Sadjadpour: Arab leaders don’t want democratic Iran

Matt Duss at Think Progress picks up on Carnegie Endowment expert Karim Sadjadpour‘s Financial Times piece yesterday to point out that military containment won’t work against as a strategy against a country — Iran — that garners regional clout through political maneuvering.

Duss also takes note of another great point from Sadjadpour: Just as neoconservative Iran hawks can’t have it both ways — boosting the Green movement and calling for bombing Iran — those Arab leaders who call for a U.S. attack on Iran probably don’t care a whit about democracy in Iran either. (And why should they? Their countries aren’t exactly democracies nor do they care what their own citizens/subjects think).

In fact, a democratic Iran would probably be bad news for these Gulf dictatorships.

Sadjadpour (emphasis by Duss):

The WikiLeaks revelations make clear that Arab officials believe Iran to be inherently dishonest and dangerous. The feeling is probably mutual. But they hide perhaps a more interesting issue, namely what type of Iranian government would actually best serve Gulf Arab interests.

President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and the Islamic Republic may be loathed, but equally the advent of a more progressive, democratic Iran would enable Tehran to emerge from its largely self-inflicted isolation and begin to realise its enormous potential. In the zero-sum game of Middle Eastern politics, a democratic Iran would pose huge challenges to Persian Gulf sheikhdoms.

The irony that someone like Benjamin Wienthal, who’s at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, doesn’t recognize this in his National Review post says something about how the hawkish agenda drives neoconservatives — and not utopian notions of freedom and democracy.

Weinthal writes:

While Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Oman have long privately conveyed such warnings to diplomats, they never had the courage to flex their muscles in public.

Right! And that’s because these are dictatorships, and these Arab leaders are wildly out of step with their publics.

Neoconservatives, being neoconservatives, will gather allies in their campaign for war with Iran wherever they can find them.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. So the neocons are guilty if they push for democracy and guilty if they don’t… Make up your mind.

    I loathe the neocons but in all fairness they pushed both allies and foes alike for democracy when they were in power.

    What exactly do you advocate? The hipocrisy of ‘fighting for democracy’ but supporting ALL dictatorships? Or the coherence of arguing for democracy and disengaging from ALL dictatorships?

    Either way, it seems to me that you are leaning more towards extremism than the Neocons…

  2. Obviously Arab leaders, averse to democracy at home, don’t want to see it in Iran. They have their own domino theory, I’m sure. These leaders are indeed out of step with their publics. On the hand, the Arab peoples have yet to show any talent for democracy. Where they have something like democracy, in present-day Iraq, the fruits have been very bitter. Lebanon was no better; ditto for the occupied territories. I think the Palestinians might be able to pull off something like what we call democracy, if they were left to their own devices. But the rest of the Arab world? Such evidence as we have is not encouraging.

    It’s quite true that deterrence won’t work against the (peaceful) spread of political influence by the country one is seeking to contain. But that in a sense misses the point. Deterrence is designed to prevent a) armed aggression and b) intimidation of the weak by the strong. Even in a region of increasing Iranian influence, deterrence would have a role to play. I’ll just mention (before some irate reader scores me) that I favor partnership with Iran (which by the way is one of two Muslim nations between Morocco and Pakistan that has a real capacity for democracy — Turkey being the other) or, absent this, U.S. withdrawal from the region. A truly hands-off policy by the U.S. guarantees us access to the resources of the region, irrespective of who is running the countries there. Access to the mineral wealth of the Middle East is the ONLY true U.S. interest there.

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