The Iran Debate, Ctd

by Patrick Appel

I wrote:

The strongest argument against engagement with Iran is not that any individual political actor in Iran is irrational, but that the country's leadership is divided against itself and that the warring political fractions are incapable of committing to any sort of international agreement. The green movement added to this disunity.

Kevin Sulivan makes a convincing rebuttal. His whole post is worth reading, but here are the first few paragraphs:

I really think this is, in short, the biggest problem with those who took on the Green banner and championed it so unflinchingly and uncritically since last summer's protests broke out. It's worth noting that many of those who adopted the Green Movement after June 12 were the same analysts and journalists who just months prior had tried their best to put a positive face on Iranian democracy. Once that reality was shaken, and a regime most already understood to be awful actually confirmed said awfulness, many of these same analysts and journalists were left shocked and searching for an explanation.

Along came the Green Movement: a young, cosmopolitan and liberal movement rooted in justice, democracy and Islam; the kind of thing you rarely hear about when Iran hawks clamor on about Ahmadinejad and the "Mad Mullahs." Here, finally, was something even the casual Western observer could get behind.

It's a great story, and it's one that will no doubt continue to be told. But it was always a modest movement seeking electoral reparations; at best "revolutionary" only on its lesser fringes.

Sullivan writes that the "Iranian regime is always divided, and if we were to take Appel's advice, the time for engagement would be never. " I was not advising against engaging an internally divided Iran but simply acknowledging that there are various nodes of power within the government and that the divisions make diplomacy difficult. To take just one example, the uranium enrichment deal fell through, in part, because of internal Iranian squabbling.