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Thinking Outside The Box

Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse


There is an old Iranian expression that goes something like this: The pebble that a fool drops into a well will require a hundred wise men to retrieve. To get out of the quagmire that the Bush administration has gotten us into might need more than the proverbial hundred wise men. Now after the loss of 2000 young American lives and over two hundred billion dollars in costs, America’s patented “war on terror” seems to be going nowhere fast.


It is time, perhaps, to think outside the box.


Any seasoned analyst appreciates the role that the administration’s propaganda machine always plays in rallying the public in support of its policies. This is particularly true in matters dealing with foreign affairs, an area to which the American public is, and has been historically, blissfully distanced. The information propagated through the mass media helps formulate the general public’s perception of the global affairs. The mass media’s power of persuasion among the masses is supported by the prevailing myth that the freedom of the press in a capitalist democracy ensures open and honest reporting.


One of the basic responsibilities, perhaps the chief function, of the propaganda machine is to create and perpetuate myths that play into the collective sympathies of the masses in order to generate a more durable public consent. Ironically, the fundamental myth that paves the way for the success of the subsequent mythmakers is the American people’s almost religious faith in the honesty, nobility and purity of America’s mission and objectives on the world stage. Although such self-redeeming beliefs have arguably had valid foundations in the past, this grand dame lost its virginity over a half century ago.


The reality is that any nation in pursuit of its own best interests will inevitably encounter resistance and opposition by competing, and just as self-righteously motivated, nations who seek their own best interests. Even when the dominant powers resolve their conflict of entitlements in a mutually satisfactory manner, their gain is more than likely at the expense of the less fortunate underdogs who have traditionally been unable to do more than watch the clash of the titans and keep from getting trampled.


In today’s world, however, the traditional underdogs have been gaining a gravity never before witnessed, and now increasingly acknowledged, by the heavyweight champions of the global arena. The unconventional methods and tactics employed by the heretofore inconsequential forces have exposed an alarming degree of vulnerability in the defenses of the mighty. Now, even scattered bands of poorly organized troublemakers can threaten and disrupt the safety and security of nations and inflict significant harm.


It is perhaps too early in historical terms to accept the fact that small and disparate gangs of militants with an agenda could intimidate and terrorize powerhouses of the world. The established mindset dictates that only well organized and amply funded quasi nations or states are capable of carrying out such seemingly elaborate strategies. What is also an established mindset is that whatever opposes or stands in the way of righteous, noble and honorable pursuits is, by definition, immoral, ignoble and evil.


Based on such presumptions, the evil is first identified and introduced to the public as, by necessity, a large and well organized group or a combination of groups supported by equally evil states with vast resources and global reach. That step is then followed by strategies drawn to confront and eliminate the evil at the source, rather than wait for the dark forces to gain the upper hand.


This is thinking inside the box, and it isn’t working; it is time to step outside the box. “Staying the course”, the President’s favorite slogan, means remaining trapped inside the cubicle with no attempt to find a way out. This attitude is not a sign of prudent resolve; it means keeping the nation in a perilous trap.


This leads us to the current affairs and America’s entanglement in the Middle East. Without going into details of how and why we got into that mess in the first place, or debating the truths, lies, realities or fabrications that may haunt us for decades to come, the big question is how to get out of this costly quagmire.


Looking ahead to the next elections campaigns, potential candidates in both political parties are increasingly distancing themselves from the pro-war lobbies and openly support finding expeditious exit strategies. Unfortunately, even these anti-war politicians never challenge the fundamental principles upon which American foreign policies have been structured. They also believe that “evil” is clearly identified and must be confronted and defeated or contained before it could do more harm; the only disagreement is in the methods and tactics involved in combating this evil. They are also trapped inside the same box.


Thinking inside the box means adhering stubbornly to a set of established mindsets or paradigms, even in the face of clear evidence to their falsehood or ineffectiveness. When it comes to dealing with the ongoing campaign against international terrorism and involvements in the Middle East, American administration’s outdated operations manuals seem unable to offer satisfactory solutions to the problems at hand. Instead, we seem to be chasing the wrong targets and pursuing unworkable objectives. But, rather than reevaluate and redress the failed paradigms, our foreign policy gurus are trying to reshape the hand to fit the prefabricated glove.


In addressing our current concerns with the war on terror and our deepening involvements in the Middle East, the following is a short list of particularly troubling points that deserve careful scrutiny for potential reevaluation:


1-   The very meaning of war on terror.

2-   Factors that motivate the terrorists.

3-   America’s moral and pragmatic global objectives.

4-   The proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

5-   The resurgence of Islam as the foundation of political ideologies.

6-   The Iran issue.

7-   Middle East’s oil and gas resources.

8-   Last, but most importantly, the issue of Israel.


Now, let’s examine these issues from the perspective of the prevailing conventional wisdom; inside the box, that is:


1-   To define the concept of war on terror, we must first define what terror constitutes. Terror or terrorism is universally defined as acts of violence or intimidation against civilian or non-combatant populations for political or military motives. But, here our concern is with terrorism aimed at us and our interests. Next, we must identify what or who is to be the target of our war on terror; a target must have a face or an identity. Fortunately, we have been able, we are told, to isolate and identify the culprits; they are Islamic extremists, otherwise known as Islamofascists or Islamic fundamentalists, well organized and well funded and supported by states that encourage, harbor and back such terror networks.


2-   As the president has said, it is clear what motivates these terrorists to strike at us and threaten our global interests: they hate us not for what we do, but for who we are. They simply hate our freedom and democracy and civilized values. They also see us as the main obstacle in their way to achieving global dominance under the banner of fundamentalist Islam.


3-   As the only superpower on the global stage, it is America’s moral duty to confront this menace with all our might, even if we have to do it alone. We know that what is good for America is good for the world.


4-   These terrorists, we are repeatedly warned, with the help of the outlaw countries that support them, are trying to gain access to weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, to threaten and blackmail the region and the civilized word in order to accomplish their evil mission. We simply cannot and will not allow that to happen.


5-   As civilized, open-minded people, we know that Islam is in principle, like any other religion, a religion of peace. However, Islam has been hijacked by many extremist groups and derailed from its righteous path. Today, it is Islam that threatens the civilized world, and it is the civilized world that must stop this menace before it is too late.


6-   We are told that Iran is the greatest danger to global peace and security today. Iran’s tyrannical theocracy has remained the main instigator and supporter of international terrorism, and has been attempting to gain access to nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles. Iran’s stated mission has been to destroy Israel and to spread Shi’ite theocracy throughout the region, thereby establishing its own hegemony over the region’s oil resources.


7-   We can reduce and finally end our dependency on the Middle East oil. But until that time, we must protect our interests and prevent OPEC from using oil to blackmail us or our allies. 


8-   Israel, we have come to believe, is the only true democracy in the Middle East, a staunch friend and ally of the United States, and a vanguard of Western values and civilization in that turbulent region. America must stand beside Israel in their struggle against Islamic threats and terror, particularly from the rogue states like Iran and Syria.


A few excerpts from recent statements by some high profile Administration officials will help demonstrate the above points:


The following quotes are from President Bush’s speech given at a National Endowment for Democracy event, Thursday, October 13, 2005, and repeated several times on different occasions:


 “First, these extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace and stand in the way of their ambitions.”


“Second, the militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments. Over the past few decades, radicals have specifically targeted Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and Jordan for potential takeover.”


“...and we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror.”


“Third, the militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia.


“With greater economic and military and political power, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people and to blackmail our government into isolation.”


“The influence of Islamic radicalism is also magnified by helpers and enablers. They have been sheltered by authoritarian regimes: allies of convenience like Syria and Iran that share the goal of hurting America and moderate Muslim governments and use terrorist propaganda to blame their own failures on the West and America and on the Jews.”


“No act of ours invited the rage of the killers, and no concession, bribe or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder.”


“...We will never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory.”


In the same speech, the president goes on say, “[We] are determined to deny weapons of mass destruction to outlaw regimes and to their terrorist allies who would use them without hesitation.” He continues later, “[We] are determined to deny radical groups the support and sanctuary of outlaw regimes. State sponsors like Syria and Iran have a long history of collaboration with terrorists, and they deserve no patience from the victims of terror.”


Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was, as expected, quick to parrot her boss in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Wednesday, October 19. Here are some comments she made in response to questions posed by the Committee members with regard to the possibility of American military action against Iran and Syria:


“I don’t think the president ever takes any of his options off the table concerning anything to do with military force.”


“Syria and, indeed, Iran must decide whether they want to side with the cause of war or the cause of peace.”


In an interview with BBC 2 on October 14, John Bolton, the US representative at the United Nations, stated:


"The real issue is whether an international community is going to accept an Iran that violates its treaty commitments under the non-proliferation treaty, that lies about its programme and is determined to get nuclear weapons deliverable on ballistic missiles that it can then use to intimidate not only its own region but possibly to supply to terrorists."


It is never easy and is generally counterintuitive to question or abandon “facts” that have taken decades of incessant propaganda to become established as gospel truths. But, when harsh realities on the ground seem to discredit the established facts, stubborn adherence to the conventional wisdom might prove disastrous. 


Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Carter, wrote in an article dated October 9, 2005:
“That war, advocated by a narrow circle of decision-makers for motives still not fully exposed, propagated publicly by rhetoric reliant on false assertions, has turned out to be much more costly in blood and money than anticipated. It has precipitated worldwide criticism. In the Middle East it has stamped the United States as the imperialistic successor to Britain and as a partner of Israel in the military repression of the Arabs. Fair or not, that perception has become widespread throughout the world of Islam.”

“It is a self-delusion for Americans to be told that the terrorists are motivated mainly by an abstract hatred of freedom.”


 “Terrorists are not born but shaped by events..”


 “Flailing away with a stick at a hornets' nest while loudly proclaiming ‘I will stay the course’ is an exercise in catastrophic leadership.”


 “With a foreign policy based on bipartisanship and with Iraq behind us, it would also be easier to shape a wider Middle East policy that constructively focuses on Iran and on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process while restoring the legitimacy of America's global role.”


Dr. Brzezinski refers to a narrow circle of decision-makers for motives still not fully exposed, as the minds behind our foreign policies in the Middle East. Dr. Brzezinski must, of course, stay within bounds of political correctness and tone down his criticisms if he hopes to have his articles published or his radio or television interviews aired. But, who are in that narrow circle of decision-makers, and what might their motives be? Is Dr. Brzezinski referring to the neoconservative cabal represented by the Washington think-tank, The Project for the New American Century?


The last paragraph of the Mission Statement of this group says it in a nutshell:


• We need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.


Such a Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity may not be fashionable today. But it is necessary if the United States is to build on the successes of this past century and to ensure our security and our greatness in the next.


Elliott Abrams, Gary Bauer, William J. Bennett, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Eliot A. Cohen, Midge Decter, Paula Dobriansky, Steve Forbes, Aaron Friedberg, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney, Fred C. Ikle, Donald Kagan    Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis Libby, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Quayle, Peter W. Rodman, Stephen P. Rosen    Henry S. Rowen, Donald Rumsfeld, Vin Weber, George Weigel, Paul Wolfowitz


In this list of members we see a few high profile names that represent the honest philosophy of the founder of neoconservatism, Leo Straus, and his disciple, Irvin Kristol. For the rest, it is up to the inquisitive reader to investigate their backgrounds, affiliations, loyalties and agendas. 


A recent event at the House International Relations Committee, Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia, October 18, 2005, is quite revealing. Mr. Ilan Berman, Vice President for Policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, read from a prepared text and engaged in a dialogue regarding the threats that Iran presents to the security of the Middle East and to the United States interests in that region. It would be instructive to note that Mr. Berman is also a member of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the Ariel Center for Policy Research.


To read the full text, please refer to the web site,  .


According to Mr. Berman, Iran presents a greater danger to American interests than Al-Gha’eda. In response to one Congressman’s question, Mr. Berman suggested that Washington should rely exclusively on Israeli intelligence and estimates in order to prevent Israel from taking unilateral action.


Last May, the Israeli lobby organization, AIPAC, held its annual event in Washington, D.C. The main order of the agenda was the Iranian threat. The following caption is quoted directly from the web,


AIPAC held its largest-ever Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. May 22-24. Policy Conference brought together more than 4,000 pro-Israel activists from all 50 states. Featured speakers at Policy Conference included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), and dozens more. The annual gala banquet featured addresses from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).


If it is hard to believe for most Americans that the foreign lobby of a tiny country half-way around the world is the site of the most formidable gathering of Washington’s who-is-who. The speakers’ zeal to demonstrate their loyalty to the Israeli cause, falling just short of pledging allegiance to the Star of David, is more demonstrative of the political power behind this lobby. For the texts of these speeches the reader may refer to, .


Of course, political action committees and lobbies, as well as foreign lobbying organizations, have a legal right to engage in their respective activities within the halls of Congress. That is not the issue. Also, it should not surprise anyone that foreign interests do pursue their own agendas as best they can and as well they should. The only logical point of contention is whether the agendas pursued by foreign lobbies interfere with or contradict America’s own goals and best interests. Where are the watchdogs to monitor such a critical issue?


Even though we see legitimate concerns expressed here and there over the price we are perhaps paying globally for America’s blind and passionate love affair with Israel, there is not a single voice in the House or the Senate that dares to express any criticism of the Israeli regime or policies. Many among our representatives, Democrat or Republican, clearly know better; yet, they are simply incapable of speaking out for the concern for their own political survival. Their political cowardice helps keep us boxed inside our hall of mirrors.


President Bush referred several times in his speech to moderate regimes in the Middle East, our supposed friends and allies in our war on terror. These moderate nations include Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan; real role models for the rest of the Islamic world to follow, if that’s not a big laugh!


It is time to think outside the box.


Things aren’t going too well for us or for the greater Middle East. We could continue to believe what we are told, that the Afghanistan campaign was a success, that the Iraqi democracy is just around the corner, or that the terrorists are on the run, and that our regional antagonists will soon be brought to their knees. In the face of such pervasive, self-gratifying mythology, suggesting or expressing countercurrent ideas would sound crazy and out of tune, if not downright paranoid, seditious or treasonous.


For those who take the president’s emphatic remarks to heart, that we are succeeding in our war on terror, and that we will stay the course until complete victory is achieved, there is no need to read any further. There are many who also believe that the earth is flat and that god created the heaven and the earth in six days; neither of which costs any money or lives. For some others, Mr. Bush’s “resolve” is divinely ordained to bring about the prophesied Armageddon, the end-time, and the second coming of Jesus Christ; surely worth all the death and devastation it might require.


At the same time, there are those in the narrow circle of decision-makers, who,  for motives still not fully exposed, know where we are headed, but disregard America’s interests in order to pursue their own ulterior agenda. In the middle are the silent or duped majority who worry about the price of gasoline and hope that America’s dead and maimed in this war did not suffer in vain. The most painful fact is that most Americans support what has been sold to them as our noble cause, but simply hate the high price we are paying for it.


By now, all but the most stubbornly innocent would have to admit that a/ we were fools to allow ourselves to be dragged into the mess we are in, b/ we have made things a lot worse for ourselves by creating enemies where there were none before, and c/ the light we see at the end of the tunnel is likely the headlights of another truck loaded with explosives.


As an academic exercise, let us close our book of self-redeeming mythologies and start on a fresh clean slate. We have to base our study on a set of logical presumptions and avoid far-out, self-deluding hypotheses.



  • Every nation must pursue its own best interests by ways and means at its disposal, and after measuring the rewards of such pursuits against their costs.
  • For such endeavors to be regarded as morally justified, the pursuit of self-interests must be viewed as the pursuit of ones entitlements, whether natural, legal, or divinely ordained.
  • Interests or entitlements of one nation seldom coincide with those of another, and never with a rival’s.
  • Nations can remain antagonists, yet cooperate in mutually beneficial areas.
  • Peaceful coexistence is always preferable to combat and strife, as long as we achieve what we believe we are entitled to.
  • Even though it is human to regard those who disagree with our views as wrong, it helps to understand that those whom we regard as wrong have the same view of us.
  • Fair, noble, just or right are not absolute terms, they are defined by whom we ask.


It is one thing attempting to persuade the public of an enemy or antagonist’s “evil” or uncivilized character; but to use this line of rhetoric to conduct official foreign policy is ill advised and counterproductive. As hard as it is for many to believe, there do exist alternative views of the history of the Middle East and America’s involvement and interference in that region, some rather unpleasantly in contradiction with our accepted narratives.


The three most important concerns for America since the end of WWII, when the United States was catapulted onto the world stage as a superpower, used to be Soviet Communism, oil, and Israel. Today, it is Islam, oil, and Israel. We saw the dissolution of the Soviet power under the weight of its economic burdens. Middle East Oil has remained conveniently under the control of Western, particularly American, oil companies. We basically regulate and manipulate the amount and the price of crude oil, mostly through the cooperation of the two major producers, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and up to a couple of decades ago, Iran and Iraq. Even the “troublemakers”, Iran and Iraq, were effectively powerless to do much to challenge the power of the international oil cartel. Control over the kingpin of the Middle East oil, Saudi Arabia, was a cakewalk: pay the king and dictate the rules.


From a pragmatic perspective, guaranteeing the survival of the ruling class in exchange for its cooperation sounds like an equitable arrangement. Also from a pragmatic standpoint, we could choose to adopt the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation by ignoring the regime’s corrupt and repressive rule. After all, the object of the game is to advance the policy of compliance, not to promote democratic movements that might result in the creation of independent, self-serving “rogue” states.


The hope as always is that imposing such compliance comes at as low a cost as possible to us and, at the same time, proves advantageous to the subject states. However, simple logic dictates that, when our interests clash and the stakes are high enough, and when coercion and propaganda fail to do the job, the use of any covert or overt method to maintain compliance cannot be ruled out.


It is, therefore, clear that when we are told America’s mission is to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East, what is really meant, and understandably so, is establishing and strengthening compliant states, and isolating and marginalizing those that remain intransigent. This is exactly why repressive, unpopular, regimes such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, and client states like Jordan or Kuwait, are called “moderate Muslim countries” in our official pronouncements. Again, quite logically, as soon as a “moderate” Muslim state such as Pakistan is deemed no longer essential in whatever campaign we are engaged in, it will reenter the list of “rogue” states that engage in the proliferation of WMDs, are breading grounds for terrorist organizations, and violate human rights, etc.


Our concerns over Iran should actually be addressed in conjunction with the case regarding America’s Israeli connections, since, as it will be argued, the two cases are intimately intertwined.


The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, posted the text of President Ahmadinejad’s recent address, with the opening statements that follow:


Tehran, Oct 26 - Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called for Israel to be "wiped off the map".
"The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world," the President told a conference in Tehran
entitled 'the world without Zionism'.


What prompted or emboldened Iran’s newly elected president to utter such provocative and inflammatory remarks. Here are some possible answers:


1-     The man is clearly crazy and possibly a suicidal maniac.

2-     He is simply retaliating in response to Bush and Sharon’s repeated allegations, insults, and threats of preemptive attacks, invasion and regime-change against Iran.

3-     Perhaps he knows something we don’t know: perhaps Iran already has the capability to inflict irreparable damage to Israel with nuclear and other WMDs, and the Iranian hardliner president knows that Israel is aware of that and wouldn’t dare attack Iran.

4-     Or, perhaps, he believes the Israeli and American designs against Iran are hollow threats and he wants to call their bluff and disarm Israel of its propaganda influence over the United States. He is literally mimicking Bush when he dares his enemies to “Bring it on!”

5-     But, could it be that Mr. Ahmadinejad has finally sensed the inevitability of some form of preemptive strike against Iran, and rather than wait at a disadvantage not knowing when or where, he wants to provoke the enemies, and then look forward to the second half of the ballgame to settle the score.


Ahmadinejad’s comments have already received condemnation from the West; Israel demanding that Iran be kicked out of the United Nations. But, are the Iranian president’s remarks any more outrageous and inflammatory than the US president, George W. Bush officially declaring Iran as a member of the axis of evil, or openly threatening military action or pushing for regime change against a sovereign state? We do not read or hear outrage by the heads of Western states or the media when Israel openly threatens unilateral attacks on Iran in violation of the international law.


If Ahmadinejad’s comments were no more than loose talk with nothing to back up his boisterous gestures that were obviously aimed at the local crowds, the possibility of American or Israeli attack against Iran is quite real. So, which threat against a sovereign nation and which violation of international norms are more worthy of condemnation? No Israeli need lose sleep over an imminent attack by the Iranian regime; not so the Iranians who have been hearing about bunker-buster bombs given to the Israeli air force and the tactical nuclear weapons some American military officials have been talking about.


Behind all this charade lies a set of irrefutable facts that is seldom brought out into the public domain. Clearly, mistakes in political strategy in the Middle East cannot be undone; we are left with troubling circumstances that cannot be wished away. The only way out is by stepping outside the box in order to evaluate other alternatives with an open mind.


Let us start with a series of “What if” questions:


What if Israel and Pakistan were pressured into disarming their cache of nuclear and other WMDs in exchange for security guarantees by the UN, the United States, NATO, or any combination thereto? By removing the threat of aggression by states that are currently in possession of such weapons and have committed acts of aggression before, the incentive or excuse for others to acquire similar weapons as a deterrent will no longer exist.


What if American aid to the regional countries were limited only to non-military and non-security projects, in exchange for mutually productive economic and trade relations with the United States?


What if the term terrorism, especially international terrorism, were to be used more objectively, not selectively to only apply to militancy against Israeli interests? States that commit similar acts should also fall under this category.


What if honest public opinion were allowed to become the determining factor behind each nation’s style of government and leadership? In the short-term, many if not all the so-called moderates and allies of convenience would lose power. In the longer-term, true business partners, bound by mutual respect and trust, would prove much more productive. Love affair is not a prerequisite or even an essential ingredient for a mutually fruitful partnership.


What if diplomatic and economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran, instituted by the United States, were lifted, allowing Iranian economy to realize its potential growth and, at the same time, open the way for the American companies to reopen their activities in the biggest and hungriest market in the Middle East? It is much more realistic to assume that an improved economy in Iran would lead to a gradual relaxation of hard-line, ultraconservative policies, rather than create greater paranoid hostility toward the West. After all, the aim of any government, whether a capitalist democracy or a fundamentalist theocracy, is to achieve security and prosperity and to safeguard its national identity.


Why not?


... Payvand News - 10/28/05 ... --

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