THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE
OTTAWA, Wednesday, February 15, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade met this day at 4:15 p.m. to examine and report on Canadian foreign policy regarding Iran, its implications, and other related matters.
Senator Raynell Andreychuk (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is continuing its examination on Canadian foreign policy regarding Iran, its implications and other related matters. We commenced our study last week and are continuing this evening with a panel. I will introduce the panel very quickly. We have their CVs. They are known to have been interested in Canadian foreign policy regarding Iran and other Iranian issues.
Today I am pleased to have before us Dr. Houchang Hassan-Yari, Professor and Special Assistant to the Principal for National and International Liaison, Royal Military College of Canada; Dr. Aurel Braun, Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto; and Dr. Payam Akhavan, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University.
I have asked our presenters to make their initial interventions extremely short, for professors. I have said five minutes because I believe the exchange between senators and yourselves will be the maximum benefit to us. We will point you in the direction to gain your expertise in those directions we are concerned with.
Houchang Hassan-Yari, Professor and Special Assistant to the Principal for National and International Liaison, Royal Military College of Canada, as an individual: Thank you for being interested in the situation in Iran, although it is not an easy task.
I was asked to bring some elements of answers to a number of questions that were raised by the clerk. The first is to talk about the current nuclear standoff between Iran and the international community, and the impact of that on the stability of the region. I would say that the implication of the current standoff between Iran and the rest of the world is of great importance for international security and regional stability. The opposing sides to this rampant crisis have two very different views about the nature and outcome of the Iranian nuclear program.
On the one hand, the Iranians claim in their statements that their nuclear program is peaceful in nature; on the other hand, the Americans, the Israelis and, to some degree, the International Atomic Energy Agency doubt that Iranian claim. So here we are in a kind of stalemate.
I will talk mainly about the Americans now as representatives of the international community and not much about the other countries. One can summarize the U.S.-Iranian relations in the following terms: total lack of trust in each other, domination of policy by ideology, and demonization of the other. In the case of Iranians, they call Americans the great Satan, international arrogance; the Americans call the Iranians axis of evil, a pariah state. The other characteristic is that they both believe in a conspiracy theory. This is why I think the situation is like this.
The second question raised was about the international community and the response of this community — that is, the strengths and the weaknesses, and so on.
The question that has to be asked here is who are we talking about, what is the international community? Is there an international community? Because, in the beginning, three European countries, France, England and Germany, negotiated with the Iranians on behalf of the international community. Then, when that approach failed, the Americans took the lead. Now, these major countries include Russia and China, whose foreign policy is quite different. To some degree, I would say, it is a foreign policy of expediency in that they vote in favour of sanctions against Iran on the one hand while trying to downplay the impact of the sanctions on the other.
About four groups of countries in the region are identified. The first are the GCC countries. Without exception, they have problems with the Iranian government. They have the potential to put their forces with the foreign forces against Iran if they reach that point. The second group is what I call the countries that are some distance from Iran, for example, the North African countries. The relationship between them and Iran is not important here.
The third group of countries, or groups, are obviously Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. I believe those are the three countries and groups that we have to put much emphasis and interest in. I put the Iraqi situation on the border. I could not identify Iraq with any of the four groups that I am trying to talk about here.
Finally, the fourth group are the Caspian basin countries in the north of Iran. With respect to these countries, it is interesting to talk about the good relations between Iran and the Shia regime and Armenia Christian country, but there is a difficult relationship between Shia Iran, Shia Azerbaijan, and so on. For the Iranians, it means that their foreign policy is, to some extent, based on the pragmatic, realistic evaluation of the situation.
Inside this larger group we have Afghanistan and Pakistan. Afghanistan is the country that Iran has developed a lot of interest and influence in. Pakistan is a more problematic country for Iran. Beside the relationship that is apparently cordial between Tehran and Islamabad, there are serious problems in the region of Balochistan between the two countries.
Maybe I will share a word on Israel, too, since this country is important in the region. We know what is going on in terms of the Israeli government's posturing related to Iran, but we have to keep in mind that, in my view, contrary to what some people in Israel believe, the Iranian leadership is not crazy. They are not suicidal, but they are very fine calculators. It does not mean that their calculation is always good, but they are able to put their finger where they should and they provoke, as they do constantly, including in the current situation.
Next, a word about Iran's domestic, political and human rights situation. I am not going to detail what you already know about the Iranian human rights record. As Canadians, we all know what we are doing ourselves in that regard. I believe my colleagues will also talk about that.
On the relationship between human rights and the nuclear issue, I would complain about the position of the international community putting much emphasis on the nuclear issue and forgetting the question of human rights. This is precisely what the Iranian government is looking for, namely, to distract from the main problems that the government is facing. Actually, the threat is coming from the internal dynamics of Iran.
Canada has lost the influence it once had in the Middle East. We know that the region provided Canada with its golden age of diplomacy. But gradually, particularly since Mr. Martin’s government, we are seeing a kind of retreat, which, with the current government, is almost, maybe not quite, but almost total. Canada is no longer a major player in the region. But there are things that Canada can do, particularly on the Iran question. I can mention some of those things, and we can come back to them.
On the matter of sanctions, they are not really very smart, despite the expectations. We can say that they are affecting everyone, especially the poorest. I am not opposed to sanctions, but I think we should take another look and specifically come up with sanctions that have teeth. We must try to bring some countries on board, by which I mean China and Russia specifically, because without them, no sanction can have the desired effect. Other countries are criticizing South Korea, and Japan to some extent, because of oil. We can come back to the sanctions later.
The Chair: Thank you. We will now turn to Dr. Braun.
Aurel Braun, Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto, as an individual: Thank you, honourable senators, for inviting me. The views that I will express here are entirely personal. I am not here as an expert on domestic Iranian politics, and I am not here to address the various intricacies of private rivalries among the ruling regimes, though I do differentiate rather strongly between the long-suffering people of Iran and the repressive regime that rules over them. My expertise is in international relations, strategic studies and international law. This is what I write on. One of my books is The Middle East in Global Strategy.
In my experience in writing, studying and lecturing on international risks and behaviour, often the questions that we ask are as important as the answers that we may provide. Consequently I will put forth five questions and then I will make five recommendations.
The first question, which was already broached, is something that we need to address in a sophisticated fashion rather than with a throwaway line. Is the Iranian regime rational? We have to look at a definition of rationality. I do not have time to go into it, but I refer you to Sidney Verba. I can tell you that, by his standard, the Iranian regime does not meet the standard of rationality — of maximizing options, of looking at all the facts and so on. We know this is a regime that is genocidal. It very clearly advocates genocide; we know all statements that have been made — Holocaust denial, eradication of Israel, designation of Israel as a cancer, et cetera. It would be a huge mistake to reduce this to an Iranian-Israeli issue because it is a global issue. I can also point out, in terms of rational behaviour by the standards of Sidney Verba — the normal standards in international relations — Iran's behaviour in 1979 and in 2001. Iran engaged in the most wanton and reckless disregard of international norms with the invasion of embassies, which was condoned by the government. This strikes at the very heart of being able to conduct peaceful negotiations and to have normal intercourse. It goes back to ancient times, to the protection of the messenger. It is customary international law and convention law, in the Vienna Convention of 1961. By that standard, I think it is very difficult to talk about normal rationality.
Is it the same as suggesting that the Iranian government is irrational? I would say no. That is something that we have to be very careful with. If we are talking about irrationality in the sense of non compos mentis — unable to distinguish between right and wrong — that is not the case with this regime. It is rather that they judge right and wrong differently than other states. They come to rationality in a different way. Within their own paradigm, they are rational, but this is the paradigm that is driven by extreme theological logic. That is different from democracy in other countries. It is a regime that thinks in a fundamentally different fashion. It disregards international laws and norms because it believes that it is responding to a higher authority, so it has license to do the kind of things that, within its other paradigm of rationality, it is able to do.
This takes us to the next question: Can deterrence work? Often, apologists for Iran or people who do not spend a lot of time thinking about the problem, sadly, will say, “Well, we have deterrence. Why can you not look at deterrence in the case of Iran?” Well, deterrence is, above all, a psychological relationship that involves a mutual mind reading. One party is trying to induce the other to perform the same kind of cost-benefit calculation that it itself would do and come to a conclusion that the risks and the costs would outweigh the benefits.
You have to operate on the same basis of rationality. It is not rational or irrational, but it has to be the same basis of rationality. Mutually assured destruction cannot work when one of the parties believes that its ultimate goals are not temporal.
This takes us to the next question: Can the deterrence that was used during the Cold War provide a useful analogy? I suggest that it is a tempting analogy, but, ultimately, it is dangerously wrongheaded.
First, deterrence was not all that wonderful during the Cold War. It was very risky. Research done by people like J. David Singer has shown that — and I will quote briefly from J. David Singer — “the world may have escaped nuclear devastation by sheer luck — less a consequence of intelligent policy than a fortunate concatenation of conditions.”
There is something else very important. The Soviet leadership was driven by an ideological imperative that pivoted on the victory of the proletariat here on earth, not in heaven. The Soviet Union, consequently, could not achieve its ideological goals if there was a nuclear holocaust. It is something else when you are looking at a regime that believes there might be other ways of achieving its goals. On the one hand, in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, we had ideological constraints. On the other hand, when we have an extreme theology, we have theological licence. We had better be aware of that.
What are the risks of a nuclear Iran? No one can say with certainty that this genocidal regime, which openly advocates genocide, will use nuclear weapons if and when it acquires them. However, I challenge anyone to be able to provide any assurance that it will not. This is the gamble. This is what we have to look at. Given the theological licence, a belief that the ultimate reward is in heaven, that the destruction of the Great Satan and the Little Satan can yield benefits, can there be a comfort level that if Iran develops a capacity to carry out its ideological goals it will not do so?
Do we feel lucky? Do we want to gamble? Is it ethical and moral for the international community to engage in that kind of gamble?
Then there is this distinction that is a distinction without a difference. Again, it is rather dangerous. It is this: What if Iran develops a capacity to build nuclear weapons but does not actually build them? This is one way of basically giving Iran just about all it wants. It has the surge capacity to do so. It is a distinction without a difference. It is a new subterfuge to allow Iran to get to the nuclear destination while minimizing the risks of international action to prevent them from doing so.
Should the military option be taken off the table? No rational individual seeks war. Any military action, anytime, anywhere is risky. We do not know what happens. I would strongly advocate that we avoid military action at all costs. It ought to be a last resort, but, as the Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann said, war itself is not irrational. Self-defence is a reality. It is allowed in international law and by the United Nations. Not only that, but international law has been moving in the direction of the principle of “responsibility to protect,” or R2P, to protect against genocide. Recently, Canada has participated in military action in Kosovo and Libya, and contrary to what some try to say, what some old diplomats bloviate, Canada is highly respected around the world. I travel everywhere; we have never been more highly respected. We have been influential when it came to Libya and elsewhere. They called on Canada, not on Belgium or Portugal, so let us have a reality check.
We have rights and responsibilities. In taking the military option off the table, we would be voluntarily forgoing both our rights and our responsibilities under international law and would grant a genocidal regime additional licence.
What are my recommendations? First, both Canada and Iran are parties to the Genocide Convention, ratified in 1952 and 1956 respectively. We are bound by it. When the leaders of Iran, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, advocate genocide — and they do repeatedly — the incitement to genocide is punishable. We should call them on it. We can ask the Iranian government to act against them; they are not likely to do it. We can go to UN Security Council, and we have a right to ask that they refer this to the International Criminal Court. I suspect Russia may veto that, but we can directly take these two gentlemen, and the others in the regime, to the International Court of Justice, if nothing is done in the criminal court. We should do so.
Second, there has to be a regime change. There is no negotiating with a regime that has consistently negotiated in bad faith. We should encourage opposition groups. One of these groups that we should look at is the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, PMOI.
The Europeans have taken this organization off of the terrorist list. That does not mean Canada should. We need to do our own investigation. We are not bound by anyone; we work independently. If we come to the conclusion that they definitely are not, or are no longer, terrorists, we should help this organization. We might even offer some refugee resettlement for some of them.
We should take steps in Canada — and we can do this ourselves — to allow Iran to be sued civilly for torture, for crimes against humanity, for genocide and for incitement to genocide. The State Immunity Act, before Parliament as part of the omnibus Bill C-10 is very useful. It talks about torture, but we should broaden this to include all the other offences. We can do that, and we should definitely move in that direction.
Sanctions should be sharply increased. The areas in which we have to do more are banking, flows of money, sales of oil and natural gas, and air travel. The sanctions need to be designed to drastically undermine the ability of a genocidal Iranian regime, to bribe its key supporters, and to indicate to the public at large that this regime has lost all international legitimacy.
Number five, again, is looking at the military option as a very last option. However, it should definitely and visibly be kept on the table. Canada and her allies must make it clear that under no circumstances will Iran be allowed to develop a capacity to build or deploy nuclear weapons. Thank you.
Payam Akhavan, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, McGill University: Madam Chair, thank you for the invitation. It is a great pleasure for me today to share some thoughts with you about the future of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Middle East.
For the past decade I have maintained that a lasting peace in the Middle East can come about only with a democratic transformation of Iran. This view is shared by many in the Iranian human rights movement, but today it contends with the looming threat of war, foreshadowing a catastrophe that could set back the region for many years. In this light, how can we best understand the context within which Canada must craft a just and effective foreign policy towards Iran?
Prior to the rise of Iran's green movement of 2009, pundits and analysts ridiculed us for suggesting that an emerging civil society would profoundly reshape the Middle East. While we labour to educate students in Gandhian philosophy or to train them in non-violent resistance at secret workshops, those in the corridors of power considered only two options: war or appeasement. When millions of Iranians poured into the streets calling for democracy, the post-9/11 image of a clash of civilizations with Islamic fanatics and suicide bombers was confronted with a radically different reality. While President Ahmadinejad distracted the world with his Holocaust denial and hate mongering, the Iranian people exposed the other veiled face of their country: a youthful, idealistic and inspiring generation engaged in a heroic struggle to reclaim its lost humanity. It was this unprecedented Twitter revolution that became the prototype of the Arab Spring two years later. The difference was that after 30 years of suffering totalitarianism masquerading as religion, Iranians had arrived at a post-ideological, post-utopian ethos with human rights as their unifying objective. Despite brutal repression, this movement represented a seismic shift that seriously undermined the legitimacy and future prospects of the Islamic republic.
With the exclusion of Islamic reformists, the prospect of gradual change within the existing system has become increasingly remote. Iran has become a mercantile-militaristic state, more a kleptocracy than a theocracy, intensifying the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of regime enforcers: the IRGC revolutionary guards. This radicalization is reflected in the dramatic increase of show trials and hate propaganda, widespread imprisonment and torture of dissidents, and an alarming rate of executions. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, there were at least 59 executions in January of this year alone. The picture that emerges is that of a regime terrorizing its citizens for want of power, a regime that is weak and fighting for its survival.
Now for long we argued that sanctions in view of this dual nature of Iran must be focused at variously empowering the democratic movement in Iran while also isolating the leadership. To the extent that sanctions achieve that objective, they are to be commended. You can imagine, when we were lobbying for years to impose travel bans and asset freezes on leaders responsible for crimes against humanity, our shock and horror to find that the head of the Iranian National Bank, Mr. Mahmoud Reza Khavari, had obtained Canadian citizenship in 2005, and that the man who was the financial lynchpin for the IRGC, for Hamas, for Hezbollah, for Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear program was allowed to operate freely from Canada.
For too long Canada has been a haven for the ill-gotten gains of these elites, and in a sense, it is about time that we clean up our act. However we must bear in mind the extent that these sanctions hurt ordinary Iranians. When students at my university cannot pay their tuition fees, then it makes us have to reconsider whether any adjustments have to be made to the sanctions regime in order to ensure we were not hurting the people that are now being victimized twice.
Another issue we need to consider is our immigration policy. While our diplomats are struggling to avoid the execution of Mr. Hamid Ghassemi-Shall and Mr. Saeed Malekpour in Iran, we are about to deport Mr. Kavoos Soofi, who, according to Amnesty International, faces substantial risk of torture and execution. If we are serious that Iran is a violator of human rights, surely we cannot countenance the deportation of individuals who face such peril.
I would like to now come to what is the most pressing issue today, which is the talk of war and the nuclear question. Like the vast majority of Iranian Canadians, I am against a military confrontation because of its impact on innocent civilians and its unpredictable consequences, including sectarian violence throughout the region. Consider, for instance, the 2006 study in the reputable Lancet Survey medical journal putting the number of excess civilian deaths in the Iraq War at 650,000. That is the real face of war that we have to be aware of. Beyond humanitarian considerations, allow me to explain why even talk of war is such a bad idea by looking at the current situation through the logic of the Islamic republic's leadership. First, the green movement — the democratic uprising of 2009 — has dealt a serious blow to the legitimacy of the regime and remains a threat.
Second, the power struggle between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad is reaching a point of crisis. Third, the sole regional ally — the murderous Assad regime in Syria — is facing collapse and with it the capacity to send weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Fourth, Hamas has been lured out of Iran's orbit by Turkey and Qatar. Fifth, economic sanctions are taking a heavy toll on the regime's finances.
Under such dire circumstances, what is the only thing that can save the leadership? The answer is war with Israel and America. It is the one thing that can rally the masses behind the leadership and, under the cover of war, provide an opportunity for mass execution of thousands of opponents, exactly reminding us of the atrocities that were justified in the 1980s under the pretext of the Iran-Iraq War.
According to experts, a military attack will at best delay the acquisition of nuclear capability by two years, whereas the democratic movement would be set back by at least a decade. It cannot be disregarded that the problem is the nature of the regime rather than nuclear capability. Consider, for instance, how in the 1980s the newly established democracies in Argentina and Brazil dismantled the nuclear programs pursued by prior military regimes. In this context, talk of war is exactly the distraction that the regime needs to bolster itself at a time of weakness and vulnerability.
It is useful to recall the situation after the September 11 terrorist attacks when the reformist Khatami government played a crucial role in helping the Americans defeat the Taliban. After the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, the talk of war effectively marginalized the reformists and played into the hands of the hard-liners. The same reality applies today.
On the one hand, there is no doubt that nuclear proliferation would destabilize the balance of power in the Middle East and lead to an arms race. However, by buying into the Islamic republic's inflammatory apocalyptic rhetoric with alarmist rhetoric of our own — namely, the suggestion that Iran intends to use nuclear weapons in a suicidal attack against Israel — we are giving the regime the enemy it needs to survive. By invoking Armageddon, we are throwing the hard-liners a lifeline just as they are finally drowning in the morass of treachery that is of their own making.
Finally I want to remark that it cannot go unnoticed that even the likes of ex-Mossad director Meir Dagan and former Israeli Defence Forces chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi have serious misgivings about the wisdom of war. In the words of Yossi Alpher, Defence Minister Barak's former senior adviser, there is an “obvious disagreement” on Iran between hawkish elements and “a more cautious and less alarmist camp that comprises much of the professional security community.” Now is a time that our leaders should avoid the politics of fear, lest it lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy with catastrophic consequences.
The Chair: Thank you. I asked for short interventions to start. In fairness, Dr. Hassan-Yari, you were first and you were extremely short. Would you like to add anything at this time?
Mr. Hassan-Yari: No. I would prefer to have an exchange with the audience.
The Chair: Thank you. I have a list starting with Senator Smith.
Senator D. Smith: Thank you, chair. I have three fairly short questions. What I might do is just read them out and you may jot them down. You can then reply to any or to all of them, if you wish.
The first one is the big news this morning that Iran was cutting off oil sales to about six European countries, including several major ones. My initial reaction was that they have come to the conclusion that these sanctions are really going to work with the European community. Rather than have them formally do it, they are just going to say, “We are not selling anymore.” Maybe they think that saves face a bit. I do not know. I would be interested if you have a reaction on that.
The next one, which I think Professor Hassan-Yari mentioned, is that the Iranian leadership are not crazy but they are very fine calculators. Take a litmus paper test, for example. When Prime Minister Ahmadinejad — I am never sure if I am pronouncing it accurately — says that the Holocaust never happened and all these other things, and if he does not believe that, then, from my perspective, he is a bit crazy. The evidence is so overwhelming. Do you think they really believe those statements — there are others who make the same statements — or is this just inflammatory rhetoric to keep the most extreme elements within their community sort of onside? Are they just lying because they know it did happen? What is your reaction to that?
My last question would be, when we talk about military action, whether it is like the fly zone that was initiated in Libya, not the troops on the ground: Is there a scenario that you think actually would warrant some type of military action by the West or by NATO countries or by whatever group? Is there a scenario where they go so far that there is no choice? What would that scenario be?
Those are the questions. I tried to give them all at once and then let them respond.
The Chair: We have three questions and three speakers.
Senator D. Smith: They do not have to all answer all of them.
Mr. Hassan-Yari: In regard to the oil issue, there was a lot of pressure coming from inside government to do something. It was a reactionary policy. The Iranians did not initiate that; they do not have that capability.
In order to tell the national audience that they are doing something, they sell it. In other words, when it became absolutely clear at the end of January that the EU decided to do it, instead of waiting until July, they did it.
Why did they do it? This is part of the whole show, in my view, of the Iranian regime to re-establish itself. In other words, the Iranian government is not in a position to take initiative but is forced to react. They are looking for other countries to replace the Europeans. That is why it seems to be that there are negotiations with Indians, for example, and with other countries to reduce the price in order to keep the market. This is why I quickly talked about the necessity to look at the oil issue more seriously.
On whether or not the leadership is crazy and on the Ahmadinejad Holocaust declaration, and so forth, one thing is absolutely clear: the Islamic Republic of Iran, since its inception, does not recognize the existence of Israel. For them, Israel is a council in the region. It is a creation of imperialism, colonialism and all of those things. During the time that Khamenei initiated the whole idea, he did nothing himself during his time to implement what he said. Suddenly, after so many years, Ahmadinejad — and I believe he came to power just six years ago — recreated the whole issue.
We must understand that Ahmadinejad is a very flamboyant personality. He talks and then he thinks about the issues. That is the reality. He is not calculated to say what is going to be the consequence of what he is saying. I am not excusing him, obviously, but we should not think that what he says is absolutely in line with what others say in the regime, even if they believe in it and are thinking about that.
Senator D. Smith: Do you think he believes that the Holocaust never happens? Do you think he really believes that?
Mr. Hassan-Yari: He believes that it did not happen, yes. You can call him crazy. For himself, he is not crazy. This is the point that my colleague raised here about rationality and who is rational, and so on. It makes a lot of sense. I am against what he says, but it does not mean that he does not think that he, in his own view, is irrational. Obviously, we can be against what he says.
Finally, what scenario could trigger a war? A lot of them could. One of the most obvious ones would be not necessarily directly related to the nuclear issue. It could be the threat — and some people in the Iranian leadership were talking about civilians in the past few months — against the Strait of Hormuz. That could create a reaction from the Americans as the Americans already mentioned that this is their red line.
Contrary to what some people in Iran believe, namely that everything is going to be limited to the Strait of Hormuz or to the Persian Gulf itself and to the body of water there, I believe that if that happens, it is going to be a total war. That is, we will see attacks against nuclear installation in Iran and the enlargement of the war by bringing in a number of Arab countries in the region. In other words, we will see a situation that we have never, ever seen in the past, including if you go back to 1956, 1967, 1973, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and so forth. We never, ever saw the magnitude of the situation that potentially will occur in the Persian Gulf region and that is going to be with us for many, many years to come.
I am not one of those who believe that the Strait of Hormuz is going to stay closed and then the price of oil is going to be extremely high for a long period of time. I do not think it will happen that way. Nevertheless, the war is going to be extremely important. The war is going to cause damage for the Western countries in Iran because the coup d'état that happened in 1953 against the nationalist government continues to be raised by many Iranians, even those who are pro-Western and who are educated in the Western countries and who are against the Mullahs in power in Tehran.
The Chair: There were two other questions. Dr. Braun?
Mr. Braun: Thank you for those three questions. Let me start with the first one, namely the news that the Iranians are diverting oil from Europe and how this relates to sanctions.
We often misunderstand how sanctions work. Historically, sanctions have not worked well. There are a few exceptions when they have had significant effect, and that was in South Africa.
We have been experimenting. Social scientists need to write, and we love language. We talk about smart sanctions, but there are no smart sanctions. Sanctions are a very blunt instrument. They are messy. There is a tremendous amount of collateral damage. People tell you to change sanctions to this and to that, refine them. They mean well, but it cannot be done. It will hurt. The people of South Africa knew that, and that is why they said, “Yes, have sanctions because the Apartheid regime must be ended at all costs.” When we talk about sanctions against the Iranian regime, it will be a very messy picture. We can try to make it better in some ways, but it is not going to be perfect. However, it is something that is necessary if we have a hope of avoiding military action.
Are the leaders crazy? I would argue that they are not. They are not non compos mentis, but they operate within a certain paradigm where there is a perverse logic. They have been rather successful in keeping control.
I am very saddened to hear words like, “Ahmadinejad is flamboyant.” He is not flamboyant. He is a genocidal leader. He says what he intends to do, and so does the Ayatollah Khamenei. This is a regime that has brutalized its own people and killed vast numbers of them. Do we have any doubt that they would hesitate to eliminate Little Satan or Great Satan if they had that capacity? Can we have any assurance of that? As for the notion that they are reactive, this is a standard apologia for dictators historically. They are not reactive. They have an agenda. They know what they are doing. They are within that particular paradigm.
Let us not get into this kind of notion of moral equivalence. Democracies are not perfect; they are flawed, but they are not to be compared to totalitarian theologies. We have to recognize that we have a leadership in Iran that has been successful in staying in power for a long time. The development in civil society — the green revolution — was not successful. It is not the same situation as in Egypt and elsewhere because the mechanisms of control are vastly better. They have those mechanisms of control not because of an external threat but because they happen to be very good at it and because the opposition has not been sufficiently good at it.
When I listen to dissidents in the diaspora who would like to see this regime overthrown, they are generally very good people, very noble individuals. However, I sometimes wonder whether they appreciate the fact that a nuclear Iran would be the best guarantee for this regime to stay in power.
If this regime goes nuclear, it is not just threatening others. Do not talk just about Israel. I came back from Eastern Europe, and they are deploying anti-ballistic missiles. This is not because they fear Russia; they made that very clear. Poland, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic fear Iran. Boris Nemtsov, one of the key leaders of the opposition in Russia, was here, and he said that a nuclear Iran is a direct threat to Russia, and at all costs we must make sure there is no nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran would be something like North Korea. That regime would have international immunity. Those who think that somehow we can go easy on this and can look on nuclearization in Iran as some sort of diversion away from domestic politics, rather than looking at an integrated approach with those who want to see regime change, should be aware that one of the best ways this regime can prevent that is to go nuclear.
The third question is about military action. It is always risky. We can cherry-pick some Israelis and misinterpret what they said because they never said that there should be no military option by the United States or by the international community. We have to look at bad alternatives. A military option is a very bad alternative. A nuclear Iran is the worst alternative.
It is not as if we have the luxury of picking. Somebody says, “Well, you know, you could only stop it for two years.” I am not sure how they found that information. I would love to be given the evidence. No one knows, so who are we kidding here? If it was two years, a lot happens in two years. Maybe in those two years the regime would change. If you have a nuclear Iran, with this regime, would anyone in the international community dare to really challenge them? If this regime engages in the bloodiest suppression domestically, would anyone in the international community stand up to this regime?
The Chair: Thank you, Dr. Braun.
Mr. Akhavan: Well, if there is a country with nuclear capability that we should be worried about, let us look at Pakistan. It is a country that, by many measures, is a semi-failed state. It has a long-standing collaboration with the Taliban, with the blessing of the Americans during the years of the Soviet occupation.
Is it a problem that Iran could acquire nuclear capability? Absolutely. It would destabilize the entire region, but the point is that many well-informed observers have serious doubts about whether there is a viable military solution, whether a military solution can, in effect, neutralize the program. We have to understand that, no matter how people plan, the consequences are going to be unpredictable. Do we remember President George W. Bush standing on the aircraft carrier saying “Mission accomplished”? Well, 650,000 deaths later, we have to understand the reality of the people in Iraq, and we have to understand that you cannot just sanitize things through abstract ideological arguments.
The point here is that we have to understand the dynamics. When we talk, for example, about Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial, I was part of the group of Iranian intellectuals that vigorously condemned this sort of incitement to hatred. We signed a letter and have spoken out about what we consider to be 4,000 years of Jewish history in our country, going back to the earliest biblical times. However, we have to understand that the issue is not just about Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad is not Adolf Hitler, even if he wishes he could be. He does not have that power. Ahmadinejad is in an intense power struggle with Ayatollah Khamenei, and both of them are dealing with the country in which their grip on power is slipping. That is the reality. Therefore, this is not Nazi Germany, not because I do not think elements of the regime are evil, but because we cannot, in assessing how to deal with them, give them more credibility and power than they deserve.
The relationship between Iran and Israel is important to understand because, while Ayatollah Khomeini was saying “Wipe Israel off the map” — it was his statement that Ahmadinejad echoed — Iran was engaged in a war with Iraq in which Israel was selling weapons to Iran. Iran was enthusiastically accepting them, but then denying it. The United States and the Europeans were selling weapons to Saddam Hussein as he bombed Iranian cities and committed genocide against the Iraqi Kurds. We have to look back at an appallingly cynical past — in which we also bear responsibility — to understand where things are today.
When we gravitate towards the point of ideological constructions that do not appreciate the context, the reality, and the unpredictable consequences, then we pave the way for a situation that should end up being far worse than what we have today. We have to understand that if certain groups that people are encouraging today end up in power in Iran, we could end up with the Khmer Rouge running the country. All I am saying here is that the sanctions regime has really been tightened only recently. It is too late; I would say that we should have done this much earlier.
Now is not the time to create a situation that is so explosive that just one spark could result in an explosion in the region. Then, we could be sitting here, two years from now, with a country fractured in a Yugoslav-style scenario, with 10 years of instability and terrorism in the region. We would be thinking, “What if we had waited a bit longer? What if we had considered the alternatives?”
The Chair: Thank you. I have to —
Mr. Akhavan: Yes, I will end there.
The Chair: We have too many questioners. I had invited an answer to only one question. That process did not work, so now I am going to appeal to my senators. Please direct a question to a particular speaker. Can we be efficient in our questions and direct them to a particular professor? Hopefully we will get crisper answers and can get everyone in. Thank you.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: Thank you, Madam Chair. First, Professor Akhavan, Professor Braun and Professor Hassan-Yari, I would like to say how pleased I am to hear your perspectives on Iran and the things that are going on there.
Because I already know Professor Akhavan’s view, my question goes to Professor Braun or Professor Hassan-Yari. I know that tensions between Iran and Israel are at a high point at the moment. The day after the attacks on Israeli embassies in India and Georgia, there were also explosions in a residential area of Bangkok and a man, probably but not definitely an Iranian, was wounded in those attacks. The government of Israel immediately linked those events to the attacks the day before and pointed the finger at Iran.
On Monday, the Netanyahu government blamed Iran for the bomb attacks in New Delhi and Tblisi that wounded four people, including a 42-year-old diplomat. The Israeli government sees the hand either of the Ahmadinejad regime or of Hezbollah, which Tehran denies. I can quote the head of the Israeli government as saying that Iran is the source of the attacks, and, in fact, that it is the world’s biggest exporter of terrorism.
This is my question: is Israel’s cold war with Iran getting hotter? I would like to hear more about that; you certainly mentioned the subject, but you skipped over it. Could you tell us what you think, Mr. Braun?
Mr. Braun: One issue I cautioned was to reduce this discussion to an Israel-Iran conflict. Not only do we get into the swamp of the most volatile conflicts and debates in the Middle East, but it distorts the fact that the Iranian regime is viewed as an international threat, not just as a regional one. This is why I mention the view of Russian democrats and those from the East European states, or the fact that the United States finds Iran to be the primary supporter of terrorism around the world. Consequently, if we reduce it to merely a bilateral kind of conflict, this is to say a plague on both their houses, and these countries have leadership that we may or may not like depending on one's political perspective, we will lose what is at stake here. What is happening domestically in Iran cannot be divorced from what is happening in the region and internationally. What is happening domestically in Iran cannot be divorced from the nuclearization precisely because of what I said before. The best way for this regime to stay in power is to go nuclear. There are all these notions about why do we not wait a little longer until they get nuclear weapons or how long should people wait. I have talked to quite a number of opposition leaders, and they do not want to wait any longer. They fear what this regime is doing and this notion that it could be worse, the standard kind of excuse. Harry Truman was going to go to Moscow to rescue Stalin from the hard-liners in the Kremlin; these are the hard-liners in Iran. These are the people. These are the Pol Pots in a sense, and they will have far more licence if they go nuclear.
I would urge that we think of this is an international issue with domestic repercussions. There is as an Israel-Iranian dimension. However, it is but one dimension in something far larger that concerns us in Canada as a democracy. It concerns us as a member of NATO, where we have obligations to our NATO allies in Eastern Europe; and it concerns us as a country that has a tremendous amount of international respect and that has historically stood up for the rights of others. We have fought, and we invested lives and treasure for principles, and these are principles we ought to be proud of.
Senator Fortin-Duplessis: I have a quick question on another topic. Do you think that the Arab spring that occurred in other countries in North Africa could have had, could still have, or will be able to have an impact on the leadership and authority of President Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei?
Mr. Hassan-Yari: After a long hesitation, because he did not know what to say, the Iranian leader tried to take credit for what went on in those Arab countries. After that hesitation, he claimed that what is being seen now in Arab countries is the impact of the Iranian revolution in 1979. It is why dictators are falling one after the other. However, you can see the contradiction between his words and the reality on the ground. At the same time as he praises the Tunisians, the Egyptians and the others for what they have done, he criticizes the opponents of the Assad regime in Syria, simply because that regime is his only Arab ally in the entire Middle East, with the exception of Iraq. That is why I would call it the “Arab awakening” rather than the “Arab spring”.
What this Arab awakening has done, in fact, is to expose even more the contradictions faced by the leadership of the Iranian revolution, which does not know what to say or who to say it to. As to the impact of those revolutions on the internal situation in Iran; yes, there is one. Just like others learned from the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the post-election turmoil of 2009, the Iranians are in the process of learning from other countries in the region.
So it is a dynamic situation during which and in which views are exchanged. But the Islamic regime’s attempt to claim credit has come up against a wall that has proved very difficult to get over. In Tunisia, for example, the claim was that the model for the Tunisia of the future was not the Iranian revolution, it was Turkey. In Egypt, when the Islamic Brotherhood announced that they were not going to replicate the example of Iran, it means that they are distancing themselves, despite the fact that Iran is inviting them to visit the country.
The Arab spring came along at a very bad time for the Islamic republic and the Islamic leadership. As mentioned earlier, I would not put a lot of weight on Ahmadinejad’s personality. This is because, in Iran’s power structure, the president has no power, except to speak. His power is very restricted, to some specific internal areas. The rest of the decisions are not made by him, they are made by the leader.
Let me end by saying that I am not an apologist for the Islamic Republic and I find my colleague’s comment to that effect to be a serious accusation. We are here to give testimony about a situation, to talk about our expertise, and our knowledge of the region. We are not here to accuse each other or to be apologists for the regime.
Senator Wallin: Thank you. Dr. Braun is an old friend, so I will put the question there. I liked your five pints very much in terms of framing the debate for us and your views on the military option being on the table.
That said, given the nature of the weapons of mass destruction debate in the United States around Iraq, and the fact that the president seems to be distancing himself from a traditional relationship with Israel, does this not circumscribe the U.S. response? Or maybe they are not actually even looking at this issue as clearly as they might have?
Mr. Braun: It is a difficult situation because any military action by anyone is risky. I want to make it very clear that I am not here advocating a military response. I would like to see Iran have a regime change and Iran not develop nuclear weapons, certainly not under this regime, without having any kind of military action. If the Obama administration is trying to avoid military action by using other means, that is not necessarily a bad step as long as there is a recognition that at some point this becomes an issue for the entire international system where, if sanctions do not work sufficiently, you will face a situation that Iran goes nuclear.
Would the American government be willing to act at that point? There are those in the administration who believe that at that stage President Obama would make a decision that they have no choice but to act. He has said repeatedly that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. In fact, even Vladimir Putin said that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable — except in the case of Russians, they have an idea of withdrawing at the last moment, which does not work well in any situation of whatever help they give Iran.
The question now is how close is Iran getting? No one is certain. What kind of tools are they using? The wise approach to any situation like this is to use every possible tool that you have. The military instrument is not an illegitimate tool; it is something that is acceptable in international law under certain circumstances. We have moved into Libya, and Canada took a leading role. The commander of the forces was a Canadian.
Senator Wallin: America did not.
Mr. Braun: They led from behind. They supplied the logistics. President Obama, in a sense, was lucky that it turned out that way.
Senator Wallin: All I am suggesting is that all this has been muted because of the politics around weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Braun: It has been made more difficult. However, more and more countries are getting very concerned by what is happening in Iran. If you look at the reaction of President Sarkozy and at the reaction of the British, they are becoming profoundly alarmed by the prospect of Iran going nuclear. To use Richard Clarke's phrase, the Iranian diaspora should have their hair on fire at the prospect of this regime acquiring nuclear weapons. There would be no way of dislodging this regime.
Senator Nolin: I just have one comment followed by a question. A number of us have been following NATO activities for several years. I have to tell you, Professor Braun, that it was not just yesterday that European countries started worrying about what is going on in Iran. The discussion on the missile-defence shield has been going on for seven or eight years inside NATO, and we certainly have discussions with the Russians.
I will direct my question to Professor Hassan-Yari. Are we not falling into the trap that Professor Akhavan mentioned to us? I would like to hear your opinion, because, in order to do our work properly, we have to be in a position to be able to grasp the cultural nuances of the administration of the Iranian regime so that we do not fall into the trap that Professor Akhavan is pointing out to us.
There is an electoral dynamic. There is a desire to hold onto power, and the recent presidential elections have shown that there can be demonstrations of popular opposition. Professor Hassan-Yari, what can we do so that we are not taken in, but so that our actions, including those mentioned by Professor Braun, are useful and logical for Canada and within Canada’s power, but are not seen as promoting provocation? You all have espoused that point of view, I think. We have to avoid provocation. On the other hand, our actions have to be shrewd and effective.
Mr. Hassan-Yari: That is an excellent question. Culture is of huge importance in this kind of situation. Anthropologists will line up to tell us how big a mistake we can make by watching what other people are doing.
Senator Nolin: History is filled with mistakes that have caused disasters.
Mr. Hassan-Yari: Absolutely, all the more so because we are talking about a country that has a very long history and is extremely complex at the same time.
An Iranian colleague of mine compares the situation we are talking about to a Persian carpet that is extremely intricate, where many threads intertwine in order to bring out the design, and so on.
What we can do, as a member of the international community, is to remain vigilant to what the Iranian regime is doing both internally and externally. Internally, we must not close our eyes, as we have unfortunately done for decades, to the atrocities that the regime is committing today in almost all regions of the country. That is, with the Arabs, in Kurdistan, and between the Shiites and the Sunnis in religious terms.
For this regime, there is no immunity. So everyone is suspect until they prove that they stand with the regime. The regime even goes beyond that. There is a joke in Iran that there is an open file on every Iranian in the country. It means the regime is under an enormous amount of pressure both internally and externally and that is why we see the mistakes it is making, inside the country in particular.
Clearly, with the coming elections, we are going to know a little more about the direction in which things will go, not just in Parliament, because it goes beyond Parliament. This is about a struggle. It is a about a struggle between two camps that are becoming more and more defined.
On one side, there is the leader continuing to hold onto the essential elements of power, and on the other side, there are newcomers looking for power. Between the two, we also have to deal with Ayatollah Khamenei’s illness and with his son being groomed to succeed him.
What can the international community do? As an example, Canada has to stick to the matter of human rights, to condemn violations and to revisit the matter of sanctions against the leaders, the government officials travelling around the world with their propaganda. That is something practical we can do.
Third element, you will see in the paper when you get it, the Canadian government must also stay consistent on the question of immigration. I recall the case my colleague mentioned. We cannot say that the government of Iran violates human rights while, at the same time, we are trying to deport someone in Toronto who is fighting against the same regime we are denouncing.
That is a clear contradiction. Another thing is to never even think of closing the embassy in Tehran. Never; that is exactly what the Islamic regime is looking for. If they could, they would build a wall around Iran so there was no contact with the outside world. That is exactly what the regime in Iran wants. So we must not admit the possibility, by reducing the diplomatic staff at the embassy, and so on.
Those are the measures I see. Even when talking about sanctions, the Canadian government can consult the Iranian community in Canada, people either for or against the regime, in order to get a more precise idea of what is happening in Iran. You can find out a lot of things, even from those who support the regime, and certainly from those who oppose it.
Canadian policy must be looked at again in order to come up with a course of action that is a little more meaningful. Another thing that the Canadian government can do, together with the Americans, the French, the English and so on, is to put serious pressure on the Chinese and the Russians to stop supporting a regime that represses everyone intellectually and physically, not only Iranians, but also people from elsewhere. I am not sure if you have heard recently about the death threats against the woman who won the Nobel Prize and against other intellectuals in Europe and elsewhere.
So we have to come to grips with our responsibility in the face of this deplorable situation in a country with which, whatever they say or do, we maintain relations. There are thousands of Iranians here. Besides, we cannot just close our eyes to a country as old as time because of a repressive regime that, one way or another, will disappear.
Senator Nolin: Speaking of knowing the culture, this week the defence committee heard from General Bouchard, who led the NATO forces against Libya. One of the tools they used to great effect was precisely having people who were properly equipped to understand the cultural dynamics of what was going on in Libya. That was a major tool in the operation.
Professor Braun, I would like to use your testimony to ask Professor Akhavan a question. Professor Braun made the suggestion that we should look at Bill C-10. We have a bill before us that certainly has a number of parts, but one of them deals with the accountability and criminality of States.
Professor Braun referred to it. Do you think that is it is one of the tools that the Canadian government could use to demonstrate its vigorous opposition to the actions of the government of Iran?
Mr. Akhavan: This is a project we have been working on for quite a few years. In 2004 in New Haven we established the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, exactly for the purpose of documenting the crimes of the regime. Through a listserv of tens of thousands of people, we have been educating the Iranian people about the crimes that have been taking place behind closed doors for the past 30 years. What changed in 2009 is that those crimes poured out into the streets. That is why the legitimacy of the regime has been irreparably damaged. We all know the image of Neda Soltan, and there were thousands of other such images. The intensification of hate propaganda is, in part, a reflection of the desperation of the regime to restore its legitimacy in the wake of now widespread knowledge of atrocities.
One of the opposition figures, who is a cleric and former speaker of the house, openly spoke about the rape of Iranian youth in the prisons. It is stunning for someone who is a former regime insider to come out and say that. These are all reflections that the question of accountability for human rights abuses is a core issue in a democratic transformation.
With respect to the International Criminal Court, my colleague at McGill University, Professor Irwin Cotler, has been one the people who has championed this cause for many years. The important thing is to understand that all of these crimes are related to each other. The incitement to hatred is also related to the crimes against humanity, the principal victims of which have been the Iranian people.
If I may add one final point, my concern is when we go back to the 1980s and the Iran-Iraq War. In 1988, the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering the mass execution of 5,000 leftist political prisoners, including the members of the Mujahideen organization that Professor Braun referred to.
Under cover of war, the regime may be willing to do what it cannot do now. The regime is executing a significant number of people, but the scale could be far worse. The reason they are not executing people all at once — doing it in secret, doing two executions here or five there — is because they are they are afraid of the people. They realize if they push too far, these people will come back out in the streets. I think it is a mistake to say this movement is dead. It has gone into retreat through brutal violence. However, the regime now exercises control not through ideological legitimacy, but through a kind of kleptocracy, a military state where the top leadership of the revolutionary guards are given enormous economic incentives in exchange for their allegiance to the regime. However, even among the rank and file of the revolutionary guards you will find anti-regime people. I would say a significant number of them are against the regime, and it is just a question of when that opening will come when people will finally make the final push.
Senator De Bané: Professor Braun, about two weeks ago Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the advisers of President Obama and former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, argued very passionately against launching hostility or war against Iran. His arguments were, first, there is no nuclear threat in the immediate future, but he insisted on his second argument, which was that since the end of the Second World War no country has used that nuclear weapon that acts as a deterrent against an aggression, but not to initiate an aggression.
In the case of Iran, they know if they ever make that initiative, they will be wiped out, and he said no one wants to wipe out its own country. I am giving it in summary, but that was essentially his argument. If my memory is not failing, he was interviewed by a journalist on the Bloomberg business network.
He explained that it is beyond reason that a country will use a nuclear attack that will definitely wipe out that country. I would be very much interested to have the counter-argument to Mr. Brzezinski's.
The Chair: If we could have a —
Mr. Braun: Madam Chair, do we have about two hours?
The Chair: No. We have already heard something on that point, but, if you could address the specific point that we are now revisiting, it would be helpful. Then, I can get all the senators in for the questions. Thank you.
Mr. Braun: I will try to make it brief, but I would love to have that discussion with you at some point because you raise some important matters. It goes to the heart of misperception and risk, and international ethics and morality. One of the things we must remember is that Mr. Brzezinski was the national security adviser to Mr. Carter. We know how well Mr. Carter did versus Iran. We should be wary of getting advice from someone with Mr. Brzezinski's record on Iran. It is not particularly encouraging.
I would also say that when he says there is no immediate threat of Iran going nuclear, that is counter to what President Obama has said, what Leon Panetta has said, what the Europeans are saying, and what just about every other intelligence service is saying. Mr. Brzezinski is out of office and not an adviser to President Obama. Occasionally he may get a phone call, but he is hardly an adviser. Unless he has a particular intelligence source that is not available to anyone else, he is against the grain in terms of how Iran is moving, which is full steam towards acquiring nuclear weapons, according to most intelligence services.
As for the second element that no country would rationally use nuclear weapons, this is the whole problem of this regime. It does not operate by the same logic as other regimes do. Mr. Brzezinski made his reputation by looking at the Soviet Union. He was an old Sovietologist and a very good one. He was not particularly good on Iran. In the case of Soviet Union, that logic worked because the historical mission was the victory of the proletariat; the dialectic had to unfold. That is not the logic of this regime. This is a regime that may indeed be failing, but think of the lifeline this regime would have if it was able to get prestige and international immunity — the ability to act with impunity internationally and domestically — by having nuclear weapons.
On that basis, I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Brzezinski.
Senator De Bané: Thank you.
Senator Downe: I would like to follow that conversation up and ask Professor Akhavan to join the discussion. You mentioned that Pakistan was a failed state with nuclear weapons and conflict with India over borders. If you want a crazy state, you look at North Korea. What I am hearing is that, unless we have a change of the regime, if they proceed to get the bomb, the only recourse would be to attack them. Why are they talking about obtaining the bomb? Is it not better for them to be quiet and simply announce, someday, that they have it? Surely the lesson of the Iraq war was that Saddam did not have the bomb, so he was attacked. Nobody is attacking North Korea. Can you explain what the other options might be to solve this problem, if there are any?
Mr. Akhavan: Thank you, sir. If I may just take two minutes to give a bit of a background relating to Pakistan, I think Pakistan is a far greater threat, from the point of view of the stability of the state, in part because Iran actually has relatively strong institutions within which there are reformist elements. There is the RIGC, for example, as I explained. Appearances can be very deceptive. I think it is dangerous when one does not have knowledge of that local context from a distance to take at face value some of this inflammatory rhetoric, which is disturbing, unacceptable, and deliberately designed to achieve exactly this sort of clash of civilizations context. In that sense, the regime has been successful.
The point is that in Iran there is the regime, and then there is the state. Even if Iran were a democratic state, it would be a major regional power. It always has been. Iran has legitimate security concerns, as I explained. During the decade of the Iran-Iraq War, in which some 500,000 people were killed, we saw that the international community turned a blind eye to the gassing of civilians and the bombing of Iranian cities. We do not have a great record as Western democracies, except in the abstract. During the time of Khatami, after the country overcame the trauma of the war, and the reformists were beginning to make some progress, Saddam Hussein was overthrown. There was talk of an invasion of Iran, which effectively sabotaged much of the reformist camp because Iran retreated into a security state again. It served the interests of the hard-liners. We have to remember that after September 11 it was the Khatami regime that was crucial in helping the United States defeat the Taliban. Who was the Northern Alliance? The Northern Alliance was supported by Iran, and it was the Northern Alliance that became the foot soldiers of the aerial campaign.
This is all part of the past, but we have to understand that we did not just end up in this mess overnight and that Iran does have legitimate security concerns. In terms of what the solution is, as I explained, the world looks terrible from the position of the Islamic republic's leadership now. They are losing domestic legitimacy. They have deep divisions within the hardline leadership, never mind the green movement's opposition. They have 70 per cent of the population under 30 years of age. They are not able to provide them with jobs, education, or opportunities. This is not North Korea. These are Internet savvy, highly literate, educated young people with access to satellite television and a huge diaspora community. In addition to that, they are losing Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah. This is exactly the time that a conflict would be a bigger lifeline than even acquisition of nuclear capability.
Nuclear capability may immunize Iran, to a certain extent, against a military invasion, but a military invasion is not the biggest threat to the regime. It is the Iranian people that are the biggest threat. Unless you intend on throwing a bomb on Tehran, where you yourself live, a nuclear weapon is not going to be of much use when the day comes that they will, invariably, have to surrender power.
I think that is the context within which we would best understand the situation.
Senator Downe: Thank you. I share your view about Pakistan. We have all read the reports on Pakistan. It is in a terrible state. They had Osama bin Laden there. Obviously, they knew he was there. The Americans had to go in without telling them ahead of time.
However, this regime change could be years and decades away.
Mr. Akhavan: Well, gazing into the crystal ball, it is very difficult to tell exactly what will happen, but one thing is clear: The regime has never been weaker and more isolated than before. What is the problem with the unpredictable consequences of war? Pakistan, as I said, is a semi-failed state. There have been various thinkers — I will not name them, but many of them have quite a bit currency — saying that we should foment ethnic war to destabilize the regime in Iran. Let us give weapons to the Arabs in the south, to the Kurds, and to the Azeris. Let us arm groups with very questionable pasts, some of whom have been implicated in genocides, and then we will be able to overthrow the regime.
What are you going to end up with after you overthrow the regime? Is it simply a case of getting rid of Ahmadinejad and then having stability? What of, as I explained, the spectre of Iran becoming a Yugoslavia, where there is an ethnic war, an instability? You have a semi-failed state. You are in a far worse position. At least now we know who we are dealing with in Tehran. Even if we do not like them, they are, at least, the devil that we know.
I am very concerned because you do not know where this is all going to end, and that is why there are no good alternatives. All the alternatives are bad, but I think the worst alternative is a premature armed conflict with unpredictable consequences. We could be back here in five years revisiting what went wrong.
Senator Downe: Thank you.
The Chair: Senator Robichaud, did you have a question?
Senator Robichaud: Mr. Braun, you started with rationality and how you explain it, depending on where you are sitting.
When President Bush decided to attack Iraq because of supposed intelligence that they were very near to having a bomb, was that a rational decision? If you have some time to explain it to me sometime, I would like to understand.
The question I wanted to ask has been answered in response to Senator Downe’s question. If we were to take the threat of war or of attack off the table and work mostly on the threat or the human rights violations in Iran, how would we weaken the power of the government there or the establishment on the people of Iran?
Mr. Hassan-Yari: If I was President Obama, I would immediately open the door to the Iranian regime. For many years, I have advocated an engagement with the Iranian regime. If you engage with the Iranian regime, it is going to disappear by itself.
If you look at Khamenei's discourse, it depends. Between 50 to 98 per cent of the content of his discourse involves an attack against the enemies: the Americans, Zionism. They are the same countries and entities. Imagine that American-Iranian relations are normal and there is no such thing as the international arrogance with which he identifies Americans. What is he going to do then? He has to answer the questions. He has to address the pressing issues: economic issues, housing issues, minorities' claims, and the many other issues really that, as my colleague mentioned, he would love not to answer by having this vague enemy outside of the country.
If the Americans open the dialogue with the regime and open that possibility, the first day that Americans open their embassy, you will see thousands and thousands of Iranians asking for visas to leave the country. That will be the failure of the regime in the eyes of the entire world. The Iranians know about those things, but many others do not.
How you are going to defeat the regime? I believe that if you want to defeat really the regime, you have to go to the total war.
Half a war does nothing. It just serves the regime’s purposes. And an all-out war would come at a very high price for the world. So we have to choose what we are going to do. I am not saying that we should not consider the possibility of war if all else fails, but we must try other things first. The draconian sanctions were applied only recently and we are already seeing the effect on the regime, which is becoming very nervous about and fearful of what may happen. If you follow the news from inside Iran, you hear famine being talked about quite openly. It is being talked about more and more.
What does that mean? It means that these are the elements that make up a regime in the process of crumbling. I am not saying that it is going to happen overnight, but look at it, and just compare the current situation with the one in 1979 and 1980, just after the revolution. The Soviet revolution lasted a little over 70 years; the Iranian revolution is now just 33 years old and is not at all the same thing. The regime is evolving, sometimes in the wrong direction, unfortunately, but it is evolving. In my opinion, at the end of this process, even if the regime is still there, we will see a regime that is not at all like the one that exists today. But the pressure must come from inside, with a dose of pressure from outside.
Mr. Braun: In terms of rationality, making a rational decision does not necessarily mean that you make a good decision. It is, rather, how the decision is reached. You look for information and you make it according to a certain kind of logic. This is why I suggested that if you look at the Iranian regime in terms of their theology, they are making rational decisions but not according to standards that we would use and not according to the kind of mechanisms and processes that we would employ. This is why there is not a kind of mesh; there is not a kind of interaction.
This leads me to the next point, which is that it is a mistake to suggest that the West did not try to engage with Iran. When President Obama came to office, he reached out to Iran. He tried, but it did not go anywhere.
Regarding the argument that the Iranian regime is on the verge of collapse, I remember a dinner conversation with a person of Iranian origin who said it was a mistake for President Obama to come out strongly and use strong words against the regime because we play into their hands and that would encourage this regime to crack down on the opposition. Later, this person had to change his mind to say that, yes, President Obama should have spoken up.
These kind of totalizing regimes — and we have seen them elsewhere around the world — often seem on the verge of collapse, but they do not. They are still in power and they get new lifelines. They are not just reactive; they are able to think within their own paradigm of rationality. They can be very effective in suppressing dissent. It may be that they are more of a kleptocracy than a theocracy, but it does not mean they are not one or the other. They can be both. It is not just Mr. Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei. I can bring you statements; you do not need to be a specialist on domestic affairs in Iraq to see that as these type of regimes go, there is a whole cadre of people who share these kind of views. It is not just two or three individuals but a whole cadre who are rewarded by the fact that they are able to trade, to benefit from the sale of oil and to have acceptance in parts of the international community.
Consequently, the international community has to ask itself a very important ethical and moral question. When you are looking at a regime like this, let us not get into diversions with Pakistan. It may be dangerous and North Korea is dangerous, but does it mean that this will be less dangerous? The question that the international community has to ask is how much are we prepared to gamble? How many lives are we prepared to gamble with? What if we are wrong? What if this regime, if it gets nuclear weapons, will use them? What do we do then? Do we avenge the dead? Do we do like Mr. Brzezinski said, “Well, if they use them, we will devastate them.” Is that the solution?
Senator Robichaud: Is attacking them before they do so the other solution? There is going to be a holocaust there. Everyone will be shooting at everyone.
Mr. Braun: I do not know. Why were we in Libya or in Kosovo? Every time you take military action, there is a risk. What I am saying is let us have the strongest possible sanctions.
Senator Robichaud: I agree with that.
Mr. Braun: Let us encourage the opposition every single step to get rid of this regime, but at the same time make certain that they do not get nuclear weapons. That is the red line because if they get nuclear weapons, we will have no opportunity to do anything.
We must also remember that, as in the case of Miloševic and elsewhere, a lot of these regimes are not as strong as they look. Often, they threaten that the whole world will be on fire. Maybe they cannot do it, but if they get nuclear weapons they could. Are we feeling lucky? Are we prepared to gamble?
The Chair: I have to stop at this point. We have started, and will continue, our study on Iran. Of course the nuclear issue, the stability of the regime and the way to approach Iran are big issues. Are there any more diplomatic means that we can take, or are we now struggling with the inevitable around the nuclear issue? What I have not heard, within our debate so far, is that Syria, and the situation there, is equally important to the stability or instability of Iran. While we are focusing in on the nuclear position — and we should not let go of that because there will be another International Atomic Energy Agency report, along with the evidence that we have been looking at — I have not heard that if Syria either has a regime change or goes into chaos, there is an explosive dynamic that could occur as a spillover in Iran. Now, none of you have highlighted that as a significant key. You have highlighted your different positions, but you only mentioned Syria in passing. This is opposed to what others, particularly in Europe, in my discussions, have said is key.
Mr. Hassan-Yari: I put it in my paper that you will get a copy of. In my view, Syria is playing the role of bridge between Iran and Lebanon, Hezbollah, and some Palestinian groups. If the Assad regime falls, it will be catastrophic for the Iranian regime because Syria, for so many decades really, played the role of a window for the Islamic republic to breathe. That window has become more crucial now in the context of more isolation of Iran and what we are talking about here. This is why, in my view, the Islamic republic is helping the Assad regime to address the issue and to control the situation.
There are so many scenarios we can imagine about Syria. One of them would be that the regime falls, the opposition takes over, and everything will be okay. It will be okay in the sense that bloodshed will be there, a lot of règlements de comptes will continue and so forth, but that would be for internal issues. Regionally, I think we would not see a lot of upheaval if that scenario were realized.
In regard to the Syrian-Lebanese situation, we will see a much less aggressive policy by Syria. In regard to the Israeli issue — the Golan Heights — no one can forget the Golan Heights, regardless of who will be in power. The relationship between this future Syrian government and Turkey will improve significantly because of the current context. In the Iraqi situation, it will be so-so, but there is a good possibility of improvement because, after all, they depend on each other a lot. If Syria plunges into chaos, that would be a nightmare for Israel and for Lebanon. It would also be a very difficult situation for the Turks because they have their own Alevi minority, and we already saw some conflict there. It will be difficult for the Iraqis, obviously, because no one is capable of controlling their border. However, in both scenarios, the biggest losers would be the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah, and, consequently, some of the Palestinian groups. By the way, Hamas is not really entirely cut off from the Iranians because Hania was in Tehran a few days ago, and he reiterated what he used to say, that Israel should disappear and that Hamas is not negotiating.
The Chair: We have run out of time. As I predicted, by having the three of you here, we have seen and heard different points of view. You have been provocative and have given us a lot to think about. It is not an easy issue. We knew when we embarked on this study that it is a difficult one for the Canadian government, for the world community, and, more particularly, for the Iranian people.
We know that you have put papers forward that will be distributed after translation, so we look forward to the full text from all three of you.
I want to thank you today, on behalf of the committee, for coming and sharing your points of view, which we will take into account. We have been advised — or at least I was — that one of the papers to be submitted here, as part of testimony, was dispersed to the press earlier. There has been a convention, which, obviously, no witnesses are bound by, that the papers are filed here and then released to the press, as one cannot anticipate what would be said here. I will ask the clerk to ensure that witnesses are made aware of that in the future. It is not to thwart any other debate, but, if there is a particular submission to this committee, it is just a courtesy that the senators receive it first. I put that on the record. I do not want to follow further with it.
I thank you for stimulating our thinking into the consequences of all of the opinions that you have given. It will certainly not be easy as we go forward, and we encourage you to add to our debate as you follow us. Thank you for coming this evening.
(The committee adjourned.)