by Ilan Berman
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Iranian Reform and Stagnation
A Timeline of Dithering
The Carter administration, on whose watch the Islamic Republic took root, vacillated between appeasement of the new Iranian regime and complete political disengagement from it. Jimmy Carter's successor, Ronald Reagan, made isolation of
The collapse of the Soviet Union had the effect of sidelining
In practice, however, the principles of the Bush doctrine did not extend as far as the Islamic Republic. For all its talk about Iranian democracy, the Bush White House offered only nominal aid to those seeking freedom and pluralism within the country. Between 2004 and 2008, it authorized a total of $215 million in funding for all diplomatic programs dealing with
Since taking office, the Obama administration has done even less. Eager to break with the policy of its predecessors and to engage with
The focus on this state of affairs has sharpened since the summer of 2009. The results of Iran's June 12 presidential election—in which incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated all challengers in a contest blatantly punctuated by fraud and manipulation—generated widespread outrage in Iran, resulting in the most sustained outpouring of opposition since the 1979 Islamic Revolution itself.
However, while Ahmadinejad's reelection may have catalyzed the current protests, it was not the reason for them. The underlying causes for
The Islamic Republic has responded harshly. It has tightened its already strict control of the Internet, passing draconian new legislation to regulate assorted "illegal" activities on the web and turning social networking tools employed by protesters against their users. It has targeted opposition leaders, both secular and religious, seeking to discredit and silence them. It has sought to intimidate Iranian opposition activists living abroad. Additionally, it has attempted to shore up the legitimacy of Iranian supreme leader 'Ali Khamenei through a variety of measures, from a bid to alter the country's constitution to the elimination of potential clerical competitors.
This response is understandable.
Leveraging International Trade
As the post-electoral crisis unfolded, the conventional wisdom in the Obama administration was that the
The Obama administration's lackluster response to
A middle way exists, however. It lies in a model of "conditional recognition," under which the
The lesson remains valid today. For too long, legitimate concerns over the Iranian regime's atomic efforts have overshadowed serious discussions about human rights conditions within
The first has to do with engagement. Outreach to
The second focuses on trade. The
By objective measure, official
Four years ago, a study commissioned by the Iran Steering Group, jointly chaired by the State Department and the National Security Council, exposed these deficiencies. That report found that the main instruments of official U.S. broadcasting into Iran "fall short of realizing their stated mission and mandate" on a number of levels from self-censorship in the selection of content, to inadequate analysis and interpretation of important events, to a failure to properly frame sensitive political issues.
Those conclusions still stand, despite the fact that in the years since that study was written,
Reversing course requires the
This change, moreover, must be reflected in the quality of the actual content that is generated by
Ilan Berman is vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.