Human Rights in the Mideast

Effective foreign policy requires convincing other regimes that you are serious. It is hard to be taken seriously if you don’t have standards, clearly expressed and fairly applied.

With the Administration’s undercutting of the Western-Iranian nuclear agreement, the current critical issue with Iran is the status of this nuclear agreement. Some have tried to confuse the issue by bringing up the state of Iranian domestic civil liberties and human rights, which should be kept completely separate from nuclear policy. If a nuclear bomb hits you, you will not be worrying any more about the human rights record of the jerk who dropped the bomb. But certainly human rights is a legitimate issue for us all to discuss, so what would be a sincere, serious approach to the problem of domestic extremism by the Iranian regime against its own people?

We might go for broke and define a human rights vision for all humanity including ourselves. Such an approach is useful, but even the U.S. refuses to support UNESCO at the moment, so–while great visions are worth evoking as goals, they tend to have limited immediate effect.

Aiming a little lower in order to make more progress in our lifetimes, define a human rights vision for the Mideast. Words are cheap–go for it.

Or, actually implement a sincere policy to promote the vision, which means treating everyone (let’s limit this to the Mideast for now) equally. The most crucial human rights crises in the Mideast at the moment include Turkish repression of its Kurds, Saudi air war in Yemen, Israeli repression of Palestinians, and Iran’s repression of all its citizens.

When Washington applies the same human rights standards to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Iran, then we Americans will have a foreign policy position to be proud of…an a foreign policy position that the rest of the world might actually take seriously.

Advertisements

Surrender

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. 

Surrender

Washington has deployed even more military forces against Iranand intensified its economic war against Iran, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard generals have launched a rhetorical broadside against Washington, and Israel has again threatened to commit aggression against Iran.

Iran’s egregious insult of pointing out the obvious—that it can threaten the massive array of U.S.military bases that have come to surround it since the neo-con push for an Imperial America—is a starving fox poking around a grizzly’s catch. The ability of Iran to respond to attack by hitting the bases comes as no surprise and while its articulation of the threat may play well in Tehran, it is otherwise is likely only to empower the Israeli-American war party, the grizzly pretending that the fox is threatening its existence by trying to steal scraps.
The egregious nature of Washington’s behavior—ratcheting up both military and economic pressure against a Tehran that is doing nothing new—is of a totally different order. Imperial Americaunder Democrats is proving hard to distinguish from Imperial America under neo-cons: be sure you have a new war ready (Iranfor both Obama and Bush) before you end the old war you are currently fighting (Afghanistanfor Obama; Iraqfor Bush). Keep tensions at a fever pitch. Distract voters from the mess at home.
One can only wonder at the idea of distracting voters. Does a man whose bank has cheated him out of his home really not care as long as he can cheer U.S./Israeli aggression against yet another Muslim society? Not only does such a strategy on Obama’s part make the assumption that the American voter is extremely ignorant, it plays right into the hands of the Republicans and the even more dangerous expansionist faction in Israel – the greater the tensions, the easier it is to argue that “nothing less than the immediate destruction of XXX can save the world!”
The Washington Post betrayed the lack of sincerity in Washington’s position, advocating that  “Like any good pugilist, Washington should follow the heavy blow of oil sanctions with further unrelenting pressure.” The author insults the intelligence of his readers by his childish comparison of a boxing match to U.S.-Iranian relations. Perhaps the analogy is indeed apt in describing the bias of Washington decision-makers, however, for they do indeed appear to sum up the relationship in their minds as a battle to the death. For their own self-respect, as long as they refuse to offer Iran an honorable way out (security, participation in world affairs as an equal, and independence), they must insist that the relationship is a zero-sum battle until one side scores a knock-out. 
Iran, meanwhile, is trapped: Washingtonwill not offer a deal because, egged on by a sneering Netanyahu, Washington does not want a “deal;” Washingtonwants Iran to surrender. Perhaps the New York Times finds it appropriate to interpret rising U.S. military pressure as primarily designed to persuade Israel not to start a war, but the timing immediately following yet another round of talks in which Washington apparently chose again not to offer Iran a balanced, compromise deal suggests that the main message Iran should hear—and certainly the message it will hear—is a demand that it play by Washington rules. The talks recently concluded in Istanbulwere technical-level talks; following them with renewed military threats makes little sense if Washingtongenuinely wants a solution. The purpose of technical-level talks is to pave the way for a political solution, not achieve it; that is the job of senior policy-makers.
Washington’s behavior suggests a more ominous interpretation: Iranmust confirm without qualification that Israelis and will forever remain Master of the Mideast Universe. Recognition of Israel’s right to a regional nuclear monopoly backed up by its already overwhelming conventional military superiority resulting from the open arms pipeline from the U.S. and in the context of its blank check authorization to tell other countries what arms they are allowed to possess and to attack any who break its rules means that no country in the region but Israel shall be permitted independence.
But independence, for Iran, is the whole ball game. Iranhas been struggling mightily for a century to reemerge from its recent obscurity and define for itself in its own terms a path forward. Nukes are not Tehran’s goal; its goal is international respect as a player whose voice needs to be listened to. Tehranplays its nuclear card because that is the only way to get Washington’s attention. If Iranends up building the bomb, Tel Aviv and Washington will be to blame for teaching it the lesson that the big boys sneer at everyone who lacks the bomb. Iran’s immediate enemy, Saddam’s Iraq, has vanished only to be replaced by a new string of U.S.bases and an armada of U.S.ships that serve no purpose except to threaten it with nuclear annihilation. Meanwhile, Israelcontinues to swallow those pieces of Palestineit did not digest in 1949 and has now defined Iranas its main enemy. How can Tehranensure Iranian national security except by playing the nuclear card? Washingtonis not offering a rational deal–a trade of terminating its economic war against Iran in return for nuclear transparency—because nuclear transparency is not Washington’s goal. Washington’s goal is formal Iranian acceptance of permanent Number 2 status in the region and that indeed constitutes, for Iran, a surrender.

Three Stooges Diplomacy

Washington has deployed even more military forces against Iranand intensified its economic war against Iran, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard generals have launched a rhetorical broadside against Washington, and Israel has again threatened to commit aggression against Iran. 

Iran’s egregious insult of pointing out the obvious—that it can threaten the massive array of U.S. military bases that have come to surround it since the neo-con push for an Imperial America—sounds like the last gasp of a very insecure country under a very real threat. The ability of Iran to respond to attack by hitting the bases comes as no surprise and while its articulation of the threat may play well in Tehran, it is otherwise is likely only to empower the Israeli-American war party.
The egregious nature of Washington’s behavior—ratcheting up both military and economic pressure against a Tehran that is doing nothing new—is of a totally different order. Imperial Americaunder Democrats is proving hard to distinguish from Imperial America under neo-cons: be sure you have a new war ready (Iranfor both Obama and Bush) before you end the old war you are currently fighting (Afghanistanfor Obama; Iraqfor Bush). Keep tensions at a fever pitch. Distract voters from the mess at home.
One can only wonder at the idea of distracting voters. Does a man whose bank has cheated him out of his home really not care as long as he can cheer U.S./Israeli aggression against yet another Muslim society? Not only does such a strategy on Washington’s part make the assumption that the American voter is extremely ignorant, it plays right into the hands of the Republicans and the even more dangerous expansionist faction in Israel – the greater the tensions, the easier it is to argue that “nothing less than the immediate destruction of XXX can save the world!”
Iran, meanwhile, is trapped: Washingtonwill not offer a deal because, egged on by a sneering Netanyahu, Washington does not want a “deal;” Washingtonwants Iran to surrender. Perhaps the New York Times finds it appropriate to interpret rising U.S. military pressure as primarily designed to persuade Israel not to start a war, but the timing immediately following yet another round of talks in which Washington apparently chose again not to offer Iran a balanced, compromise deal suggests that the main message Iran should hear—and certainly the message it will hear—is a demand that it play by Washington rules. The talks concluded this week in Istanbulwere technical-level talks; following them with renewed military threats makes little sense if Washingtongenuinely wants a solution. Washington’s behavior suggests a more ominous interpretation: Iranmust confirm without qualification that Israelis and will forever remain Nuclear Master of the Mideast Universe. Recognition of Israel’s right to a regional nuclear monopoly backed up by its already overwhelming conventional military superiority and its blank check authorization to tell other countries what arms they are allowed to possess and to attack any who break its rules means that no country in the region but Israelshall be permitted independence.
But independence, for Iran, is the whole ball game. Iranhas been struggling mightily for a century to reemerge from its recent obscurity and define for itself in its own terms a path forward. Its immediate enemy, Saddam’s Iraq, has vanished only to be replaced by a new string of U.S.bases and an armada of U.S.ships that serve no purpose except to threaten it with nuclear annihilation. Meanwhile, Israelcontinues to swallow those pieces of Palestineit did not digest in 1949, and has now defined Iranas its main enemy. Washington is not offering a rational deal–a trade of terminating its economic war against Iranin return for nuclear transparency—because nuclear transparency is not Washington’s goal. Washington’s goal is formal Iranian acceptance of permanent Number 2 status in the region and that indeed constitutes, for Iran, a surrender.
U.S. voters may be somewhat distracted, but meanwhile the Three Stooges pie-throwing contest is generating dangerous momentum. How is Obama to extract himself after the election from a situation in which he has acted as though the world were in a crisis as the result of Iran’s insistence on being held to the same standards as everyone else? Will he have the guts to tangle directly with a Netanyahu facing humiliation? Will he have the creativity to defeat Netanyahu? If Obama continues to allow tensions with Iran to build and ends up giving Iran what it quite reasonably demands (to be allowed to play by the same nuclear rules as others) only to be forced to sacrifice U.S. national interests to please Netanyahu, then the end result (whatever happens to Iran) will constitute an historic humiliation of the U.S. Some may think Americans will deserve it, but a triumphant semi-fascist and militant Israel humiliating the U.S. will make the world a very unpleasant place for everyone.

Cyberwar Is not a Game; It’s War

The evidently casual attitude of Washington decision-makers notwithstanding, drone attacks and cyberwar are not games, despite using joy sticks and software; they are war.

The regimes that engage in cyberwar need to think about the implications, the blowback potential of establishing this new practice. After all, cyberwar is…war. Those attacked have the right to respond. Does cyberwar justify a conventional response? Does cyberwar supported by another state justify an attack on that state? How do we rank the seriousness of cyberwar in comparison to drone attacks, terrorist attacks, conventional attacks, nuclear attacks, biological attacks? And finally, why is Washington taking actions (either directly or by backing Israel) that will only provoke its antagonists to respond with the very same cyber techniques…which greatly favor the US’s weaker and less technically developed adversaries? Given the enormous amount of infrastructure in the US linked to the Internet, is diplomacy by cyberwar a contest we can win?

After WWII, the US introduced the hydrogen bomb, gaining no advantage as the USSR quickly responded. In the 1970s, the US introduced MIRVed nuclear missiles, to which the USSR quickly responded, leaving the world less stable since MIRVs enhanced the advantage of a first strike. Over the last decade, the US has established the precedent of attack inside other countries with drones even without a declaration of war, and it is already clear that US adversaries are moving to counter this momentary US advantage. It is also likely that the blowback of increasingly cheap and plentiful drones will provide a dangerous advantage to small, weak adversaries. Bush and Obama will share responsibility with the perpetrators for the first drone terror strike on the US mainland by a non-state actor. And now Washington is laying the groundwork for further blowback by creating the new international precedent of cyberwar even though the US may be the most vulnerable country in the world to such attacks because of its combination of open society and highly developed Internet-linked infrastructure.

A further danger of cyberwar may be even more serious. The use of cyberwar to attack countries with which we are not formally at war blurs the line between war and peace. Blurring that line not only undermines democracy by undermining Congressional control over White House actions but raises the danger of provoking a full-scale war. Just because Washington sees cyberwar as a low-cost way to harm an opponent does not mean the opponent will necessarily also have the same casual attitude toward software manipulations that could provoke industrial, even nuclear, accidents with very real consequences.

Undeclared War Undermines U.S. Democracy

Escalating “executive war”—war by the Imperial Presidency without Congressional authorization or oversight—against Iran and Pakistan is alienating foreign friends, radicalizing foreign adversaries, undermining U.S. democracy, and setting American society up for blowback.

What under Bush-Cheney neocons was touted as a war against anti-U.S. terrorists has now become a war against Muslim political activists who may not have any intent of attacking the U.S. and may not even be fighting against their own governments. They may simply be innocent bystanders who fit profiles used to excuse murder, in the case of drone attacks that kill unidentified individuals, or industrial disaster, in the case of cyberwar sabotage. And that cyberwar sabotage, whose computer code weapons have already gone viral and spread out of control around the world, could strike anywhere, including back in the U.S. Cyber chickens are flying home to roost. The Obama wars take distinct forms depending on the country – economic and technological against Iran (supplementing a highly public economic war and a terrorist campaign murdering nuclear scientists that may in the future be tied definitively to the White House), drone bombing against Pakistan—but appear to fit a consistent pattern of violating Constitutional requirements that Congress approve war and provide oversight.
As Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the leading Congressional advocate of a tempered and rational foreign policy, warned in his recent letter to President Obama demanding an accounting for his unauthorized use of drones:

The fact that they are conducted with complete impunity and with no accountability threatens to set a dangerous precedent that could unravel the very laws and international standards the U.S. helped to create.  Even the most ardent supporter of the current President should consider the precedent created by granting the President the power to circumvent the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. [Kucinich Leads Congress in Demanding Accountasb ility and Transparency for Drone Strikes,” Kucinich. House.Gov 5/31/12.] 

Kucinich also warned in his letterthat targeting “ terrorist suspects whose identity does not need to be known goes further than what Congress authorized when it passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) after the attacks of September 11th (9/11). As you know, the AUMF only authorized the use of force against those responsible for the attacks of 9/11 and those who harbored them, not against individuals whose identity is unknown, but that merely fit a certain profile of suspected terrorist activity.
Both the drone attacks and the cyberwar have been cloaked in a relatively transparent security blanket that has long since ceased fooling anyone but that continues to obstruct the due process of law in the U.S. that rests on the ability of the system of government to hold powerful officials accountable for their actions. Obama Administration leaked formed the basis of a recent New York Times piece by David Sanger detailing the Obama Administration’s complicity in the cyberwar attack on Iran. Thus does Obama continue one of the worst abuses of the neo-con era – the attempts by the White House to position itself above the law.
The Christian Science Monitor bluntly spelled out one of the blowback routes of this new global threat:

the possibility that such attacks could provide a digital copy of the cyberweapon to rogue nations or that hacktivists could reverse-engineer the weapon for use against the power grid or other key US infrastructure.

Officially revealing the U.S. policy of attacking foreigners in their home countries with drones, White House Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, as quoted in Washington Post 4/30/12, stated:

…let me say it as simply as I can. Yes, in full accordance with the law — and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives — the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones.

The anti-Iranian cyberwar remained mired in controversy, with both the Obama Administration and Israel’s Mossad seemingly competing for credit, oblivious to the strong possibility that both will be condemned by history for opening wide this new Pandora’s Box. Washington may not have invented cyberwar, but it certainly is making few efforts to delay the arrival of a new, nasty world in which low-cost, highly dangerous cyberwar will ravage global societies.
Obama’s private wars violate two of the most fundamental principles of democracy. First, although now utterly obvious as the result of White House statements, they were when determined and implementing totally defiant of the need for transparency in government, being implemented without Congressional authorization and behind the backs of the American people. Second, in their lack of Congressional oversight, they violate the equally critical democratic requirement of rule of law by establishing a precedent of arbitrary and unauthorized Presidential action. Once the President acquires the “right” in practice, if not in law, to make private war, what power is denied him? To argue that the President cannot personally authorize war except when it is fought via the Internet or drones makes a mockery of democracy.

Do No Harm

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.

Mutual Transparency Needed to End the U.S.-Iran Dispute

The Western-Iranian nuclear road-show, for it hardly seems to merit the term “negotiations,” continues in Iran’s backyard. Tehran and Washington may insist on slapping each other in the face at every opportunity, but the region has changed greatly with the demise of Iran’s bitter enemy Saddam and the rise of Shi’i rule in Iraq.

Judging from public reports, Iran is absolutely correct to complain of a lack of balance in the Western negotiating stance. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is the West’s treaty, its rules for managing nuclear technology, yet the West is violating its own treaty by demanding that Iran sign unique terms not provided for by that treaty. Worse, the West is doing so without recognizing the rogue status of Israel, which has a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons by all accounts yet refuses to sign the treaty. Finally, Iran will need very clear guarantees of what it will receive if it accepts the special constraints the U.S. is trying to impose. At what point will the U.S. stop trying regime change? At what point will the U.S. stop publicly condemning it? At what point will the U.S. grant it diplomatic recognition? At what point will all economic warfare against Iran be terminated? And those are just the negative issues on which the U.S. must concede completely. Beyond that come positive moves – security guarantees, trade, coordination on Afghanistan and Iraq, anti-drug cooperation, negotiation over rules for sharing the Persian Gulf.


Western apologists for the West’s hardline stance are, judging from public reports, correct that Iran is not making a sincere effort in the talks either. According to Tehran Times[5/23/12], Iran “offered a five-point package of proposals verbally on nuclear and non-nuclear issues during the negotiations.” The issue is far too serious to be approached with such unprofessionalism. Both sides have clear grievances. Iran’s behavior gives the impression that it is playing for time and hiding plans for a nuclear breakout, while the West is demanding discriminatory concessions while evidently pretending to ignore Iran’s many legitimate reasons for dissatisfaction. Any number of miscalculations could lead to consequences harmful to the world as a whole. This is no time for casual verbal offers that cannot be pinned down for serious discussion in a context of hypocritical public propaganda campaigns.


Such tactics merely empower extremists on both sides. Washington should realize that Iran has thus far behaved with moderation; if the West continues to provoke it, Iran could do much more to make life unpleasant. Iran’s foreign policy is markedly moderate in comparison to that of the U.S. or Israel: it invades no one, it has no nuclear weapons and thus is certainly not threatening to use them, it has no foreign bases. Iran should realize that the extremists on the Western side that it so likes to sneer at have their fingers on nuclear triggers. The two sides are playing a fool’s game. Neither side seems to have any confidence in the willingness of the other to negotiate seriously, setting up a negative-sum dynamic in which both sides are losing. 


It is bad enough when politicians play a zero-sum game in which they reject compromises that allow each side to benefit and instead demand solutions that leave the adversary punished, humiliated, and vowing revenge. But when politicians play a negative-sum game, in which both sides are harmed, one has a perfect picture of unprofessionalism. The politicians of course have their reasons. Obama fears Republican electoral exploitation of any demonstration that he is thinking rather than flexing his muscles like a true cowboy. Given the even more vicious nature of Iranian politics, Ahmadinejad, already on the defensive for numerous domestic reasons, may fear for his life if he makes too many concessions. So both societies risk proxy wars, economic sabotage, terrorism (by Mossad, by the MEK, or perhaps by Iran), and even nuclear attack (by Israel) that would float a cloud of fallout (literally and figuratively) across the globe. The two sides are indeed playing a fool’s game.


No one expects the West to make all its concessions on day one, but it must offer some recognition of 1) Iran‘s legal rights, 2) Israel‘s nuclear rogue status, 3) and exactly what Iran would get for accepting any part of the highly discriminatory rules the U.S. wishes to impose on Iran. So far, the West gives no appearance of intending to negotiate anything other than Iran‘s surrender. That ain’t happening; it is a recipe for disaster. Moreover, if it somehow did occur, it would only set the stage for a more serious subsequent crisis: Israeli extremists would be emboldened and all Iranians would be infuriated. 


As for negotiating a genuine solution, the Western position is still not even close to the starting gate. If the Obama Administration has any clear idea at all of what would constitute a “solution” to the U.S.-Iranian dispute, it is keeping that idea very, very close to its chest, and that is a tragedy, because what the world needs now is transparency: Iranian nuclear transparency and American transparency on a vision of how a genuine U.S.-Iranian détente might be made to work.

Fear, Honor, Interests

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:

all strategy is some combination of reaction to fear, honor and interests [Think Progress 3/1/12; thanks to Friday Lunch Club 5/5/12 for alerting me to this report.]



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.