Gary Sick has posted an article entitled "Holding Contradictory Ideas at the Same Time" which I commented upon in the past. But there is another aspect of this post that interests me -- the value and role that various pundits attribute to the issue of human rights in the US-Iran standoff.
Dr. Sick identifies four types of arguments over Iran:
Some have argued – implicitly or explicitly – that Iran’s behavior is so abhorrent that the international community should not, cannot, engage with it until it changes its behavior. Some would carry this further and argue that true engagement will be impossible until there is a change of regime. On the other side, a number of observers maintain that engagement is not a badge of approval but rather is based on the pursuit of important national interests; Iran’s misbehavior, in this view, is no different than Maoist China or Stalinist Russia, which did not prevent us from negotiating successfully. Some have pushed this idea further, arguing that the so-called Green Movement in Iran never represented more than a small fraction of Iran’s population and we should therefore not permit it to distract us from our objective of engagement.
I guess I would fall in the "other side" which argues that human rights really should have no role in the issue. Right about now, I bet people will start hysterically crying "OH MY GOD THINK OF THE CHILDREN!" etc etc but before you do, note that I didn't say that human rights has no value. Of course it does. I merely don't think that a potential (and at this point in time, entirely hypothetical) resolution of the US-Iran standoff should involve any discussion of human rights issues -- contrary to say, what NIAC insists upon. I've known Trita Parsi for a long time, and I simply disagree with this position of the NIAC.)
WHy? Because lets face it, the US is 1 - not really interested in human rights per se, except whenever it serves a convenient propaganda function and 2- because the US is in no position to make demands on Iran on the human rights issue, and 3- because ultimately, what would really help improve human rights in Iran is an improvement in US-Iran relations, and anything that creates and obstacle to that (including feigned concern over human rights issues) ultimately only defeats the purpose.
Allow me to elucidate you (as one of my friends used to say, with a snicker):
The United States doesn't give a shit about human rights. Not my human rights, not your human rights. It barely gives a damn about the human rights of its own citizens, and certainly not the human rights of Iranians. I can't say it any plainer than that.
See, the United States is not the Papa Noel of Human Rights. It is a super power. Its main interest is in promoting and protecting its interests. If that means spraying flammable chemicals on defenseless villagers and then lighting them aflame, it will do so. If it means torturing people, it will do so. If it means baldly lying to everyone in order to attack and invade another country, it will do so. Even while Clinton and Obama shed crocodile tears about the human rights of the Iranian people, the Pentagon had nice little plans formulated to mass murder the same people in nuclear first-strikes. If you think that the US cares about the human rights of Iranians, please visit your local war cemetary in Iran, and take a look at the headstones of, say, the 60,000 Iranians killed as a result of the US complicity in chemical weapons use by Saddam against Iran...and remember, the US government told its diplomats to try to shift the blame for chemical weapons use during the Iran-Iraq war onto Iran. And this sort of thing is hardly limited to Iran -- just take a look at all the nun-raping death squads that the US has backed, armed and supported in Latin America. Nevermind the legalization of torture, rape, mass surveillance, indefinite detention without trial based on secret evidence etc. that now characterize the US judicial system (and more recently, assassinations of Americans abroad without due process.)
I'm sorry if you find what I just wrote harsh or annoying but it is simply a fact. Grow the f- up.
So, having established beyond any possible doubt that the US doesn't care a fig for human rights, what exactly is the US supposed to do about it in Iran? How, for example, is the US supposed to lecture Iran about the importance of gender equality, when they're in bed with the Saudis? Or about the importance of not attacking voters when Egypt's Mubarak makes a habit of shooting voters in the streets whenever they aren't voting "correctly"? Or of respecting international law when the US declared that the Vienna Conventions on the treatment of prisoners are simply "quaint" and the US president has the legal authority to crush a child's testicles in order to force his parents to talk?
I mean, REALLy! DO you proponents of injecting human rights into the US-Iran negotitions have ANY attachment to reality?
And lets pretend none of this was an issue. Here's my last problem with the idea of using a hypothetical US-Iran negotiation as a means to resolve or address human rights issues: Human rights are not things that are fixed by finger-wagging and a stern lecture from a foreign government. Rather, the human rights situation in Iran will improve when certain other facts are in place. These include:
1 - Political stability and security. You can't expect ANY country to have a free and unfetterred press, for example, when another foreign superpower has specifically made a point of using the exploiting the media and journalists to help topple its government. And reports of increased clandestine activity certainly don't help either. Governments take measures to defend themselves, and inevitably these measures restrict human rights.
2- The rise of bourgeois values and sense of individualism rather than collectivism and paternalism that characterizes Iranian society. Hate to break it to you, but the primary enforcer of the hijab and other social restrictions on women in Iran, for example, is not the State but the Family. The only reason there was such a massive increase in female literacy after the 1979 Islamic revolution is because parents felt that the Islamic government was reliable enough to entrust their daughters to. Iranian society is not a mass of pro-American liberals seething under the jackboot of repressive, conservative mullahs, though the US media likes to portray it that way. Those conservative mullahs happen to represent the values of the vast majority of Iranians. Sure, as literacy and globalization increases in Iran, these values may evolve over time, as they have been -- but finger-wagging by the US doesn't do anything. This is long-term social adjustment.
3- Economic security and improved standards of living. This is the biggie. See, even in the US, women didn't become more active in the workforce because one day, the government and the industrialists woke up and said to themselves "Gee, the increased presence of women in the workforce would be morally a right thing to allow and would be a nice thing to do for human rights". Rather, women like Rosie the Riviter entered the workforce because the economic necessity of replacing the labor force of men during wartime required women to start working outside of their homes. Economic improvements brings along with it improved human rights. And as long as sanctions are imposed which restrict and limit access to the world and foreign goods/services/ideas, human rights in Iran will suffer.
So in short, that's my case against the idea that human rights should be interjected into any potential US-Iran negotiations. The US is not capable, not willing, and not qualified to vindicate human rights in Iran.