Rather than focus on talks that may not produce a deal, then, the United States should place far more emphasis on supporting democracy and human rights in Iran. A democratic Iran would likely drop state support for terrorism and end its interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries such as Iraq and Lebanon, improving stability in the Middle East. And although Iran’s strongly nationalist democrats [bold mine-DL] are proud of the country’s nuclear progress, their priority is to rejoin the community of nations, so they will likely agree to peaceful nuclearization in exchange for an end to their country’s isolation.
It’s almost certainly not the case that “more emphasis” by the U.S. government on democratization and human rights in Iran will actually improve political conditions and legal protections inside Iran, much less bring about a change of regime. I can think of few things worse for the prospects of Iranian political change than a deliberate U.S. policy of using local opposition forces to try to subvert the Iranian government. How better to alienate the majority of Iranians than to provide direct U.S. funding to the opposition? Even if that weren’t the case, it doesn’t follow that a democratic Iran would do any of the things Clawson mentions. It doesn’t make sense that a democratic Iran is likely to abandon its proxies and stop trying to project power throughout the region. Why would it? Because democracies never engage in subversion or power projection?
A democratic Iran might or might not support groups that employ terrorist tactics, but there is nothing inherent in a democratic form of government that would prevent it from doing so. If Iran’s democrats are strongly nationalist, why aren’t they going to support Iran’s ambitions as a regional power? Are there many examples of a nation that voluntarily became more accommodating and subservient to the demands of foreign governments once its government became democratic? If Iran were democratic, it would be more difficult to vilify, and it would be harder to portray its perceived interests as illegitimate, which would presumably allow it to wield more influence in the region rather than less. Since the sanctions regime is crippling the Iranian opposition, it seems very unlikely that there would ever be a democratic Iran until well after those sanctions are lifted, but Clawson seems to think that a democratic Iran will emerge while the sanctions are still in place.