This opening paragraph of a Washington Post story says so much about the state of affairs the Bush administration has created:
Prominent activists inside Iran say President Bush’s plan to spend tens of millions of dollars to promote democracy here is the kind of help they don’t need, warning that mere announcement of the U.S. program endangers human rights advocates by tainting them as American agents.
We all know that the United States is toxic in Iran, so this announcement is not surprising. The challenge in Iran is to find ways to help the people reclaim power from the theocrats without getting them killed in the process. The article centers on the story of three Iranians who went to a conference in Dubai about human rights, and then, months later, were jailed after President Bush announced the plans. However, these events serve as a point of entry into the challenges of working in Iran:
“Unfortunately, I’ve got to say it has a negative effect, not a positive one,” said Abdolfattah Soltani, a human rights lawyer recently released from seven months in prison. After writing in a newspaper that his clients were beaten while in jail, Soltani was charged with offenses that included spying for the United States.
If US involvement can be dangerous for human rights groups within the country, creative solutions are needed. The President, unfortunately, has decided to adopt a strategy that involves threatening the current regime. He threatens them if they don’t stop pursuing nuclear research. He threatens them by trying to inspire revolt among their people.
“Our society is very complicated,” said Vahid Pourostad, editor of National Trust, a new newspaper aligned with Iran’s struggling reform movement. “Generally speaking, it is impossible to impose something from outside. Whatever happens will happen from inside.
“It seems to me the United States is not studying the history of Iran very carefully,” Pourostad said. “Whenever they came and supported an idea publicly, the public has done the opposite.”
Iran, of course, is ruled by some pretty terrible people. Reform is desperately needed in that country, and the United States would like to help that reform take place. But creative solutions are needed. Solutions like cutting down our fuel consumption so that Iran will have to generate a more people-centered economy, which will bring civil rights with it, for example. Simply calling them evil and then threatening to invade if they don’t do what we say is not foreign policy worthy of our stature.