Capitulating to Oppressors Breeds More Oppression
Peter Beinart writes a piece in The Atlantic that elucidates the folly of constructivist political theory and President Barack Obama’s role in negotiations with Iran. Beinart expresses hope that the nuclear deal with Iran could bring Democracy to the nation and improve human rights conditions. Rather than rely on military threats, sanctions, and isolation to urge Iran in the right direction, he argues that a conciliatory approach bore fruit historically and can do so today. The theory belies logic and the price of failure is high.
Beinart highlights the case of Akbar Ganji, a journalist jailed in Iran for calling on the country to replace its theocracy with a democracy. Ganji has since been released and has fled Iran. From his safe haven, he argues that the Iranian people live in fear resulting from economic sanctions and military threats from the United States and Israel.
“If the United States and its allies ‘are truly interested in the development of democracy in Iran…they should set aside military threats and economic sanctions.”
He chastises hawks’ simplistic view of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War successes:
“Reagan entered the White House in 1981, built up the American military, sent arms to anti-communist rebels, refused to negotiate arms-control deals, called the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire,’ and, presto, the Berlin Wall fell.”
Instead, Beinart argues, Reagan de-escalated the Cold War by meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev without preconditions, cooling bellicose rhetoric, and signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
“The lesson,” Beinart writes, is “that imposing sanctions and threatening war rarely strengthen human rights. It’s usually the reverse.”
With this in mind, the Iranian nuclear talks have devolved from the U.S. and her European allies calling on Iran to dismantle its nuclear program to now–a complete reversal of previous U.S. positions. The Wall Street Journal editorial page lists some of these major departures:
“Obama has already conceded that Iran can keep enriching uranium, that it can maintain 5,060 centrifuges to do the enriching, that its enriched-uranium stockpiles can stay inside Iran, that the once-concealed facilities at Fordow and Arak can stay open (albeit in altered form), and that Iran can continue doing research on advanced centrifuges.”
In addition to these concessions, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants an immediate repeal of economic sanctions and no inspections under any conditions of Iran’s military sites. Whatever demands the West makes on Iran must be upheld, or else the sanctions will immediately “snap back,” President Obama claims. How these sanctions will be immediately reimposed remains unclear. According to Beinart, though, caving to the Ayatollah would benefit more people than currently face harm through sanctions and the fear of war.
So why, Beinart asks, “in the face of all this evidence…do American hawks…still overwhelmingly oppose Obama’s diplomatic openings?”
Americans believe in carrots and sticks. Reward for good behavior and punishment for bad. We fear that granting concessions to brutal dictatorships will encourage more brutal dictatorships. In particular, dictators motivated by antisemitism stop at very little to kill Jews. Beinart doesn’t negate this possibility in his piece, even calling on American leaders to “criticize dictatorships.” Apparently, though, when that criticism goes so far as to call a murderous regime “evil,” a red line has been crossed.
So, what should the West do to discourage despotism?
Neorealists/neoliberals argue that coalitions built around pro-social behaviors create a cohort of nations that benefit from cooperation. NATO, WTO, the World Bank and IMF, name some of the multinational entities that work under this assumption. Nations allowed to participate in these organizations prosper. Those that don’t, don’t.
America started the neoliberal model after the end of World War II left so much of the world in shambles. Up until that point, the wealthiest and most powerful nations ruled the globe single-handedly until their power waned enough to allow a rival to topple the world order and claw to the top of the heap. The neorealist model dispatches with that practice. Neoliberalism encourages leaders to allow a free press, hold elections, curb aggression against their neighbors–all in order to join some of the multinational groups that work hand in hand toward mutual benefit.
Beinart and Obama appear bent on a constructivist approach that offers carrots with no sticks. They believe that by lifting sanctions and capitulating to despots, they uphold human rights for the unfortunate subjects of Iran and similar countries. In reality, they allow bloodthirsty dictators the means to build tools to violate the sovereignty and human rights of people in other countries.
Reality, though, is not a place where constructivism thrives.