How Can Washington Help the Iranian People?

Conflicting ideas show it wouldn't be easy

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The ongoing protests in Iran, expected to escalate on the Islamic Republic's February 11 anniversary, have been met a government crackdown and over 1,000 arrests. The response has provoked global condemnation, worsening the Iranian regime's isolation as it slowly proceeds with uranium enrichment. The Obama administration is taking a hard line against Iran to deter its nuclear program. But as protests mount, what can the U.S. do for the Iranian people? Some suggestions, it should be noted, would be mutually exclusive.

  • Less Is More  Foreign Policy's Nader and Parsi write, "History shows that intervention is easier said than done. [...[ the United States is not sufficiently equipped to understand and shape what appears to be a titanic struggle between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his opponents." The U.S. should refrain from military threats, which the regime would exploit, tightly limit sanctions, which risk hurting pro-Democracy Iranian more than the regime, and slow down diplomatic engagement, which would legitimize the regime.
  • Allow (Limited) Nuclear Enrichment  The New York Times's Robert Wright notes that most Iranians, including the opposition movement, want to advance a nuclear Iran. "[A]t the popular level, a separate motivation has taken shape: pride in the technical prowess embodied in the program. This pride may have grown more intense and nationalistic under Western pressure to constrain the program." Opposing the movement's desire for nuclear enrichment makes the U.S. an enemy of both sides of the Iranian conflict.
  • Don't Engage Iranian Regime  The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby writes, "The closer Iran’s regime gets to acquiring nuclear weapons, the more critical it becomes to ostracize and change that regime." He adds, "Millions of Iranian dissidents yearn for a decent government. The unabashed support of the Obama administration, backed up by very tough sanctions, would powerfully aid their cause."
  • Get Tougher on Israel-Palestine  Haaretz's A.B. Yehoshua suggests that alleviating the conflict in Israel would reduce the political standing of Iran's hard-line, anti-Israel elements. "Peace between Israel and Palestine would neutralize the poisonous sting of Iran's hatred for Israel and shatter the political-imaginative mechanism that makes it see Israel as 'the little Satan' that must be destroyed at all costs."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.