As in every Middle East crisis the United States has dealt with during the last century, the available options are limited to military confrontation or diplomacy. What gets lost in both options is the most critical factor in the future of the Middle East -- the people. We certainly learned this the hard way in the six years we've been in Iraq.
Do we launch a military strike against Iran or allow the Israelis to conduct one themselves? Initial reports from the Geneva talks between Iran and the major powers indicate that diplomacy will be given a chance before any military option will be employed.
What we can expect in the near future is a cat and mouse game. Iraq went through the same game and, as a result, endured Desert Storm in 1991 and 'Desert Disaster' in 2003.
There was a strong Iraqi opposition to Saddam rooted in popular movements against the Baath from the 70s. They represented religious, secular, and ideological views from a wide political spectrum. But the US did not effectively manage relations with the opposition. Instead, it chose some as the darlings of the US that presented themselves as secular options. The U.S. then armed and financed them, as they entered Iraq in the aftermath of the 2003 Gulf War. The results were disastrous.
If the U.S. proceeds with the same game plan in Iran as it did in Iraq, the damage to U.S. interests will only be more severe. If we want democracy, then we must consider the will of the masses of the Muslim world whom President Obama left expecting a change in U.S. foreign policy during his historic speech in Cairo. The momentum he developed with one speech will be eliminated with mistakes made in Iran. We must learn from the popular uprisings of Eastern Europe during the Cold War in determining our relationship with the masses of the Muslim World today. We did not select the opposition of Romania against Nikolai Ceasescu. They chose us.
The powerful elite of Iran's establishment is divided on how to proceed ever since the disputed presidential election results. The same applies for their relationship to the rest of the world. Playing games by dividing the opposition groups based on their agreement with Western policies
will also be to our detriment or even failure as a world leader. Finally, any military confrontation against Iran will undermine the opposition.
Implementing sanctions against Iran would also play right into the hands of the theocracy. At this time, rising food and energy prices are a major grievance of the common Iranian. By imposing sanctions, the US will hand the Iranian government a card it does not have at this time--blaming the increase of prices on foreign powers. Iran will also continue to blame dissent on foreign manipulation, but now with more evidence to leverage.
Nuclear non-proliferation is an important priority, one which will ultimately be judged by how it is achieved. For this reason, selective denunciation of third-world countries beginning to develop nuclear energy while turning a blind eye to U.S. allies like India and Israel who already have nuclear weapons, sends the wrong message to the international community. Ending the threat of nuclear war needs a comprehensive strategy, with popular sentiment as an important factor in US decision-making.
Pause, reflection and patience are not typical prescriptions in US policy-making. Yet in the case of Iran, as in the cases of many countries in the Muslim world, thinking long-term as opposed to indulgence in immediate self-gratification will serve our interests. The days of authoritarianism are on the decline in the Muslim world. We have to place more trust in the Muslim peoples throughout the world.