The McGill Report        3/16/03


NEXT STOP, IRAN?

I had lunch today with an Iranian friend, a Mayo Clinic researcher who's lived in the U.S. for years but whose parents and siblings still live in Iran.

I asked him whether he fears that if the war in Iraq is over quickly with relatively few casualties, that Iran might be next on the U.S. military hit list.

"If the goal is to knock out the Iranian government’s nuclear weapons development program, I have no problem with that," he said. "The only question is at what cost? I don't want the government of Iran to have nuclear weapons. But I don't want an American military occupation of Iran and of Teheran, either.

“The power struggle between the conservatives and the reformers and student movements is a healthy struggle,” he said. “I’d love to see it speeded up. But again, I wouldn’t want see that struggle replaced with an invasion.”

A big difference between Iran and Iraq, he said, was that easily 10% of Iranians strongly support the conservative clerics who run the country. “These people would be willing to walk across mine fields and die for their religious beliefs,” he said. In Iraq, he guessed that Saddam Hussein doesn’t enjoy anywhere near that level of support, because Iraqis are loyal to him purely out of fear as opposed to their religious beliefs.

My friend asked not to be identified because of his family members still in Teheran.

Iranian Support

In his 2002 State of the Union speech, President Bush named Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, as one of three countries comprising an “Axis of Evil” whose regimes pose a direct threat to the U.S. and the free world. Iran is also classified by the U.S. as a “state sponsor of terrorism” because its government has supported terrorist groups including the Hizbollah, Hamas, and the Palestinian Jihad; and because the U.S. believes Iran was directly involved in incidents such as the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans.

The troubling part about
U.S. policy towards Iran is that there’s no explicit recognition of the fact that many – probably a majority – of Iranians disapprove of the conservative clerics who run the country, and these liberal-minded Iranians would far prefer to be governed exclusively by democratically-elected leaders.

This pro-democracy contingent could be a powerful ally of the U.S. in any future involvement in
Iran.

Last month,
Iran's President Mohammad Khatami announced that Iran has its own deposits of uranium and has begun extraction to produce nuclear fuel. Khatami said Iran's purpose was purely to develop commercial nuclear energy, but the U.S. last year released satellite photographs of Iranian sites it said could be used to make nuclear weapons.

The amount of support the U.S. military would get from reformers within Iran, should the U.S. try to destroy the potential nuclear weapons facilities, was hard to estimate, my friend said.

But any support could only occur, he said, if the U.S. approached Iran with respect as well as power, and showed a nuanced understanding of Iranian society.

He had his doubts whether Bush & Co. could pull that off. “I’ve been trying to figure out what Bush is trying to do in Iraq,” my friend said, “and still I have absolutely no idea of his real motives.”


Copyright @ 2003 The McGill Report