Democracy can be seen as a process or as a product. The product does not always follow the process. It’s possible for a country to vote a radical, oppressive regime into office democratically. This is an idea that characterizes American diplomacy. The question is always, will this foster a democratic outcome?
America has a past of providing financial, technical and arms support to undemocratic governments and guerillas to protect its national security or economic interests. This doesn’t necessarily mean that America is the antagonist. It’s more complex than that. Mutual benefit is necessary for sustainable diplomacy.
The nuclear deal with Iran, the focus of Jeremi Suri’s most recent column, sounds simple: Iran will stop (or limit) its production of nuclear weapons if we trade with it. This means more economic opportunity for Iran and the protection of American national security interests.
Both sides benefit, but the implications of this agreement must be considered. It’s not just about opening markets; it’s about changing the relationship between the United States and Iran. The United States can use this economic relationship as a carrot to encourage greater transparency in the Iranian government. It could also use it as a tool of coercion. The agreement opens a possibility for Iran to become dependent on trade with the U.S., or vice versa. This entanglement is likely to happen and will influence our actions and reactions to Iran.
So then, through increased cooperation with Iran, are we trying to quell potentially dangerous nuclear activity or foster democratic values in the country? If the latter, are we concerned with the process or the product? We are walking a fine line between cooperation and control. Many times, we, as a country, have not been able to answer these questions, and as a result, we have seen undemocratic outcomes.
The bottom line is, we need to cooperate with Iran. This deal marks a huge geopolitical realignment in the Middle East. It’s important, but in the right context. Western “moral self-righteousness and military force,” as Suri puts it, have produced unsatisfactory results before. We should maintain that U.S.-Iran “cooperation” remains just that — cooperation. And we can do so by being careful not to affront Iranian sovereignty in the future.
Shah is a business and government sophomore from Temple.