How the U.S. Can Help Iranians Win Their Freedom

Born to upper-middle-class Marxist parents in the Islamic Republic, Shay Khatiri learned at school that America was the Great Satan and at home that it was “just as much a dictatorship as Iran,” and that both regimes were equally repressive. But Israel was a country toward which he had no negative feelings:

I never minded Israel. What I didn’t like was the Palestinians’ receiving aid from Iran while Iranians were starving. I had never met a Jewish person, but the regime hated Jews, so I grew to love them out of spite for the regime.

As for America, Khatiri’s attitudes diverged from his parents’ after the September 11 attacks, when he heard George W. Bush speak of bringing greater freedom to the Middle East. If the U.S. wanted democracy in the Muslim world, and the ayatollahs opposed it, Khatiri knew he sided with Washington. He eventually emigrated to Hungary—where he befriended a number of Israelis—and then to America. After explaining his political evolution, he suggests what his adopted country might to encourage the anti-regime sentiments in his homeland:

Democratization must come from within, . . . but it can’t always happen without foreign help. After several attempts by the Iranian people, it is now clear that the regime is too powerful for the people [to overthrow on their own]. We can begin with supporting labor unions and dissidents who are trying to make change happen from the inside.

In their correspondence, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson called the United States an “empire of liberty.” . . . Thomas Paine [likewise] said that the cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. America possesses many powers, but its power as a cause is the cheapest to spend and yet the most valuable, and has the greatest impact. This is something many of my friends and fellow students [in the U.S.] find bewildering. If only they could visit Iran.

Read more at American Interest

More about: Democracy, George W. Bush, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood