Suppose we told the Iranian Mullahs that they are an evil, backward, dangerous, ignorant bunch of theocrats, and that nothing will help that unhappy land until they are gone. Suppose we told them we were going to do everything in our power, short of war, to consign them to the dustbin of history where they belong. That has my vote for candor. But perhaps it is not in our interest to say so?I believe this whole approach to our adversaries - both the candid and the ambiguous versions - makes the world worse, and does not serve the interests of the United States or, in this case, the Iranian people. Striking fear in others makes them worse, makes them less rational, less open to persuasion about where their true interests lie. And it does the same to us, too. Moreover, approaching the leadership of another nation as children who we have to make behave - who we have a right to make behave - makes even the most reasonable people in that nation reject us for our arrogance. We would feel the same way if other nations treated our leaders that way, even when strongly oppose our own leaders.
I tend to think that, at least with adversaries, a little studied ambiguity is often the best. If the bad guys think you might just be crazy enough to send them all to where they get the 72 virgins, or whatever, maybe they will behave themselves.
In the particular case of Iran, I am very hopeful about the future of democracy in Iran - more so than in just about any other Muslim nation except Turkey. Iran has an elected government and a constitution that, on paper, vests power in that elected government. They have plenty of pragmatists who want to have peace and get on with business, as every government does. Right now they have a group of unelected religious authorities who overrule that elected government, and keep its most strident and dangerous party in power. Yet, as the stolen election showed, there are already cracks in the religious establishment.
How can we promote the rule of law in Iran? How can we get the religious authorities to back off and let the electoral process proceed? I believe we are more likely to strengthen the moderate elements in Iran, and throughout the Muslim world, by being reasonable, by finding common ground wherever we can, by communicating to the Muslim world that Americans are not their enemies. This will be a rocky process, and will be strongly resisted by religiously pugnacious elements (in both countries). Making Iranians, in power and out, believe that we are crazy and should be feared strengthens the worst elements there and makes peace and freedom less likely.