The famous letter sent by Cheney and others to the White House late in Clinton’s presidency advocating a global “take charge” foreign policy made quite clear the kind of America the neo-cons wanted and for a decade they got it: violence amazingly profitable for a handful of CEOs, vast losses of U.S. blood and treasure, and a string of Muslim societies trashed and radicalized. What kind of Americaequivocating Obama wants still remains a mystery, and his Iranpolicy does little to solve that mystery.
If Obama wants to shine an American beacon of hope to all aspiring to peace and democracy, his careful avoidance of a positive-sum outcome in relations with Iranis likely to be the death knell of such aspirations. Whether Iran is even half as significant as Washington lackeys of the Israeli right wing make it out to be, the wild-eyed rhetoric of this faction and its hypnotic hold over Washington have made (relatively) little Iran the symbol of defiance to the American superpower. Bloodying Iran’s nose has become the measure of manhood on the Potomac. These are not the men who defeated Japanand met the victorious Soviets in Berlinor remotely the men who succeeded in sailing between the Scylla of Soviet expansion and the Charybdis of World War III. Men on the Potomac stand short in the 21stcentury.
Nevertheless, the fact is that Tel Aviv and Washington have handed Tehran an image it did not have the remotest chance of obtaining by itself: any country capable of inspiring such fear on the part of the world’s only superpower and the Mideast region’s nuclear monopolist must be a giant! If little (by all standard measures of state power) Irancan defy the U.S., then who will ever again be impressed by its image?
By essentially doing nothing, just following a classic “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of nuclear ambiguity, little Iranhas tied the world’s last superpower in knots. If, in the end, the humiliated superpower destroys Iran, it will prove exactly nothing…except that the superpower cannot even control itself, much less its pushy allies or little, irritating regimes that demand recognition. Giants gain no credit for smashing mosquitoes.
Conversely, if Obama wants to turn the neo-con aberration into America’s course for the future, creating a permanent violence-addicted Imperial America, his Iranpolicy seems likely to puncture that balloon as well. If it was the “greatest generation” that won WWII and laid the foundation via self-restraint for a half century of peace, historians will see those who ran the U.S. during the first 15 years of the 21st century as the “dwarf generation:” a pathetic, unimaginative bunch of toadies for out-of-control capitalist greed destroying everything Americans have labored for two centuries to construct. If this generation manages to turn Iran into a large Iraq or Somaliaor Palestine or Yemenor Afghanistan, exactly who will sigh with admiration? Will Turks and Indians and Brazilians strive to emulate America? Will the politicians of Moscow and Beijingtremble with fear at a global superpower that finally, after 30 years, succeeds in punishing Iranand once again forcing it into submission? On the other hand, if Washingtonfails to curb Tehran’s penchant for independence even after all this sturm und drang, then what? The whole world will be laughing.
To be fair, Washingtonpolicymakers may well be putting great effort into seeking a solution that avoids both Iranian militarization of its nuclear technology and open war. Maybe. But even if so, effort by itself does not suffice at their pay grade. Policymakers, to deserve the power they wield, must also have vision, and none is detectable on the Potomac today.
Precisely, policymakers need a vision of the kind of world they hope to create. Iranis not Hitler or the USSRor Genghis Khan or the 7th century Arab expansion or any of the greats of yore (Alexander, Cyrus). Iranis a political mirage, a puffed up image in the eye of the beholder of a much smaller and more distant reality. Irandoes pose a small potential military challenge, but a host of options are available to Washington were Washingtonto decide that persuading Iranto forego nukes was really the objective. More important, Iranposes a political challenge, but so do Russia, China, Pakistan, Israel, and many others. Yet Washington has chosen to replace the “10-foot-tall” Soviets with Ahmadinejad as the “main enemy.” Like a man crawling across the desert desperate for water, Washington politicians are desperate for a “mission,” which they sadly interpret to mean an “enemy” and absurdly identify as the Islamic Republic. A far better mission for a superpower would be the positive articulation of the kind of world one wants to create. Were that done, it would immediately be apparent that the road to glory does not go through Tehran.
If Ahmadinejad really wants to tie Washingtonin knots, he should snap his fingers and move Iranto a different dimension. Without poor Iranto hate, what would all the little men on the Potomacdo? Not one of them would have a clue what the goal should be, and no two of them would agree on anything whatsoever, not even on what to argue about first. The last figment of unity gone, they would be running in circles, tripping all over each other, until each and every one of them was stuck in the mud that lines the Potomac’s banks. Then everyone on earth would see that there really was no superpower at all, and Ahmadinejad could safely come back to our dimension again.