a nuclear processing plant; it’s also a beautiful city where many critical citizens live. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a reckless leader, but there are many other Mahmouds in Iran. We must listen to them. In the end, it’s they, not we, who will change their country for the better. “