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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Ought Iran Be Next?

The United States reserves the right to use military force against Iran," says Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. I seem to remember that Wolfowitz had made a similar claim in the case of Iraq last year. And we did go to war in Iraq. So, are Wolfowitz's comments again a harbinger of things to come?

Of course, what we need to keep in mind is that Iran is not another Iraq. Despite recent student demonstrations against the Ayatollah's regime in Tehran and other cities, the Shia have generally supported theocratic regimes. The resolve of the Shia majority in Iraq to install an Islamic religious government, not necessarily democratic, is clear evidence of this. We should be aware that if we do decide to go to war again, we may not necessarily be met with jubilant crowds to greet the American liberators. To the contrary, we might just be faced with resentful and suicidal Iranian extremists.

Supporting student demonstrations and expecting them to topple the Ayatollah's regime may not be feasible. Simply arming anti-Ayatollah forces to overthrow the government could lead to a civil war in what is a remarkably stable nation in Southern Asia. We do not want another Tiananmen Square and neither would we want another Bolshevik Revolution--like civil war with a very high number of civilian casualties. So far, Ayatollah Khamenei, leader for life, has been able to violently repress protests with the help of his extremist supporters and is most unlikely to tolerate any rebellion against his rule.

President Mohammad Khatami, supposedly head of government, has continued to follow the reform plans of his predecessor Hashemi Rafsanjani and has indicated that he will pursue liberalization of the Iranian economy and political scene, although he has made little progress toward that goal. His liberal agenda in conjunction with popular pressure will force the Ayatollah to democratize sooner than later.

However, democracy in Iran might be, again, a rather problematic situation. Given election results in other Islamic states such as Pakistan and Kuwait, where Islamic parties have been swept to power in recent elections, it is most likely that another theocratic government, albeit of a different flavor, might replace the Ayatollahs.

What all of this should make us realize is that regime change or disarmament in Iran will not be as easy as in Iraq. At the same time, we might be able to achieve these very goals through other tactical and less-offensive measures. We need to give Iran some time and refrain from hasty and rash decisions.

Moreover, the conflict in Iraq is far from over yet. Despite President George W. Bush's triumphant May 1 declaration of end of hostilities in Iraq, more than 50 American soldiers have been killed in unpleasant conditions since, compared to a mere 170 deaths during the actual war. Attacks on American posts in Iraq continue daily despite efforts by L. Paul Bremer's administration to curb violence and terrorism. British troops are being killed in Basra and elsewhere in Southern Iraq. Recently, attacks have even been made on Iraqis working with Americans. This week's attacks killing seven American-trained cadets is a grim reminder that some extremist Iraqis may be considering cooperation with Americans as treason.

Saddam Hussein is reportedly alive and well, despite our desperate efforts to bring him to justice for his crimes. We have succeeded in dethroning him but we have woefully failed in our attempts to incarcerate him. And what is even more shocking is that he is said to be paying civilians to harm Americans and other foreigners. In fact, he has set a price on the head of every foreigner in Iraq. The Washington Post has reported "plots to shoot, bomb, burn and poison Americans."

The recently-aired speech by the deposed Iraqi ruler is further proof of his desperate attempts to harm Americans. His claim is of "sacrificing" his regime to "keep" his promise to God, which is to defeat the infidels, should provide justification for stepping up efforts to track him down and respond more vigorously to attacks.

Iraqis are becoming more disillusioned with American occupation with every passing day. They don't want to become an American colony. But on the other hand, installing an indigenous democratic regime in Baghdad is not an easy task for the allies. It requires considerable effort on the part of Bremer and partners, and cooperation from the Iraqis, which they are not very interested in giving. Iraq is a complete mess right now and we need to wrap it up before we consider getting involved in another disastrous situation.