To learn, read what you disagree with! If you care about world peace and oppose empire, read the revealing expose of neo-con attitudes toward Iran presented by political science professor and former Bush/Cheney consultant Peter Feaver.
Listening carefully to an intelligent but committed conservative is marvelously revealing, but put the emphasis on “carefully.” The recent defense [Palestine Note 5/12/10] of U.S. policy toward Iran by Duke political scientist and former advisor to the Bush/Cheney Administration on strategic planning Peter Feaver exemplifies what can be learned by careful consideration of an intellectual’s defense of empire.
Feaver characterizes the U.S.-Iranian dispute “for over thirty years” as “primarily about behavior,” a dispute that would end “if the regime were to change its behavior.” Read every word with care. This is a refreshingly honest admission from an imperial defender that the U.S. would happily deal with an Iran that would submit. Feaver’s summary effectively dispels any inclination to take seriously his earlier remark in the same paragraph that the dispute concerns “its support for international terrorism, its pursuit of WMD, and its hostility towards Israel.” Only the last—hostility toward Israel—comes close to revealing the truth. Just for the most obvious example, the U.S. works closely every day with Israel, India, and Pakistan, all of which vigorously and successfully pursue WMD.
Feaver also reveals in this passage, if only by implication, the clear order of events that Washington requires: first, Iranian change in behavior; second, U.S. acceptance of “more fruitful and cordial relations.” Again, note this carefully: Feaver is clearly not suggesting negotiations. A positive-sum outcome of mutual benefit is not at all what he is referring to; rather, Feaver is indicating about as honestly as any defender of empire is likely to do that the process of obtaining “cordial” U.S. treatment is submission to the rules of the international political system written in Washington.
These rules are significant. It is worth being clear about what the rules require and what they do not.
Rule 1 is acceptance of American international leadership. No campaigns for new leadership, no elections, no competing or reformist visions will be tolerated.
Rule 2 is acceptance of Israeli military dominance over the Mideast. Only Israel, among Mideast states, is to be allowed nuclear weapons; other countries can have arms to the degree permitted by Israel. Israel is to be allowed overflight rights across international borders to enforce the limitations on arms that it sets. Military support for Palestinian liberation or the defense of Lebanon is not only forbidden but will be terms “terrorism.” Only Israel is to be allowed to establish colonies or expand its territory (to be fair, there is now some evidence that this rule is under review in Washington).
Rule 3 is broad acceptance of the legitimacy of the current international political system. Reformers must step very, very lightly, and dissidents—even those only presenting theoretical visions, much less those who take action—are treated with exactly the same contempt with which Moscow treated its own dissidents under the bad old Soviet Union. Where the Soviet Union threw dissident individuals into insane asylums, Washington pillories dissident regimes as “crazy.” Perhaps it was “crazy” for a Solzhenitzen or a Sakharov to demand that the USSR reform; perhaps it is also “crazy” for an Iran, a Hamas, a Turkey, a Brazil, or a Cairo (!) to demand that the international political system be reformed.
Note that no rule about possession of WMD exists. That is decided on a case-by-case basis, not on the basis of defense needs but on the basis of…well, Feaver already said it: “behavior.”
The behavioral change Washington demands of Tehran is very simply its acceptance of these rules. There is a word for this, and that word is “surrender.”
Feaver’s revelations continue. Concerning the U.S. double-standard on Mideast nuclear arms, he states frankly: “The United States views the Iranian pursuit of a nuclear weapon to be substantially more destabilizing than the Israeli nuclear posture:” destabilizing to the current power structure in the Mideast, that is. One could of course take issue with the assumption that Israel can be trusted not to knock down the American house of cards by provoking regional war, but Feaver is undoubtedly correct that this is in fact the U.S. elite assumption. Few are the decision makers in Washington with the foresight and independence of mind to consider the danger to American security in an era of long-term recession and a worsening war against global activist Islam that is posed by the threat of an Israeli nuclear strike.
Unfortunately, Feaver’s efforts to put Likudnik propaganda to the side and present an intellectual defense of U.S. policy collapses once he starts trying to justify Israeli nuclear arms. He notes correctly the anti-Israeli challenge posed by “well-armed groups” without making any attempt to explain how nuclear arms will prevent rockets from Gaza or Palestinian efforts to protect their homes and olive groves from Israeli colonization. Does he anticipate small Israeli nuclear strikes on Hamas headquarters in Gaza or to clear Palestinian homes from East Jerusalem? Sliding over the indefensible implications of his reference to nuclear arms as protection from “well-armed groups,” he jumps to the standard neo-con propaganda charge that Ahmadinejad has pledged “to wipe Israel from the face of the map.” As often as Persian readers demonstrate that this charge was created by mistranslation, neo-con & Likudnik propagandists repeat the charge.
Returning the focus of his remarks to Iran, Feaver again becomes interesting. “The United States believes it needs tough sanctions as leverage on the Iranian regime; without such leverage, why would Iran negotiate in good faith. Iran believes that it should negotiate only when there are no such sanctions or leverage in place.” An adversary, Feaver evidently believes, will only negotiate in good faith when under pressure. He wastes no time with such nonsense as positive-sum outcomes; life, to Feaver, is simple: adversaries only understand the language of force. One might wonder how he deals with relatives or students; for a professor of political science to take such a perspective suggests that he skipped a couple of theory classes. But that is unfairly personal. Feaver is presenting the neo-con view and, as such, is quite correct: the language of force does indeed appear to be the only language that the neo-cons understand. Were he to say that the Iranian neo-cons (i.e., the Saddam war generation of secular military leaders that rose up literally in the trenches defending Iranian independence in perhaps the most vicious war since Vietnam) are dangerous because they only understand the language of force, he would be presenting a defensible intellectual position worthy of debate, but, as stated, his remark is useful only if read as revealing the prejudices of the neo-con/Likudnik worldview. Given the tenacity of Iran’s self-defense and the caution with which it has conducted its foreign policy when not under direct military attack, there is in truth every reason to assume that a genuinely conciliatory approach might elicit willingness to compromise on issues where mutual benefit can be identified. One might give Feaver the benefit of the doubt and assume that, as an intellectual, he can see this, but that in his capacity as presenter of the empire-builder’s world view, he would not mention it because such considerations are so far outside such a person’s perspective.
Feaver’s presentation of the neo-con/Likudnik attitude toward Iran is a highly valuable explanation of why the world has seen so much war this century.