Farda: Why Iran Matters

Farda is the Persian language word for “tomorrow” and part of the name for Radio Farda which was launched in 2003 as the successor to the Voice of America Persian Service.  It caters primarily to younger people offering music and news and it is deliciously effective in delivering American culture to an eager audience.  Along with tweets and cell phones, YouTube and Facebook it is how young Iranians come to see the world—and it strikes fear in the hearts of the ayatollahs.

But farda is also a good way of summing up why Iran matters in the over all scheme of things, and why the US should be persistent and deliberate in our focus on Iran.  You notice I did not say we should engage with the ayatollahs or shrink from confronting provocations by Iran’s volatile president. But it would be a mistake—a big mistake—to sacrifice farda for the sake of short term knee jerk reactions.

A Sea of Green in the Streets

For five days since the Iranian presidential election, the people of Iran have taken to the streets at great risk to express their outrage at the prospect that their votes were “stolen” by the clerics to engineer the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Some compare this outpouring of rage to the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, but it is too early to tell whether this public pressure will convince the clerics they are caught in their own trap.

It would also be a mistake to assume that the election of Mir Hossein Mousavi would bring a fundamental change in Iran’s foreign policy.  This guy was Ayatollah Khomeini’s prime minister, after all.  He is a true believer in the divine nature of the Islamic Revolution.  He is an insider with a smoother polish than the guy he seeks to replace—that’s all.

Ahmadinejad has going for him a populist style that appeals to many Iranians who feel outcast from the ayatollahs, left behind by the economy, and unable to travel the same circles as the Iranian “yuppies” that make up its rapidly growing young, educated, tech focused population.  And he has one more thing going for him—he appeals to these masses of mostly rural Iranians by positioning himself as a corruption fighter.  Never mind that he knows the limits of his authority in challenging the clerics and Revolutionary Guard who have enriched themselves and live high by serving the “people”.

For Iran’s huge population of young people the Revolution of 1979 is stuff they read in history books—not something they lived.  But the corruption, lack of jobs, and lack of opportunity “farda” is the reality they face. For these children of Iran’s future, it matter little who their president is among the current contestants—it matters hugely whether their country is part of the world or estranged from it.  It matter hugely whether the ayatollahs create an environment where their farda can enable them to live into their aspirations.

The American approach to Iran matters because farda depends upon winning the hearts and minds of these young Iranians.  By demonstrating that America is a way to the farda they seek in a country they love we inflict the death of a thousand cuts on Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs far more effectively than any direct attack.

The American strategy toward Iran should embrace and enable the aspirations of Iranian people while being consistent, persistent and ruthlessly effective at undermining the mischief potential and freedom of action of the Iranian government.

Forget direct negotiations with Iran!

The Iranian president (whoever it is) and the clerics do not want reconciliation with the American government—they need The Great Satan to blame for their failings. Most Iranians see this as politics as usual, but there is still a fascination with all things American delivered stunningly by YouTube, Facebook,  American music and TV and a million online cultural outlets that are the face of our freedom.

Our goal should be to expose Iranians to the full breadth and depth of American culture while neutering the Iranian government’s ability to restrict access to it as much as possible while we simultaneously block Iran’s financial transactions and impede, and if necessary intercept, its import and export of offensive weapons and other commodities, technology and materiel.  We should starve its supply chains and drive up its costs by blacklisting companies and nations that do business with it forcing them to choose—America or Iran?

The Europeans will wimp out.  We should not.

We should consult with and be mindful of the concerns of the Europeans but we should not permit them to undermine our strategic interests. We should not let the UN or EU prolong endless and fruitless negotiations with Tehran as a veiled substitute for real solutions all the while the Iranian nuclear program goes forward.  Blacklisting a European company every so often for enabling Iran will enforce a discipline the Europeans are unwilling to impose themselves. It is more important that they respect us than like us.  America is a friend of Europe and will remain so, but a more confident Europe must also be willing to pay more of its own defense costs and step up to the plate when asked to do so rather than protect its commercial interests at the expense of the broader strategic interests.

America Should Engage Russia not Iran

The Russians see Iran as a counterbalance and negotiating card to get the US to back off expanding our commercial and military ties to the Eastern European in what Russia perceives as its sphere of influence. But two can play this game.  There is opportunity for the Russians as suppliers for a peaceful nuclear power industry for Iran and partners with America and Europe as an enforcer of a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.  There are also risks to Russian energy exports and access to capital, technology and commercial relationships with America and its allies if Russia is to blame for enabling Iran to threaten its neighbors. At the end of the day Russia needs access to markets and seeks to be seen as a respected superpower once again more than it wants to be on the wrong side of a losing fight over Iran. We should instead engage the Russians like never before working through the issues which put us at odds and isolating the bad boys in the neighborhood.

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

In the broader geopolitics of the Middle East this is a powerful truth. The growing power of Iran should and does scare the Sunni Arab nations most threatened by the ayatollahs aspirations for broader Shiite influence.  There is room for much progress in this troubled part of the world because these countries need American support to defend them from an ascendant Iran.  And we should help them.  But in this turmoil and conflict is the making for a grand Middle East bargain around Middle East peace and Israeli recognition along with a Palestinian state, and only the United States has the influence to put the kind of deal none of the parties can refuse on the table.

The farda sought by the children of Iran is the same one we seek for each of our own kids and most parents in the Middle East—a  farda of hope and freedom, of education and jobs, of a peaceful future for their kids free from hate and violence.