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The moral approach to Iran

The ProfessorBy Steven Martinovich

(February 23, 2004) To those of us who remember the early 1980s, the situation in Iran feels like history we've already lived through. Back then many of us thought that the Eastern Bloc was as strong as it ever was in dedication to the communist cause. It wasn't until the Solidarity movement in Poland that some of us realized that the east resembled those Soviet housing complexes built in the 1950s across eastern Europe: Drab though solid looking from afar, but in an awful state of repair when you got close.

Iran is today's Poland, except instead of blue-collar shipyard workers demanding freedom, we have students and politicians facing the guns of a regime. Like their predecessors in Poland, these Iranians refuse to be brushed aside with decade old promises of reform. They are shedding their blood in the streets daily in confrontations with Iranian security forces. Untold numbers suffer in prison, often tortured for challenging the government.

The response from the west has been, to say the least, disheartening -- particularly the United States. The Bush administration's foreign policy, influenced by philosopher Leo Strauss, has been marked by a different concern than we are used to seeing. Rather than pursue the cynical realpolitik of the past, the administration has injected the issue of morality in its decision making. Yet when it comes to Iran the administration seems unable, or unwilling, to craft policy to act in a decisive manner.

There are those who argue that containment is the wisest policy to pursue. It in theory allows us to constrain the actions of Iran through tools like sanctions. Unfortunately, sanctions inevitably weaken and the political dynamics of the Middle East make them largely ineffective. A realistic example of the power of sanctions is North Korea. Despite a policy of containment instituted by former U.S. President Bill Clinton, North Korea has continued its nuclear weapons program, tested increasingly capable ballistic missiles and relied on illegal transfers of nuclear technology.

The second course of action often proscribed is that of détente, or engagement. Although détente was hailed in the 1970s thanks to the work of Henry Kissinger improving relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, several ethical issues immediately make themselves known. By engaging the Soviet Union, the United States effectively legitimized a tyrannical government that murdered tens of millions of its own citizens. It's hard to believe that a thawing of relations between the United States and Iran would stop that country's funding of international terrorism or its covert nuclear weapons program. It also makes a mockery of the brave Iranians trying to bring an end to their enslaving tyranny.

The only moral course of action is to directly confront the government of Iran, much as the United States did with Iraq. That doesn't necessarily mean an invasion, though as a tyranny Iran has no claim to sovereignty. Along with openly allying ourselves with Iranian dissidents and placing pressure on the government, it means the little things that the Reagan administration did for Polish dissidents. We could provide the pro-democracy underground with communications equipment and computers. We can get news out of Iran and then rebroadcast it into the country so that all Iranians are aware of what's happening. We can assist organizations, such as an exile in government, which can act as the voice of Iranians to the rest of the world.

Two decades ago we realized the morality of direct action against the Soviet Union and its satellites. We realized that the policy of containment failed to stop their malevolent ways and later détente merely rewarded their actions with seal of legitimacy. It's not often that we can take direct lessons from the past but this one time that we can. It is time for the Bush administration and the rest of the free world to declare the Iranian regime for what it is and to act openly against it. The dissidents in Iran deserve from the West at least as much help as those brave souls in Poland did.

It's time to do something about North Korea

By Steven Martinovich

February 9, 2004 - During a documentary that aired last week on Canada's History Channel, an elderly German Jew was interviewed about his experiences during the Holocaust. He recounted the panic at the railway station as he and his fellow Jews were herded onto railcars for their voyage to the east, ostensibly to work in labor camps. During a brief stopover at another station, on their way to what turned out to be Dachau, he remembered those trapped in the cars crying out for water. The reply from the railway workers astonished him. In response one shouted, "Haven't they killed all you Jews yet?"

With that one response he realized that even if all Germans didn't consciously know that Jews were being slaughtered by the millions, some did know and did nothing. A similar story is being played out today. Tens of thousands of men, women and children are being murdered in concentration camps -- this time with many in the world knowing the truth -- and yet nothing is being done.

Last Sunday a documentary aired on the BBC which reported on the concentration camps of North Korea. In a chilling reminder of what occurred at places like Dachau, a former camp administrator told of entire families being gassed in chambers to test the efficacy of chemical weapons. Reports have estimated that at least 200 000 North Koreans are being held in 12 concentration camps where untold numbers have died due to forced labour, experimentation and outright murder.

The worldwide response to these horrific crimes has been disheartening. Earlier this week U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke to journalists about North Korea's alleged nuclear weapons program and made no mention about the concentration camps. In South Korea, a spokesman has previously stated that his government was doubtful of their existence.

It's tempting to argue that this merely another failure of liberal internationalism to deal with nations like North Korea but in fairness organizations like the United Nations weren't created to deal with these situations. Like the League of Nations before it, the United Nations is predicated on the principle that the problems it would be forced to tackle would see rational players on all sides. North Korea clearly isn't governed by a rational group of people. Thanks as well to the mess over Iraq it's unlikely that any multilateral course of action will be proposed to resolve the situation.

That rabidly totalitarian North Korea is a danger to its own citizens and to others hopefully isn't in question. Its hostile actions against its neighbours are regular and likely portents of things to come. Its declaration that it needs nuclear weapons to deter a potential conflict with the United States makes a mockery of its claims that its nuclear program is designed to produce electricity for civilian needs. Half the 22 million people of North Korea are malnourished even while Pyongyang pumps ever more resources into its million-man army. North Korea's work on intercontinental ballistic missiles not only threatens our allies South Korea and Japan, but also all of North America.

Most of these things individually do not necessarily make a case for a more confrontational approach to North Korea. Taken as a whole, however, they create a powerful moral argument for abandoning U.S. President George W. Bush's policy of containment or pursuing it in tandem with policies designed to destabilize Kim's regime. While opponents of a more aggressive policy could argue that whoever replaces Kim might not be better, it's also quite safe to argue that it's doubtful they would be any worse, especially from the perspective of those in the concentration camps.

It must be noted, for those internationalists concerned about these sorts of things, that because of North Korea is essentially a gang scaled up to the size of a state, it does not have the defense of sovereignty. A moral nation has a right to its sovereignty and has the right to demand other nations respect that sovereignty. North Korea, because it uses its monopoly on violence against its own citizens, does not have that right and is not a sovereign nation. Other nations have a moral right to depose its Stalinist dictatorship, whether multilaterally or unilaterally.

Some may decry this as neo-conservative adventurism but the fact is that North Korea must be dealt with and the regime of Kim Jong-Il must be removed. This should be done in partnership with China who must be just as concerned about having a highly unpredictable rogue state on its border as we are about future ballistic threats. But this isn't just about protecting us; it's about saving the people of North Korea from a murderous gang. It's about sparing our children and grandchildren the same question that German children and grandchildren asked: If you knew, why didn't you do anything?

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich


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