Mr. Sharansky, Politics Are Not Universal.

Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky wrote in the LA Times in an opinion piece last week urging the Obama Administration to work directly with dissidents from around the world. He argues that

Meeting with democratic leaders is terribly important for dissidents because, even when they are not in prison, they are generally isolated in their own countries. Meeting the leader of the free world transforms the dissident in the eyes of his people from a lonely Don Quixote to the person who can expose the truth about their suffering to the outside world and influence the world to take action to address it.

But this isn’t always true. In fact, regarding Iran, a state who is vigorously opposed to any foreign tampering, this plan would completely backfire, bolstering the ideologues who would only solidify anti-US policy and nationalism. Dissident engagement often signals to said nation that regime change is the policy. While it may not be so clear, for instance when Bush demanded the release of Egyptian dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim in August 2001, he was not advocating the downfall of the Mubarak regime, but he was advocating for a certain opening of the public space that is not available to Egyptians, and opening that space can certainly threaten the regime.

In Iran no political party, or legitimate political group, can be seen as ‘appeasing’ the United States. This stems from a culture of anti-US sentiment created after the US-orchestrated coup d’état of 1953. The strength of this is largely withering away as the Revolution’s generation gets older and the younger segments of the population grow more detached from revolutionary politics, yet it can easily return as soon as the hard-line parties seize upon a mistake by the pragmatists. Therefore, if the pragmatists are seen as willing to negotiate with the US because of US pressures their legitimacy will be undermined throughout Iran when the hardliners cast them as US appeasers.

As Dr. Farideh Farhi, Independent Researcher and Affiliate Graduate Faculty at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa, said at a conference in DC just a couple weeks ago with other experts, ‘It is no use trying to game the Iranian political parties, or dissidents, against each other’. It is a no-win competition for the US.

So Mr. Sharansky, while your liberal intentions are positive, one must see the singularities in each scenario before more damage is done.

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~ by The Common Man on December 1, 2008.

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