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The Neoconservatives' Strategy for Regime Change in Iran: Propaganda, Ethnic Unrest, Godwin's Law, and Finding Iranian Curveball, Ahmad Chalabi, and Iyad Allawi

By Muhammad Sahimi

 

Introduction

 

As the neoconservatives and their Iranian allies make the drumbeats of a possible war with Iran louder and louder, the public, and in particular Iranians and Iranian-Americans, need to be fully informed about the true nature of these warmongers, and the true United States policy towards Iran. We should have no illusion about such a war. This war, if it is started, will have nothing to do with "liberating" Iran and establishing a truly democratic political system in Iran. As is well-known by now (see also below), the track record of the Bush Administration in the Middle East is too horrifying to believe even one word coming from this Administration regarding the aspiration of Iranian people for freedom and democracy. The war will also have nothing to do with the so-called war on terror, as neither Iran, nor Iraq for that matter, had anything to do with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and their aftermath. But, such a war will have everything to do with dominating the Middle East and, most importantly, making Iran, once again, a client state of the U.S., the way it was under the Shah.

 

Thus, the main goal of this article is analyzing the U.S. strategy for regime change in Iran, and arguing about its futility. In the author's opinion, the only way to prevent another bloody war in the Middle East - this time with Iran - is by making people aware of what is happening and  its catastrophic consequences. Such a war will not only destroy Iran and set it back by decades, but will also engulf the entire Middle East in fire and blood, as the hardliners in Tehran will not hesitate to respond to any military attack on Iran by the U.S. and its allies. Thus, in the author's opinion, preventing a war with Iran is the duty of every patriotic Iranian and Iranian-American, as well as that of every peace-loving person. It has nothing to do with defending Iran's theocracy, its repressive political system, or the present Iranian government. Preventing such a catastrophic war is an integral part of Iran's national interests which are - by their very definition - independent of any type of political system or government that Iran may have. Thus, first and foremost, Iran, its territorial integrity, and its political independence must be protected, before Iranian people can move forward in their quest for democracy and respect for human rights. At the same time, preventing a war with Iran is also in the true national interests of the U.S., the adopted country for many Iranians living in the U.S., as the futile war in Iraq has already been highly costly for the U.S.

 

 

The United States Policy towards Iran

 

During three years of the most intrusive inspections in the history of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA's Director-General Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei has repeatedly reported that he can find no "indication" of diversion of "source or special nuclear materials" to a military purpose. Despite this, the Bush Administration finally succeeded in forcing the Governing Board of the IAEA to send the dossier on Iran's nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council. After several months of maneuvering, the SC finally passed Resolution 1696, demanding that Iran halt its uranium enrichment program by the end of August. As widely expected, Iran ignored the deadline.

 

Despite the apparent "success" in sending Iran's dossier to the UNSC, the Administration's positions towards Iran seemed, for a long time, contradictory and even obtuse:

 

While calling on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program and resume its negotiations with the European Union, the U.S. refused for a long time to be a party to such negotiations.

 

While demanding Iran to help Iraq to stabilize and avert a full-blown civil war, and announcing on May 31 that it would directly engage Iran, if it suspends its uranium enrichment program, the U.S. still holds military strikes like the Sword of Damocles above Iran's head.

 

While claiming for a long time that Iran does not need nuclear energy because it has vast oil and natural gas reserves (whereas, as the author has documented elsewhere, it played a decisive role in the 1970s in persuading Iran to start its nuclear program), the U.S. has banned investment in Iran's oil industry by American companies, and has been pressuring Japan not to develop Iran's huge Azadegan oil field which will help alleviate pressure on the tight oil market when it comes on-line. It is also pressuring India and Pakistan to scrap the plans for building a pipeline that is supposed to transport Iran's natural gas to these nations, a pipeline that has been dubbed by some as the "peace pipeline."

 

The U.S. also prevented the construction of an oil pipeline through Iran for transporting Azerbaijan's oil to the international markets. The Iran route was considered the safest, shortest, and most economical way of getting that oil to the market. Instead, the U.S. pushed for a long and expensive pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan to the port of Ceyhan in Turkey, which is now being

constructed. The U.S. is also pressuring Kazakhstan not to construct a pipeline to Iran for transporting its oil to the international market, and is pushing instead for another pipeline through the Caspian Sea which, if built, would be an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

 

Such contradictions also extend to the rhetoric. Whereas President Bush dismissed the legitimacy of Iran's presidential elections of June 2005 because in his opinion, "Iran's president has no power," his Administration is now brandishing Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the world's most powerful radical.

While bemoaning lack of democracy in Iran, the U.S. has rejected legitimate elections in which Islamic groups have either won the elections outright (Palestine), or gained a significant fraction of the votes (Egypt). At the same time, the Administration courts autocrats in other Islamic nations, such as Ilham Alyev (who succeeded his father as president) of Azerbaijan, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and others.

 

The true intentions of the Administration become, however, clear if we consider its National Security Strategy issued by the Pentagon on March 16 (and the just released document by the White House on the war on terrorism in which Iraq has been de-emphasized, even though President Bush claims the war in Iraq is at the center of the war on terrorism, but Iran has been emphasized), which stated that

 

     The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism, threatens Israel, seeks to thwart the Middle East

     peace, disrupts democracy in Iraq, and denies aspirations of its people for freedom. The

     nuclear issue and our other concerns can ultimately be resolved only if the Iranian regime

     makes the strategic decision to change these policies, open up its political system and

     afford freedom to its people. This is the ultimate goal of the U.S. policy.

 

 

Clearly, this "ultimate goal" cannot be achieved without a regime change in Iran. Thus, the Administration has adopted a multi-pronged approach in order to bring about regime change in Iran. This policy is in clear violation of the Algiers Accord, signed by the U.S. and Iran in 1980, that ended the hostage crisis. Point I, paragraph 1 of the General Principles of the Declaration of

the Government of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria (that is, the Accord) stated:

 

   Non-Intervention in Iranian Affairs - The United States pledges that it is and from now on

  will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically

  or militarily, in Iran's internal affairs.

 

 

Recent revelation by Seymour Hersh that the war in Lebanon was supported by the Administration as a precursor to attacking Iran may be an indicator of its true intentions. In fact, the language that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice used in her declaration in May about engaging Iran directly, and the conditions that she set for starting the negotiations, were clear signs that the U.S. may not be serious about resolving the issue diplomatically. She declared that if Iran makes the wrong choice, it "will incur only great costs." This had very eerie similarity with the Administration's rhetoric in the run-up to the Iraq War.

 

The New York Times reported on June 4 that some European and Japanese negotiators, "questioned whether this [the U.S. offer to negotiate with Iran] was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran's intransigence," and that one former U.S. official said, "It came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box" of negotiations.

 

In addition, Rice declared that before the U.S. would start talking with Iran, it must first

 

    fully and verifiably suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities, and "persuasively"                                                   demonstrate that it has permanently abandoned its quest  for nuclear weapons.

 

 

Reprocessing what? Normally, only spent nuclear fuels are reprocessed. Iran's sole reactor has not even come on-line, and when it does, the Iran-Russia agreement stipulates that the spent fuel will be returned to Russia. Iran does not have a plutonium reprocessing facility, anyway. Moreover, who decides how "persuasive" is Iran's demonstration of its peaceful intentions?

 

Let us now consider the Administration's multi-pronged approach for regime change in Iran.

 

 

Working with the Opposition

 

The Administration believes that working with internal and external Iranian opposition groups will help change the power structure in Iran. In advocating this some officials, including Elizabeth Cheney, the Vice President's daughter and deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, have been making an analogy between Iran and Poland in the 1980s.

 

The "similarity" between Iran and Poland is non-existent. Unlike Poland's Solidarity movement, democratic, reformist and moderate political groups and labor unions in Iran have made it clear that they will not work with the U.S. In Iran's political spectrum, these groups are considered mostly as leftist or center-left.

 

The largest political group in Iran is the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP), led by the Cambridge-educated Dr. Mohsen Mirdamadi, and a group of other Islamic leftists, reformists, and intellectuals.

 

The Nationalist-Religious coalition, a group of Islamic leftists with strong anti-imperialist credentials, is a democratic and important political group. Many of its leaders have been imprisoned by both the Shah and the Islamic Republic. Two of its leaders, Ezzatollah Sahabi, an engineer who was a member of Iran's provisional government immediately after the 1979 Revolution, and Habibollah Paymaan, a dentist and leader of Movement of Militant Muslims, are very popular among Iranian university students.

 

Next is Islamic Revolution Mojahedin Organization, which was formed immediately after the Revolution of 1979 as a coalition of seven Islamic leftist groups that had been fighting with the Shah's regime. The IRMO should not be confused with Mojahedin Khalgh Organization (MKO), a cult classified as a terrorist organization by the State Department. The IRMO's leadership played a

key role in the formation of the Revolutionary Guards, the backbone of Iran's military which did most of the fighting with Iraq in the 1980s. After a split in the original IRMO in the mid 1980s, its leftist leaders formed the present IRMO, while its right wing stayed with the Guards. Dr. Hashem Aghajari, a popular university professor and progressive Islamic thinker, who was sentenced to death for criticizing Iran's conservative clergy and their ultraconservative Islamic thinking (the sentence was overturned later by Iran's Supreme Court), is a member of IRMO.

 

The Association of Militant Clergy, a leftist clerical group led by former president Mohammad Khatami, is another influential group. The centrist Freedom Movement, originally founded in the early 1960s by Mahdi Bazargan, an engineer and progressive Islamic thinker who was Iran's first Prime Minister after the 1979 Revolution, is an important political group which is led by the U.S.-educated physician Ebrahim Yazdi.

 

The National Trust Party, the newly-formed centrist group led by Mahdi Karroubi, speaker of Iran's sixth parliament and a moderate cleric, and the center-right Executives of Reconstruction Party whose members - largely technocrats - held important positions in the administrations of former

president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, are also important reformist groups.

 

Finally, the Office for Strengthening Unity, an umbrella group for many university students organizations, is another important group pushing for democracy in Iran, although it does not act as a political party.

 

Some of these groups accept Iran's present Constitution, while some have called for its revision and elimination of the post of the Supreme Leader and all the unelected centers of power. But, for many reasons, they are all against the U.S. interference in Iran's internal affairs and political evolution.

 

First, they believe that development of democracy is an internal affair of Iran and Iranians. They consider the U.S. aid as an insult to the Iranian people, believing that democracy is not a product that can be imported from another country. To quote a recent statement by some of the leading Iranian dissidents, both in Iran and in exile, "Iran's independent and self-reliant forces will never accept a foreign country telling them what to do and which way to take."

 

Second, they believe that the Bush Administration's talk of democracy for Iran is insincere. Many Iranians wonder aloud why the U.S. stopped talking about democracy for Libya as soon as it gave up its nuclear program, although its regime continues to be one of the worst violators of human rights. Iranians also wonder why the U.S. does not push for democracy in Egypt, Saudi Arabia,

Jordan, Kuwait, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan - all its allies. Iranians believe the U.S. is interested only in making Iran a client State.

 

Third, Iran's democratic and reformist groups strongly believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, and its support of Israel for destroying Lebanon's infrastructure in the recent war, have badly hurt their cause for democracy. Using the threat to Iran's national security as their justification, and boasting about Hezbollah's success in resisting the Israeli army, the hardliners have tried to suppress Iran's democratic movement.

 

Fourth, unlike most of the Islamic nations, particularly those supported by the U.S., and despite the crackdown by the hardliners, Iran is still not a nation with a single voice, but a society with multiple voices across the political spectrum. Iran's democratic and reformist groups have been

expressing their strong opposition to Ahmadinejad's policies. During the just concluded convention of the IIPP, many speakers harshly criticized Ahmadinejad's foreign and domestic policies. Former president Khatami, still a widely respected figure in Iran, has also been criticizing Ahmadinejad, not only for his pronouncements on Iran's foreign policy, but also for his domestic agenda. The reformist and democratic groups have been advocating a fully-transparent nuclear program in compliance with Iran's international obligations and, if necessary, a temporary suspension of its uranium enrichment program.

 

Therefore, the Bush Administration cannot find any Iran-based political group to work with. There are some secular republican Iranian groups in exile which are, however, fractured, with little direct influence in Iran, and presumably unwilling to work with the U.S.

 

This leaves the Administration to work with only two groups, as well as some ambitious Iranians in exile who envision themselves as Iran's future leaders. One is the Mojahedeen Khalgh Organization (supported by some neoconservatives and misguided members of the Congress). The MKO is universally despised by Iranians for acting as Saddam Hussein's spies during the Iran-Iraq war, and as his agent for suppressing the Iraqi Kurds and Shi'ites.

 

Some neoconservatives have been advocating restoration of monarchy in Iran. The monarchists are, however, a spent force and relics of a dark past. A great achievement of the 1979 Revolution has been introducing into Iran's political culture the concepts of civic republicanism and elected governments.

 

Afghanistan, a conservative nation with a very high rate of illiteracy, rejected restoration of monarchy after the downfall of the Taliban. Restoration of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq (which was overthrown in July 1958 in a coup d'etat led by General Abdul Karim Qassem) was never even considered after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, even though the neoconservatives, in their

infamous 1996 manifesto, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," had fantasized about it. Therefore, why would the politically-informed Iranian people, 70% of whom are below 30 with literacy rate of 90% and a strong pro-democracy movement, want to restore the discredited monarchy?

 

 

Searching for Iranian Curveball, Ahmad Chalabi and Iyad Allawi

 

Recall that the Iraqi curveball was a defector who made outlandish claims about Saddam's program for developing weapons of mass destruction - false information that was spread with the help of Judith Miller, the now-discredited New York Times reporter.

 

The neoconservatives do have their Iranian curveballs. One is Manouchehr Ghorbanifar, the arms dealer who played a key role in the Iran-Contra affairs. With the help of Michael - the Creative Destructor - Ledeen, the leading neoconservative warmonger, Ghorbanifar is making a comeback. He is no longer satisfied with making money by selling arms in the international markets. He now envisions himself as a future leader of Iran. The others are "former" members of MKO - Alireza Jafarzadeh, Ali Safavi, and Mohammad Mohaddessin, who have been making outlandish claims about Iran's nuclear program which, with one exception, have all been proven by the IAEA to be false. The exception was the revelation about the Natanz facility for uranium enrichment.

 

The search for Iranian Ahmad Chalabi (a superb liar) and Iyad Allawi (a CIA asset) has been going on for sometime. The neoconservatives have been parading to Washington some Iranian journalists and inexperienced university activists - to spend time at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, and become associated with conservative organizations with seductive names, such as The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, Committee on the Present Danger (COPD), and The National Endowment for Democracy. They try to seduce them with fellowships, and meetings with leading advocates of regime change in Iran, such as Richard - the Prince of Darkness - Perle and Michael Ledeen.

 

No "front runner" has emerged yet, but there seem to be several eager aspirants. In an article posted on the Washington Post website on Sunday June 25, Laura Rozen listed several of them, but also missed some. When Dr. Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights advocate who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, recently declared that, "Iranians will not allow a single U.S. soldier set foot in Iran," Akbar Atri, a minor aspirant, eager neoconservative, and member of the COPD (he was dismissed by the Office for Strengthening Unity in Iran after his association with the neoconservatives was revealed), was so distraught by Dr. Ebadi's declaration that likened it to those of the suicide bombers! As a member of COPD Atri has been happy to be part of a group that also includes R. James Woolsey, former director of the CIA and an advocate of World War IV, Frank J. Gaffney, whose hallucinations about Iran's nuclear program are well-known, and Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who was just rejected by the Democratic Party of Connecticut for his pro-war stance. Given her national and international credibility, Ebadi's purely patriotic and non-political declaration had apparently badly contradicted the claims that Atri might have made to the neoconservatives about how Iranians will greet the U.S. soldiers. The real Chalabi had claimed that the Iraqi people will greet the U.S. with flowers and rice.

 

As the total defeat of Chalabi and Allawi in Iraq's recent elections demonstrated, those who are willing to collaborate with foreign powers will never be trusted by the people of the Middle East. Iranians, in particular, have horrifying experience with puppets and agents of foreign governments, such as Reza Shah Pahlavi who came to power in 1921 through a British-supported

coup, and his son Mohammad Reza who was put back in power by the CIA in the infamous 1953 coup.

 

 

The Propaganda War

 

Another facet of the neoconservatives' and the Administration's strategy towards Iran has been an intense propaganda war, pursued in multiple fronts. The war is being aided by exiled Iranians who, in the name of patriotism, are willing to do anything and say anything to achieve their goals. One well-known example is Dr. Alireza Nourizadeh, the London-based political analyst, who not only loudly repeats VERBATIM the neoconservatives' nonsense, but also tops it off by his own exaggerations and innuendoes. In particular, although Nourizadeh lacks even the most elementary knowledge about Iran's energy picture, the state of its oil and gas reserves, and its need for an alternative source of energy, he has been making some of the most absurd claims about Iran's

energy problems and the way to address them.

 

One propaganda front is through the U.S.-funded radios and satellite televisions. This, however, is having little, if any, effect in Iran. Using satellite TV, the Iranian monarchists have, for years, been broadcasting into Iran supposedly anti-government programs. They have had no impact, however,

because, aside from the profanities that throw at each other and at anybody who disagrees with them, they only advocate a Westernized, anti-Islamic counterculture - in essence an anti-religion fundamentalism - the same "ideology" that the Shah tried to instill in Iranians, but ignited the 1979

Revolution. Anyone who fails to take into account the deep religious beliefs of Iranian people cannot succeed or even have an impact. In forming their views towards Iran's Islamic political groups, the monarchists and could have learnt from Europe and its political evolution after World War II:

 

The Christian Democratic Union and its sister, Christian Social Union, were also formed in Germany on religious grounds. But, their gradual evolution and ultimate success in Germany's electoral process have shown that, such political parties can, with moderation, contribute to building a decent democracy based on culture, tradition, history, and religion. There are several other Christian Democratic parties in Western Europe (Italy, for example) that have taken the

same type of path with electoral success.

 

But the monarchists have not learnt anything from this history, because they are blinded by their hatred of the Iranian Revolution.

 

Similarly, the Persian programs broadcast into Iran by the U.S.-owned and funded Radio Farda, Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe, while listened to, are widely considered as mainly propaganda, simply because Iranians do not believe that foreign-funded radios are independent and objective. These radios mostly present the views of those who advocate regime change in Iran - people who, from the comfort of their homes in the West, make grand predictions and demands. The radios also often cherry-pick what the experts say, taking their statements out of context, in order to direct their listeners towards certain conclusions (the author, as well as several of his friends, have had personal experience with these radios). Even the popular British Broadcasting

Corporation that has extensive Persian programs, and compared to which the programs of the U.S.-funded radios are amateurish, is not considered as being objective.

 

But, even if we ignore such shortcomings, a glance at the programs of the U.S.-funded radios reveals their futility. What can they report that can be new to Iranians? That Iran's economy is in a terrible state? Iranian people experience it every day and are well-aware of its abysmal state. That there is rampant corruption? Even Iran's hardliners admit it. That there are political prisoners in Iran? Iranian reformists, democrats, human rights advocates, and internet sites constantly inform the people about the political prisoners' plights.

 

In the second propaganda war front exaggerated news, outright lies, and unsubstantiated claims are planted in newspapers around the world. Two examples are:

 

(1) A recent story by Amir Taheri, an Iranian monarchist and neoconservative, about Iran's parliament debating a piece of legislation for regulating a special dress code for non-Muslims Iranians, and in particular Jews, turned out to be completely false.

 

(2) Iran was accused that it has been trying to buy uranium from Congo, a claim made in an article by a newspaper, the Australian, on August 7, 2006. Recall that the same type of false accusations were made against Iraq when it was claimed that it had tried to buy nuclear materials from Niger. Although the "revelation" was retracted on August 9 in Khaleej Times, and on the internet site the Raw Story, on August 18, the misinformation made some "noise."

 

In another propaganda front, Ahmadinejad has been turned into the most powerful radical in the world - akin to the second coming of Adolf Hitler. But, anybody who is familiar with Iran's political power structure knows that important decisions regarding Iran's foreign policy and national security are not made by its President. Moreover, what is never mentioned is that,

consistent with Iran being a dynamic society with multiple voices, Ahmadinejad's deplorable comments regarding Israel have actually been condemned by a vast array of people across Iran's political spectrum.

 

The fourth propaganda front exaggerates Iran's actions and inactions regarding its nuclear program. Consider the followings:

 

(1) It is constantly stated that Iran is not trustworthy because it hid for 18 years its nuclear facilities at Natanz. But, Iran's only obligation was to inform the IAEA 180 days before it introducing any nuclear materials into those facilities.

 

(2) It also erroneously stated time and again that Iran has violated the provisions of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. However, the only ways to do so are by either secretly using nuclear facilities to weaponize, or by helping another nation to do so, or by transferring nuclear technology to a non-NPT nation. It is, in fact, the Bush Administration that may actually violate the latter provision of the NPT by transferring its nuclear technology to India, a non-NPT nation. Iran has so far been found only in minor breaches of its Safeguards Agreement, a far cry from violating the NPT.

 

(3) Compare these with the treatment that other signatories receive that have violated either the NPT or their Safeguards Agreement. The U.S. professes concerns over the role of Iran's military in its nuclear program, but is silent about the leading role of Brazil's military in its enrichment program. Much has been made of Iran enriching uranium at 4.8% at minuscule scale, but

Brazil has enriched uranium at 20% level, and has greatly limited IAEA's visits to its enrichment facilities. South Korea, Taiwan, and Egypt have been caught by the IAEA trying either to secretly enrich uranium, or designing a nuclear bomb. But, to paraphrase Senator Bob Dole during his run for President in 1996, "where is the outrage" against such violations?

 

Another theme constantly repeated, especially by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, is that, Iran has tried to disrupt the political process in Iraq, or that it has played a very negative role there, or that it is afraid of a stable and democratic Iraq. The reality could not be farther from the truth.

 

Iraq's territorial integrity is in Iran's national interests, regardless of who rules it. If Iraq disintegrates into three mini Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish states, the emergence of the Kurdish state will have deep implications for Iran's own Kurds who represent a sizeable portion (about 10%) of its population, the least of which will be the clashes between the Kurds and the Turkish army.

 

Moreover, given Iran's painful experience with having to host 2 million Afghans who took refuge in Iran during the Afghan wars, the possibility of having to deal with millions of Iraqi Shi'ite refugees that might flee to Iran as a result of a full-blown civil war in Iraq is terrifying, even to the

hardliners.

 

Finally, if there is one point about Iraq on which Iranian reformists and democrats on one hand, and the hardliners on the other hand, may agree is that, the emergence of a more or less democratic system in Iraq is in Iran's national interests. The hardliners like this prospect because they believe that the Shi'ite forces allied with them will always be in control. The reformists and democrats believe that a democratic Iraq would brighten prospects for democracy in Iran.

 

The crux of the U.S. displeasure is that, Iran has close contacts with almost all the Iraqi groups, from Ayatollah Ali Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr and their followers, to the leadership of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq who lived in exile in Iran for years, and many of current Iraq's leaders, the same groups and people who have come to power through the U.S. help!

 

In another propaganda front, the House subcommittee on Intelligence recently released a report on Iran's nuclear program that was full of lies - such as stating that Iran is enriching uranium at the weapon level (80%-90%), that it has the long-range Shahab-4 missiles, and other great lies and exaggerations. It also criticized the CIA and other intelligence agencies for being too cautious

about the extent of Iran's nuclear program.

 

 

The Godwin's Law

 

In the latest propaganda front opened last week by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, we are being warned about the non-existence threat of the fictional "Islamo-Fascism," an absurd and fundamentally contradictory "ism" invented by some of the most extreme elements in the U.S. This indicates the desperation of an Administration that has nothing good to show for its costly and bloody wars in the Middle East after 5 years. What the Administration is doing by invoking this false analogy is confirming the Godwin's Law, formulated by Michael Godwin in 1990, according to which (quoted from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia):

 

  As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison  involving Nazis

 or Hitler approaches 1.

 

 

As pointed out above, one facet of the propaganda war on Iran, and making the case for continuing other wars in the Middle East, is making the rise to power of Ahmadinejad and other radicals in the Middle East akin to second coming of Adolf Hitler.

 

Talking about a fictitious "Islamo-Fascism" is, in fact, surprising, because Leo Strauss, the University of Chicago professor and the intellectual father of the neoconservatives, had actually warned against such false analogies. In his 1950 book, Natutral Right and History, Chapter II, he writes (quoted from Wikipedia),

 

  In following this movement towards its end we shall inevitably reach a point beyond which

 the scene is darkened by the shadow of Hitler. Unfortunately, it does not go without saying that in  our examination we must avoid the fallacy that in the last decades has frequently been used as a substitute for reductio and absurdum: the reductio and Hitlerum. A view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler.

 

 

Thus, for example, President Eisenhower despised Hitler, but admired Hitler's Autobahnen and promoted the Interstate Highway System in the U.S. But, as usual, the neoconservatives, similar to their spiritual allies among Iran's hardliners, only invoke certain "principles" if they suite their interests. The reader should read the interesting article by Ken Silverstein, posted on Harper's Magazine site on August 31, 2006 (www.harpers.org). The reader should also read the excellent

article by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr. (www.lewrockwell.com/rockwell/red-state-fascism.html) on how the "red states" in the U.S. are moving towards some type of fascism.

 

 

The Lost Propaganda War

 

What is the reality on the ground? Since Iran is years away, if ever, from making a nuclear bomb, the fact is, in their propaganda war against Iran, the Bush Administration and the neoconservatives have already lost a major battle, if not the war itself. Iran's hardliners survive, and even thrive, on the existence of a national crisis. That is almost the only way they can stay in office for long. Therefore, by creating an unnecessary crisis over Iran's nuclear program, the Administration and the neoconservatives have played right into the hands of Mr. Ahmadinejad and his co-horts.

 

To see this, one should only recall that during Iran's presidential elections of 2005, Mr. Ahmadinejad ran on a platform of "bringing the oil wealth to people's homes," promising a robust economy, low inflation, elimination of corruption, a fair redistribution of national wealth, and ample employment opportunities for Iran's armies of young and educated, but unemployed, people.

It has become clear, however, that Ahmadinejad and his co-horts could not deliver on any of those promises.

 

Signs of hyperinflation have already appeared in Iran's economy, unemployment has not decreased, and social and political restrictions have increased, while corruption is as rampant as ever. Knowing these, Ahmadinejad has used the U.S.-created nuclear crisis for not only inciting Iranian nationalism, but also distracting people's attention from Iran's mountain of economical, social, and

political problems, while at the same time trying to use the same crisis to suppress Iran's democratic movement.

 

 

Fomenting Ethnic Tensions

 

The neoconservatives support fomenting friction between Iran's ethnic minorities and the Persian majority. The ethnic minorities do have many legitimate grievances against the central government in Tehran. It is also certainly true that the problems have been exacerbated since Ahmadinejad

took office. However, the grievances - both economic and cultural - have never been a critical issue in Iran's internal dynamics, in the sense of posing a threat to its territorial integrity, but the neoconservatives have been trying to change that.

 

There have been several reports that the MKO members, who are protected by the U.S. in their Camp Ashraf in Iraq, are working with the U.S. Special Forces to collect information about Iran's nuclear facilities, and Iran's ethnic minorities. Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times of London reported on February 23, 2006 that, "The intelligence wing of the US marines has launched a probe into Iran's ethnic minorities..." and that, "the Pentagon was examining the depth and nature of grievances against the Islamic government, and appeared to be studying whether Iran would be prone to a violent fragmentation along the same kind of fault lines that are splitting Iraq." Violence flared-up in the Iranian provinces in which the ethnic minorities are in the majority.

 

In 2005 exiled Iranians from various ethnic groups held a "Congress" in London. According to Mr. Dinmore, State Department officials met representatives of the London meeting in the first such talks between the Bush administration and a coalition claiming to represent Iran's ethnic minorities.

 

Several months ago, Michael Ledeen chaired a conference called, "Another Case for Federalism?" at the American Enterprise Institute. He claimed that the representatives of Iran's ethnic minorities participated in his conference, but the conference angered almost all Iranians who live in the U.S. and Europe.

 

 

The Military Strategy

 

The Administration has refused to rule out the possibility of military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities and beyond. It has dispatched two aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf to join the one that is already there. However, Iran is not Iraq.

 

Iraq was formed only in 1932 with artificial boundaries that have no historical roots. At the same time, the Iraqi nationalism has always been weak. Every Iraqi leader from General Abdul Karim Qassim, who overthrew Iraq's monarchy in 1958, to Saddam Hussein, always advocated Pan Arabism, rather than Iraqi nationalism. Even when Saddam's forces were fighting with Iran, he presented himself as the Arabs', not Iraq's, defender.

 

Iran, on the other hand, has existed as an independent nation for thousands of years. Iranians have made magnificent contributions to humanity, science and culture. Hence, Iranian nationalism is extremely fierce. Even the Iranian clerics have had to acknowledge this.

 

As pointed out by the author in two op-ed pieces (co-written with Dr. Ebadi), published on January 21, 2006 in the Los Angeles Times and the International Herald Tribune, military strikes on Iran would create a potent mixture of fierce Iranian nationalism and the Shi'ites' long tradition of martyrdom in defence of their homeland and religion, which would respond so violently to the attacks that it would engulf the entire region in fire. Hezbollah's war with Israel went a long way to demonstrate the Shi'ites motivations for fighting: After 33 days, Israel's powerful army could not advance more than 7 kilometers into southern Lebanon, the same army that had reached Beirut

in 1982 in less than a week.

 

The armchair warriors, both inside and outside the Administration, have been deluded by the neoconservatives' claim that intense bombing of Iran will lead to an uprising by Iranians. The absurd argument is that, "we will destroy Iran, but Iranians will hate others and love us for doing destroying their country." But, as the Lebanon war demonstrated, such a delusion will never become reality in the Middle East. Although a big majority of Iranians despise the hardliners, anyone who has the slightest familiarity with Iran's history knows that intense bombing of Iran will not lead to the downfall of the hardliners, rather it will help them consolidate their power. Some historical examples:

 

Iranians were already tired of the chaos and huge unemployment that the 1979 Revolution had caused when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980. Yet, they rallied around their government. Even the Iranian-Arabs of the oil-rich Khuzestan province, that Saddam's forces had invaded, fought fiercely against the invaders.

 

Many Iranians also believe that the last five or six years of Iran-Iraq eight-year war was unnecessary (as Iran had taken back all of its territory that had been occupied by Iraq), driven only by the ideologues on both sides. This period was also when Iraq attacked savagely Iran's population and industrial centers with missiles and chemical bombs, yet the Iranian army never greatly suffered from shortage of soldiers or desertion.

 

Thus, realistically, regime change in Iran through the U.S. multi-pronged strategy will not happen. The aspiration of Iranian people for a democratic government at peace with the rest of the world should be supported. Impartial Western NGOs, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, must keep the plights of Iranian democrats and human rights defenders who have been

imprisoned in the public eyes. They must report on human rights abuses - the Achilles' heel of the hardliners - in Iran.

 

But, no government, and in particular the Bush Administration and the Blair government, should interfere in Iran's internal affairs, not only because it is against international laws, but also because they simply do not have the moral authority after their illegal invasion of Iraq, their support of Israel for destroying the infrastructure of Lebanon, and what has been happening at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and elsewhere.

 

 

Diplomatic Solution

 

Thus, a diplomatic initiative is the only viable approach to Iran's nuclear program. Perhaps the best description of how such negotiations can success was given by Albert Einstein. In an article entitled, "The 1932 Disarmament Conference" (the conference was held in February 1932 in Geneva),  published on September 23, 1932 in The Nation, Einstein wrote,

 

    Success in such great affairs is not a matter of cleverness, or even shrewdness, but

   instead a matter of honorable conduct and mutual confidence. You cannot substitute

  intellect for moral conduct in this matter.

 

 

Thus, both Iran and the West must make concessions in order to address the legitimate concerns of one another. Iran must be offered a deal that addresses its aspirations for having advanced technology, guarantees its national security and territorial integrity, and recognizes it as the key nation in the Middle East. Such a deal will strengthen Iran's democratic and reformist groups in their struggle for democracy, which will ultimately lead to nuclear transparency.

 

Two months before Mr. Ahmadinejad's election, Iran had already submitted, on March 23, 2005, to the EU troika (Britain, France, and Germany) a plan of objective guarantees for peaceful nature of its nuclear program, and offered to, (1) forego plutonium production through a heavy water reactor, or reprocessing of spent fuel; (2) produce only low-enriched uranium, restrict its amount to what is needed for Iran's reactors, and convert them immediately to fuel rods (that cannot be further enriched), and (3) limit the number of centrifuges in Natanz facility, at least at the beginning, with the IAEA having permanent on-site presence at all the facilities. In addition, Iran has offered to, (4) ratify the Additional Protocol, and allow once again intrusive inspections; (5) guarantee not to leave the NPT (a la North Korea), and (6) accept an IAEA-verified limit on the production of uranium hexafluoride.

 

These concessions, if taken up by the West, will help realize the worst nightmare of the neoconservatives and their Iranian allies, namely, that Iran may actually agree to curtail the scope of its nuclear program. But, the EU ignored Iran's proposal.

 

Russia has already guaranteed fuel supply and spent-fuel management for the Bushehr reactor for 10 years. The agreement can be extended for longer periods of time, and to Iran's future nuclear reactors. But, there is historical distrust of Russia by Iranians:

 

Russia took over by force large parts of Iran's territory in 1813 and 1827, and never relinquished them. It helped the counter-revolutionaries during Iran's Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1908, and was opposed, through its Iranian mercenaries, to Iran's industrialization in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Soviet Union refused to evacuate parts of Iran at the end of World War II,  until it was pressured by the West. It took advantage of Iran's weak government and looted Iran's caviar and fisheries in the Caspian Sea from 1927 until the 1950s, when a bilateral agreement was signed between the two nations. The Soviet Union and Iran signed two treaties in 1921 and 1940 that forbade the two nations from taking unilateral actions regarding the natural resources of the Caspian Sea, yet Russia has done exactly that, signing bilateral agreement, over Iran's strong objections, with the other littoral States, namely, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. Iranians also see how easily Russia shuts off its natural gas pipelines to Ukraine, Western Europe, and Georgia, just to express its displeasure with these nations.

 

Therefore, if the Russian option is to work as a temporary solution, at least five years of nuclear fuel should be set aside for Iran, as suggested by the E.U. in its latest proposal to Iran. In case that the Russian supplies are cut off, Iran would have enough fuel to last until it can start its own fuel

production, or an alternative source can be found. This can be done through, for example, a fuel bank managed by the IAEA. A credible procedure must also be established to guarantee that the control of the fuel bank will not fall in the hands of U.S., Britain, France, and Germany that have long records of illegally freezing many nations' assets.

 

The U.S. sanctions against Iran should at least be partially lifted to allow Iran to buy new civilian aircrafts, and the U.S. oil companies to invest in Iran's oil and gas industry. While the author is against any sanctions, partial lifting of the U.S. sanctions is far better than the present totally blind sanctions that hurt only ordinary Iranians.

 

Most people across Iran's political spectrum believe that the U.S. never recognized the legitimacy of the 1979 Revolution, ever since has been after overthrowing the government in Tehran. They also worry that if President Pervez Musharraf is assassinated (and there have already been two such attempts) and the Taliban's sympathizers in the military take over, they will pose a grave danger to Iran's national security. Add to these the facts that, (1) in the 1980s Iraq was armed to teeth to invade Iran and was helped to develop chemical weapons that it used against Iran and its own citizens, and (2) the constant threats made by Israel against Iran, and then one can develop a better understanding of Iran's legitimate national security concerns. So long as such concerns are not addressed, short of invading Iran and installing a puppet regime in Tehran, no Iranian government, regardless of its political leanings, would dare to give up forever the right to enrich uranium.

 

Therefore, the UN Security Council must guarantee that no country would attack or threaten Iran, so long as Iran complies with its nuclear obligations and does not threaten other states, or carry out or sponsor aggression against other nations. For this guarantee to be meaningful, Iran and the U.S. must start direct negotiations.

 

 

The West - Iran Negotiations

 

Insisting on Iran suspending its uranium enrichment program before any negotiations take place is, for several reasons, counterproductive.

 

(1) Iran did suspend for two years its uranium enrichment program while negotiating with the E.U., but the negotiations did not produce any concrete result. Therefore, why insist on something that gives an excuse to Tehran's radicals to scuttle the negotiations?

 

(2) Iran's present scale of uranium enrichment is extremely limited, with only a cascade of 164 centrifuges working in Natanz, and a mountain of technical problems to overcome. In its latest report released on Thursday August 31, 2006, the IAEA reported that Iran had made very little progress in expanding and advancing its uranium enrichment program. Thus, the small cascade does not, by itself, pose any threat to any nation.

 

(3) As a signatory of the NPT, Iran is entitled to having a uranium enrichment program. There is absolutely nothing in the present NPT and its Safeguards Agreement that stipulates that, if a signatory of NPT is found in minor breaches of the Agreement, it has automatically given up its right to uranium enrichment. If the West intends to impose this additional requirement on Iran, it must first legally modify the NPT itself. The West's opposition to Iran's uranium enrichment program is viewed by Iranians mostly as the continuation of its hostility towards Iran's technological advancements that began by the British and Russian opposition to building railroads in Iran in the 19th century.

 

(4) The U.S. and its European allies cannot arbitrarily decide which UN Security Council resolutions, such as Resolution 1696, ought to be enforced, and which ones do not need to be.

 

There are those who believe that direct negotiations between Iran and the U.S.bestow upon Iran's hardliners international legitimacy. This is, however, a false argument. It is certainly true that Iran's hardliners have not come to power through democratic and fair elections. It is also true that they have been trying to suppress Iran's democratic movement. However, the legitimacy of any political group or those who are in power in any nation is bestowed upon them by the people of that nation, not by any foreign power. Therefore, if Iran's hardliners have no legitimacy, it is because the Iranian people do not recognize them as freely and fairly elected leaders, and no negotiations with the U.S. or any other major power can give them legitimacy (although it might give them some political relief). Conversely, any legitimacy that the hardliners might have has been given to them by at least a fraction of Iran's population, not by any major foreign power.

 

 

Addressing the West's Concerns

 

To address the West's concerns about the possibility of nuclear weaponization, Iran must agree not to invoke for an agreed-upon period of time its rights for uranium enrichment under the NPT agreement. In the past, Iran had suggested a two-year period, but the E.U. wants a much longer freeze. It is unlikely, however, that Iran would agree to a prolonged freeze, or that it would freeze

its program before concrete concessions are made to it through negotiations.

 

One possible solution is the "delayed-limited enrichment" program that the International Crisis Group has proposed. According to this program, the first step for Iran would be to suspend all of its nuclear activities for a period of time. If Iran did "graduate" from this phase, it could go forward with pilot-scale enrichment. If Iran did "graduate" from the second phase, it could start larger scale enrichment. Clearly, what constitutes "graduation" must be defined unambiguously.

 

From the West's view point the transparency of Iran's nuclear program is the most critical issue. As the author pointed out in the aforementioned op-ed pieces, democracy in Iran would lead to transparency. Therefore, the West must help Iran's democratic movement without interfering in its internal affairs.

 

A political solution will have another major benefit: It will take away from Iran's hardliners the unnecessary crisis created by the U.S. over Iran's nuclear program, and force them to address the aspirations of Iranian people for economical prosperity, and social and political freedom. Without a national crisis, the hardliners will be at a crossroad: They would have to either solve Iran's economical, social, and political problems, or they will be removed from power by Iranian people one way or another. Thus, the absence of an artificial national crisis would open up all types of possibilities for democratization of Iran's political system by its democratic and reformist groups, leading eventually to the ultimate safeguards - a transparent political system.

 

 

About the author: Muhammad Sahimi, the NIOC Chair in petroleum engineering, and professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Southern California, writes and speaks regularly about Iran's nuclear program and its political developments. In addition to his scientific research that have resulted in over 240 published papers and four books, his political writings have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, Harvard International Review, and Issues in Science and Technology, as well as various websites.

... Payvand News - 9/7/06 ... --


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