Wednesday, September 23, 2009
The Importance of Confidence in Bringing Change
I was at a conference last Thursday, it was organised by Henry Jackson Society and Legatum Institute but with so much to do in the last few days, I just haven't had time to write about it. There were lots of speakers and many panels. Larry Haas, former communications director and advisor to vice president Al Gore impressed me. When I heard he was an advisor to Al Gore, I thought he would have a wishy washy view of what the policy options regarding Ahmadienjad should be, he didn't offer a policy option as such, but Haas got my approval when he mentioned that every US administration has been under the impression that they know more about the regime in Iran than the previous administration and they will manage to create some kind of dialogue and understanding with them. Bit like how Roosevelt thought he could 'handle' Stalin and develop a personal relationship with him, I thought, a huge mistake which resulted in people of East Europe pay a heavy price for decades after.
The rest of the conference was just half baked policy options, with lots of ifs and buts coming from such speakers like Malcolm Rifkind. 'We will never get the Chinese and the Russians come along on this', 'This will hurt the people of Iran' , 'We will lose investment opportunities' and basically panel after panel showed why they can not decide on a concrete policy option towards the Iranian regime, even though the conference was summed up by saying 'the clock is ticking and something must be done before its too late'.
There was one nice suggestion from Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi though, to name every street in European cities where there is an embassy of the Islamic Republic, after Neda.
I left the conference thinking, forget deciding a policy option, Western governments will discuss and discuss and have endless conferences and seminars and still not do anything. Every policy carries some risks and from what I have seen of these statesmen, they will carry on sitting on the fence forever.
So I came to the conclusion that we should stop wasting time discussing policy options. What matters more than anything to the people in a struggle against tyranny is confidence. If they feel confident that they can make a change nothing will stop them, and so every Iran related move the Western governments make should be tested against this bench mark, does it give the people of Iran confidence or does it take it away from them? What diplomatic rank from the embassy delegation you send to Ahmadinejad's endorsement ceremony may not seem that important to the UK government for example but to the Iranian people it is enormously symbolic and important.
If you re-name every street where IR embassies are to Neda Street, it won't need the Russian and Chinese to come on board and it won't hurt the Iranian people but it would be an enormous boost to the confidence of the Iranian people. In fact the regime in Iran does not hesitate to rename such streets after Bobby Sands and Khalid Islamboli.
Similarly today if they all leave when Ahmadinejad makes a speech at the UN, it will make the people of Iran confident that the world is with them.
Confidence that you can bring about change is the most important factor in a revolution or a democratic transition, it must not be underestimated.