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6/10/05

Three "Stupid" Questions

By Kam ZarrabiIntellectual Discourse

 

In the march toward the democratization of the Middle East, Iraq is in flames, Afghanistan is in a state of near chaos, the Israelis and the Palestinians remain on each other's backs, and Iran is holding its presidential elections next week.

 

It is widely believed here that America's concerns and involvements in the Middle East revolve around three principle themes: promoting freedom and democracy in that region, encouraging a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and of course, the problem of how to handle Iran!

 

As in any other dialogue with the hope of achieving a reasoned conclusion, certain assumptions must first be agreed upon. Here, the fundamental assumption for all the arguments presented is: Nations, just like tribes, families and individuals, do and must pursue their own best interests. This is a fact of nature, the purest and simplest of all natural instincts shared by every living creature on this planet. Without doubt, the very survival and continuity of all species of life depend on this primal instinct.

 

In group dynamics, we observe various degrees of cooperation and coexistence, a sort of give and take or live and let live, such as quelling certain greed-based impulses or deferring certain individual privileges in exchange for more fruitful, longer-term benefits. Love and sacrifice for family and kinfolk, or taking up arms to defend against intrusion into home turf even when it entails the loss of numerous lives, is ultimately conducive to the survival of the "whole" at the expense of the smaller units of society.

 

We humans, of course, try to explain and rationalize everything, including our instinctive behavior patterns. We elevate those impulses to much higher plateaus where simple animal territoriality becomes sanctified as patriotism, where our lust or greed for more is promoted as our motivating drive for progress, and where whatever seems to serve our interests is somehow moralized and viewed as righteous and well deserved.

 

These instincts have promoted the survival and proliferation of the various human societies from time immemorial. The fundamental instincts for survival and dominance have remained unchanged; but, in our increasingly smaller world, the interaction between large blocks of humanity has resulted in clashes of "entitlements" that we all have to deal with. With these thoughts in the back of our minds, let's start asking those "stupid" questions. 

 

Stupid Question #1: Why would the United States, the only global superpower, choose to promote the ideals of freedom, self determination and democratic reforms among the Middle Eastern nations; how would that serve America's best interests?

 

For many if not most, the question sounds too childish at first glance to warrant any answer. After all, why shouldn't America want freedom and democracy to spread worldwide? We might classify the proponents of this ideology into the following categories:

  1. The genuine idealists who believe, or prefer to believe, in the fundamentals of fairness and justice, even at a cost to themselves.
  2. The self-righteous, wishful-thinking, ignoramuses who believe, once all nations are free and democratic, they would inevitably adopt our ways, gravitate toward us, and serve our interests of their own free will.

 

On the other side, we find those who do not find the question raised above as an academic redundancy. Why, indeed, would the United States want to be the advocate of freedom, democracy and a fair and just world, when such advocacy is the surest way to undermine our control over the political and economic affairs of our sphere of influence? Are we really tired of running the world's affairs?

 

How could we be so na´ve as to think that the rest of the world, particularly the Islamic Middle East where most of the world's energy resources happen to be, is so in love with us that, given the opportunity to decide openly and freely, these nations would forsake their own best interests in our favor and willingly comply to our mandates? What we want for the Middle East is not true democracy or self determination, what we actually want is compliance at any cost; at any cost to them, that is.

 

The stakes are pretty high in this international poker game. Those who sit at this poker table are there to win by any means possible; they smile and exchange jokes in order to show their gentle side, they show anger, bluff, intimidate, and some even attempt to cheat with the help of collaborators who spy on the opponents' hands. The purpose of this entire charade is certainly not to magnanimously give away their own advantage in order to help the opponents; the purpose is to win - let there be no doubt about that!

 

Needless to say, we would much prefer a stable, free and democratic Middle East, where the oil-rich nations put their destinies in our hands and allow us to chart their course, of their own free will. In that case there would be no war or strife to contend with, no loss of blood, and no unpleasant demonstrations or acts of terrorism. Of course, such idiotic delusions belong in children's fairy tales and have no place in the real world.

 

So, how is the world's sole superpower going to ensure its primary interests in the Middle East stage in such a way that an effective level of control and "guided" stability might be maintained for the long haul?

 

The United States' concerns over the energy resources of the Middle East, and also Central Asia or the Caspian Basin, are three fold:

1-     Maintaining control over the volume of production, the price, and the flow of oil and gas produced in that region.

2-     Making sure that our Western allies continue to have access to these energy resources at a reasonable price, low enough to maintain their economic growth, but just short of becoming independent of us; America needs allies, not equals!

3-     Making it as difficult as possible for America's future challengers and rivals, the potential troika of Russia, China and India, to gain control over the Middle East energy resources. With the populations of China and India, and Russia's huge military might, a tri-polar world of North America, the European Union, and RCI (Russia-China-India) is simply a matter of time. Delaying this historical inevitability as long as possible, or at least until other forms of energy replace hydrocarbons as the fuel of choice, would be the objective.

 

Iran, of course, holds a unique position in this vital strategic game. Iran is doubtless the most stable country in the Middle East, the most populous, with the most developed industrial infrastructure, and with some of world's largest oil and gas reserves. Sitting right between the West and the East, Iran can play the pivotal role in the shifting of the balance of power in the future tri-polar world.

 

There could be no ironclad guarantees that a truly free and independent Iran would not weigh the potential benefits of creating wider and stronger alliances with the emerging giants in the East at the expense of the Western interests. If what the United States or the European Union has to offer a free and democratic Iran does not outweigh the benefits, short term as well as long, of going the other way, the consequences would be enormous.

 

Should there remain any doubt that what the Bush administration means by freedom and democratic reforms for Iran is the same model that is presently being implemented in Iraq and Afghanistan? It is highly unlikely that a free and democratic Iran would opt for that alternative.

 

Stupid Question #2: Why shouldn't the Israeli regime opt for peaceful coexistence with a sovereign Palestinian state next door, as envisioned by the United States and the world community?

 

Who could say that Israel does not want peace? The question takes on a different perspective, however, when one visits a cemetery where the serenity of peace and tranquility prevails. If peace were to be interpreted as a cessation of hostilities and armed struggle, then of course, Israel would certainly prefer peace; who wouldn't? But, peace with justice? Well, that's a completely different matter.

 

We can blame Israel, as does the international community at large, for being the primary cause of the decades-long conflict and strife in the Middle East. We could blame not just Israel, but also America, for its blind and passionate support for whatever Israel has done to promote its own selfish agendas. However, from an Israeli perspective, promoting that nation's agenda at any cost to whomever, is quite justifiable, as long as the benefits outweighed the costs. All nations do that, or at least they should. And why should Israel be the one to refrain from maximizing its potentials for territorial gains while enjoying financial, military and diplomatic support from the United States?

 

So, why should Israel support a peaceful and fair resolution to the Palestinian problem, when regional instability, threats of terrorism and warfare, meaning America's forceful presence in the Middle East, serve its best interests?

 

The Bush administration is regarded today as perhaps the most pro-Israel we have had. The fact is that almost all American administrations, Democrat and Republican, since the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower could have claimed this honor with some justification. The credit for generating this sentiment in the public domain should go to the powerful and influential Zionist lobbying organizations operating under the umbrella of American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC.

 

While today's perhaps one to two million Jewish votes are almost equally divided between the Democratic and Republican political parties, the real influence of the pro-Israel camp reaches far beyond what those humble numbers indicate. It would be impossible to recall any candidate for any political office in America who was an open critic of the Israeli policies and managed to lead a successful campaign.

 

Against this historical background, why shouldn't Israel press ever more belligerently and aggressively in the pursuit of its regional agendas, with the assurance that America shall stand beside it, come what may? Thanks to the news and information media, as well as the entertainment industry, the American nation is today convinced that Israel is just another state among the other United States of America, far away in a hostile frontier, bearing the brunt of threats and hostilities on America's behalf.

 

The successful perpetuation of this myth has resulted in an almost religious belief that any criticism of the policies of the Israeli regime is tantamount to anti-Semitism and, by extension, anti American or unpatriotic.

 

This year's annual AIPAC meeting in Washington, held May 22-24, was the biggest ever. Featured speakers included: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon, Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Natan Sharansky, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, DNC Chairman Howard Dean and many others of note.


AIPAC President Bernice Manocherian started: "At a time of unprecedented challenge and opportunity for
America's ally in the Middle East, the deep and abiding support for Israel in all quarters of American society is truly exemplified by this year's conference. Support for Israel is not a Democratic value or a Republican value, it is an American value," she said.

 

Of especial note was Nancy Pelosi's emotional speech, which ended by this House Democratic Leader's passionate sentence, "The United States stands with Israel, now and forever; now and forever."

 

For a commentary, as well as Mrs. Pelosi's full speech, please refer to the following link: http://www.commondreams.org/views05/0527-23.htm

 

Nancy Pelosi is not the exception, she is the rule. A few months ago, after the International Court of Justice ruled against Israel's construction of the infamous wall of separation, Hillary Clinton, the likely future president of these United States, stood with the Jewish crowds in front of the United Nation's building in New York and denounced that decision.

 

Guess what comprised the main agenda of this year's AIPAC meeting; yes, the threat that Iran allegedly poses to Israel and the United States. Hardly surprising!

 

Stupid Question #3: Is Iran going to abandon its pursuit of the atom bomb, denounce terrorism, and stop its human-rights violations? This question sounds very much like asking someone if he intends to stop abusing his wife and molesting his children, expecting a yes or no answer. The question is actually loaded and accusatory. Iran has been trying to convince its accusers that such allegations are baseless and motivated by purely political agendas aimed at putting Iran under increasing economic and political pressures. But, the accusers are demanding a yes or no answer to their damning questions, which leads to a guilty-as-charged plea regardless of how Iran would reply.

 

Is there a way out of the current quagmire for Iran?

 

Sandwiched between American occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and encircled by combat ready American forces from Uzbekistan to the Persian Gulf and up to the Caspian region, Iran has had to take the repeated threats of preemptive assaults on its soil by the United States and Israeli governments with a degree of seriousness. While these open threats have been interpreted for the most part as no more than hollow saber rattling aimed at certain political gains, the Iranian strategists have taken advantage of this opportunity to further legitimize and strengthen their hard-line position.

 

However, if this was in fact what the threats of preemptive strike, invasion, or forced regime-change were aimed to achieve - in other words, the perpetuation of Iran's repressive hard-line policies, resulting in further destabilization and a worsening of the internal strife among the dissatisfied groups - there are signs that this strategy is about to fail. For eight years, Iran's reform minded current administration failed to implement most of what it had promised and set out to do, due primarily to the opposition by the superior authority of the seat of the real power, Iran's more conservative spiritual leadership.

 

The economic sanctions and diplomatic pressures by the United States succeeded in the failure of the Khatami presidency to bring the much anticipated reforms to fruition. Perhaps the neocons who mastermind America's policies in the Middle East had been foolish enough to predict that the failure of Khatami's reform initiatives would serve as the last straw that might bring down the Islamic regime and the office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameneh'i.

 

In the face of increasingly more active and vociferous opposition to the clerical leadership, and in spite of the heightened public dissatisfaction with the state of the economy, a meaningful secularization of the Iranian regime is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. This means that, whoever takes the helm of the ship of state in next week's presidential elections, will have to contend with the conservative clerical orthodoxy that dominates Iran's foreign policy, the military, and the judiciary. A nation under threats of destabilization and military attack is not likely to abandon its conservative core and make itself vulnerable to foreign intrigue.

 

Under these circumstances, another Reformist president will face the same obstacles and limitations that hampered Mr. Khatami during his highly popular, yet sadly ineffective, two-terms' presidency that is about to end. If reform toward moderation, liberalization, and a rapprochement with the United States is in the books, such changes will require the leadership by someone with an improbable set of qualifications.

 

More important than superficial popularity, the new president must have what could best be described as "charisma", that special aura of almost effortless authority and self-confidence. He must also be highly skilled in statecraft and diplomacy and have leadership background and experience. To succeed in braking the shackles of the decades-long overcautious conservatism, he must be a true pragmatist, a deal-maker and a power-broker, yet be trusted within the religious hierarchy of power as "one of their own."

 

There is, in fact, such a person among the slate of presidential candidates running in next week's elections. For many liberal, reform-minded Iranians Mr. Rafsanjani might be a bitter medicine for the nation's ills; but bitter medicine is often the treatment that actually works best.

 

Will it work this time? We shall wait and see.

 

... Payvand News - 6/10/05 ... --



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