Monday, July 06, 2009

Fwd: Rami G. Khouri, "Hypocritical Kvetching"

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From: Agence Global <>
Date: July 6, 2009 4:13:08 AM GMT+02:00
To: Agence Global <>
Subject: Rami G. Khouri, "Hypocritical Kvetching"

Negotiating with Iran cannot be any more difficult than it was with the Soviet Union. So why the hesitancy -- and the anguished, hypocritical debate in the West?

Release Date: 06 July 2009
Word Count: 804
Rights & Permissions Contact: Agence Global, 1.336.686.9002,

Hypocritical Kvetching
by Rami G. Khouri

ROME -- One of the big questions that will be with us for some time is about how countries around the world, especially the United States and other Western democracies, should deal with the government and ruling elite in Iran. This follows international condemnation of the regime's behavior in falsifying the presidential election results and then harshly ending the street demonstrations that broke out in protest.

This is understandable, but slightly hypocritical, which is nothing new in how Western democracies deal with Middle Eastern autocracies. I and many others in the region do not quite understand why the United States and the West rightly debate how to deal with Iran, while they make no parallel effort to explore options on how to deal with the many other countries in the region and the world that apply the same tough standards of state heavy-handedness, rigged or no elections, and harsh means to control what people think, hear and say.

Two important issues are at play here. The first is the problem of double standards, of making a big show of how one should interact with Iran while simultaneously ignoring the anti-democratic behavior of most other countries in the Middle East or dictatorial states like North Korea and Burma. Probably the most common criticism of Western powers from around the world is that they often apply two different standards to countries that act in the same manner, such as rigging elections, ignoring UN resolutions, or restricting their citizens' basic freedoms. Many will ask: Why the fuss over Iranian electoral and human rights abuses, when the same or very similar behavior in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Sudan and other countries in the Middle East is quietly ignored?

The second and more significant issue here is about how foreign countries, especially the United States and leading Western democracies, can and should behave in the face of blatant abuse of power and suppression of citizens' rights in countries like Iran. There is not much to debate here, in view of recent history. The best way to deal with regimes you do not like is to engage and challenge them through diplomacy. Isolating and punishing governments via sanctions has limited or no impact. The more the West pressured or threatened Iran, using the legitimacy of the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the more Iran dug in and speeded up its nuclear technology development.

One of the important lessons of the past decade has been about the limits of the use of both military and political force to bring about changes in the behavior of regimes. Governments that want to stand their ground in the face of Western pressure -- such as Iran and Syria -- indicate that threats and sanctions are incapable of achieving the sort of regime policy changes that Western powers seek. This question now arises again even more dramatically with Iran. Should the United States and the Western world punish and isolate Iran, or continue to negotiate with it?

On a speaking visit to the NATO Defense College in Rome this week, I was not surprised that this issue surfaced repeatedly. The colonels and generals from NATO countries, in their relaxed academic setting that fosters reflection and analysis, seemed to echo the more frenzied posture of their politicians back home in asking how one should deal with Iran.

NATO, in particular, has the advantage of its members' own experiences in how they resolved this issue in their confrontation with the Soviet Union decades ago. The Soviet Union was a police state of epic and tragic proportions, which used force to suppress its citizens' rights and also to subjugate neighboring countries. It was far more dangerous than Iran can ever be. Yet the West correctly adopted a combination of approaches that included fighting wars through proxies around the world, applying diplomatic pressure, waging propaganda media battles, and engaging deeply in diplomatic endeavors.

The most important of the latter was the East-West process of d├ętente that started in the early 1970s, including the launch of the "Helsinki process" to establish a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Thirty-five countries in August 1975 signed the Helsinki Final Act. It included three "baskets" dealing with political relations (including outlawing the use of force and prohibiting intervention in the internal affairs of any state) economics and environment, and "cooperation in humanitarian and other fields" that promoted greater people-to-people contacts. A decade and a half later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

Iran is ripe for change from within, as we have witnessed in the past decade, through several elections and now in the behavior of many brave street demonstrators. Negotiating with Iran cannot be any more difficult than it was with the Soviet Union. So why the hesitancy -- and the anguished, hypocritical debate in the West?

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon.

Copyright © 2009 Rami G. Khouri – distributed by Agence Global

Released: 06 July 2009
Word Count: 804

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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation, Le Monde diplomatique, as well as expert commentary by Richard Bulliet, Nadia Hijab, Rami G. Khouri, Peter Kwong, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein.

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