The conversation around Iran is flawed in many ways. In a recent conversation I had with Brett McGurk, we discussed regional issues of the Middle East. We covered Kurdish regional politics, coalition building and Israeli Arab affairs. A refreshing subject of agreement was our appreciation for the Irani people, separate from the Irani regime. His clarity is something I find inspiring and his patriotism, admirable. I can’t in all truth say that we completely agree on every issue, but we certainly share an optimism found in civic virtue.
The following information is my own opinion and not a summation of our meeting. With all that aside, let me proceed.
The demographics of Iran are confusing. The country is majority Shia Muslim. The country is majority Persian. The country is majority Farsi speaking. All major political candidates need to get approved by the theocratic orders in place. The democracy is flawed. So called moderates in office are often still extreme.
However, this doesn’t capture the full picture. Just because the democracy is flawed, doesn’t mean the demos (the people) is. Yes, Iran is in many ways a threat. Ask me about my gripes with the IRGC, the spreading of chaos in the region and the sponsoring of terror groups; I’ll kvetch till the cows come home. Heck, don't even get me started on PMUs in Iraq and overt violence in the Kurdish region.
There are a couple things to note about Iran. The government is run by the old guard, vetted individuals unable to challenge the coalition of religious conservatives and militant revolutionaries. The impediment to popular representation is literally written into the structure of law.
Often not spoken about is the vibrant and young culture of much of the Irani public. Women’s education, including higher education is abundantly frequent. Iran has the highest rate of nose jobs in the world. Young Persians relish culture from outside the country and have a booming and respected film industry. The consumption of alcohol (though illegal), is frequent at parties around Tehran. The use of the headscarf around Iran is largely laughed at; it’s transformed from a movement of religious solidarity to a fashion statement.
The younger population in Iran wants reform. They want change. This distance between the popular views of the demos compared to that of the government is great. Not only is the younger population more liberal, they’re more bountiful. 60 percent of the population is under the age of 30.
Yes, I agree that we can’t ignore Irani military aggression, sponsoring of terrorism and the spreading of chaos. The Houthi rebels causing of instability against Saudi Arabia and Yemen have heavily been assisted by Iran. The transfer of missiles from the Assad Regime in Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon organized by Iran can’t be ignored. We need aggressive policies that counter and prevent the spread of Irani chaos, but we can’t do this at the cost of losing our great civic asset.
Keeping the Irani populus liberal is crucial. Yes, the Irani government could be destroyed by regional powers, but at what cost? If we want a stable region, we’re going to need to wait for the young Irani population to grow to a critical mass. A sustainable healthy Iran is going to be the real prize of success, but I have no delusions about the current regime.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been spreading lies about a vulgar and brutal nature to American, Israeli and Arab political existence. We keep the Irani demos liberal by proving the government wrong. I’m exceptionally hawkish about Irani aggression abroad, but when it comes to fighting the regime at home, let’s let human nature take its course.
Let’s promote patience where we can and a balance of hard and soft power where we must.