By Sam Brownback
Special to CNN
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Editor's note: Sam Brownback, a Republican senator from Kansas, is author of the Iran Democracy Act and serves on the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, addresses his country's nuclear ambition's in a separate commentary.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iran's authoritarian leaders repeatedly tell us they need to maintain their uranium enrichment program. But we know they have no need for a civil nuclear energy program, and the Iranian people do not stand to profit from nuclear power given the country's huge oil resources.
I believe that Iran's leaders know that they are not acting on behalf of their own people. I believe they are acting on their own behalf.
Instead of using their wealth to empower their citizens, they hope to develop nuclear weapons to protect themselves. Iran's leaders believe that with nuclear weapons the international community will not dare object to any threat they might make against their neighbors, let alone the regime's repression of its own people.
History shows the folly of such arrogance. Soviet leaders presumed their nuclear arsenal gave them the ability to operate with impunity and would allow them to remain in power indefinitely. They eventually discovered that nuclear weapons did not ensure the success of their military adventures, and they ultimately realized their nuclear arsenal could not conceal the repression of their people. Despite thousands of warheads, Soviet communism crumbled.
How did all of this happen? The United States and our allies stood firm in the face of Soviet aggression and refused to limit the conversation to nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union collapsed because its nuclear weapons and dictators could not withstand the pressure the world applied by standing against Soviet aggression while prying open Soviet society.
Iran's leaders face a similar situation. They can attempt to hide behind a nuclear wall, but they will not escape the world's pressure to reform or the ultimate power of the Iranian people to choose their own destiny. The nuclear weapons that Iran's leaders hope will guarantee their survival will actually ensure their downfall.
As with the Soviet Union, while the United States must stand up to Iranian aggression and should not rule out military options, there is much we can do without firing a shot.
We must remind the Iranian people that we stand with them. We must continue to support democracy and human rights reforms in Iran. And most importantly, we must make sure that Iran's leaders hear all of our concerns about their behavior.
If we discuss only nuclear weapons, we play into the hands of the brutal rulers in Tehran. If we take every opportunity to remind Iran's leaders and the rest of the world of the Iranian government's repression of its people, its terrible human rights record, and its support for terrorism, we can demonstrate that even a nuclear arsenal would not excuse the regime's arrogant and reckless behavior.
In the coming days Iran's leaders face a choice. They can give up their enrichment program and take the first steps toward joining the international community, or they can build a nuclear wall and hide behind it. In either case, the United States should deliver the same message to Iran's leaders: Treat your people justly and behave responsibly in your relations with your neighbors and the rest of the world.
History shows that nuclear weapons do not spare tyrannical rulers from the ultimate triumph of the people they claim to lead. Democracy and human rights are the true guarantors of long-term peace and stability for a nation and its rulers.
What is your take on this commentary? E-mail us
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer. This article is part of a series of occasional opinion pieces on CNN.com that offer a broad range of perspectives that express a variety of thoughts and points of view.
CNN.com asked readers for their thoughts on Sam Brownback's commentary. We received a lot of excellent responses. Below you will find a small selection of those e-mails, some of which have been edited for length and spelling.
It is easy to crumble a nation like Iran. The only profitable export this nation has is oil. If the United Nations had the spine to enforce their resolution, a similar embargo of Iran's oil for food program will help prevent Iran from having the economic means to create nuclear warheads in the thousands. But the real solution is for America to lead in alternate fuel (ethanol, electricity, hydrogen, better engines) to eliminate our need for Iran's oil. So instead of spending billions of dollars on a military campaign against Iran, we should spend it in our nation's great resources in research and brilliant minds ... Because intelligence will always defeat bullies.
Many of us watched the 60 Minutes interview last night with the Iranian leader. He made a very interesting observation: "45 million people don't have health care in the United States." Let's put human rights in America first. A bit less preaching is in order. Suggestion: Americans could begin to live and practice by way of example. I think that would be a stronger message to people around the world.
As a gay Iranian-American, and a California Democrat, you would think I'd have ZERO support for anything a Republican Senator from Kansas would have to say. However, on the issues of human rights in Iran (and North Korea) Senator Sam Brownback has consistently articulated positions that are simply admirable. I have met him in my unrelated lobby trips to Washington, D.C., and have found him to be both smart and genuine. I may not agree with his conservative ideologies, but on the issue of Iran, he is right on.
Senator Brownback's arrogance towards Iran is matched only by his ignorance on Iran. While it is widely known that Iran's government cannot be trusted, Iran does have the right to obtain and utilize nuclear technology for civilian electrical generation. His suggestion that there is enough oil proves his real motivation in meddling in Iran.
How refreshing to see this U.S. senator's commentary. The primary way to end the threat of Islamic terrorism is to free the peoples of the Middle East. Iran has 69 million people that long to be free and President Bush must keep harping at Iran to truly democratize their country. The religious extremism will quickly lose its power as a free and democratic people spend their time on other truly important things -- life, freedom, writing etc.
Does anyone still hold to the belief that in this part of the world people will enbrace democracy? The power and threat of these tyrants are only possible because the world is addicted to drug they possess -- oil. With money comes power. The answer is not military. The answer is to develop alternative energy sources and make their oil essentially worthless. The threat will crumble, without firing a shot, and the world will be far better off in the long run.
For the most part I agree. The only point that needs to be made is that unlike the Soviet Union, Iran is currently a Shiite Islamic State. The "leadership" of this country is bent on restoring the old Ottoman Empire, and ultimately forcing the entire world under Islamic Sharia law. It is a different animal altogether when one tries to negotiate with a group of religious militant zealots vs. a group of godless zealots. I do not think a fair comparison can be made between the Soviet Politburo and the mullahs in Iran.
These comments went right to the heart of the matter. Fascism, communism and now exported terrorism by Iran and Syria will not overcome democracy and freedom. We were slow to realize our danger, but now, we are alerted to our problems.
Agree with the Iranian leadership or not, as a sovereign state, they have the right to develop nuclear power. The arrogance of our leadership is apparent in the implication our government can better determine how the Iranian people can make use of their resources than Iran itself can. As citizens of the world community, it would behoove the United States to make more of an effort to reach out to those regimes with whom we might not agree. Like it or not, our way is not the only way.
Very clear and powerful argument by Sen Brownback. I had not recalled the parallel actions of the Soviets. But our values do not translate very well to Islamic Fundamentalists, so it will be difficult to expect them to see the clear logic and eventual outcome of their actions. I hope he continues on his path to raise the awareness levels for this crisis for the eventual good of the Iranian people.
Sen. Brownback: "The nuclear weapons that Iran's leaders hope will guarantee their survival will actually ensure their downfall."