Using internet access to promote US interests with minimal commitment
A web router developed by the US Navy, and now property of a non-governmental organization called the TOR project, is being used by Iranian protesters to bypass government bans on certain websites such as Twitter and Facebook. Basically, the TOR program allows internet users to disguise their traffic and visit websites anonymously despite the Iranian government’s blocking attempts.
From Eli Lake’s Washington Times article on the subject:
Iran, a country of 70 million people, has more than 20 million Internet users – the highest percentage in the region outside Israel – and a well-developed blogosphere.
For Iranian Internet users, TOR allows them to visit government-banned Web sites and avoid detection by the authorities. The Tor Project does this by routing Web requests among several different computer servers all over the world.
I can’t help but think that technology like this is a great way for US interests to be promoted with minimal commitment. I mean Iran’s government can’t blame the US for interference if people are simply accessing information, right?
So basically this gives Iranian protesters a tool that they can use in their struggle that doesn’t directly involve the US – not that they would want any help from the US. Meanwhile, the Iranian government cannot do anything to counter this technology except attempt to shut it down. But shutting it down will only continue the Islamic Republic of Iran’s downward decline of legitimacy.
Now the bigger picture: the initial investment made in the TOR project by the US Navy is now paying off in dividends. Whereas, other US foreign policy investments to create a more Western-aligned Iran (such as the $90 million appropriated to the State Department to promote democracy from 2007-2008) only tend to create accusations of unwanted influence. Soft Power as it’s known is the power to gain influence simply by espousing univeral political values and an attractive culture. While Soft Power is a key device to promote US interests, it seems that internet and technology may be a better input to making that device work – more so than the millions of US dollars spent on “democracy promotion”