Making Peace With the Iranian People

Speaking at an event at Yeshiva University a couple days ago, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson suggested that the United States should drop a nuclear warhead in a deserted part of Iran as a precondition for any future negotiations with the ostracized nation. While Adelson's concerns of a nuclear armed Iran are shared by many in Israel and elsewhere around the world, his rhetoric is not. Hawkish bullying is a counterproductive tactic that is likely only going to make the people of Iran hate America even more. If we've learned anything from the Iraq War or from the Arab Spring, we should know that it's critical for our policies and rhetoric to find support in a foreign country's citizenry.

A couple weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu infamously said "If the people of Iran were free, they could wear jeans, listen to Western music and have free elections." His comments immediately led to a firestorm on Twitter, with many young Iranians proudly showing the world their jeans and claiming to listen to Western music. Many of our preconceptions about Iran are founded on the notion that the Iranian people are as backward as their government -- but this is not the case. Iran is a country rich in history and education; it excels in a variety of scientific disciplines, ranging from stem cell research to the development of nanotechnology. And on a cultural level, the Iranian people have embraced modernity to higher degree than their regional neighbors.

Admittedly, the concerns surrounding Iran's nuclear capabilities are frightening. On multiple occasions Iranian leaders have threatened to destroy Israel, and Western intelligence indicates that Iran has taken steps to develop military technology capable of deploying nuclear weapons. However, President Obama and John Kerry recently sought to reassure Israel -- and other allies -- that the United States isn't backing off the fight with Iran. There is currently evidence that indicates that economic sanctions have worked in the past. Iran has suffered tremendous economic losses as a result of its leadership's stubbornness on nuclear policy; it's hard to believe that will continue to have popular support.

The fear surrounding Iran's nuclear ambitions should frighten us -- but so should a conventional war with Iran. Iran is a large country with nearly 80 million citizens and it is far more sophisticated and wealthy than Iraq or Afghanistan. Americans don't want to see another war in the Middle East, which is why we must continue to give diplomacy a shot.

In order to deter the threat posed by Iran's nuclear capabilities, we must begin to take a sophisticated approach to American foreign policy. We cannot use hostile rhetoric against Iran that only serves to turn public opinion against us. Despite Iran's very serious shortcomings, it is markedly more modernized that we would like to believe. In order to successfully make the region a safer place, we need to approach diplomacy with a real interest in making friends with the Iranian people. Without that mindset, we're simply aggravating the situation by mistaking the Iranian people for their government -- and then it's no wonder why they seem to hate us.