Alan Isenberg used to write every other week for the Stanford Daily. -- Now he's moved on to Newsweek International and the Financial Times of London. -- On Tuesday, he offered some friendly advice to Western elites about how to meddle in Iranian politics and find ways of "hastening the demise" of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. -- According to Mr. Isenberg, "the U.S. and Europe should work to exploit Iran's turbulent, internal dynamic through a two-track strategy: launching dialogue with Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad's political rivals about mutually important issues and aggressively engaging with the Iranian people to promote democratic reform." -- He thinks conditions are ripe, because "Only days after declaring that 'Israel should be wiped off the map,' Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad purged Iran's diplomatic corps, firing 40 Iranian ambassadors, including several envoys involved in nuclear negotiations with European officials." -- Opponents "fret about his record since taking office" and "[c]apital is fleeing the country," he writes. -- Now is the time for "quietly launching high-level discussions with Mr. Rafsanjani and other pragmatists who worry about Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad's efforts to push them out." -- And while doing so, "the U.S. should take its case directly to the Iranian people" by doing things like "reaching out to Iranians through Farsi blogs and satellite television." -- With the West feeling such an eager desire to be helpful, one can see why Iran wanted the United States to sign the Algiers Accord of Jan. 19, 1981, in which the U.S. pledged non-interference in Iranian affairs, "directly or indirectly, politically or militarily," as part of the settlement of the hostage crisis of 1979-1981. -- But that's about the time Alan Isenberg was born, so perhaps despite his B.A. in diplomatic history (magna cum laude) from the University of Pennsylvania, he hasn't heard about the Algiers Accord. -- As an "affiliate scholar" at Stanford, Isenberg found himself "focusing especially on the future of the U.S.-Iran strategic relationship," an interesting phrase. -- As recently as Jan. 15, 2003, he had "no idea whats going on the world right now because law school finals have insidiously taken over his brain," but only two weeks later he was back up to speed and writing: "When America, hopefully with a coalition of willing partners, invades Iraq, Saddam is likely to pull out all the stops. The anti-war, pro-letting-inspections-go-on-forever cadres will be faced with a soul-searching quandary at this juncture: If American troops and/or Israeli civilians are attacked with biological or chemical weapons, will you concede the failure of the inspections and support the war? Or will you then argue that maybe if we wouldnt have attacked, he would never have used his weapons of mass destruction? As the president said tonight, 'trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.' In the long term, a largely dismissive approach to the mechanisms of international cooperation will be damaging for the United States. But when tyrants are shielded by the tired processes of implausible peace, the American fidelity to results -- no matter how ill-conveyed -- emerges as the sole guarantor of a secure world." -- Mr. Isenberg is obviously a quick learner, he has the rhetoric down pretty well, he's obviously itching to join the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Jerry Seinfeld, and to top it all off, last year he even served as cantorial soloist at a Conservative Yom Kippur at Stanford. -- We augur an important post for him in a future Iranian CPA....
WHAT EUROPE AND AMERICA SHOULD DO ABOUT IRAN
By Alan Isenberg
Financial Times (UK)
November 22, 2005
The world may be turning its attention to the next chapter in Iran's nuclear drama -- this week's annual meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors -- but the growing tension inside Iran's borders is also noteworthy. Political rifts are widening in Tehran, not only between Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the hard-line president, and his moderate opponents, but also between Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad's rough-hewn clan (comprised mainly of Revolutionary Guards and basij volunteer militiamen) and the conservative insiders who have traditionally run the government. As these tensions peak, the U.S. and Europe should work to exploit Iran's turbulent, internal dynamic through a two-track strategy: launching dialogue with Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad's political rivals about mutually important issues and aggressively engaging with the Iranian people to promote democratic reform.
In his short time in office, Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad has infuriated the moderate pragmatist camp, led by his chief rival, Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president. Only days after declaring that "Israel should be wiped off the map," Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad purged Iran's diplomatic corps, firing 40 Iranian ambassadors, including several envoys involved in nuclear negotiations with European officials. The new president saw the moderate dispositions of these representatives as barriers to hardening Iran's foreign policy stance.
It is to be expected that Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad would seek to demolish his opposition, but he has also challenged fellow conservatives. Many do not subscribe to his populist style and fret about his record since taking office. Capital is fleeing the country, yet the president fired seven state bank directors this month and tried (unsuccessfully) to push through parliament his choice for oil minister, a man with no experience in the field.
Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader and most powerful conservative, is now taking steps to rein in Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad and his cohorts, especially on the nuclear issue where Tehran cannot afford to lose Moscow and Beijing's vital support. IAEA inspectors have been granted access to some previously restricted military sites, and Iran recently relinquished a document on building a nuclear warhead. To balance Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad on the domestic front, Ayatollah Khamenei moved last month to increase the power of Iran's Expediency Council, headed by Mr. Rafsanjani.
For many of the regime's insiders, maintaining power and wealth in a largely hostile environment is a far greater concern than keeping the revolutionary flame alive. While some top mullahs do genuinely fear and hate the U.S., others use anti-Americanism for its rhetorical value alone. Yet the threat they face from Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad is decidedly real.
As Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad's efforts to cultivate a revolutionary climate continue, Iran will find itself increasingly ostracized internationally and fragmented internally. The U.S. and Europe should seize this opportunity, quietly launching high-level discussions with Mr. Rafsanjani and other pragmatists who worry about Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad's efforts to push them out. The talks should focus on issues critical to both sides -- the nuclear question for the west, the economy for the Iranians. The aim should not be to embolden the pragmatists per se but rather to shift power away from the militant hard-liners. As an example, convincing moderates to support the recent Russian proposal to enrich uranium for Iran's nuclear fuel within Russia would be a boon to both sides. The pragmatists would be seen at home as saving Iran from United Nations Security Council referral, assuming they can fend off the inevitable backlash from the far right, while the U.S. and Europe could breathe easier about Iran's nuclear aims.
Beyond talking with moderates, the U.S. should take its case directly to the Iranian people. The regime thrives off using the U.S. as a scapegoat, bashing the "Great Satan" to deflect blame for Iran's economic woes. Through its reticence to engage with Iran, the U.S. does little to stymie this tactic. Allowing more Iranian students to study in the U.S., reaching out to Iranians through Farsi blogs and satellite television and publicly recognizing Iran's right to peaceful nuclear technology would all be steps in the right direction.
Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad's victory was a blow to those hoping for a less threatening, more democratic Iran. But his radical adventure may also create opportunities for his foes -- both foreign and domestic -- to hasten his demise.
--The writer, until recently a fellow at Stanford University, writes for Newsweek International.