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Dissidents And Nukes

Moreover, is it a “realist super-frisson” when the United States does business with and/or engages China, Egypt, Russia, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Georgia and so on?

And who exactly are these neoconservatives doubting the spirit and efficacy of the Green Movement? Name names, please. As far as I can tell, most if not all of the leading neoconservative intellectuals and opinion makers have at the very least listed the unrest in Iran as one of several reasons for not engaging the Iranian regime. Their rhetoric sounds very similar to Andrew’s, only we know what the former’s intentions are: Regime change, be it through the support of revolution or outright attack. ~Kevin Sullivan

There were a few neoconservatives who initially thought that Ahmadinejad’s victory could have been legitimate, or at least that a majority probably supported him and his allies. In any case, a very few preferred to keep Ahmadinejad where he was, or they wanted to deny that the election had much significance. Neoconservatives took this line in part because they wanted to emphasize the irredeemably bad nature of the regime as a way of pushing maximally confrontational policies against it. In this view, a Mousavi win would have reduced the international pressure on Iran and made it harder to demonize the government. One of them was Daniel Pipes. Since isolating and demonizing Iran’s government are what these neoconservatives want to see, it would have been just as well for Ahmadinejad to prevail. What is so strange about the current situation is that Western pro-Green enthusiasts who profess contempt for Pipes et al. are nonetheless unintentionally aiding those forces here at home that want to shut down any policy options other than sanctions and bombing.

As far as I can remember, most other neoconservatives have exploited the Iranian protest movement as a way to whack Obama like a pinata for being insufficiently zealous on behalf of Iranian dissidents. This has fit into the narrative they would like to craft about Obama, which is that he does not do not enough on behalf of political dissidents. This is something that they apparently regard as completely unacceptable. Unless one assumes that they are completely opportunistic and cynical, which I admit is sometimes hard not to do, it is difficult to class most neoconservatives as doubters of the strength and potential of the Green movement. Most neoconservatives have always been very eager to endorse the democratic and “pro-Western” credentials of dissident figures against rival and authoritarian governments, whether these claims were really true or not. This has often led to the unthinking and occasionally very dangerous American embrace of another country’s exiles, opposition oligarchs or extreme nationalist “reformers,” mostly because the dissidents in question happen to hate some of the same things that neoconservatives seem to hate (e.g., Saddam Hussein, Russia, etc.), but most neoconservatives are only too happy to cheer on and exaggerate the strength of dissident movements in other countries.

Kevin Sullivan argues that “if Iran gets the bomb I believe it will enable the regime to crackdown on dissidents with never before seen impunity.” This is possible, but I’m not sure that the two are all that closely linked. At present, Iran can already crack down on dissidents however and whenever it likes with impunity, and I don’t know that acquiring a nuclear weapon would add much to its willingness or ability to engage in such crackdowns. Outside intervention on behalf of Iranian dissidents will not be forthcoming anyway, so even the nuclear deterrent a bomb would provide would not make much difference. It could be that the acquisition of a bomb, especially if it came in the face of considerable international opposition, would give the regime new life and make it harder to portray the current government as a failure or as an obstacle to achieving national goals. This could reduce the need for violent crackdowns inasmuch as it could make dissent less attractive. If Iran’s acquisition of a bomb triggered an attack from other states, this would certainly be a disaster for dissidents, because it would make it increasingly difficult to speak against the government without appearing to be aligned with the attacking states. Nuclear arms would give the Iranian “deep” state much more security, and probably would mean that the military and IRGC’s already extensive role in the politics and economy of Iran would grow larger, but as a result this might permit some new space for a return to the quasi-democratic political theater of the past.

However, it seems to me that the main thing that should concern the U.S. is whether Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons can be managed and contained. Unless it is very clear that this is not possible, our policy debate should be focused on how best to manage and contain something we are not going to be able to stop from happening.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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