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GRAND FAILURES ON THREE FRONTS: Time to Rethink our Paradigms

By Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse


Mismanagements, miscalculations and mishaps have plagued America ’s stated mission of promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East in our war against terrorism.


It began after the disaster of 9/11 by our attack on the terrorists’ strongholds in Afghanistan , in which we had the support, if only nominally, of the international community. Before achieving the desired objective of “smoking out the terrorists and bringing them to justice”, we attacked Iraq , this time with only token support by the “coalition of the willing”, who have since backed out or are in the process, one by one.


Now our friend and surrogate, Israel, emboldened by our total, unquestioned and unequivocal support, is carrying out the same pattern, mindless of the lessons learned, or lessons that should have been learned, from the experiences of its patron and protector.


The results of the policies and actions of the past four and a half years of engagement in the Middle East affairs are as follows:


1- After the removal of the Taliban, we installed our own man as the new leader of the “democratic” Afghanistan . Our puppet regime is, with our military and financial support, only in control of Kabul and arguably Kandahar , with the rest of the country back under the rule of tribal warlords. The Taliban, meanwhile, are making a strong comeback, and no one knows what the future may hold for that devastated country.

2- The elimination of the Sunni Ba’thist regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq created the vacuum for the majority Shi’a to gain political prominence. The sectarian violence between the dismembered Sunni, backed by other predominantly Sunni states in the region, and the Shi’a, who are supported by the neighboring Shi’a Iran, is now headed for an all out civil war. After the loss of about 2,500 troops and nearly half a trillion dollars, even our military experts fear that Iraq is sinking out of our control into a civil war with regional ramifications that could affect the northern Kurdish populations, which would inevitably spread into and destabilize Turkey.

3- Israel ’s opportunistic assault on Lebanon * was patterned after our own invasion of Iraq under false or questionable pretexts and with the same sense of overconfidence that victory would be just around the corner. The results will doubtless be very similar to our own experiences in the region. The embattled Hezbollah, although no match for the mighty Israeli army, has been able to hold its own and even to gain political prominence in the region. This Shi’a political party with its potent militant flank has now earned the respect, envy and support of the entire Islamic World, Sunni as well as Shi’a. Just as has been the case for the United States , Israel has managed to create more enemies and antagonists in the process of its declared war on terror.

*I wonder why we haven’t seen or heard any details of where exactly (on which side of the Blue Line) or how the attack on Israeli border forces and the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers took place. Isn’t that curious?


The most troubling aspect of the situation on the ground at this time is the lack of an acceptable exit strategy. This will also prove true of the hole Israel has been digging itself into in Lebanon . The cut-and-run tactic that some advocate will have its disastrous consequences for the region, as well as for America ’s prestige and credibility. Easing out of the quagmire while continuing to adhere to our long-running geopolitical rhetoric and presumptions that got us in there in the first place will also prove too costly and painful.


Let us see what lessons we have, or should have, learned from all the above.


1- In this age of information technology and heightened global awareness, deceptive tactics and fabricated scenarios used as pretexts to advance underlying objectives, no matter how shrewdly shrouded, will be exposed and challenged by those who are affected regionally and globally.

2- Force alone can no longer ensure victory even against a relatively small but dedicated group of combatants. Like mustard grass, as long as the deeper roots of the problems are not dealt with, no amount of superficial or surface trimming will keep the voices of resistance and defiance from emerging again and again.

3- Overestimating one’s own capabilities is as big a mistake as discounting the capacity of the enemy to withstand the harshest treatment.


The image of America that is projected globally these days is not conducive to America ’s best interests. America is now more widely hated than liked, and more feared than respected. The bigger problem is, the fear factor is rapidly diminishing as our ineffectiveness to implement our stated policies through force and intimidation becomes more apparent. Short of resorting to the unthinkable, unleashing the full force of America ’s military capabilities, the fear factor may not be restored. Yet, even the “unthinkable” will not ensure our supremacy in the long term, while in the short term it will create highly undesirable consequences for us.


Are there any solutions? Yes, there are solutions, to the extent that almost anything we do other than “staying the course” might be a great improvement. But, exaggerations aside, a serious reexamination of our policy trends is long overdue.


Three principle factors are always at play in the conduct of foreign policy: a- mission objectives, b- strategy and implementation, and c- public relations and diplomacy.


Looking at the current state of affairs, our diplomatic front is amateurishly transparent and in disarray, the Administration is increasingly mistrusted at home and abroad, and the President’s popularity has dropped to the level of incompetence. In other words, the American public, at least the pie-slice that has the time and the interest to be concerned with international affairs, is no longer under the illusion that we are heading the right way and doing the right thing.


The strategic decisions, planning and implementation of our military engagements in war on terror, have failed to produce the promised results. After nearly four years, the general consensus is that Americans are neither safer at home nor abroad, the original terrorists who started the whole thing are still at large, those whom we have labeled as terror organizations, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, have survived and have even gained popularity, and the regimes we have been trying to bring down are increasingly emboldened, mindless of our muscle flexing. What’s more, the three Islamic countries that supplied all the terrorists who attacked us, namely Egypt , Saudi Arabia and Pakistan , are among our very few “friendly” allies!


America ’s officially stated mission objectives – combating terrorism and promoting freedom and democracy – were magical words that appealed to the souls of the angry, the innocent and the uninformed, those who were kind of heart, yet thirsty for revenge after the tragedy of 9/11. Alas, the true mission objectives of the Empire cannot be summarized in such naively candy wrapped and noble sounding terms.


By “officially stated objectives” I am implying here that the true objectives better be a hell of a lot more realistic and pragmatic than simplistic words that might appeal to the gullible masses whose average world affairs IQ faces an uphill battle to cross into triple digits.


I believe we should start by scrutinizing our mission objectives in this bold new century before it is too late. The think tank “Project for the New American Century” or PNAC, whose mission objectives for America were adopted by the current administration, have clearly demonstrated their worth, or their lack thereof. I do agree that the neoconservative political philosophy initially advocated by Leo Strauss does have its no-nonsense pragmatic approach to pursuing a nation’s best interests on the global stage. However, hijacked and adulterated by the current cabal of pseudo-neoconservatives that has been influencing our foreign policy decisions, America ’s genuine self-interests have been sold out to special interests with highly questionable loyalties. What is worse, proper attention was not given to the changing dynamics in the global arena, dynamics that are vastly different today from the rules of engagement during the post WW II decades.


I, therefore, maintain that we have failed on all three fronts – proper determination of America’s mission objectives, implementation of the objectives, as wrong as they have been, and effectively manipulating the public sentiments locally and worldwide in support of the Administration’s decisions. Where did we go wrong?


Contrary to what the “pseudo-neocons”, if I may coin a new term here, maintain, the world is not a unipolar world with America as the master of this universe. The world that used to be basically bipolar during the decades of the Cold War is now multipolar, where dominance through military power is being effectively neutralized by the economic potentials of huge population blocks.


Through all this, the true objective of any people, nation or empire still remains the same; pursuing ones best interests by any means possible and as far as possible, as long as the costs of the pursuit do not outbalance the expected gains. Determining a nation’s best interests worth pursing, charting the best course in that direction, and judging the balance between losses and gains, are tasks that governments, whether democracies or dictatorships and theocracies, must carry out with dedication and diligence.


It would be unwise to start by assuming that there are leaders or governments that are fundamentally incapable of judging their nation’s best interests or, at the very least, their own self interests as the ruling class, juntas or dictatorships. In either case, labeling others as fanatics, crazies, or other degrading terms might serve the propaganda machinery to orient the public’s sentiments in a desired direction, but should not be allowed to interfere with decision-making processes at the highest levels.


Just as America has its vested interests to protect and to promote in the world, particularly in the Middle East, so do others, especially the local powerhouse, Iran , the country that is currently the focus of the Administration’s concern and attention. And, herein lies the focus of this article.


On top of the list of America ’s realistic and legitimate interests in the Middle East is the control over the production, pricing and marketing of the region’s oil and gas resources. This control is not only critical for safeguarding the flow of oil to the Western allies, but to make it as difficult as possible for the West’s global competitors like China and India to have access to abundant energy resources.


This ambitious agenda has traditionally been implemented through the creation or maintenance of “friendly” regional regimes whose “compliance” to our demands would guarantee their own respective best interests. It, therefore, should not surprise anyone that the promotion of democratic reforms and self determination for the populations in the strategically located oil-rich countries will not guarantee either friendliness or compliance. The best solution has always been to support willing dictatorships whose ability to control their populations effectively ensured their own grip on power. The secret to continued success was to find the right kind of dictatorship that would follow our guidelines as how to deal with dissidence or what measures to adopt to implement proper socioeconomic reforms in order to maintain stability. Stability here simply implies not allowing any change to take place that might have the potential to weaken their bonds of dependency to us.


Iran before the 1979 revolution was a perfect example of this kind of managed cooperation. Egypt , Saudi Arabia , Turkey , Jordan , Kuwait and the Persian Gulf Emirates still are. The initial support for the fledgling Islamic Republic of Iran was intended to ensure a continuation of what was thought to be a mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Iran .  It had become increasingly clear that the monarchy’s ability to maintain control over the rising public awareness and angst against the regime’s excesses was no longer tenable. The choice was for the United States to support the monarchy in cracking down on the Islamic movement, which meant a nationwide bloodbath without even an assurance of ultimate success, or to allow the uprising to culminate into a viable political system, theocratic or otherwise, and hope to deal with the new powerbase. What was not taken into account seriously then, and is not being seriously considered to this day, is the vulnerability of established paradigms.


Paradigms Lost!


The Islamic revolution of 1978-79 in Iran succeeded in displacing the pro-West monarchy for one simple reason: the masses that created the tidal wave were not sophisticated enough to know that they weren’t supposed to succeed! They were not “educated” enough to understand the paradigm.


The paradigm at the time was that no significant political or social sea change could ever take place in the region without the consent of the global masters, principally the United States and Great Britain . This established mindset was so prevalent among the better educated and Western oriented aristocracy that, to this day, many among them believe there continue to be behind the scenes corroborations between Iran ’s theocratic leadership and the centers of power in the West. “Don’t you know? They know what they are doing; they are all in it together.”


Other long-established paradigms that were challenged and brought down to the level of myths include the invincibility of the mighty Soviet Union , the empire whose fragile inner skeleton could no longer sustain that façade. Then followed America ’s unilateral adventurism in the Middle East , which was fueled by yet another paradigm, the paradigm of easy victory when the irresistible force confronts movable objects. Much to our surprise, the chickens no longer ran to hide when the hawk appeared overhead.


The most recent paradigm that was shattered was that of Israel ’s indomitable military prominence, supposedly capable of defeating the combined forces of all Israel ’s antagonists in the region. The Biblical David that has now grown to become a Super Goliath was kept from accomplishing its objectives by a band of little Davids armed with slings that threw Katyushas instead of pebbles at the beast.


Israel will now declare victory and lick its wounds while its arch enemy, Iran , is pouring cash money into the Lebanese Hezbollah to help rebuild what the mighty army of the modern day Goliath had destroyed.


What will happen in Iraq is now everyone’s guess. Can the United States accomplish what it set out to do three and a half years ago, declare victory and get out of that mess in a face-saving manner? Certainly not, if we insist on staying the course!


Iran Rising


Today, Iran will be officially responding to the proposal by the Group of 5+1 offering “generous” incentives if Iran agrees to stop all its uranium enrichment activities. By the end of August, the Security Council will also be evaluating options as to how to deal with Iran should Iran refuse to halt its nuclear activities. There shouldn’t be any surprise if Iran ’s response turns out to be quite a bit less than total compliance. Is Iran ’s defiance to bow to the demands of the Western powers a well calculated maneuver, a dangerously daring exercise, or is it a huge mistake by those suicidal maniacs as portrayed by the Western media?


If we feel more comfortable believing our official Administration rhetoric regarding Iran , or find the portrayals of Iran and its leadership presented in our news media not only credible, but even entertaining enough to deserve our attention, then our choice of options will be quite clear. In that case, the question that remains is how to carry out the mission of bringing the Iranian regime to submission; will it be by the use of military force, economic strangulation, or by inciting internal dissent and violence to destabilize the system and corrode it from within.


Those who believe that our “war on terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq has been a success story, similar to Israel’s “success” in defeating the Hezbollah organization, would definitely opt for an all-out military assault on Iran by a combined Israeli and American aerial attack, followed by a massive land invasion. The more cautious might prefer a more subtle approach.


The Paradigm, however, remains unchanged: The Islamic Republic of Iran is regarded as a danger to the stability of the region, an existential threat to Israel , and a potential threat to the security of Europe and the United States . Again, it seems to make little difference how much of this portrayal is the work of the Israeli regime and its supporters in the United States, how much fomented by Iran’s Arab neighbors who are understandably worried about the rise of Shi’ism in the region, or how much is actually based on realistic concerns. While practically everyone agrees that Iran is a major problem, there are disagreements as to the methods and tactics of dealing with the problem.


But, is Iran a “problem” in the true sense of the word?


Our attack on Afghanistan and the removal of the Taliban from power, in which the Iranian military and money were more than a little helpful, also removed the dominance of this Sunni tribe over the affairs of Iran ’s eastern neighbor, opening the ground for increased Iranian influence. Now there appears to be a new resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and an intensification of fighting between the coalition forces and the Pushtun tribe supporters of the insurgents who are funded by Saudi money and receive assistance from and are sheltered in Pakistan .


The Pakistani regime, meanwhile, has been engaged in a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, General Musharraf’s military regime owes its survival to its cooperation with the United States in its “war on terror.” On the other hand, the powerful Pushtun tribe that is the host to the Taliban and shelters the Al Gha’eda organization is far too influential for the regime to be brought under control. In addition, General Musharraf must know fully well that America ’s support for his dictatorial regime, including his nuclear weapons development, will last as long as he remains useful as an ally of the West on the war on terror. Ironically, Pakistan ’s continuing reputation as the headwaters of anti Western Islamic extremism is helping the regime maintain its position as an indispensable Western ally. The question is, what could possibly prevent the hotheaded young graduates of the Wahabi madrassas from gaining access to nuclear weapons or “dirty bombs” someday soon to add a new dimension to anti Western terrorism?


In short, by confronting the Taliban in Afghanistan and keeping the Pushtun at bay in Pakistan , we are in effect increasing Iran ’s domain of influence on its eastern flank.


In Iraq, Iran’s western neighbor, the fall of Iran’s enemy, Saddam Hussein’s Ba’thist regime, and the rise of the Shi’as have been an obvious victory for the Islamic Republic of Iran; a trend that is not possible to reverse anytime soon.


Israel ’s self-defeating recent attack on Lebanon created another bigger than life champion, a second Saladin, in the leader of the Shi’a Hezbollah, a friend and client of the Iranian regime. Chalk up yet another plus for Iranian prestige and regional influence!


Turkey , America ’s major ally to Iran ’s northwest, has a common cause with the Islamic Republic in fighting the Kurdish separatists who have gained new impetus in Iraq with hopes of creating an independent Kurdistan sitting on some of the biggest oil fields in the region. Turkey , with its nearly 25% Kurdish population in the southeast, cannot tolerate such eventuality. Turkey needs Iran ’s help against any Kurdish insurgency, as well as the revenues it collects as a conduit for the export of the Iranian oil to Europe and the import of European goods into Iran .


What is clearly evident is Iran ’s increasingly stronger position as the regional power and political influence. Now, if we could only channel that rising power and influence to our advantage, or even more realistically, to our mutual advantage! Or, are the dogs of war barking too loud these days, drowning the voice of dispassionate reason and pragmatic self-interest?


What are America ’s self interests in the Middle East arena? Let us make a short list:


1- Maintaining reasonable control over the flow of oil from the region, as well as related economic factors.

2- Ensuring the security of the United States and its interests at home and abroad by reducing the danger of terrorist attacks from potential sources in that region.


What might be Iran ’s realistic self interests? To answer that question objectively, we must resist the urge to rely on the entertainment media that force-feed us with sensationalized distorted imageries in the name of journalism.


No, the Iranian President Ahmadinejad never said that Iran intends to “wipe Israel off the face of the map!” And, he never declared that “Holocaust never happened.”  The Jews and other religious minorities in Iran are not required to wear special insignia on their garments to identify them as Jews or Christians. The grand champion of freedom of expression, the Iranian writer, Akbar Ganji, who spent time in prison in Tehran and gained international fame by going on the hunger strike that nearly cost him his life, is currently on a world tour, has received the prestigious Golden Pen award, and continues to voice his criticism of the Islamic regime to huge audiences. How did he manage to do all that?


How did the writer Azar Nafisi of “Reading Lolita in Tehran” fame a well-known dissident and a Benador Associates client, manage to get out of Iran with her husband and what they owned with no problem? A very close relative of mine, a young lady, tired of what she called mistreatment by her husband, filed for divorce in a Tehran court recently and was granted, not only fully one-half of what the couple mutually owned, but also the formal custody of their two children. So, what is the real Iran like? It is certainly no paradise by any stretch of imagination; but is it as bad as we are being told?


Now in comparison, what about the Israeli dissident scientist, Mordechai Vannunu, the fellow who leaked the news nearly twenty years ago about Israel’s secret nuclear weapons programs, and has been in jail or under house arrest ever since? Unlike Mr. Akbar Ganji, Vannunu is not allowed to leave the country under any circumstances! And, what about tens of thousands of political prisoners in Israel , most held for years without charges or hearings? Which state is the bigger violator of the principles of human rights, pray tell?


It is, therefore, necessary to take what we see or hear in the name of journalism with more than just a small grain of salt. Perhaps now, with a bit more skepticism about the nature of the news we are exposed to, we might examine what could constitute Iran ’s main interests.


1- On top of the list we must mention Iran ’s security and territorial integrity.

2- A reopening of economic and diplomatic relations with the West.

3- Implementation of more liberal democratic reforms.


Could it be that the interests of the United States and Iran are not mutually exclusive?


No, not if we believe what we have been exposed to by our media elites or by the official statements by the Administration. Similarly, the Iranian media have also been creating an atmosphere of fear and mistrust against the intentions of the United States toward that country.


The President, in his news conference yesterday, repeated America ’s concerns over the “ideology” in the Islamic Middle East that challenges our very civilization. This ideology stems from an Islamic zealotry that is the hallmark of radical Sunni Wahabism as demonstrated, first and foremost, by the Al Gha’eda movement. The perpetrators of the attack on the Twin Towers were Sunni zealots from Saudi Arabia and Egypt . The Kashmiri fighters that evolved into the Taliban movement were and are funded by the Sunni Wahabis and trained and armed by the Sunni Pushtun of Pakistan.


The sectarian violence that is increasingly rampant in Iraq , resulting in deaths and injuries to hundreds on a daily basis is Sunni instigated, aimed at creating greater anxieties among the Shi’a majorities in order to lead to a protracted civil war. The President mentioned that in yesterday’s news conference. The recent arrests in Great Britain of two dozen suspects who were supposedly planning a major terror act point, again, to an “ideology” that has its roots in the Sunni madrassas of Pakistan and the seminaries of Saudi Arabia .


Now, where can we find a Shi’a “ideology” that we could blame for mayhem and terrorism? Yes, the Shi’a have also been involved in acts of violence; but that violence or militancy has always had a purely sectarian military purpose, which is quite a separate concept from any religious ideology.


The “ideology” that the President talked about has had severe impacts against Iran and Iranian interests in the region, starting from the Taliban and the Pushtun animosities toward Iran in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to strikes against the Shi’a in Iraq and the destruction of the Shi’a’s holiest shrines and the targeting of the Iranian pilgrims in that country.


So, in the war against this dreaded “ideology”, Iran and the United States stand on the same side.  


With regard to the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons, Iran stands to lose a great deal more than does the United States . There are currently two nuclear states in the region; Israel and Pakistan . The former is a trigger-happy, paranoid state that is likely to use any pretext to advance its agendas in the region. The Israeli Likud regime has demonstrated, time and again, that it would go to any length to torpedo any effort by the international community or the United States to accept a two-state solution to the 60 years’ long occupation of the Palestinian lands. After all, why should Israel do what it feels is not to its advantage, when it has the option not to?


The fledgling Islamic Republic of Iran had already kicked out Yasser Arafat’s PLO out of Iran as the representative of the Palestinian people, when Israel invaded Lebanon and started its two-decades-long occupation of the Shi’ite south Lebanon . The animosity between Israel and Iran intensified and the Israeli lobby’s efforts to demonize Iran as an enemy of the United States began in earnest. Iran has, with great justification, put the blame on the Israeli influence on the American administrations, both Democrat and Republican, for the lack of any rapprochement between the two states.


Israel has two huge advantages in the region; America ’s diplomatic, military and economic support; plus its possession of the ultimate weapon, the nuclear bomb. With its perennial enemies, the Arab countries, and its formidable newer foe, Iran , the Israeli nuclear capabilities alone is reason enough for the regional states to develop their own deterrents in kind. If this is not an incentive for the proliferation of nuclear weapons, I don’t know what is!


On the other side is Pakistan with its nuclear weapons. Iran might well be praying for the Al Gha’eda threat to remain intact so that General Musharraf’s military junta stays in power with America ’s help to keep atomic weapons or dirty bombs from falling into the wrong hands; that would be the worst kind of nuclear proliferation that Iran would like.


For Iran , a nuclear-free Middle East would be a blessing. Regarding the spirit of nuclear non proliferation, again, Iran and the United States seem to be on the same side.


The odd man out!


With Iran on our side, the sectarian violence or insurgency that is ripping Iraq apart and is costing the United States lives, money and international reputation, would have a chance of ending its destabilizing path. In that, Turkey , an American ally, will also gladly share in order to control its own Kurdish problems. The results, in the earlier phases, would not resemble an Iraqi democracy as George W. Bush envisions. However, a true democracy, as I have mentioned before, is not what would serve our best interests in that region, anyway.


The oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf have no realistic choice but to continue their subordinate roles as “friends” and “moderates” to serve our interests. Whether or not a symbiotic relationship between the United States and Iran is to the long-term benefit of the Arab states is of relatively little concern when compared to their fate when Iran is on the opposite side.


In confronting the anti-American and anti-West militancy emanating from the hard-core Pakistani Sunni tribes, or combating the new insurgencies by the Taliban in Afghanistan , Iran and the United States , again, share a common cause.


This leaves us with the real odd man out, Israel ; the last and the most difficult paradigm to debunk, namely, Israel as the friend of the United States !


What if we could do debunk that myth; just imagine the possibilities!


I’ll leave that conjecture for the next installment.


... Payvand News - 8/22/06 ... --

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