When talking about Iran, U.S. political labels merely confuse Americans. Rouhani will not act moderate because he “is” moderate but because and only because the U.S. offers Iran a “moderate” deal so couched as to be of clear benefit to Iran. Continue reading
Iraq is the same dictatorial disaster it was under Saddam…plus endless non-government terror. Palestinian repression is a deep stain on the integrity of America. Somalia and Afghanistan are, by comparison with their circumstances two generations ago, destroyed societies. Saudi Arabia is on a domestic knife-edge. Iran, victim of an undeclared war by the U.S., is being terrorized, marginalized, and radicalized. Ironically, Israel, “victim” of a flood of thoughtless U.S. military aid and blind support for whatever ambitious politician happens to get elected, is also being terrorized, marginalized, and radicalized. The record of U.S. intervention in the Muslim world is one of incomprehension, immorality, arrogance, and self-defeating short-sightedness. But despair not! We have new opportunities in Yemen and Syria.
As for that new opportunity, Syria, it is surely clear that there are bad guys in Syria and it is obvious that those bad guys are backed by powerful organizations. It is only logical to assume that there are also many decent people being mistreated. Obama’s pathetic philosophy notwithstanding, a Muslim does not deserve to be killed just because that Muslim happens to be an adult male. What is not clear is whether or not any “good” organizations exist and merit support.
Given the record of U.S. influence over Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, etc., it is also clear that the likelihood of Washington decision-makers correctly identifying an organization in Syria that might merit diplomatic, economic, or military support is very small.
It is no doubt useful to point out the evil being done by various Syrian politicians, though one must be careful to point out such evil regardless of which side is doing it (and few reports have such balance). But at this point, would it not be more valuable to lay out any argument that may exist to justify making a commitment to support those we think might possibly deserve our help? And if no such candidate can be identified, then the proper course of action lies elsewhere.
“Do no harm” should be the default course of action, especially for elephants. The burden of proof lies on those Westerners who presume to have the wisdom to interfere in Muslim societies and make things better.
If Washington were willing to recognize that Iranians have fear of nuclear powers who threaten them, want to be treated with honor, and have the same set of interests that all other countries have, then Washington would be well on the way toward devising a successful policy toward Iran.
Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs Dempsey gave a brilliant one sentence “International Relations 101” to a bunch of bewildered Congresspeople in late February in a pointed remark about Iran:
I heartily congratulate the Obama Administration for what may be the most intelligent soundbite on foreign policy heard this century from a Washington official. Perhaps there is hope after all.
But here’s the puzzle: if the Administration understands that all states make strategy in reaction to “fear, honor, and interests,” then why does Washington persist in ignoring these three factors in formulating its policy toward Iran?
Fear. Iran has faced daily threats of nuclear attack from Israel and the U.S. for a decade. Not only do various officials continuously make outrageous verbal threats of nuclear attack on non-nuclear Iran, but the disposition of U.S. and Israeli forces backs up those threats with patently aggressive postures. No rational Iranian can fail to wish for some means of defending his homeland.
Honor. Few and far between are the regimes that have been in power for three decades in a major state without being diplomatically recognized by the U.S. Instead of apologizing for overthrowing Iran’s peaceful democratic movement in the early 1950s, supporting a right-wing police state under the Shah, and helping Saddam Hussein make war against Iran for eight indescribably bloody years, Washington dishonors the Islamic Republic by pretending it does not merit the near-automatic granting of diplomatic recognition that goes to any regime capable of enforcing its will over its territory.
Interests. Iran has an “interest” in self-defense, so a Washington hoping to be taken as sincere should distinguish between, say, Russian ground-to-air self-defense missiles and Iranian future possession of nuclear bombs. Iran has an “interest” in the removal of extremely powerful foreign armies from the states on its borders, so Washington should be discussing and offering to coordinate the process of its military withdrawal from the region with Tehran. Tehran has an “interest” in participating normally in international trade, so Washington should make crystal clear that the immediate termination of all sanctions is “on the table,” and solely at the price of total nuclear transparency. Tehran has an “interest” in playing a role in regional affairs commensurate with its capabilities, and Washington should also make it crystal clear that all the noise about Iran’s nuclear potential is in no way an excuse to re-colonize Iran or change its regime.
Fear. Honor. Interests. Now make policy.
Political violence is expensive, with the bills coming in for a long time after the guilty parties (politicians and voters) have vanished from the scene. Political violence is not an act but a process, a vicious cycle, with unforeseen but logical linkages. Israeli policy toward Palestine and Israeli policy toward Iran are a single case in point.
Award-winning journalist, author, daughter of two Holocaust survivors, and herself victim of Israeli government persecution Amira Hass has charged the Israeli government with repressing Palestinians, following the model of the U.S. campaign of near-extermination of Native Americans in the 19th century, for the purpose of “Jewish hegemony and superiority.”
This must be said: For the sake of hegemony, Israel is mortgaging the well-being of its children and the lives of its grandchildren, together with the well-being and lives of children and grandchildren throughout the region. [Haaretz 4/11/12.]
Nobel laureate Gunter Grass has just laid out the other half of the logical circle of politically motivated violence, warning:
The nuclear power Israel endangers
The already fragile world peace….
I am silent no longer
Because I am tired of the West’s hypocrisy [Translation by The Washington Post.]
U.S. foreign policy since the beginning of the 21st century has been a strategy of military empire, with results that arrogant Washington politicians might not have been able to foresee but that Marcus Aurelius certainly would have had something to say about. Offering the obvious alternative–peace, compromise, searching for positive-sum outcomes–is easy to do, but what, exactly, might such a grand strategy be built of?
Grand strategy is composed of a coordinated set of policies. Faced with Hitler or Attila, one naturally turns to violence because destruction appears the only alternative. Fortunately, no such threat is even remotely visible on the political horizon, so the U.S. has choices. Counterintuitively, however, the U.S. has restricted itself since 9/11 (with the exception of some fine words, e.g., in Cairo) to a grand strategy of military empire, arbitrarily denying to itself a range of powerful foreign policy tools that, in the hands of a skillful superpower, can have impressive effectiveness.
The ineffectiveness of brute military force for creating a new world of long-term benefit to American society has in barely a decade been made glaringly clear. Iraq and Lebanon are in Iran’s orbit, Somalia a basket case, Afghanistan a looming U.S. defeat, and Pakistan a crisis very visible on the horizon. Turkey is alienated, and Israeli democracy under domestic attack. The U.S. should seize the opportunity to come up with a more effective grand strategy than the combination of invasion, drone bombings, and blatant military threats backing up economic sanctions to force adversaries to surrender in return for the right to kneel at the “negotiating” table.
Devising an alternative grand strategy is not simple, however, for it consists of an infinite array of distinct policies that must be coordinated so that they work toward the same goal. Otherwise, instead of strategy, one has nothing but a mess, and a mess is what the U.S. already has. Implementing such a grand strategy will be even more difficult than designing it, especially now that U.S. corporations are “people” and U.S. elections up for sale. But a good first step is to identify the specific policies that such a new grand strategy would need to include, and there are more than a few that come readily to mind.
|Potential for U.S.-Iranian Cooperation on Afghanistan|
It must surely be obvious that walking away from Afghanistan would simply be to repeat past errors and lay the groundwork for the roosting of more chickens. Yet endless self-defeating and self-degrading violence, from drone attacks on civilians to torture of prisoners to outright American terrorism, is not the only choice. Muslim countries from Turkey to Iran to Saudi Arabia stand ready to make a contribution to Afghanistan, and the U.S. should encourage global Muslim activism in support of Afghan reform, stability, and development, an umbrella that could provide cover for an honorable U.S. military withdrawal.
A Pakistani policy shift could follow a similar line, but focusing on encouraging and empowering Pakistani civil society to lead the defense of its democracy with global Muslims in second place and the U.S. a distant but supportive third. Once again, every effort should be made to terminate the U.S. military involvement in Pakistani domestic affairs as fast as possible.
|Positive Sum: Cooperation for Transparency|
Iran policy follows naturally from this, for a key to developing a positive-sum relationship with Pakistan is supporting its desperate need for energy imports, which must include supporting its long-planned pipeline to import Iranian gas. Why would the U.S. want to do this? Simply put, encouraging countries to share resources via an expensive physical infrastructure automatically entices them to pursue moderate foreign policies: war is hard on infrastructure. The implication of U.S. support would obviously be that the U.S. was finally willing to share the world with an Iran that wants its own independent place on the world stage. The world has been shown to be too small to support a rampaging, militant U.S. but is surely big enough to include a moderate U.S. and an independent but cautious Iran. Iran talks tough (sort of like a Santorum) but acts cautiously. A profitable pipeline would help it to see the utility of less tough talk and more caution. In the context of a lucrative pipeline and a sincere U.S. invitation to put “all options” on the negotiating table, Iranian national security thinkers like Ali Larijani would be able to make more persuasive arguments for a policy of nuclear transparency, and that fake issue–promoted in Tel Aviv to cover up Israel’s West Bank land grab and in Washington as proxy for opposing Iran’s right to challenge the U.S.-centric global political system–would soon evaporate.
Of the many essential components in a positive-sum grand strategy, one of the most important would be U.S. policy toward Turkey, for Turkey represents the best hope the U.S. has for seeing the emergence of a moderate Muslim Mideast. It will require some hard swallowing of pride on the Potomac, however, just as a positive-sum Iran policy must encompass, indeed be based on, the recognition that Iran has a right to speak out in opposition to a U.S.-centric global political system, a rational Turkey policy must be based on the recognition that Turkey’s advocacy of a moderate Islamic activism independent of the U.S. is good for the U.S.
Analogous policy reforms based on the same principles would guide policy toward the rest of the world. The U.S. would have to consider European views before asserting its right to make unilateral decisions concerning such theoretically international institutions as the World Bank, for example. And the analogy between policy shifts toward the Muslim world and Latin America are so tight that one could replace words like “Turkey” and “Iran” with “Brazil” and “Venezuela” in the above paragraphs and change almost literally nothing else at all and end up with vastly improved policies.
The real obstacle to such a transformation of the U.S. role in the world is not “the world,” messy as the place is. The real obstacle lies at home. The implementation of a positive-sum grand strategy simple is not going to happen without a fundamental strengthening of American democracy; abolition of the pernicious nonsense of a corporation being a person; and the elimination of “too big to fail, too big to manage, too big to control” investment gambling houses. In short, politicians do not just have to wash the venom of hubris out of their veins but make a fundamental choice to protect our weakening democracy against the rising corporatist state.
I would not bet my mortgage on this happening any time soon, but perhaps laying out these policies will make it obvious how logical and beneficial a positive-sum grand strategy could be.
Some things are best left unsaid. On the other hand, the best lie is the one you don’t even need to tell because everyone already believes it.
Let there exist a country with no nuclear weapons but with pretensions to independence and a level of in-your-face amour-propre that is simply off the map. Clearly, I am making this up, because no country lacking nuclear weapons could possibly have pretensions of anything. Said imaginary country has no colonies and no serious military forces outside its own borders (a few trainers perhaps excepted). It is by all standard measures not a player. Yet…it plays. That, obviously, violates the rules. It shall be bombed. No other option exists.
Let there exist another country, very tiny, insignificant in every way, except that this one does have nuclear weapons. It even has its own personal superpower lackey, which it publicly shames and ridicules on a regular basis. This country also has pretensions to independence and a level of in-your-face amour-propre that…well, if one were allowed to think about it, it would be unthinkable, but fortunately for said tiny country, thinking about it is not allowed. It receives a blank check from its superpower lackey, on the back of which is the express statement: “Thinking about the actions of the recepient or the implications of this check is not allowed.” Case closed. This country has a colony, about which one is not permitted to think; in fact, one is not even permitted to call it a colony. In truth, the country is itself a colony, albeit independent, since composed entirely of foreigners who stole the land they live on, but their Indians are nearly gone, so one is no longer permitted to call them colonials. This country also regularly invades its neighbors, where it focuses on bombing concrete. Such invasions are perfectly legal because they occur only after the neighbors violate arbitrarily imposed rules unilaterally defined by this country such as performing unauthorized self-defense. The details really require no discussion, because the whole topic is not allowed to be thought about, and there really is no purpose in discussing something you cannot think about. This country shall, with the support of its lackey as needed, conduct the bombing.
If you have a problem with this, you’re a racist. Believe me, it is better if you just don’t think about it.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Rice has just excoriated Moscow and Beijing in most undiplomatic terms over their refusal to sign up to Washington’s latest attempt to differentiate “good” from “evil” in the Muslim world. Truth be told, in this case, I happen to agree with Washington: Assad does, as Washington claims, deserve to be fired for his horrifying human rights violations. It is, as Ambassador Rice, said, “disgusting” for the world to tolerate such behavior…just as it was “disgusting” for “Washington to tolerate, if not encourage,” Israel’s slaughter of Lebanese in 2006 …just as is also “disgusting” the complete evasion by Washington decision-makers of any moral judgments concerning their threats to launch (or “allow,” via Tel Aviv) an unprovoked and potentially genocidal military attack on Iran for having the temerity to consider the future possibility of developing weapons that might in the distant future balance the weapons Israel already possesses.
Thus, there is a far larger story here than today’s arbitrary policy by this or that global power toward tiny Syria. The U.N. spat over Syria reflects lessons learned in Moscow and Beijing over the years watching how the self-appointed leader of the world behaves. Chickens come home to roost, and in this case U.S. chickens have dealt the U.S. a defeat. The U.S. is in fact the big elephant in the room (not overly to mix the metaphorical residents of the international political zoo), and what it does…and says…has vast influence over the world that mankind is creating and thus over the long-term security of both the American people and everyone else. If morality, human rights, and civil rights constitute constraints on U.S. behavior that Washington accepts for long-term moral reasons, that helps create one kind of world. If, instead, they are merely rhetorical swords to be lifted in anger when momentarily convenient, everyone else will get the message, and that will help create a very different kind of world.
The whole idea of human rights comes from the West and even there is only hanging on by its fingernails in the face of demands by rich right-wingers and more than a few fundamentalists to engage in what they, from their mansions or pulpits, are pleased to call “realism.” Bashar al-Assad’s attack on Homs cannot but remind every thinking citizen on this planet of the U.S. attack on Fallujah, the Russian attack on Grozniy, and the Israeli attacks on South Lebanon (2006)--in which Israel effectively practiced ethnic cleansing of the region–and Gaza (2009). In each case, overwhelming force was barbarically employed against a civilian population for arbitrary tactical purposes without regard for morality by whatever power happened to be involved. Washington of course judged some of these events to be “good,” others “evil,” as convenient. Given the resultant absence of any moral consistency in U.S. foreign policy, how can Russians or Chinese be expected to accept American ideals about human rights when those ideals are judged to conflict with the short-term interests of those ruling elites?
Western Morality & Tactical Convenience: The Lebanon Example
The standard Western version is that the July 2006 invasion was justified by legitimate outrage over capture of two Israeli soldiers at the border. The posture is cynical fraud. The US and Israel, and the West generally, have little objection to capture of soldiers, or even to the far more severe crime of kidnapping civilians (or of course to killing civilians). That had been Israeli practice in Lebanon for many years, and no one ever suggested that Israel should therefore be invaded and largely destroyed. [Noam Chomsky, “On the U.S.-Israeli Invasion of Lebanon.”]
The wealthy, conservative elite–comfortable with the privileges it has stolen through its “realistic” (i.e., calculating, self-serving) two-sided policy of impoverishing the middle class via “globalization” or invasion–does occasionally identify a genuine bad guy to go after. Saddam was obviously one, and Assad, despite certain indications to the contrary after he replaced his father, certainly does at the moment appear to be another. But the nasty behavior of these gentlemen fundamentally has little to do with Washington’s attitude toward them, as is made clear by Washington’s “inability” to see the Saudi-enforced pillage of Bahrain or its failure to make a clear moral judgment about Israel’s barbaric destruction of southern Lebanon during the summer of 2006.
Indeed, the record of U.S. violations of its own principles is now a horrifyingly long one. Financially, under the banner of what is now called “globalization,” which really means the globalization of a financial system designed by and for the benefit of U.S. corporations, the approach focuses on a combination of American manipulation of economics to steal the national wealth of other societies plus physical violence (massacre of protesters, kidnappings, torture) by local lackeys. The historical record extents from the CIA-sponsored overthrow of Iran’s emerging secular democratic movement in the early 1950s through the overthrow of Chile’s democracy in a U.S.-facilitated coup by the murderous General Pinochet and the exploitation of Mexico in the 1980s and the carefully manipulated fire-sale theft of (ally!) South Korea’s major corporations during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis* up to the takeover of much of Iraq’s oil industry with the aid of U.S.-written laws carefully penned during the short but effect period of U.S. colonization. When the boys on Wall Street and their allies at the IMF fall short, outright invasion (e.g., Iraq) enforces the globalization campaign…which brings us to Iran and the current pressure against Iran’s ally Syria.
Yes, watching Damascus slaughter its citizens is sickening as was watching Israel slaughter the helpless residents of Gaza or South Lebanon, not to mention the crimes of Saddam against the Kurds back when Saddam was a valued lackey of the Reagan Administration. While his slaughter of his own people may be what appals those American citizens who want Washington to overthrow Assad, what gets the goat of Washington decision-makers is Assad’s insistence on supporting Iran’s quest for an independent (Read: anti-globalization) foreign policy. Almost all Americans with the patience to read this far will surely be confused (and angry), so, to get to the point, imagine the confusion of others contemplating Washington’s behavior! How can you possibly expect Moscow and Beijing to understand the moral foundations underpinning Washington’s identification of “good” and “evil?”
Having seen Washington support Israeli barbarism against Lebanon and Palestine and its own financial destruction of one country after another (leaving, for example, some 20,000,000 people unemployed in Asia after 1997 alone and essentially destroying the middle classes of Chile, Argentina, Indonesia, South Korea, and Iraq), if Moscow and Beijing now consider it convenient for strategic reasons to support a murderous Syrian dictator or, in the event, a vicious, fundamentalist Iranian regime looking for fame and fortune, well, our colleagues in Moscow and Beijing are just copying good, old American “realism.” Perhaps the interests of the American people (the 99%) would be better served if their elected representatives would teach the rest of the world a different lesson.
The public debate between the “national security through force” (realism/conservatism/imperialism) advocates and the advocates of a moral foreign policy (human rights/negotiation with adversaries/compromise/equality) is frequently posed in the U.S. as an argument between “realists” and “idealists.” This is a self-defeating misconception that endangers long-term U.S. national security in a world that is getting much too big for the U.S. to control and much too complex for any American to rule wisely. A truly realistic approach to security must begin to recognize that ignoring ideals imposes serious costs and following the rules derived from idealism (be they logical precepts such as “always talk to opponents because when you talk, you learn” or formal rules such as international law) even when adhering to ideals may require relinquishing tactical advantages offers valuable long-term advantages. It is, to be blunt, much cheaper to negotiate a deal with, say, a nuclear-armed Russia or a China that holds hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars that it could dump on the market or an Iran that could drive oil prices through the roof and fight an almost endless asymmetric battle than it is to fight a war (be it a military or a financial conflict).__________________
* On the Asian Financial Crisis, see Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine (Picador, New York, 2007), 332-353; Ask A Korean; “How the IMF Helped Create and Worsen the Asian Financial Crisis.“
By denying “absolutely” any US involvement in the killing, the administration implicitly pointed the finger at Israel, [emphasis in original] an unusual act in relations between two friendly governments, especially when both face a common issue as sensitive as a nuclear-armed Iran. Obama seemed to suspect that Israel staged the killing to torpedo yet another US secret effort to avoid a military confrontation with Iran through back channel contacts with Tehran, while the administration’s extreme condemnation is seen as tying in with its all-out campaign to hold Israel back from a unilateral strike. [DEBKA 1/14/12.]
The commotion surrounding the immediate alternative of an attack may lead the Iranians into a reality in which they are (pushed over the edge) and try to obtain nuclear capabilities as quickly as possible instead of treading rather carefully while taking the international community’s demands into consideration….this situation could prove to be problematic because it may (affect the entire Middle East) in such a way that it would have security and economic-related repercussions for Israel…[Ynet News12/19/11.]
At this dramatic time in the Middle East, when there have been so many changes, it’s not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated. And that is what’s happening. [The Corner Report 10/9/11.]
Intentionally or not, Washington’s policy toward Tehran is flawed politically, historically, and psychologically. It is a policy designed to fail.
_________________A Policy Designed to Succeed
A policy designed to persuade Tehran to forgo militarization of nuclear technology would contain at least three shifts in U.S. policy toward Iran and one fundamental shift in the regional context. The policy shifts toward Iran are obvious: respect, inclusion, and security. The regional shift is sufficient movement toward justice for Palestinians to make radical Iranian involvement in the Levant irrelevant. Amazingly, all these U.S. moves, which Washington seems to find so distasteful, are fully consistent with U.S. national security.___________________
But the mistake is more serious than just egregious American bullying that accomplishes nothing more than to irritate Tehran and make a serious global issue dangerously emotional. Even in rational terms, Panetta is singing off-key. Perhaps in Washington, it seems rational for all countries, even those threatened with aggression, to trust Washington. Elsewhere, “rational” would not be the word for such a naive attitude. On the contrary, given Washington’s aggression against Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq, its threats against Iran can only be interpreted as making only one policy “rational” for Iranians: maximizing self-defense capabilities. That is not the lesson Washington should be teaching.
American media are being flooded with calls for aggression against Iran, all replete with glib assumptions and careful avoidance of any deep analysis of what might go wrong. Here is what I want:
an argument for launching a war against Iran that is intellectually honest and profoundly self-critical, an argument that enumerates assumptions and questions them, an argument that searches for what could go wrong and lays out a precise plan for avoiding pitfalls, an argument that shows how war will lead us to a world we can honestly expect to be better than it would have been without war.
I predict that no one can make such an argument. I challenge the smooth-talking, “they will welcome us with flowers” set–those of you who think wars can be managed and long-term dangers avoided–to prove me wrong.