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1/25/05

Iran Approaching The Flashpoint

By Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse

 

For what might my draft-age son be fighting? For whom will the bells toll this time?

 

Seymour Hersh's article, The Coming Wars, in the New Yorker magazine should not have surprised anyone. Iran has been in the crosshairs, and remains at the crossroads, ever since it was crowned as the biggest threat to international peace and security by the Bush administration soon after September, 11, 2001.

 

George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address in January, 2002, lumped Iran together with Iraq and North Korea as members of an Axis of Evil, to be confronted in America's war on international terrorism.

 

The real enemy or the source of threat against the security of the United States was reconfirmed to be the Al-Ghae'da camp, headed by Osama Bin-Laden, masterminding its operations from Afghanistan's mountain strongholds. However, the 9/11 attack provided an unexpected and highly welcomed opportunity for dormant power centers to come together and join forces with a common agenda. The target was broadened almost immediately to encompass the entire Middle East and later Islam as a whole, called the militant Islam, of course, for political correctness!

 

Organizations and think tanks such as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Middle East Forum, as well as many hard-core evangelicals, found the national tragedy of 9/11 the catalyst that brought them together in a crusade against a common enemy. A true national tragedy was thus hijacked.

 

To summarize, this grand unified powerhouse consisted of three major vectors of influence, not all aligned in the same exact direction, but with enough in common to resolve into a united front.

 

First was the global projection of America's military and economic dominance, the stated agenda of the New American Century (read 'American Empire'). The big fish floating in this think tank include the Vice President, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, and several other high-profile people who bear heavily on our foreign policy decisions.

 

Second was the promotion and implementation of policies that, first and foremost, served the interests of the Israeli government at whatever cost to whomever, friend or foe. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, the most powerful lobbying organization in Washington, after AARP, is the only foreign lobby to become a favorite platform for America's top executives and opinion molders, from the President on down to the influence-peddling journalists, whenever matters of foreign policy are the issue.

 

The hard-core Christian Right whose evangelical vision of global salvation would, to follow Biblical tradition, begin in the Middle East, was the largest horse in the troika, in numbers, as well as in appeal to the office of the Commander in Chief.

 

These unleashed forces found the American public, traditionally uninterested and blissfully naive in international affairs, and now in shock after the 9/11 attack, ready and anxious to support a strong leader committed to bringing the wrongdoers to justice and to eradicating the global evil. These promises were given to the American people by the President, promptly and in no uncertain terms. The next step was targeting the wrongdoers, their supporters, and the sources or the breeding grounds of evil.

 

The American people, indeed the whole world, expected immediate and massive retaliatory action against those who had committed such blatant and bold savagery against innocent civilians on America's own soil. The culprits were the same folks who were responsible for other attacks on American targets in the Middle East and East Africa - the Bin Laden's Al-Gha'eda network.

 

But, that was clearly not enough; terrorists had to have sanctuaries in areas where they could be sheltered and protected or tolerated by tribes or regimes. Furthermore, some governments in the region more than just sympathized with the terrorists' goals and objectives; these regimes might even have provided material and strategic support for such groups and facilitated their activities. It was, therefore, a necessary part of the unfolding strategic planning to chart out the states and regimes in the Middle East that could be regarded as safe haven for terror groups or might be active supporters of terrorists' agendas.

 

Each of the three main vectors of influence enumerated above promptly jumped on the band wagon and produced their respective target list. The so-called neo-conservatives, variously known as neocons, and alternatively described as neo-crazies or neo-goons, are best represented by the roster of the PNAC think tank. The elite membership here includes some rather strange bedfellows, but all sharing in one basic principle: the global expansion of American hegemony by any means possible, including unilateralism, disregard for international law, and war.

 

The second phalanx or the 'Israel firsters', many of them neo-conservatives as well, wholeheartedly support the same thesis, as long as any action taken serves the Israeli regime's regional objectives, regardless of its costs to allies, including its benefactor, the united States, or catastrophic regional side effects.

 

Finally, the religious Right, whose power and influence have been steadily on the rise, provides the moral and ethical grounds in the public domain to portray the crusade against evil as exactly that, a Crusade with a capital C.  Strong religious underpinnings characterized the inaugural ceremonies of January 20th. George W. Bush was uncharacteristically eloquent as he waved his magic wand, promising once again to promote freedom and democracy and to fight tyranny throughout the world. His well-rehearsed speech was punctuated by references to god and divine justice, befitting a true crusader on a Messianic mission.  As he stood there accepting the responsibility to lead the most powerful empire the world has ever seen, his sincerity, commitment and resolve were never in doubt.

 

The President's resolve and commitments were never in doubt the first time he took the oath of office, either. Neither were the determination and resolve of the power brokers behind the mask of power who could clearly see in the Chief Executive the perfect vehicle for success in their respective missions.

 

The public response to the tragedy of 9/11 was understandably reactionary and volcanic. If fifty-nine million voters indicated their preference for the Republicans' management of the tasks at hand last November, the numbers were far greater right after September 11, 2001, literally endorsing any measure the Administration would choose to adopt against the perpetrators of that terrorist act.

 

The neocons and Israel-firsters and their cohorts and moles in the Departments of Defense and State and the National Security Council, as well as among the personal advisors to the highest ranking members of the Administration, began to quickly rise and shine in the new atmosphere of fear and paranoia. It was time, they said, to seize the moment to hit them, and to hit them hard! But, hit whom, where, with what, and in what order?

 

That answer was provided without delay: the enemy was militant Islam in the Middle East. And, of course, America had a close confidante and ally in that turbulent region that had always been portrayed and sold to the American public as a reliable monitoring station safeguarding America's strategic and security interests there - Israel, of course. This 'trustworthy' monitoring station didn't waste any time to point to the various terrorist groups and regional states that sponsored terrorism. The Israeli lobby had worked long and hard to infiltrate the American Congress and every other agency or enterprise that had widespread influence over public opinion and public policy. It had been quite successful in establishing in the public mindset a sense of moral equivalency between America and Israel. Both nations were, according to the propaganda line, sharing in basic values and aspirations; two nations half a world apart, but with one soul!

 

So, selling the idea that those who opposed Israel's regional ambitions were at the same time opposed to America's interests, was not a difficult task at all. The State Department's list of terrorist organizations includes Middle Eastern militant groups that have never initiated or posed a threat to Americans or American interests. The regional states who oppose Israel's policies and sympathize with the Palestinian or Lebanese militants who have been thorns on Israel's side have, by extension, been classified as sponsors of terrorism by the United States.

 

This list conveniently excludes some governments that, although among the most blatant examples of tyranny and violation of human rights, are considered friendly or compliant for various strategic reasons. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are America's strategic allies in regulating the price and the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf. Jordan has always done as it's been told, and Egypt and Turkey have peace treaties with Israel.

 

That left Iran, Iraq and Syria for Israel to contend with. Lebanon has been a de facto Syrian enclave, sharing Syria's fate, whatever it might turn out to be. Of these remaining Israel antagonists, Iraq was the most suitable target once the first logical target, the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, was attacked and occupied. While the assault on Afghanistan received a relatively wide international support, albeit for the wrong reasons, the premise for extending the war on terror into Iraq was quite shaky at the start.

 

The invasion of Iraq was, however, pre-ordained as the first step in a series of events that was to accomplish two major objectives: First and foremost was to eliminate any and all resistance or opposition to America's extended control over the region's vital resources; and second, to defuse any and all challenges, existing or potential, to Israel's security and military supremacy. The visionaries at the PNAC had, in fact, already produced the blueprint for the transformation of the Middle East, beginning with the invasion of Iraq, some years in advance of George W. Bush's presidency.

 

With the American public ready and anxious for action, some justifiable pretext had to be found to invade Iraq. However, the United Nations team in search of Iraq's suspected weapons' programs and stockpiles of WMDs came alarmingly close to refuting those allegations and defusing the tension. This didn't sit well with the hawks in the Administration who refused to be deterred from their long-awaited ambitious dreams.

 

It would be na´ve to believe that the American, British, and particularly the Israeli intelligence services were actually mistaken in their findings regarding Iraq's nuclear and other weapons programs or stockpiles; there couldn't have been such a grand intelligence failure. It would be much more reasonable to assume that the facts about the non-existence of such WMDs were clearly established, just as the United Nations team was about to report before their mission was suspiciously aborted. If there were, in fact, any doubts about Saddam Hussein's DMDs, it would have been militarily foolish to expose the American forces, or Israel's population centers, to potential nuclear or chemical attacks. The very real suspicions about the North Korean nuclear weapons capabilities have already demonstrated why in that case caution and diplomacy became the strategy of choice.

 

This brings us to the current developments with regard to Iran and the heightened state of alert that has been saturating the news media, especially since the President's inaugural address last week.

 

Accusations against the Iranian regime parallel those brought against Iraq shortly before the actual invasion of that country by the American forces. These accusations can be split into three main categories: First, is the threat that a nuclear armed enemy state could potentially pose against America and America's strategic interests elsewhere. Second is the issue of Iran's alleged support for terrorist groups in the Middle East hotspots. Finally, it is the humanitarian concern over Iran's treatment of its own citizens, particularly women and minorities, and the general atmosphere of suppression of civil liberties.

 

These allegations constitute ample pretext for the Administration hawks to put Iran on notice, as verbalized by the President and his newly appointed Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. She was not short for words when questioned by the senators during her confirmation hearings about her views regarding the issue of US/Iran relations. In response to Senator Joe Biden, she resorted to her usual rhetorical style of stringing along a profusion of academically erudite, yet contextually vague phrases, simply echoing unsupported charges that have been mouthed by her superiors. In her case, that is actually all that is expected of her, and that is exactly how she acted in her capacity as the President's National Security Advisor.

 

Here, it is important to note that, just as was the case with Iraq, suspicions, allegations and accusations do not require verification and proof to justify action. When it comes to foreign policy, the philosophy of this Administration has been quite simple: Do what you want to do; rationalize it later. This has been a time-tested Israeli model, now openly and, unfortunately proudly, adopted by the American administration.

 

Those who mobilized anti war demonstrations, gave speeches, wrote books, and created websites to reflect the perspectives of reason, sanity and experience in world affairs did find a substantial nationwide audience. However, the voices of reason, as welcome as they were, had the same effect as singing to a chorus. Now it is Iran's turn to become the subject of brilliant news analyses and debates between the pro war and anti war journalists and opinion gurus.

 

A well intentioned scientist with vast experience in nuclear weapons technology and proliferation issues has been writing articles for a prestigious anti war website, pointing to the fact that Iran is far from being able to develop a nuclear bomb. There is an international consensus, outside of the United States and Israel, that Iran, far from causing agitation in the neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq, has been quite helpful in supporting the stability of those countries, even if for Iran's own sake. Iran's alleged support for terror organizations such as Hezbollah is yet another guise, both in terms of what defines terrorism and what constitutes support, which seems to suit the agenda at hand. And, when it comes to promoting democratic reforms and fighting tyranny, injustice and violations of human rights, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and China among many others are, as Senator Biden pointed out to Condoleezza Rice, far more deplorable than what we are accusing the Iranian regime of.

 

Are we forgetting that the invasion of Iraq was carried out with similar pretexts or excuses? Iran is, of course, a much larger country with three times the population of Iraq and a terrain that is, unlike Iraq, nearly as difficult as Afghanistan. Short of an all out military attack from several flanks, followed by a massive invasion, no military action or insurgency can do to Iran what was done to Afghanistan or Iraq. Surgical strikes at nuclear facilities by the Israelis, something that the Vice President has already hinted at, will not even effectively slow down any effort the Iranians might be making toward a nuclear weapons development. Any such attack will result in three outcomes: First, it will generate an even greater animosity toward the perpetrators and will strengthen the hardliners' grip on the nation, thus creating added obstacles for the reformists and pro democracy movements to achieve their goals. Second, efforts would then be initiated or accelerated to acquire the ultimate weapon as a deterrent, if not to use in retaliation in an opportune time. Third, with its vast resources and great influence, the Iranian regime would do what it is already accused of doing; supporting insurgencies and creating as much trouble in the region against Israel and the United States as possible.

 

So, what is the logic, if any, behind all the recently intensified saber rattling from Washington? To answer that, we can believe the official pronouncements that the Administration is trying to sell to the public, or an alternative version that risks the chance of being labeled as too conspiratorial; make your own choice!

 

The official version:

1-     The world cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.

2-     Iran harbors and supports international terror organizations.

3-     Iran intends to disrupt our efforts to bring peace and democracy to the region.

4-     Iran's mission is to destroy Israel.

5-     Iran must go through a regime change, by military intervention if need be.

 

There are some who might question the method of approach to defusing the Iranian threat, but few in this country would doubt that the Iranian threat is real and that it must be dealt with. This perception is not limited to the political conservatives or Bush supporters; the Democrats share equally in this view, as was clearly demonstrated by their candidates during their presidential campaigns speeches.

 

Nearly one half of the American public is now aware, and to a degree surprised, that the invasion of Iraq was based on a less than honest appraisal of an Iraqi threat to America's security, and that it did not unfold as promised by the Administration. Having learned from those mistakes, they now believe, the Iranian threat must surely have been much more clearly verified, and any military action will certainly be much better planned.

 

When the news of the death of Johnny Carson occupies all headlines for days on end, and the major debate in the public domain is over which weight-loss diet works better, can we expect more?

 

Of course, if we accept certain conjectures as facts, the situation and the strategies to deal with it cannot be challenged. These pretexts, in addition to those enumerated above, include:

1-     Iran is led by a group of turban-headed crazies.

2-     Given the chance, they would not hesitate to destroy Israel, even if it meant an assured total devastation of their own country and people.

3-     Iran is rapidly developing its weapons of mass destruction, including atomic bombs and long-range missiles, not for defensive purposes, but to attack Israel and to threaten Europe and North America.

4-     Since they are lunatics, the Iranian Islamic leaders believe they shall ultimately dominate the globe with their brand of fundamentalist Islam.

 

If such conjectures sound too stupid to be taken seriously, just listen to and read the same statements by some very high-profile national figures, from journalists like Charles Krauthammer to the likes of the House Majority Whip, Tom Delay, or the influential evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, to the prolific conservative radio talk-show hosts who influence the minds of millions on a daily basis.

 

So, what might be an alternative view or interpretation of the current state of heightened anxiety between the United States and Iran? But first, a list of facts on the ground that may illuminate some of Iran's concerns and objectives:

1-     The average Iranian, as any other human being anywhere else, would prefer to live in a free and democratic society, in peace and with guaranteed security. However, just as is the case right here in America, when a nations is threatened by terrorism or military invasion, whether real or perceived, many social liberties and democratic aspirations or expectations may be put on hold, and in Iran's case, kept on hold indefinitely.

2-     More than social liberties and democratic reforms, the economic conditions play the most vital role in a nation's destiny. Sanctions and economic pressures imposed on Iran do no more than postpone the natural transition from a de-facto theocracy to a more open civil society. The perpetuation and intensification of animosities toward Iran have been, and continue to be, the perfect recipe for further legitimizing the position of the hardliners in Iran's sociopolitical affairs.

3-     Again, just as is the case right here in America, ultraconservatives, even the radical religious fanatics, be it Tom Delay, Billy Graham,  or ayatollah X Y Z at any given Friday sermon, do not hate their own country, but see the best course for their respective nations, each in their own way, as misguided as they might be.

4-     Iran stands to gain nothing by posing a threat to Israel, unless, of course, in self-defense. Any hostile act toward the West or the United States would mean a catastrophic end to all of Iran's hopes and aspirations as a viable nation. Aggression has never been an Iranian agenda, and would serve absolutely no purpose now.

5-     Iran is a large country with some of the richest natural resources, including the region's biggest natural gas reserves - the energy source of the future - rich oil fields, ore deposits and a growing industrial infrastructure. The Iranians are a proud people, proud of their national history and cultural heritage. They have shown resolve and resiliency in the face of many historical upheavals, ancient and recent, both foreign and domestic. Iran rightly expects to be acknowledged as a consequential player in the affairs of the region. Attempts to isolate and exclude Iran from any future designs for the Middle East will inevitably result in an unstable imbalance.

6-     Diplomacy between two nations, no matter how large or small in relative terms, must be based on mutual respect, not as a dialogue between a master and a subordinate.

 

Who stands to gain by perpetuating and intensifying the tension between the Unites States and Iran? It is certainly not Iran; even the staunchest hardliner or religious zealot would prefer to not rule over the dust of a devastated nation. And, it is certainly not the United States of America, whose interests can be much better assured through a rapprochement with a strategically positioned and energy rich Iran. A friendly Iran would more than help secure the stability of the neighboring states and, with certain security guarantees, would cease to be a concern as a military threat to Israel or anyone else.

 

Why is it, then, that while Iran has been trying so many times and in so many ways to demonstrate its openness toward a rapprochement with the United States, the response has been suspiciously cold and negative? Who benefits from this arrogant defiance of common sense? It al started by the grand unified troika galloping ahead with the mask of power.

 

But, this is not where the case ends: The neocon gang is quickly coming to the realization that their ambitious designs for the creation of a new American empire is neither good for America, nor tolerated by America's allies in the West, or the rising rival powers in the East. Had the situation both in Afghanistan and in Iraq been resolved expeditiously, the grand design for the conquest of the Middle East would have followed without delay. The evangelical crusaders have already accomplished more than they could have bargained for right here at home. Both these sources of influence are looking at the next presidential term four years away that will, more than likely, put the damper on their dreams. That leaves us with only one remaining culprit whose mission is seemingly never ending, and who has historically had the support, sometimes covert and sometimes explicit, of Washington, regardless of which political party has come to power.  Now, with even the faintest prospects for a mediated agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the border issues, the settlements, and the Palestinian statehood, the Sharon government is finding things not going its way. Nothing would serve the Likud regime's ambitious agendas more than a continuation of strife and hostilities in the Middle East. As long as America remains militarily engaged in the region, Israel will enjoy an unquestioned level of support in all fronts, financial, military, and diplomatic. This is exactly why striking at Iran's nuclear facilities, although a militarily fruitless act, will be intended to provide added fuel for the regional turmoil to further involve Iran and America in protracted antagonism and threats.  

 

Any assault on Iran or Iranian targets would only benefit Israel. Can the United States escape this folly that promises to be the biggest quagmire it has ever encountered? Can the United States curb the pit-bull and, instead, do for a change what is best for America?

 

Threatening to preemptively attack a sovereign nation the size and significance of Iran in violation of all international norms should be taken a lot more seriously by the American media than it seems to be. A nationwide pole taken by America On Line or CNN, where the participants indicate their choice of whether or not to attack or invade Iran, just as they choose which color car to buy next, brings the realities of life and death to the level of virtual realities of computer games. Humans do suffer and die by the tens of thousands, as well as those American men and women sent to fight an enemy created in the domain of virtual reality by pundits with their own ulterior motives, those whose own blood or that of their children is never spilled in their pursuits of grandeur.  

 

May reason prevail.

 

 

 

... Payvand News - 1/25/05 ... --



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