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Views expressed by guest speakers do not necessarily express the views of BAIAD

Exporting Democracy to Iran a Bad Idea,
Says Hoover's "Iran Specialist"

Report by: Jacquie Heffner
jheffner @ gmail.com

Photos by: Arrash Jaffarzadeh

San Jose, CA - September 17, 2006 -- Bay Area Iranian-American Democrats hosted a public educational event with guest speaker Dr. Abbas Milani on Sunday, September 17.  Dr. Milani, Co-Director of Iran Democracy Project, research fellow at the Hoover Institution and Director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University, discussed three paradigms on how the U.S. can help Iran transition to democracy. These paradigms are closely tied to the direction the U.S. “Iran foreign policy” will take in the next few years. According to Dr. Milani, the United States is at a pivotal point with respect to its relations with Iran for two reasons.

First, the U.S. has recognized that it has had no foreign policy on Iran since Nixon’s strategic vision. The ensuing policies by the U.S. have been, according to Dr. Milani, “in constant reaction mode with no clear sense of direction.

The second reason, according to Dr. Milani, is that the Iranian-American community in the U.S., for the first time since exile from Iran, is trying to find a voice and influence.  Dr. Milani noted the financial, academic, scientific and professional successes of the Iranian-American community.  The one caveat stated by Dr. Milani was the lack of political power within the Iranian-American community. This lack of political power could be attributed to “difficulties of settling life in a new country.

Having a democratic Iran is, according to Dr. Milani, the common point between the Iranian-American community and the U.S. government. The differences are in what that democracy might look like and how to bring it about in Iran. Dr. Milani then gave an overview of three theories being discussed by the U.S. government and within the Iranian-American community about how to achieve democracy in Iran.

The first paradigm assumes that the regime in Iran is too brutal and that Iranians are disheartened and too brutalized to create a democracy on their own. Therefore a foreign power -- in this case the United States -- should invade Iran and bring a regime change. This paradigm, according to Dr. Milani, suffers from a lack of moral justification and contains numerous logistical and analytical problems. It would also be very costly both monetarily and in terms of human life.

The second paradigm suggests that the regime is too powerful and the only change in Iran must come from within the regime. This idea has been around for a long time. Since the era of President Bani Sadr, the exile communities have been talking about this theory, with the hope being that the regime itself slowly becomes more and more democratic, and when enough small changes occur, one big change is more easily achieved. There are doubts if this model could ever be successful.

Dr. Milani presented a third paradigm based on the premise that “during the past 100 years the Iranian people have been wanting democracy” and that they deserve to have it.  People don’t need military or financial help from a foreign country and will find their own way to democracy.

The current debate in D.C., within the Bush administration, the State Department, think tanks, foreign policy experts and Congress, is over the direction the U.S. policy should take with Iran. The U.S. military has also weighed in on the debate, and Dr. Milani interjected that the U.S. military, being bogged down in Iraq, has voiced its opposition to further military actions in the region. Dr. Milani asserted that “the Kosovo model of military air attack on Iran as being advocated by the extremist exile groups” is a very bad idea. “As we saw in Lebanon last month, the results were devastating for both Lebanon and Israel.

Of the three paradigms, Dr. Milani offered that the third is most likely to be effective, as the first two are wrong in analysis and conclusions. The third paradigm offers Iranians a way to “import” their own democracy by creating change within Iran. Trying to “export” democracy from outside the country is a flawed approach and it is likely to fail. “History has proven that democracy is achieved through internal rather than external influences.

During his 45-minute presentation, Dr. Milani discussed in-depth many issues surrounding these paradigms and also offered insights as to his support of the third paradigm. While Dr. Milani cannot read the future, his view is that the U.S. will embark on a policy road with Iran that will follow the third paradigm. He also noted that any change in Iran will take time, but that there are clear signs that Iranians are ready to start on the path to democracy.

About Dr. Abbas Milani:
Dr. Abbas Milani is Director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University and a visiting professor in the department of political science there. In addition, Dr. Milani is a research fellow and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution. His expertise is U.S./Iran relations, Iranian cultural, political, and security issues.

For complete biography visit: http://www.stanford.edu/~amilani/

 

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Views expressed by guest speakers do not necessarily express the views of BAIAD