For years now, the threat of military intervention against Iran due to the widely accepted notion that the regime is pursuing nuclear weapons has increased substantially. While there is debate over what type of intervention could achieve success and to what extent, a military venture into Iran would undoubtedly lead to major destabilization in a region that is transforming before our very eyes. Instead, if we could capture the revolutionary spirit that has swept through the region and empower the people of Iran to determine their destiny, there is a high likelihood that an intervention could be prevented. The key to this strategy is simple:
We must have a policy that encourages the exports of communication tools such as smartphones and other mobile devices to the people and consumers of Iran.
Iran currently has a population of more than 77 million people, making it the 18th largest country in size by population. Iranians, particularly young people, demand and are huge consumers of American goods. The Iranian people, despite some negative perceptions from the West, love American culture and its brands. In fact, Iran’s GDP per capita ranks it higher than the emerging market countries of Brazil, India, and China.

It is no doubt that some of the current sanctions being imposed on Iran are necessary to directing economic pressure on a regime that has consistently defied the International Community. It is in the national security interests of the United States that the Iranian people are provided with the tools necessary to bring about democratic change.  Through social media and cellular devices, voices and hopes of an entire nation at the precipice of History will be heard.
Currently, on the streets of Tehran, someone can buy an iPhone or another popular smartphone with relative ease. Since supply is limited to the black market, Iranian youths who wish to get the latest smartphone and download all of the Apps that other people worldwide are able to access, must pay a hefty price. Only the wealthiest of Iranians are able to currently afford an iPhone, for instance, as the street price of the latest model goes for about $1400 USD.
We must ask ourselves this question: How do we expect political change through the use of technology and social media, if only a small segment of the population is able to benefit from its use? If our current policy prevents the access to information for the majority of Iran, we will be limiting the self-determination of its people and the world must endure the possibility of accepting hard power as the only ultimate end.
President Obama has brought a new, creative policy to Iran and the Greater Middle East. His administration, since in office, has opened new paths toward understanding and cooperation with a nation that was the birthplace of Civilization. Each year since Obama has been in office, he has reached out to the people of Iran on the eve of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, calling for increased dialogue. These renewed efforts are a major step towards a policy of mutual respect. Obama must extend these open arms to trade. Young Iranians’ inability to access communications could ultimately be the largest misstep the United States would make in progress towards a democratic Iran.
The president has proven successful so far in understanding that in regards to the Middle East, a black and white policy cannot enhance our foreign policy goals. Currently, the Treasury Department through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) grants licenses to American businesses that wish to export to Iran. If the administration is serious about spreading our nation’s values through peaceful means, a clear solution would be to grant licenses to business exporting vital communications tools such as smartphones to Iran, which will spread the cause of freedom in a profound and effective manner.
This point must not be overlooked - never has there existed such a potential for technology to be utilized as effectively and for such beneficial results. The time has come when the real weapons of change do not lay in increased defense spending, but rather on a more focused goal of aiding democratically-minded people worldwide with the tools necessary for free communication.
We must not shut the door on this opportunity.
Roozbeh Aliabadi is a managing partner of Global Growth Advisors. David Karg is a contributing writer.