Stability is a good thing, right? It is certainly a commonly declared goal of government policy. The main charge of the global institutions established by the United States after the Second World War was to promote and protect international political stability. But what does this word, so often used and yet so infrequently examined, really mean? I believe it was a recent Stratfor article that noted stability merely means keeping things the way they are. While it may appear self-evident to an American that stability is inevitably good, that is because we are the ones at the top of the international order. Keeping things the way they are in the world means America stays number one. It is safe to say then that stability is not necessarily in everyone's interests.
Put another way, consider past times in history when stability, from our point of view, was not beneficial. Certainly America did not promote international political stability when we declared our independence from England, nor did we during the 80s when we funneled money and arms to the mujahideen of Afghanistan. The two actually share an ironic parallel: France aided our revolution to weaken their rival power of the time, the English, while America aided the Afghani revolution to weaken our rival power of the time, the Soviet Union. Sometimes, then, a little instability can be a good thing.
It is disingenuous to speak of stability as a fundamental, necessarily positive goal. Although it keeps Seoul safe, stability in Korea doesn't help a starving North Korean; ditto for all the others peoples oppressed by dictators. If every single illegitimate ruler was overthrown tomorrow, from Tehran to Pyongyang to Harare, there would be uncontainable chaos across most of the developing world; international political stability would be shattered. And yet should we wish for the continued oppression of much of the world, in the name of stability? Of course not. Inevitably, there is a trade-off that must be made between stability and self-determination in such scenarios; the point is that stability is not de facto the best path, all the time.
The reason stability is on my mind has to do with Iran. Who doesn't love to play the just-how-crazy-is-Ahmadinejad game? Nine out of ten people that I talk to about the diminutive leader (did you know he is 5’2”?) think he is nuts. Yet this is a military man who served for a long time in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He has a PhD from Tehran’s University of Science and Technology. I’m not claiming he is a cute, cuddly guy; his intentions towards our country may well be aggressive. Nevertheless, it is dangerous to paint the leader of any rival power as crazy. Crazy means unpredictable and unreasonable, and if a foreign leader cannot be predicted or reasoned with, then how can we ever be expected to deal with him.
When pressure is put on the Bush administration to negotiate with Tehran, many people in this country do not mind when President Bush refuses. They view Iran as a rogue state and Ahmadinejad as a nut, and who can blame President Bush for not wanting to talk to “those people.” Instead, allow me to suggest an alternative interpretation of the regime in Tehran. An isolated state, whose regional influence is a shadow of its former self, wants to raise its regional profile to match its population, might, and potential economic power. They arm and train terrorist groups to fight a superpower who unlawfully invaded the Middle East. Didn’t we arm and train the Afghan mujahideen to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan? They seek to prevent foreign powers from colonizing or interfering with the affairs of the nations of the Middle East. Wasn’t that our goal with the implementation of the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that “European powers should no longer colonize or interfere with the affairs of the nations of the Americas?” They want to obtain nuclear weapons to preserve their territorial integrity. What is different about the nukes of France, China, Russia, or America? For that matter, what is different about the nukes of Israel and India, which, despite being no less illegal than Iran’s potential nuke, we allow to exist, and indeed support through nuclear fuel sales? A proper historical perspective makes it difficult to find fault with any of the actions of the regime in Tehran that our own country has not done itself.
Over the course of our nation’s history, we have continuously upset international stability. We did so because it was in the interests of our country and few Americans criticize those aspects of our past. Now that we run the world, suddenly we worship this notion of a static international environment? Well not me. I do not apologize for our past; we did what we had to do in the interests of our nation. Likewise, I do not demonize Iran or expect them to apologize for anything; if they want greater regional influence, good for them. Iran and America were once good friends and I look forward to the day I can safely visit Tehran with my girlfriend so she can see where her parents were born. Right now, it is the arrogance and stubbornness of the West that prevents us from doing so.