Principled Realism ‘ideologically handicapped’ in confronting Iran



“Principled Realism” is no more likely than realpolitik to check Tehran’s clerical regime where it matters most, in Syria, according to a leading analyst. Such an approach “appears ideologically too handicapped to target the Islamic Republic at its weakest point—internally, where serious pro-democracy dissent rumbled beneath this year’s presidential campaign,” Reuel Marc Gerecht writes for The Weekly Standard.

Iran should be made to pay for its human rights violations, adds analyst Andrew Apostolou, formerly Director for Iran at Freedom House:

The Islamic Republic tortures, imprisons, and murders. It denies freedom of conscience to the Bahá’í religious minority and hangs hundreds of Arabs, Baluchis, and Kurds with little pretense at due process. The regime commits war crimes in Syria and exports terrorism globally. …, Iranian threats to the existence and independence of other countries are not rhetoric. Destroying another state is the ultimate human rights violation.

To be credible on human rights, however, Iranians should be allowed to travel to the U.S. following proper vetting, he argues. Or risk “hand[ing] the unpopular Tehran dictatorship an undeserved propaganda victory.”

Just 10 days after calls on Muslim countries to stand united against Iran, a public feud between Qatar and some of its Gulf Arab neighbours is jolting the attempt to tip the regional balance of power against Tehran, Reuters reports:

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are incensed by Qatar’s conciliatory line on Iran, their regional archrival, and its support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, which they regard as a dangerous political enemy.

Relying on Sunni authoritarian regimes is a flawed strategy, Gerecht suggests, asking “how do Gulf Arabs raised on Wahhabism, the most virulently anti-Shiite branch of Sunni fundamentalism, advance a healthy outcome in either Syria or Iraq?”

Iran has supported terrorist and militant groups in the Islamic world since the 1979 revolution and it has long sought to “try hard to export our revolution to the world,” in the words of Ayatollah Khomeini, notes Daniel Byman, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Revolutionary ideology, however, has long taken a backseat to more strategic goals, he writes for Lawfare:

In the decades since the 1979 revolution, Iran has used terrorism and support for militant groups to undermine and bleed rivals, intimidate the Gulf states and other neighbors, project power to make itself a player in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and other arenas, disrupt peace negotiations that might isolate Iran and benefit Israel, and deter enemies, including the United States, that might otherwise use force against it. Iran has also sponsored terrorist attacks to take vengeance on countries that have supported its enemies, hosted its dissidents, or killed its operatives.

Finally, as a relatively weak state with hostile neighbors, Iran maintains ties to violent groups for contingencies, strengthening the relationship as need be depending on changing circumstances. Given Iran’s considerable success in spreading its influence in the Middle East and hostility to the United States and its allies, many observers often overrate its power. Iran’s conventional military is weak, and its economy, while beginning to improve, remains in poor shape. Ties to terrorist and militant groups is a relatively cheap way for Iran to offset its weaknesses.

“The cost of Iran’s support is considerable though difficult to judge from unclassified sources,” Byman adds. “Iran spends billions of dollars on supporting its proxies and deploying its own military forces – a huge sum for a country with significant economic problems and a limited military budget.”

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