Foreign Policy Blogs

Problem with Criticizing Iran’s Human Rights Record

In his op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Alexander Benard urges the United States to “propose a conversation with Iran about human rights” instead of negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program.  His reasoning is simple: Focusing on Iranian nuclear program will ignite patriotism in Iranian people and they will “in large part rally behind Ahmadinejad as he defends Iran’s right to nuclear power and weapons-a right in which even many Iranian moderates believe.”  But by proposing “a framework in which the U.S. would offer incentives-such as the gradual lifting of sanctions-in exchange for concrete steps towards greater protection of Iranian basic rights” would garner support even within Iran.  As Mr. Benard states:

A majority of the Iranian people want greater protection for human rights and better relations with the West. Here would be an opportunity for them to have both. Proposing these talks would shine a spotlight on the fundamental thuggishness of the regime, whether Ahmadinejad agrees to them or not.

While Mr. Benard presents a great suggestion, there is just one problem: Criticizing only Iran’s human rights record would be a big step backward for democracy promotion.  Iran is the only functioning democracy in the Persian Gulf.  Even with the election fraud, Iran still is the most democratic of all the Gulf state.  Giving incentives only to Iran to improve its human rights conditions, while ignoring the abuses taking place in the Gulf states and other Arab countries will send a wrong signal to the region: As long as you support the U.S. policy, it does not matter how little representation you give your own citizens and how badly you treat them.  Rebuking only Iran’s human rights record will not strengthen the U.S. position in the region, but will only allow more accusations of western hypocrisy.  On the other hand, criticizing all the Gulf states will probably mean an end to $2.29 per gallon gas prices (I live in Texas, therefore the even cheaper gas price), and cheap gas price is one thing we are not willing to give up.



Sahar Zubairy

Sahar Zubairy recently graduated from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas- Austin with Masters in Global Policy Studies. She graduated from Texas A&M University with Phi Beta Kappa honors in May 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. In Summer 2008, she was the Southwest Asia/Gulf Intern at the Henry L. Stimson Center, where she researched Iran and the Persian Gulf. She was also a member of a research team that helped develop a website investigating the possible effects of closure of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf by Iran.