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CROSSING OVER BURNT BRIDGES: Needed; Caution and Prudence

By Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse


Flag-waving and sloganeering do have their time and place, as do intimidations and threats. At this time in the chess game between the United States and Iran, slogans and threats can only generate counter slogans and promises of hellish reprisals; what else does anyone expect?


The official pronouncements by the American administration, currently stated by the itinerant Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in her European tour seem to be tailored for audiences with a minimum if any geopolitical awareness, meaning the average Joe pedestrian, or those with impaired mental faculties.  


In her official statement she emphasized that Iran must adhere to its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty agreements or face the consequences. She continued that the Iranians know what those consequences are, without immediately elaborating further. Referring Iran's breach of its obligations to the UN Security Council was meant to be one of several options, of course.


Although the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary Rice have both stated that the United States was pursuing a diplomatic solution regarding the problem with Iran, other options such as the use of force have, admittedly, not been ruled out.


The President has also stated his position that "The Iranians just need to know that the free world is working together to send a very clear message: Don't develop a nuclear weapon."


All this is apparently designed to make the Iranian leadership shake in fear, capitulate, and play Libya's game.


But, Iran is not Libya, nor is it Iraq or Syria. And the important point here to keep in mind when analyzing the movements of the chess pieces on the Middle East stage is that the real players themselves know the facts behind the charade.


Taking them one by one, let's start with the President's statement of last Wednesday: When the President refers to the free world, who is he talking about, and are the members of this elite club unanimous about his declarations? And, when he says that they don't want Iran to develop nuclear weapons, what does he mean exactly? Is the President more knowledgeable than the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose agents have had free access to all the nuclear sites and found no evidence of any nuclear weapons programs? If he does in fact have such information, why doesn't he let the IAEA in on it so that more inspections could be scheduled?


Condoleezza Rice announces that the Iran should either adhere to its NPT obligations, or face the consequences. Well, if she knows something that the international agency in charge of monitoring any such non-compliance is not aware of, why isn't the State Department pointing to the proper targets and have professional people take advantage of Iran's open-door policy and investigate the allegations as often as necessary?


Donald Rumsfeld has said recently that Iran is years away from developing a nuclear weapon. What did he mean and why did he say those words? If the Secretary of Defense believes that Iran is nowhere near having an atomic weapon, why then is Pentagon supposedly spying over suspected Iranian nuclear weapons sites and preparing several plans for attack?


Perhaps Mr. Rumsfeld is saying that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons capability in order to intensify the threat of attack on Iran's strategic targets: If there is no real danger of an Iranian nuclear retaliatory attack, as there would be in case of similar operations over North Korea, then the Iranians would have real reasons to be frightened out of their wits. Not a bad way to call Iran's bluff; wow, what a strategist!


What is the purpose, if any, behind all these contradictory statements and shenanigans?


To start, there are only two possibilities:


A-    The rhetoric is to cater to the public's sentiments created during two decades of negative image-building against the Islamic Republic, and to adhere to the campaign pledges made to the public, especially during the George W. Bush terms of office. The reality might be a much more pragmatic, yet face-saving, approach to a rapprochement and reconciliation behind the scene.

B-    What we hear is not window dressing or for public consumption; the stated policies are the American administration's true objectives.


Taking the second alternative first, if the stated policies represent America's true objectives, the consequences deserve a great deal of attention.  It is clear that an aerial attack from land and naval bases upon Iran's strategic military facilities, no matter how severe, will not effectively cripple Iran's ability to rebuild its capabilities in a short time. Such an assault would further motivate the Iranians to give it all they've got to remobilize and even expedite the development of a nuclear arsenal which they claim is nonexistent at this time. Iran will also benefit from the support, not only of other Islamic states, but the European Union, China, India and Russia, should such an attack take place, especially if Israel is also involved.


Another undesired consequence of such a belligerent move would be Iran's unleashing of all the means at its disposal to cause agitation and interference in America's current entanglements in the region, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the long awaited peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.


If the objective is to demoralize the Iranians and create a wedge between the various factions of the Iranian society, history dictates otherwise. That strategy would be as futile as supporting the opposition militant groups outside Iran now stationed in Iraq to enter Iran and start a counter revolution. Just as are these Mojahedin Khalgh regarded by most Iranians as traitors and enemies of Iran for having assisted and fought alongside Saddam's army against Iran, so are the followers of the still ambitious former prince, Reza Pahlavi, or the Royalists, who have the backing of Iran's arch enemy, Israel. Any such attempt to infiltrate and destabilize the Islamic regime will undoubtedly bring about greater solidarity among all factions of Iran's society to confront a foreign threat, as happened when Saddam Hussein invaded the country in 1980 in the hope of marching right through unimpeded.


A regime change in Iran has no chance of succeeding by any outside pressure, sanction, direct or indirect interference or radio and television propaganda, no matter how large a budget the US Congress allocates to such projects.


Furthermore, a regime change offers no guarantees of compliance to the United States' mandates unless it is imposed upon the nation with implicit instructions to remain submissive and cooperative as it was during the Pahlavi regime, or as we observe in Egypt today. Any hope of success in enforcing a regime change will have to be under the assumption that the Islamic Republic of Iran is lacking the support of the majority of Iranians and, therefore, given the opportunity, the Iranian public would welcome an imposed non-Islamic alternative. This, again, is assuming that the Iranian people follow the rhetoric that an Islamic democracy is a contradiction in terms, that one cannot have a true democracy in conjunction with the Islamic Shari'a.  To further examine this line of logic, the whole premise is based on yet another presumption, that a universal definition of democracy exists, and that the model is what the United States dictates to the rest of the world.


To confuse the issue even further, one might wonder why the spread of democracy in the Middle East or elsewhere would be to America's strategic advantage in the first place. The only explanation for this particular presumption is that the democracy that a superpower has in mind for a strategically important region like the Middle East is a compliant democracy: In other words, the kind of democracy where people have the freedom to determine their own destinies, as long as whatever they decide does not counter the will of the superpower. At the moment, the Iraqi model being implemented is facing rather strange ironic twists: a democratically elected Shi'a majority with all of its collateral ramifications and connotations, in a turbulent Sunni ocean. In Algeria some years back the democratic experiment was promptly truncated when the free elections led to results that the military junta could not accept!


There were too many assumptions or presumptions within the above paragraphs to make the scenario "B" a tenable option.


Now, going to the alternative "A"; much more sense can be made out of the current trends, both here and in Iran.


For example, outside of the poignant and cavalier remarks by the President in his State of the Union address, calling Iran the primary remaining source of terror, we are not hearing such hostile rhetoric from other administration officials or the President himself. In fact, much of this kind of rash and unsubstantiated mudslinging has been toned down considerably. The remaining points of contention or better put, excuses to continue a confrontational stance, are the issues of Iran's nuclear program and the status of its human rights.


Regarding Iran's nuclear projects, it would be insane to think that Iran could or should be denied its legitimate rights to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. This includes the uranium enrichment process to create fuel rods for nuclear power plants. However, enrichment of uranium to a degree beyond what might be necessary for lawful research purposes, if ignored, could lead to weapons development and is prohibited under the NPT agreement. It is the sole purpose of the IAEA to monitor these totally legal operations to ensure that the technology does not lead to the development of weapons grade material. The IAEA has done that and has cleared Iran of any violations.


That said, there is also little doubt that Iranian scientists are quite capable of embarking on a weapons development project with the resources and technologies at hand. In other words, the potential or capability is there, as is the case in any other country that uses nuclear technology.


While Brazil, for example, is known to be involved in uranium enrichment programs and has refused thus far to allow the IAEA to monitor its activities, Iran has remained transparent to international monitoring with open access to any site that might be of interest.


The true rationale for this pressure on Iran is, therefore, not the suspicions of its violations of the NPT agreements, as Brazil is clearly a more likely suspect, but Iran's strategic position. It is the same kind of double standard that justifies Israel's stockpile of a huge nuclear arsenal, while considers Iran's potential access to even one such device absolutely unacceptable.


If the potential or the capacity does exist for any country with nuclear technology to embark on the development of nuclear weapons, even for defensive purposes, and if such possibility is of concern for whatever reason, the solution is in removing the incentive for the state to do so, rather than is trying to kill the elusive or nondescript potential.  This might include a non-aggression treaty or a regional disarmament, etc.


Regarding the issue of human rights, Iran, like most countries, should address such issues. Closing down dissident newspapers and arresting opposition voices are, indeed, infringements on the freedom of expression. At the same time, this proves that dissident newspapers and opposition voices do continue to exist in order to be shut down or silenced. But they do reopen and sound off again, perhaps to go through the same cycle someday. This is not the case among America's allies or friendly states, Egypt, Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Iranian women in major metropolitan areas, to be more specific, are forced to adhere to a conservative dress code; but these same women work, hold office, drive, ski, and get elected to government positions alongside their male counterparts. There are more women college students in Iran than there are men. Can Saudi Arabia or Pakistan claim the same?


Not trying to defend the indefensible, freedoms, as we like to call them, are not limitless prerogatives of the individual in any society, no matter how liberal or democratic, independent of societal norms or moral standards. What constitutes a violation of code of ethics in the United States may be quite acceptable in Sweden or Norway. It is easy to champion the cause of freedom by demanding the right for women to dress as they damned well please. Why, one might wonder then, aren't women allowed to walk around topless, as can men, in a public place on a sweltering hot and humid day in Houston or Los Angeles? Any violators, as we know, will be immediately arrested by the police and charged with indecent exposure. Ever wonder why? On the other side, we find that in some Islamic countries a woman is not allowed to expose one square inch of her hair or skin in the public, which is, contrary to the common belief, a tribal code rather than having anything to do with religion.


Again, although the Iranian people should and deserve a much broader latitude in freedoms of expression and action than currently practiced, their limitations are nowhere near as draconian as what we see among many of the so-called moderate Islamic allies of the United States in the Middle East.


The allegations against Iran's violation of human rights, however true they might be to a certain extent, are no more than another pretext to put Iran under increasing diplomatic pressure. Here, we have to once again look at what influences are at work that bear upon American foreign policy directives toward Iran, and why.


Clearly, an independent or non-compliant regime in a strategically important area like the Middle East constitutes a "rogue" state and is cause for alarm. The true definition of a rogue state is one that does not adhere to international norms, plots its own course irrespective of international law, and pursues its own interests, by force if necessary. This is hardly a valid description of Iran judged by any standard. This, however, is not a realistic description of a rogue regime in today's political atmosphere; a rogue state now is a state that dares to challenge the mandates of the global power center.


Iran fits that description perfectly. The Islamic revolution in Iran changed, at least in the short term historically speaking, the long established paradigm that states located in strategic areas of the world, especially those with vital natural resources, can never survive as independent states. For decades during the Cold War, political stability and subsistence-level economic wellbeing of the Third World nations could only be realized through alliance with one or the other center of global power. And, as long as this paradigm was accepted as a not-so-bitter fact of life, it seemed wiser to tie into the pole with the greatest prospects of rewards. It was, therefore, unthinkable for the Iranian establishments and the upcoming bourgeoisie that a bunch of "mullahs" as they are pejoratively called these days, supported by the masses, could mount up a coup to topple the Middle East's most powerful dictatorial regime and America's staunchest ally in the region. But it happened, and happened because those who made it happen didn't know that it wasn't supposed to happen!  We all learned, or should have learned, a huge lesson.


That success was partly due to the defiant nature and the nationalistic sentiments of the Iranian people from all walks of life or religious and ethnic backgrounds, and partially due to the very character of Shi'a Islam: refusing to take punishment lying down. History shows that while Islam proclaims to be a religion of peace, it mandates struggle for justice as an obligation for the faithful.


For a quarter century now Iran has remained isolated as the pariah of the Middle East. The only Shi'a nation in the world, Iran's success in establishing an independent state posed a threat to the oil-rich Sunni Arab states. Even in the secular Iraqi dictatorship, the disenfranchised majorities joined with the majority Shi'a oil field workers of Saudi Arabia in looking to Iran's Islamic revolution as a source of inspiration and hope for change, almost any change and nearly at any cost!


Once the Islamic Republic was firmly established, its direct influence and support was extended to the struggling Shi'a majority in Lebanon attempting to gain recognition and participation in the affairs of state. Their armed struggle (Hezbollah) against the occupying Israeli forces that finally led to the expulsion of the invaders from the Lebanese soil resulted in their classification as a terrorist organization by the American State Department, for very obvious reasons.


As an admitted and proud supporter of that cause, as well as moral and material support for the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation of their ancestral lands, Iran was branded as a state sponsor of international terrorism.


For Israel, of course, any resistance against its continued occupation and transgressions constitutes acts of terrorism. While that is understandable, America's perennial, blind and unequivocal support for Israel, at the expense of everyone else, including America's own national interests, is something that the rest of the world has been trying for decades to understand.


This matter is not the subject of analysis here, suffice it to say that this historical fact has been, and continues to be, the primary if not the sole contributing factor to America's dilemmas in the Middle East and the Islamic world.


While the belligerent dictatorship in Iraq has been dismantled and Syria and, by extension Lebanon, are under increasing threats for a similar fate, Iran remains the only remaining Israel antagonist that still stands. For how long and at what cost depends on America's ability to put its own national interests ahead of its surrogate regional troublemaker, and for the Iranian people to remain steadfast and unified in the face of mounting threats.


In the meantime, constructive dialogue and diplomacy, if intelligently applied, can lead to a long awaited rapprochement between the United States and Iran. It is not too difficult to show beyond any doubt that the long term interests of both nations lie along the same path. Hostile rhetoric and meaningless slogans have burnt many bridges and, as the President once remarked, America has practically sanctioned itself out of any influence over Iran. At the same time, the official Iranian news agency website, IRNA, chose to show a scene from the recent Hajj pilgrimage where the Iranians were carrying death to America, death to Israel banners, as though this most sacred of religious rites was some political rally.


The two nations do not hate each other; it is the management of the diplomatic machinations that need to be redressed on both sides. While the public pronouncements continue to sound uncompromising and venomous to the point that many believe some act of aggression is imminent, there are signs that both sides recognize the value of adopting a more conciliatory approach to crossing over burnt bridges with some caution and prudence.


... Payvand News - 2/14/05 ... --

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