28 December 2009

Roger Cohen on Iran

In an op-ed piece, The Inertia Option (read here), published in the 17 December edition of The New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen argues that everything about the current situation in Tehran screams to him that the best course is to do nothing.

Recalling the bloodied young women marching in protest after the stolen election in June, Cohen says that their cause would be best upheld by stopping the march toward “crippling” sanctions on Iran which, far from strengthening the Administration’s Iran policy, would undermine it. He continues:

When I’m asked where the “stick” is in Iran, my response is the stick is Iranian society — the bubbling reformist pressure now rising up from Iran’s highly educated youth and brave women.

It would be a tragedy were Obama to weaken them. Sanctions now would do just that. Nobody would welcome them more than a regime able once more to refer to the “arrogant power” trying to bring proud Iran to its knees. The Revolutionary Guards, who control the sophisticated channels for circumventing existing sanctions, would benefit.

Arguing that the United States is empowering the dissenters with its silence, he goes on:

Sanctions represent tired binary thinking on Iran, the old West-versus-barbarism paradigm prevalent since political Islam triumphed in the revolution of 1979 as a religious backlash against Western-imposed modernity. The Iranian reality, as I’ve argued since the start of this year, is more complex. A leading cry today of the protesters in Iran is “God is great” — hardly a secular call to arms. These reformists are looking in their great majority for some elusive middle way combining faith and democracy.

The West must not respond with the sledgehammer of sanctions whose message is “our way or the highway.” Rather it must understand at last the subtle politics of Iran by borrowing an Iranian lesson: inertia.


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