Today it was announced that an American citizen has been sentenced to death in Iran after being successfully convicted of “working for an enemy country … for membership in the CIA and also for his efforts to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism.” Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in August while visiting relatives. This incident is one of several in the last few months that has strained the already fragile relations between the U.S. and Iran. What policy the U.S. takes towards Iran in the coming months and years will be crucial for the future of the Middle East. With the outcome of last year’s “Arab Spring” still far from certain, the U.S. cannot risk worsening relations in the current economic climate with a region that has volatility and promise in roughly equal measure.
Iran is playing an important role in the GOP nomination process. It seems that the Republican Party nominees and the media are using proposed policies towards Iran as the metric by which a candidate’s neoconservative credentials can be measured. The nominees range from the explicitly interventionist (Romney, Santorum, Perry), the cautious but vigilant (Huntsman), to the outright noninterventionist (Paul). For Paul his stance on Iran and his perceived ambivalence towards Israel’s existence are two of the major contributing factors towards his unpopularity amongst a significant number of conservatives.
What all of the candidates agree on is the unpleasantness of the Iranian regime. Iran’s appalling human rights record, its ties to the Syrian regime, Hezbollah, and insurgents in Iraq are all just cause for condemnation, as is its nuclear program. What needs to be carefully examined and taken into consideration when formulating a policy on Iran is its capacity to harm the United States and its allies.
The Iranian economy, due in part to sanctions, is struggling. House and food prices are rising. Iran’s government is struggling to maintain its relations with allies, and Europe is looking increasingly more likely to begin restricting Iranian imports. Iran does pose a threat to the wider global economy and Israel through a possible blockade of the Strait of Hormuz and Israel being potentially in range of an Iranian attack.
However these threats are not justification for the sort of actions being proposed by many GOP candidates for the Presidential nomination. The closing of the Strait of Hormuz, while potentially very damaging to the global economy, would be so damaging to Iran’s standing on the global stage, and more importantly to its relationships with countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, that such action is unlikely and spoken of merely as provocation. On the Israel question, it is worth listening to what the Israelis are saying in regards to their own security. As recently as last November, former senior staff at Mossad warned against strikes on Iran, as such strikes would have the potential to drag the Middle East into a regional war, something Israel would like to avoid. The U.S must avoid preemptive military action against Iran, especially if we value the safety of Israel, a country that is more than capable of defending itself if need be.
It is a shame that after the damaging misadventure in Iraq the GOP is still openly talking of first-strike action as policy towards worrying regimes. Iran is a country almost four times the size of Iraq with more than double the population. Serious military engagement with Iran will be difficult and costly. When other options such as open diplomacy and trade, while difficult are still feasible, the sort of interventions being recommended by many in the GOP nomination field must be rejected.