Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Michael Rubin: Only threat of force will tame Tehran

Michael Rubin is believed to be one of the youngest neoconservative figures within President Bush administration. Rubin, who is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and the editor of the Middle East Quarterly, offers his thoughts on how UK should handle Iran in his latest commentary in UK's weekly The Observer. Here are the highlights:

Tony Blair confirmed last week that bombs used to kill eight British soldiers in Iraq were a type used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and groups that it supports in Lebanon.

In recent weeks death squads have kidnapped and murdered journalists, most famously Steven Vincent, an American freelance writer who had warned of Iranian infiltration of the police. Dozens of Iraqis have fallen victim to Iranian-backed militias.

In exchange for quiet, British officials have turned a blind eye to the Iranian challenge. When Shia militias turned away from schools girls not conforming to Muslim standards of dress, British forces did nothing to guarantee them a right to education. When young gangs plastered the University of Basra with posters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, British officials remained silent.

For terrorists and their sponsors, British restraint is assumed. There is little fear of military reprisal. A major factor behind the Iranian government's willingness to murder British troops has been the impotence and naivety of UK diplomacy.

Iranian diplomats may be sincere. They may have impressed Straw. But the Islamic republic's structure leaves them impotent. Only the Supreme Leader, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Intelligence Ministry wield power. It is no accident that Iran's envoy to Iraq was not from the Iranian Foreign Ministry, but from the division of the Revolutionary Guards charged with the export of revolution.

If democracy prevails in Iraq, the Iranian leadership understands that 70 million Iranians will clamour for the same rights. Iraq's success poses an existential challenge. While Iran's youth crave Western pop, fashion and freedom, ideology dominates the Islamic republic's leadership. Khomeini's constitution enshrines theocracy and the export of revolution.

No amount of reform can change that. And no amount of engagement can ameliorate its challenge.

The best the West can hope for is containment. Diplomacy can repulse the Iranian challenge in Iraq, but nice words alone are insufficient. Deals must be obeyed and promises kept. Sometimes that takes a willingness to use force.

Armies, not words, are a diplomat's most potent tool.