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Hurray For 'Ambiguity'

By Kam Zarrabi, San Diego

Never in the past quarter century since the establishment of the Islamic Republic and the hostage crisis has the relationship between the United States and Iran come this close to a flashpoint. Or at least that is how it appears these days. But, why is that so?

On the surface, as articulated through the official Administration sources and reflected and reported by the mass media, the reasons for this heightened state of affairs are quite clear. The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 on New York City's World Trade Center also played a big role in exacerbating the anxieties surrounding states that harbor antagonisms against the United States, and Iran was obviously included in that list.

Let us summarize the accusations or allegations against Iran, factors that were supposedly instrumental in President Bush labeling Iran as a member of the 'Axis of Evil' troika in his State of the Union address in January, 2002:

  1. Iran is the number-one state supporter of international terrorism.
  2. Iran has an unacceptable record of human-rights violations.
  3. Iran is a destabilizing force and a source of agitation in the Middle East.
  4. Iran is opposed to any peaceful resolution of Israeli-Palestinian issues.
  5. Iran is amassing weapons of mass destruction and is on the way to acquiring nuclear weapons.
  6. If left unchecked, Iran will provide these weapons to terrorist networks around the world.
  7. The theocracy in Iran is not open to any dialogue with the civilized world.

The Bush administration's stated strategy towards Iran has vacillated between economic and diplomatic pressures, anti-regime propaganda broadcasts, blocking Iran's access to various sources of international monetary funds, to more aggressive measures such as threats of mobilizing insurgencies against the regime and even to the launching of air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. The Iranian dissident group, the militant Peoples Mojahedin who are listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization, are now under US protection in Iraq as yet another potential weapon to launch against Iran if needed.

Many observers see the recent escalation of hostile rhetoric against Iran as a sure sign that Iran is going to be the next target of attack, followed by Syria, particularly if the Republican Party maintains control of the White House and the Congress. The pattern and intensity of accusations seem to parallel what finally led to the invasion of Iraq, justifiably or not.

The example of Iraq is really not necessary to prove that a potential assault upon Iran will have little if anything to do with the threats that Iran supposedly presents to the security of the region or the world. Pretexts for legitimizing hostilities against Iran have already been well drilled into the public mindset here in America. The seven points mentioned about the Iranian threats have become established as a reflection of conventional wisdom among the supporters of both political parties now vying for position in the upcoming elections.

In his acceptance speech as the Democratic Party vice presidential nominee, John Edwards managed to highlight his concerns about the 'rogue states' that are attempting to develop nuclear weapons, right after he made his commitments to the defense of the state of Israel. John Kerry, the Democratic Party presidential nominee, also vowed to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and to keep 'rogue states' from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

This makes one wonder what state or states the Democratic hopefuls were referring to. The only one that comes to mind is Iran. North Korea is considered to be already nuclear armed, as are Pakistan and India, with Iraq and Libya no longer a threat. So, should the Democrats win the elections in November, the strategy toward Iran remains unchanged; the seven pillars of Iranian threat to regional and world security will continue to be the Administration's main concern in the Middle East! Or, that is how it seems at this time.

It is quite possible that the campaign rhetoric to attract votes or to gain the support of influential lobbies is just that, rhetoric. However, there are many factors at play that will, more than likely, not allow America's Middle East policies to steer too far away from its established track. A Kerry administration will perhaps attempt to rally the European states behind its efforts to confront Iran in a less aggressive means of destabilizing the Islamic Republic for the prospects of a regime change.

From the Iranian side, there are several schools of thought as to how to deal with this impending confrontation:

There are those who believe that the invasion of Iraq was initiated as a result of a firm conviction among the 'coalition of the willing' that Saddam Hussein's military was equipped with massive arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, was close to acquiring nuclear weapons, had close ties with international terrorists, and was an imminent threat to world peace and security. For this group, lack of any evidence for any of those allegations only proves that the information or intelligence had been at fault - an honest mistake. This group is of the opinion that America's mission regarding Iran is exactly as articulated by the Administration officials, and hopes that this time the intelligence is much more carefully obtained.

As viewed by this group, there are two alternative approaches to the problem: There are Iranians in exile and in Iran who believe that nothing short of direct interference, even a military invasion of Iran, could possibly topple the clerical stranglehold over that nation and defuse Iran's potential threats to the region and the world. The former prince, Reza Pahlavi and his 'Royalist' camp, have gone as far as forming bonds with Iran's greatest antagonist, Israel, to encourage attacks upon the Iranian soil.

At the same time, there are many Iranians who do believe that Iran's non-compliant, even hostile, attitude, particularly regarding its nuclear ambitions, raise legitimate suspicions as viewed by the United States and its allies, particularly Israel. With that assumption, members of this try to prevent a catastrophe for their homeland by arguing that Iran's nuclear projects are, as Iran claims, solely for peaceful purposes. They try to demonstrate that allegations of Iran's ties to Al-Ghaeda terror network are false, or that Iran has even been instrumental in fighting the terror networks, etc. Articles are written and lectures conducted attempting to enlighten us as to the legitimacy, legality, and economic benefits of Iran's nuclear research and development, in spite of the fact that Iran sits on top of some the world's largest hydrocarbon reserves.

All this effort is aimed at demonstrating that Iran is not the evil lurking in the dark, about to pounce on its neighbors or ready to aim its nuclear missiles at Tel Aviv or Washington as soon as it is capable of doing so. Only, they hope, if they could prove that Iran is not the threat it has been portrayed to be, could they help Iran escape the wrath of the world's only superpower and its local surrogate, Israel.

Those who believe that the invasion of Iraq was necessary, based on the best intelligence at hand, also believe that it is the genuine perception of an Iranian threat that concerns America, whether based on valid or faulty intelligence.

On the other hand, the more skeptical realize that Iraq was invaded only when there remained little doubt that there were no weapons of mass destruction at Saddam's disposal to cause serious problems for the invading forces. The true reasons for attacking Iraq remain in force today should Iran or Syria be targeted next. These reasons have nothing to do with stockpiling of WMDs, nuclear proliferation, aiding and abetting of international terrorism or the violations of human rights.

China is the world's worst violator of human rights, is a constant threat to Taiwan and a de facto protector of North Korea, and the most formidable contender and future competitor for the rich oil fields and markets of the Middle East. Yet, we have not only overcome all inhibitions, even legislated illegalities, in dealing openly with China even as a most favored trade partner. We have further rationalized this advantageous trade relationship by pointing to positive sociopolitical changes within China that have resulted, we believe, from this economic symbiosis.

So, what's wrong with an opening with Iran?

There are many other unquestioned advantages for both nations, and for peace and stability in the Middle East, should a serious rapprochement be allowed to take place between the United States and Iran.

So, what's keeping this rapprochement from materializing?

The infantile excuse that the 'mullahs' are not open to any reasoned dialogue, or that the fundamentalist theocracy of Iran is hell-bent on establishing an Islamic empire in the world, is good for entertaining patrons in beer parlors and bowling alleys. A few months ago when the Iranian administration rather openly indicated its willingness to sit at a dialogue with the United States, Condoleezza Rice went on record declaring that we were not ready at this time to consider such a rapprochement. Why?

One can only conclude that any effort by the Iranian government or Iran experts here or in Iran to rise in defense of Iran's legitimate rights to do research in nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, or to show that Iran has no logical incentive to destabilize Iraq or Afghanistan, or any reason to support terrorist cells within its borders, will fall on deaf ears. The only positive outcome of such efforts would be to perhaps persuade some influential Western allies of the United States to delay or dissuade any unilateral hostile action against Iran.

In the case of Iraq, however, we can now see that this strategy did not work.

The biggest question is why would the United States be so anxious to embark on yet another, this time even much more unpredictable, excursion, in the face of so much global opposition, and when the armed forces are so overspread and currently bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan? Here we have to consider at least four possible answers:

1- The move toward a global hegemony has already begun and the stage is set for the American military and economic power to secure America's strategic interests worldwide. In this, America must opt for unilateral action if need be; there is no stopping us now!

2- America's economic infrastructure is overly dependent on the military-industrial complex and its contributions to the nation's prosperity. It would be impossible to rationalize America's huge military expenditures without a publicly acceptable rationale to maintain such a military establishment and its vast global presence. With communism now dead or near dying, the Islamic threat is an extremely useful replacement as the enemy we seem to always need.

3- The Administration is fully aware of the ill-advised mess we have gotten ourselves into in Iraq, and the misguided war on terror in our Afghanistan campaign. Mistakes have been made, and we know how that misinformation or disinformation was staged to get us into this mess. But, here we are and there is no backing out at this stage. The area is in chaos, danger of terrorism against us has increased and we are suffering grave human losses and financial burdens. Meanwhile Israel is the only entity that seems to have everything going its way. Threatening Iran or Syria at this time with our show of military might is designed to persuade Israel to refrain from attacking Iran or Syria unilaterally, thus dragging the whole region into an uncontrollable free for all. Without our military presence, Israel will feel compelled to initiate hostilities like it has done in the past, in the name of self-defense. America simply cannot afford that at this time.

4- When it comes to the Middle East policies, Israeli regimes have dictated America's strategic planning for decades. Israel's agendas, particularly under the Likud leadership, can best be guaranteed as long as instability and turmoil in the region continue, necessitating America's military presence and political influence to safeguard the region's energy resources and other vital interests. This presence provides Israel with the protective umbrella to purse its own regional ambitions, while securing even greater financial and military aid from the US. After decades of influence peddling in American politics, manipulation and control of America's mass media and entertainment industries, no politician or decision maker in any American administrations can survive for long without the support of the Israeli lobbying organizations. America's blind support for Israel has resulted in the Islamic World's antagonism and mistrust of America, including the 9/11 terrorism. Israel will not stop until its other targets, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and perhaps Saudi Arabia, are brought into our crosshairs, one after another. In short, US has become Israel's instrument of power in the Middle East.

No matter which one or which combination of the scenarios above one might choose, the question becomes what must or can Iran do to dodge the bullet and avoid catastrophe?

There are really only two possibilities:
A/ The Iranian regime is truly guilty of all the allegations leveled against it, in which case we are dealing with a rogue nation led by a bunch of unpredictable crazies. This is the picture in the mind of those who would welcome any change within Iran that would topple the 'mullahcrocy', even if it meant nationwide destruction, bloodshed and foreign occupation. In such a case, we should perhaps wait until the dust settles and the old Lion and the Sun, the Imperial Iranian banner, replaces the Islamic Republic's flag.

B/ All, or at least the most serious, charges against Iran are exaggerations and false accusations conjured up as pretexts for waging aggression against that country, either indirectly through surrogate infiltrators, or directly by military action as in Iraq.

A much more logical case can be made by adopting the second option.

Even the most ardent supporter or apologist for the Iranian administration would not deny that time is ripe for change in Iran. Iran's maturing younger population, comprising some three quarters of the nation, would welcome more civil liberties, better standards of living, and a greater openness to the outside world, but not at the expense of national security or their sense of national or religious identity.

Iran's conservative religious guardians of the Islamic revolution are quite aware of this delicate balancing act between the general public's demands for greater liberal freedoms and the dangers of having the entire framework of the Islamic Republic unravel in a too hasty a rush toward democratic reforms. The reform-minded Administration, on the other hand, senses that reforms and democratization must take place at a much faster pace, before the nation sinks any deeper into repression and faces even more economically devastating isolation and potential aggression by the outside world.

It is quite obvious that increasing pressures and threats of force to initiate reforms or regime change in Iran also boost the legitimacy of the hardliner's positions to increase their control over the nation's power structure. The ultraconservatives are not known to bow under pressure.

Aren't we allowed to suspect that these facts are well known to policy makers here? Again, whose interests are served if Iran's internal strife continues to worsen, may we wonder?

Let us not be too Machiavellian here, let us dare to assume that both Iran's ultraconservative theocratic leaders, and the more moderate reform minded administration, have the best interests of their nation in mind, albeit in their respective interpretation of what constitutes best interests. Neither group would like to see the nation remain under the kind of economic and social stress that is sure to lead to a major explosion sooner or later.

Iran's alternatives in dealing with the impending threats by the United States and Israel depend on how seriously such threats are perceived. The news and rhetoric coming out of Iran these days do not indicate any urgent cause for alarm. Unlike North Korea, Iran has never admitted having a nuclear arms program or threatened to use aggression unless in self-defense. At the same time, Iranian officials have continued the nuclear shell game in order to generate a sufficient degree of ambiguity regarding their progress in nuclear technology. While they insist that this technology is intended for peaceful purposes as guaranteed to all signatories to the NPT, they want to leave little doubt that potential to advance to a weapons development stage does exist, should the need ever arise. How close Iran supposedly is to creating this 'potential', Iran would like to keep 'ambiguous'.

The current tug of war between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN, and the State Department's strong-arm tactics to pressure the IAEA to drag Iran before the Security Council for its alleged breach of the NPT regulations, indicate Iran's delicate high wire balancing act. On one hand, a total transparency of its nuclear facilities which would include a full exposure of Iran's sensitive defenses and military capabilities, would render Iran a virtual sitting duck, as was Saddam's Iraq before the invasion. On the other hand, denial of full transparency, as unreasonable and, in fact, not legally enforceable, as it might be, provides the pretext that would make Iran that much more vulnerable to American or Israeli preemptive aggression.

We must realize that the accusations against Iran's clandestine nuclear weapons development programs are simply unsubstantiated allegations to be added to other allegations that would justify a so-called preemptive strike against Iran. Therefore, a total transparency by Iran would not only render the country virtually defenseless, there will remain plenty of other unsubstantiated allegations that shall continue to haunt Iran as a prime target by the US and Israel.

As a nation under virtual siege, Iran should learn from its arch foe, Israel. Israel's known arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, including its two to three hundred nuclear weapons, are officially referred to by the Israelis, also concurred by the US administration, as 'weapons of deterrence'. During the recent visit to Israel by the IAEA chief, Mr. El Baradei, the Israeli leaders boldly insisted on adhering to their official policy of strategic 'ambiguity' regarding Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.

It would be foolish for Iran to not apply the same rationale to its possible, potential, or even existing 'weapons of deterrence'.

Hurray for ambiguity.

... Payvand News - 8/2/04 ... --

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