Putin now strides the world stage, having caught everyone’s attention. But what of fundamental significance did he actually deliver?
Opinion and policy emerge not just from the politicians but also from informed society. If a recent Pakistani academic’s assessment of the U.S. as a threat that Pakistan must counter by cooperation with Iran and Russia becomes representative of Pakistani public opinion, the U.S. is likely to face a significant diplomatic and strategic defeat.
At a recent meeting with an Iranian delegation, Punjab University Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Mujahid Kamran articulated an outspoken perspective on Pakistan’s role in the U.S.-centric global political system that Washington decision-makers would do well to contemplate [University of the Punjab Press Release 12/19/11]:
Dr Kamran said that Iran was a great source of inspiration and had set a standard for all the Muslim countries to take stand against the powers who want to control the world. He said that American people were not our enemy but a cabal of international bankers had manipulated wars and brought governments under debt. He said that US Congress and other institutions were their agent and don’t represent the aspirations of American people. He said that through National Defense Authorization, police state conditions would formulize [sic] in the US. He said that elite wanted to take control of Iran but Iranians had a government which represented people and it would not be easy for them to run over Iran. Iran stood like a rock, he said. “A grim bulletin of Russian Ministry of Defense issued to Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev states that the Chinese President Hu Jintao has agreed in principle that the only way to stop the West’s aggression led by the United States is through direct and immediate military action. Russian General Nikolai Makarov said he did not rule out local and regional armed conflicts developing into a large-scale war including nuclear weapons,” the Vice-Chancellor added. He said according to Chinese Rear Admiral Zang Zhong [sic], China would not hesitate to protect Iran even with a Third World War. He said that Pakistan should join Iran, China and Russia to expel US from the region.
A Chinese admiral allegedly recently issued an extraordinary warning to the U.S. about attacking Iran:
On Dec. 4, according to a report in Press TV, a news network owned by the Iranian government, Chinese rear admiral and prominent military commentator Zhang Zhaozhong said, “China will not hesitate to protect Iran even with a third world war.”
It is not clear when the statement was made or in what context. Once reported, the statement went viral in China and elsewhere.
Whether this remark was accurately translated or not, the point is clear: an attack on Iran could easily spark a broader war.
Reports of a Russian Ministry of Defense bulletin underscored the point:
A grim Ministry of Defense bulletin issued to Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev today states that President Hu has “agreed in principal” that the only way to stop the West’s aggression led by the United States is through “direct and immediate military action” and that the Chinese leader has ordered his Naval Forces to “prepare for warfare.” [EU Times 12/7/11.]
American pressure appears to be generating broad global movement toward anti-American cooperation. Empires provoke the rise of opposing coalitions.
The Obama Administration’s stance toward Iran, while at least refreshingly nuanced, remains caught in the overall grip of provincialism and absence of creativity that has characterized U.S. policy since the Islamic Revolution. Recent remarks by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, reflect this disturbing combination of insights amid blindness.
The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs made important remarks on Iran this Friday which included both realistic caution and continuing evidence of the profound and dangerous degree of self-delusion in Washington. To his credit, General Dempsey supported Panetta’s attitude that war is not the answer, but other comments suggested that Washington remains deeply disconnected from reality. Asked if Washington was making efforts to reach an agreement with Iran to avoid accidental incidents that might lead to an undesired conflict, Dempsey said:
We have discussed this but have not come to a decision about opening up links or a hotline to seek an option to de- escalate any incident. It’s not our behaviour that’s the impediment to progress here.
While this may well have just been a thoughtless and casual response, such lack of sensitivity to a longstanding adversary’s perception of reality betrays an astounding degree of provincialism, suggesting that an undesired war is indeed a very real possibility. Evidently the general and, almost surely, the rest of the Administration, would benefit from deeper consideration of which side’s behavior constitutes “the impediment to progress.”
U.S. and allied behavior includes the following impediments:
- introduction of nuclear arms into the region (Israel);
- threats of aggression;
- establishment of a ring of military bases surrounding Iran;
- highly public economic warfare against Iran;
- sailing of nuclear-capable submarines off Iran’s territory waters (Israel);
- a long violent invasion and occupation of Iraq designed to put Iraq firmly in the U.S. camp;
- the belligerent sailing of a powerful U.S. attack fleet in the Persian Gulf.
Iranian behavior includes the following impediments:
- impolite rhetoric demonstrating a lack of sensitivity to Israelis;
- defensive aid to Hezbollah;
- murky nuclear transparency designed to get away with as much as possible without clearly violating Iran’s nonproliferation commitments;
- military and financial aid to Iraqi political allies to facilitate resistance to the U.S. invasion;
- a political campaign to promote regional resistance to Israel;
- a political campaign to promote the restructuring of the global political system away from its current U.S.-centric position toward a more “democratic” system that would deny the U.S. its current position of supremacy.
Examine the two lists. While both sides are playing tough, there can hardly be any doubt that U.S./Israeli behavior is vastly more provocative than Iran’s. After all, Iran’s impediments mostly add up to perfectly legitimate defensive moves and calls for global political reform, while Washington’s impediments are focused on the application of force (even if one does not count the appearance of a U.S.-Israeli terrorist campaign to murder Iranian nuclear scientists). Add the overwhelming preponderance of force on the U.S./Israeli side, and the mountain of U.S. impediments to improved relations emerges clearly. Those U.S. impediments may or may not bother Iranian hardliners, who benefit enormously from being able to scare their people into support or submission simply by letting them see what Washington is doing, but they are great cause for concern on the part of anyone hoping for regional peace.
If Washington ever decides that it wants to solve the U.S.-Iranian conflict, at this point, it probably has no effective short-term option; through short-sighted animosity, it has boxed itself into a corner and ceded its freedom of maneuver to the Israeli war party extremists. Over the long term, however, Washington does have an option that would be low-risk since it requires no strategic weakening of the fundamental U.S. power position but which might pull the rug out from under Iranian hardliners: offering Iran a bargain including respect, inclusion, and security in return for cooperation in moving toward a regional nuclear regime based on transparency on the part of all countries either in the region or with military forces in the region. Such words would not ever impress all Iranians (how could they, given the history of U.S. duplicity toward Iranian democratic aspirations?), but over time might well impress enough Iranian national security officials to change Iranian policy. The real impediment is this: as the side with the power, it is up to the U.S. to come to the realization that the first move is up to Washington, not to a weak–if noisy–Tehran that sits nervously in a defensive crouch.
Washington pundits may not understand Iran, but they are right about one issue: Tehran does pose a real challenge to the U.S.-centric global political system. Unfortunately for the U.S., Washington does not understand the nature of the challenge, and its response is just empowering Tehran. (Clues: it’s not about nuclear arms or religion.)
Washington tough guys stand facing Iran with that “deer in the headlights” look. Terrified of losing World War II all over again, they frankly have no clue about what Tehran is up to. The analogy to WWII is critical: pity any state stupid enough to launch a blitzkrieg against the U.S. They would be wiped out. The U.S. today can fight and win a WWII-style war against any conceivable enemy without even getting a Congressional appropriation.
But the idea of Ahmadinejad as the new Hitler is just a Netanyahu sound bite, slyly selected because he knows Americans well enough to realize that Americans are still, after all these years, obsessed with Hitler and utterly confused about the world that actually exists today, almost a century later. Raving about blitzkriegs may be a brilliant strategy for conning Congress, but it has nothing to do with Iran’s challenge, which is far more sophisticated, subtle, and enduring. More seriously, Iran’s challenge will be played out on a battlefield most Washington cold warriors (or “empire-builders,” if you prefer a more current epithet) hardly know exists, where victory will require the careful and sustained use of “weapons” the tough guys either ignore or sneer at. Their ignorance is America’s peril.
In a revealing critique of U.S. misunderstanding of Iran, The Race for Iran website quoted School of Oriental and African Studies academic Arshin Adib-Moghaddam as follows:
there is no over-dependency on the west that would yield a legitimacy crisis (as in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt and Zine al-Abidine Ben-Ali’s Tunisia and under the shah) and there is no subservience to Israeli demands. The Iranian government’s strident emphasis on “national independence” continues to garner support within Iranian society. [Arshin Adib-Moghaddam in The Guardian 11/22/11 as quoted in Flynt and Hillary Leverett’s The Race for Iran 11/28/11.]
While Adib-Moghaddam’s point concerned the value of independence for Iranian stability, Iran’s avoidance of “over-dependence” on the West also goes to the heart of Iran’s challenge to the U.S.-centric global political system. Washington, provoked endlessly by Netanyahu and his crowd, sees the Iranian challenge as a military threat to be smashed down. Washington is correct that Iran poses a threat, but it is not military: it is ideological.
Were the Iranian ideological challenge along the lines of a “Shi’i crescent,” one might be somewhat concerned or just laugh. But to the degree that the Iranian ideological challenge amounts to an invitation to every other country on earth to stand up for national independence from U.S.-centric globalization, the Iranian challenge is important because of its internal logic (why should other countries accept discriminatory rules thought up in Washington?), its attractiveness to…every other country, and the increasing ability of other countries to take assert their desire for independence.
Washington’s demands for obedience fall flat in a post-Cold War world where no traditional enemy exists, where threats require reasoning together rather than the use of force, and where Washington’s uncooperative attitude (undercutting efforts to protect the environment, punishing countries for wanting freedom to find their own paths, touting democracy when convenient) frequently makes it the obstacle to problem resolution rather than the leader. Iran, meanwhile, wins simply by pointing out the obvious: the U.S.-centric world is really not being managed very well. Washington unfortunately does not have the diplomatic skill to put Tehran to the test by calling its bluff and demanding that it offer constructive solutions. The more Washington discriminates against Tehran while pushing around those countries that do offer constructive solutions to problems Washington cannot solve, the better Tehran looks. The rest of the world is not faced with choosing between the U.S. and Iran but between unnecessary subservience to a U.S. leader that is faltering and the idea of independence.
Washington’s treatment of this challenge as a threat rather than an opportunity to reform its outdated “Cold-War superpower” behavior is what makes Iran a significant player. Washington is only undermining U.S. national security by allowing Tehran to portray it as the global opponent of national aspirations for what might be called “state democracy.” It is ironic and self-defeating for Washington to pose as the champion of democracy for individuals while acting as the self-imposed leader–by force as needed–of an increasingly centralized global political order based on rules written not by democratic consensus but in Washington: Washington touts democracy for individuals but harshly punishes states that aspire to inter-state equality. The blatant discrimination of Washington’s nuclear rules for Israel and Tehran or its denial of democratic rights for Palestinians only play into Tehran’s hands. The more rigid Washington’s self-centered behavior, the more Russia, China, India, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, and everyone else will start thinking that system challenger Iran has a point.
Undermine their democracy movement. Install a dictator. Pump him full of weapons. Ignore the complaints of the people until they turn in desperation to a religious extremist who kicks you out. Support the invasion of a vicious neighborhood dictator. Threaten the dictatorship, shoving it further to the right. Slap it in the face for any show of moderation -it must be a trick! Build up a local nuclear client; hand it a nuclear monopoly; encourage its nuclear threats. Deny your enemy the right of self-defense. Make your own threats. Make the leaders extreme and solidify their control. Overstate the enemy’s power. Scare everyone. Release reports claiming that the enemy “might” have something or “might” be thinking about something. Trim social services to pay for more weapons, and transform the CEO’s who provide them into multi-millionaires. Thank you, Mr. Extremist Third World Dictator. If you did not exist, we would have had to create you.
the State Department plans a persistent presence in Iraq of roughly 17,000 U.S.-paid workers, of which 14,000 may be contractors. On Friday, White House officials, speaking on background at a briefing for reporters, projected that 4,500 to 5,000 of these will be employed in guarding three U.S. diplomatic posts in Irbil, Basra, and Baghdad. [Center for Public Integrity’s iWatchNews 10/22/11.]
“After a decade of war, the government remains unable to ensure that taxpayers and warfighters are getting good value for contract dollars spent,” Dov S. Zakheim, a former Pentagon comptroller and a member of the congressionally-created Commission on Wartime Contracting, told the Senate Armed Services committee
A debate over the potential for U.S. collapse has intensified since the 2008 financial crisis. Some focus on the collapse of the anti-Islamic imperial project; others focus on the increasingly evident dysfunctionality of the capitalist financial system in its current form, but the negative direction in which the U.S. is headed is quickly becoming evident to almost everyone. Unfortunately, this debate centers on the wrong question.
Big Oil, Big Finance, and Big Atom cannot regulate themselves: society must do it.
The establishment of a Supreme Foreign Policy Court independent of elected officials and empowered to comment publicly on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy might enhance the quality of U.S. national security.
When a former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wonders why the Government is “covering up” the nature of Saudi Arabia’s connection to 9/ll, citizens must wonder “What is going on?” Exactly who is “the Government” such that it would exclude the Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the key intelligence issue of this century?
The cited report about ex-Senator Bob Graham raises numerous broad questions of current concern, including:
- Is Saudi Arabia truly an “ally” of the U.S., or are we kidding ourselves? Distinguishing friends from foes is about as basic a requirement for responsible governance as one can imagine, and it is a task poorly executed by leaders who go for the short-term advantage.
- To what degree is the national security structure in the U.S. an institution in crisis, incapable of identifying key threats to U.S. national security?
How would we know? Would confusion over who was really responsible for a terrorist attack on the U.S. constitute a wake-up call? Would you be even more concerned if such confusion still existed a decade later and extended to the level of an ex-chairman of the Select Senate Committee on Intelligence? Where is the line between the need to reform the national security “institution” and the need for an “orderly failure” of that institution? How would one go about safely managing the orderly failure…and, one hopes, replacement of such a critical government institution?
Going a bit deeper, if society determined that “orderly failure and replacement of the national security structure were called for, what exactly would need to be changed: the president alone, the access to information for the Congressional committees, or what? Given the performance of the U.S. national security decision-making process at the very top, perhaps these considerations are worth pursuing to lay out a process for shoring up the principle that the leaders of government are responsible to the people and do not have the right to design a foreign policy behind the backs of the American people that sacrifices national security for goals that may be dangerously short-term or focused on the interests of some elite special interest.
How to do this is obviously far beyond the scope of this post. The point is to launch a debate that would raise national consciousness about the issue. For starters, it may be worth considering that the issue of ensuring governmental responsibility to society was considered by the Founding Fathers in the domestic context, way back before the national security state was even a gleam in the eyes of our leaders. The Founding Fathers’ answer was a Supreme Court independent of the electoral cycle. How about a Supreme Foreign Policy Court composed of national thinkers, with the majority required to be individuals who have never been elected to national office and are not otherwise employed in public service but with access to all foreign policy information and entitled to comment publicly on the quality of our leaders’ decisions?