What if the Next Iranian Regime is Just as Bad as This One?
What if the Next Iranian Regime is Just as Bad as This One?
Tuesday, March 2,2010 09:11
By Shadi Hamid

There is another issue that sanctions advocates never address: what if their proposal results in a new government, but the new government wants to pursue a bomb and continue Iran’s foreign policy? As far as they are concerned, nothing meaningful will have changed...

The fantasies of Richard Haass aside, there is no guarantee that a new civilian leadership will make the Iranian government more “moderate” abroad (i.e., accommodating to U.S. demands). First, the new leadership may not want to end its support for Hizbullah and Hamas, and it may not want to abandon pursuit of nuclear weapons

Even if this assessment were accurate, having a democratic Iran whose foreign policy was just as bad would be an improvement over the status quo, not to mention the moral imperative involved. But there's a more fundamental misunderstanding involved here. Almost definitionally, a democratic Iran, by virtue of its democratic nature, would likely have a less destabilizing foreign policy, even allowing for the likelihood it would still pursue the bomb and perhaps support Hamas and Hezbollah.

After all, our problem with Iran is not just that it's pursuing a nuclear program but that it's pursuing a nuclear program combined with the fact that it's a theocracy and/or military dictatorship. We can say there is an interesting interaction effect between these two variables. The authoritarian nature is likely amplified by the active pursuit of nuclear weapons, while the potentially destructive effects of Iran having nuclear weapons is amplified by the authoritarian nature of its regime. 

One can envision a democratically-elected Iranian government that pursues nuclear weapons, offers rhetorical support to Hamas and Hezbollah, but also enjoys better relations with the U.S. and the international community, because democracies, all other things being equal, can be expected to be less reckless and inconsistent. In democracies, foreign policy decision-making is distributed among a larger number of people, with more veto points, and is to some degree subject to popular consent, rather than being overly dependent on one individual or a small clique of individuals as is often the case in autocratic regimes. 

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