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6/14/07

A NEW RAPPROCHEMENT OR MORE OF THE SAME? Part II: May Sanity Prove Victorious

By Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse

 

My last article, "A NEW RAPPROCHEMENT OR MORE OF THE SAME?", the first installment of a two-part series, appeared on payvand web site on June 8th. In that writing I covered two of the three options facing Iran in the current standoff (confrontation) with the United States. In that article I dismissed Option "A" ( total capitulation or surrender of power by the Islamic Republic's leadership), as something that had no likelihood of happening anytime soon.

Option "B" was about "staying the course" of belligerent defiance in the face of threats and intimidation. I had tried to demonstrate that a continuation of this strategy would not only be counter to the best interests of the both antagonists, as well as to the Middle East region as a whole, it has the potential of reaching an explosive flashpoint with catastrophic consequences.

That leaves us with Option "C": a new and more meaningful rapprochement.

It would make a great deal of sense that behind all the sloganeering, chest-thumping, accusations and name calling by both sides, some horse trading, however clandestine, must have been going on between the two antagonists for some time now. As far as the US and the Iranian media are concerned, the recent meeting of officials from the two governments held in Iraq heralded the first face-to-face dialog between the two parties in 27 years.

This so-called first has already alarmed the Israelis and the like-minded folks in the US Administration, warning of the dangers of giving Iran more time to create problems in the region and succeed in its aim of developing its nuclear bombs. The highest profile Israel supporter in the American Congress, Senator Joseph Lieberman, is openly promoting the idea of a preemptive attack on Iran, already.

Considering the power and influence of the Israeli lobby over the United States' leadership as well as the American news media and the entertainment industry, engaging Iran in any meaningful dialog would be a monumental task. Rallying the public opinion for such a shift in strategy in the current highly toxic atmosphere will not be easy at all. Quite ironically, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that the Iranians in general would actually welcome a new opening with the United States simply because the issues are certainly more vital for Iran's interests.

A perfect example of how the American media cannot help but play into the public sentiments was the program about US/Iran relations, going from best friends to arch enemies, on Public Radio, on Friday, June 8th. It is one thing discounting radio talk-show thugs like the psychopath, Michael Savage, the Israel-worshiper, Dennis Prager, or TV dipsticks like the pathetically hollow-minded Glen Beck commenting on the world of Islam and particularly about Iran. It is quite another, however, when an agency such as the National Public Radio (KPBS in San Diego) broadcasts a detailed commentary about the history of Iran's evolving political landscape. It is generally believed that NPR (PRI and KPBS) system is fair and unbiased in its reporting, sort of like the BBC in Great Britain! But is it really?

Although the chronology of events was accurately portrayed, I almost gagged at some of the comments that were casually and quite as-a-matter-of factly thrown in. I put myself in the position of an interested listener with little or no personal experience or background in the Iranian affairs during the past one hundred years. Listening to the nearly hour-long program, the non-initiated, meaning better than ninety-nine percent of the listeners, would be left with the following impressions:

1-Iran was at the risk of falling into the lap of the Soviet Union, were it not for the military coup of 1953, staged by the CIA and MI6, which reinstated the Shah.

No mention was made about the popularity of Prime Minister Mosaddegh or the democratic aspirations of the nation that were stemmed in their embryonic stage with the return of the dictator/stooge.

2-The Islamic Republic of Iran supports terrorist groups like the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.

Terrorist groups, according to whose definition, was never mentioned!

3-The entire episode of the American Embassy hostage crisis was, as usual, glossed over in favor of the generally accepted narratives prevailing in the media for the past 27 years. We might have to wait another couple of decades for the truth about that dark episode in US/Iran relations to become exposed.

4-Iran's nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Again, no mention was made that this suspicion is not even shared by the Head of the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA.

5-The leaders of the Sunni Arab states, from Jordan and Egypt to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates, are worried about the Shi'a Iran's regional ambitions and increasing influence and popularity.

While that is very true, certain pertinent and highly consequential realities were omitted from the program. One Arab commentator interviewed for the program did mention that, in a recent survey in Egypt, a great majority considered Lebanon's Shi'a leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and Iran's President, Ahmadinejad, as the two most admired leaders in the Middle East!

What is seldom pointed out is the distinction between the leaderships in the so-called moderate Sunni Arab states and their Arab populations. No doubt the kings and lifetime presidents of these states are worried about the rise of the Shi'a Iran as they would be, for that matter, of any form of government that might enjoy vast popular support from its citizenry. That is certainly a no-brainer!

 

The difficulties do not stop there. A day doesn't pass that the Israeli regime and its supporters, Democrats and Republicans alike, in the United States do not sound off their willingness, indeed readiness, to launch an attack on Iran. The US military, now surrounding Iran on land and in the sea, is already poised to start the war. And, no one seems to be asking the obvious question, Where are the international objections and condemnations against open and quite viable threats of attack against Iran by those who scream "Holocaust" when they hear the Iranian President's remarks predicting that the days of the "regime of occupation" are numbered?

These are indeed strange times. Such double standards don't go unnoticed by those who sense that an open season has been declared on their destinies.

   

Option "C", a new rapprochement:

To start, some established precepts about what has been touted as Islam versus the West, which supposedly motivates and propels this ongoing conflict of civilizations, must be redressed.

The mythology that has permeated the mindsets in the West, particularly in the United States, is that Islam or the politically more correct, fundamentalist Islam, is theologically and philosophically opposed to freedom, democracy and civilized values. According to this thesis, being by nature inflexible and defiant, this fundamentalism encourages the radical elements and militant groups to resort to violence and terrorism against the infidels or infidel values, meaning anything Western or West-oriented. And, since martyrdom is actually the desired goal of these people, nothing short of their physical annihilation could stem this tide.

Viewed from the perspective of many Western ideologues, the civilized or progressive societies of the Free World have been struggling to secure their own best interests and the interests of those backward Moslem nations by promoting those unfamiliar principles of freedom and democracy in the region. It is widely believed that the creation and support of friendlier and more compliant (to the West, of course) regimes in the Islamic world would be the only path to their cultural enlightenment, progress, peace and prosperity.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, by the very definition implied by its name, is classified here as the epitome of all that the "civilized" West has to worry about: a retrogressive, religious authoritarianism that is bent on aggressively spreading its theological domain by the use of force, including nuclear weapons (should it acquire any), while blatantly violating the human rights of its population and strangulating the cries for freedom and democracy by its oppressed citizenry. 

That, of course, is a pretty grim picture of Iran as projected by the mass media here, and as portrayed by the Iranian dissident groups in exile or self-exile, and even by some inside Iran.

An example is the recently announced group meeting scheduled to be held in Paris, France, on the weekend of June 15th, under the title, Solidarity Iran. The group's announced agenda is "...an initiative for democracy and human rights in Iran."

Reading their rather lengthy Press Release, dated June 11, 2007, the true agenda of this meeting of "...personalities and political activists..." becomes clear:

"On the current international crisis involving Iran, in a document 'Who Are We?' prepared for the Paris meeting, the participants express their 'concerns for the situation and future of our country in these crisis situations'.  It further declares, 'We regard the policies of the Islamic Republic on uranium enrichment and international terrorism the main causes of the current crisis in the country and region.  We support the international community's demand for suspension of the enrichment program by the Islamic Republic.  We oppose all forms of military assaults on Iran, and we see the overall solution of the current crisis dependent on establishing freedom, democracy and human rights in Iran.'"

[Highlighted by me to emphasize the main points.]

 

Clearly, the agenda is to parrot the "staying the course" rhetoric that has been voiced by the US Administration up to this point. The phrase "We oppose all forms of assault on Iran" seems to be intended to appeal to those who might still carry some feeling of sympathy toward their beleaguered homeland! How honorable and brave of them, indeed! I certainly hope that, at the very least, some clear definition for the terms democracy, international terrorism and human rights might come out of this meeting of scholars and activists.

It would be interesting to ask the participants in this meeting of great minds what personal gains or losses each would incur as a result of pursuing their agenda. Are they truly interested in the future of their abandoned homeland, or are they after something else; their personal fame and fortune at the expense of a nation in ruination, perhaps?

 

However, behind the fašade of self-righteous, altruistic humanitarianism lies hidden from the public consciousness and quite understandably so, a series of self-serving or pragmatic motives.

Of course, the mighty Western societies regard themselves as role models in civilized, progressive values, to be envied and emulated by the less deserving, disadvantaged, or the less fortunate. How could that be otherwise? Anything that challenges this precept or stands in the way of the West's global domination deserves, therefore, to be dealt with appropriately, by force of arms if other coercive or convincing tactics fail. Not overcoming this resistance or challenge, by force if necessary, the privileged societies would have to yield to the pleas or the demands of the suppressed or underprivileged nations. This would violate the very human nature of refusing to voluntarily give up even that which was undeservedly gained! That is not going to happen.

 

Based on the foregoing, the United States has certain legitimate global interests that are deemed essential to its economic, political and social well-being. When it comes to the Middle East, these strategic interests in the current state of affairs could be summarized as follows:

1-On top of the list at this time is an acceptable, face-saving resolution to the Iraqi dilemma.

2-Maintaining control over the production and the flow of oil from the region.

3-Curtailing or limiting the influence of rival powers, Russia and China in particular, from gaining a dominant position in the region and its energy resources.

4-A regional containment of the state of Israel and limiting its political influence in Washington to prevent an escalation of tensions that would inevitably draw the United States into any ensuing wars.

5-A calibrated, gradual, perhaps not total, but substantial withdrawal from of the Middle East theater, and closing down of most military bases in the Islamic states and the Persian Gulf.

 

The critical requisite in point #1 is that the move has to be face-saving. No matter how many war casualties and how many billions of dollars this nation incurs, a cut-and-run policy would rekindle the tragedy and disgrace of Vietnam, something that no US administration could possibly afford. The international repercussion of admitting to anything short of a qualified success, let alone a defeat, would even embolden some lowly jackals to dare a wounded tiger to a challenge. The consequence of such an uncalculated adventurism would be the unleashing of the might of the US military with devastating and long-term consequences to the adversary.

The control over the strategic energy resources of the region, point # 2, would not present the same degree of difficulty or complex maneuverings as is the case with other points. All major oil and gas producers in the Middle East rely on the export of this commodity as the main source of their national revenue. Even those little Emirates, as well as Kuwait, who do not have massive populations to sustain, rely on the international, mostly American, oil companies' patronage for the emirs' personal survival and prosperity.

The management of the flow of oil out of the region in a calculated way to limit uncharted access by China or even India, point # 3, will require the cooperation of the main producing countries. Given proper incentives, each country will measure the gains against potential losses in any such agreement or arrangement. It should be remembered that, in the case of Iran, for example, some of its bartering or negotiating leverage against American pressure has hinged on the support by the economic powers such as China, and that is something Iran cannot afford to relinquish for mere promises.

Point # 4 is certainly the most difficult and will be the most controversial. Volumes can be, and have been, written about the power and influence of the Israeli lobby and its supporters in this country. We have the evangelical "Rapturists" and millions of their followers who have become the darlings of the Lobby for their venomous hatred of Israel's antagonists. We have powerful Jewish voices in our Congress, some like Joe Lieberman and Thomas Lantos whose passion for Israel is truly Biblical, and others who feel it their ethnic duty to support the Jewish state no matter what its agenda.  It's no accident that a majority of reporters and columnists whose reportage and columns about the events in the Middle East appear in our major media, from relative unknowns to the high-profile Charles Krauthammer, happen to be Jewish, many with membership in the Israeli lobby, AIPAC.

It is also not a mere coincidence that our politicians in office, as well as those who are seeking office or are currently engaged in serious campaigning for the Office of the President of the United States, never dare oppose Israel's policies and "better judgment" in the affairs of the Middle East. Just follow the trail of money and media support for these candidates to its fountainhead to realize what an uphill battle it would be to combat this metastasis that has permeated every vital organ in this nation.

With the exception of the Democratic presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich and the Republican Ron Paul, neither of whom are under any delusion that their candidacy is simply a symbolic exercise in futility, no other campaigner has said a word critical of Israel or to question the myth that Israel is our best friend and a symbol of democratic values in the Middle East, no matter how its policies have damaged America's vital interests, good name and prestige internationally. The shallowness of the devotional sentiments for Israel expressed by the likes of Barak Obama illustrates the point perfectly well.

Today, saying that America's blind and passionate support for Israel is the root cause of most if not all our problems in the Middle East, is like declaring that Earth is flat! Just ask the celebrated author, Thomas Friedman.

The final point, #5, is what the Democratic opposition to the Bush Administration, as well as several Republicans, seem to suggest. While "Bring our troops home" works well as a bumper sticker or a slogan during political campaigns, the possibility of withdrawing our forces from the region, even partially, will be contingent on too many other factors, chief among them our rapprochement with our regional antagonists.

 

Now, let us look into what Iran's vital strategic interests might be in resolving this ongoing crisis:

1-Defusing the escalating threats of a military attack against Iran by the US, the Israelis or both.

2-Easing the economic sanctions against the country.

3-Stabilizing the ethnic and religious conflicts in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan.

4-Pushing for a final settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis to alleviate Iran's quite costly (financially as well as diplomatically) self-imposed obligations to support anti-occupation resistance movements in Palestine. This also applies to the Lebanese situation and Iran's support for Lebanon's Hezbollah.

 

There is no doubt that Iran also has its own hardline religious zealots, counterparts to the likes of the crazed Rapturist, Pastor John Hagee, those who actually wield tremendous power and influence. There are non-clerical hardliners and ultra conservatives as well who, just like our own counterparts right here, are clearly paranoid about the dangers that those with liberal agendas pose to the security and the future of the nation.

The Iranian President, Mahmood Ahmadinejad, in sounding off his fiery rhetoric, is actually more reserved, and according to Iran's Constitution, is no more instrumental in formulating foreign policy or declaring war, than is the deceivingly mild-mannered American Senator Joseph Lieberman who wants to bomb Iran! They are both alarmists; one does it to blindly support the agendas of his fictional ancestral Promised Land, and the other in anger and anxiety over the real and present danger to his homeland, which he actually blames mostly on Israel and its stranglehold over the United States.

There are also voices of sanity and reason, some open and loud, but mostly drowned by the cacophony of fear and hate-mongering that prevails in both countries.

There is a prevailing belief that the only reason the Unites States has not bombed Iran's nuclear facilities and other strategic sites already is because the engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan has stretched the military too thin to embark on another war front with a reasonable degree of impunity. Some also blame the lack of sufficient intelligence data. A few military analysts caution against a potentially costly military or terroristic response by Iran, and even an escalation of Iran's nuclear weapons programs in case of an American or Israeli attack.

What we don't hear is that, more than likely, there are people in our Administration who do not see any merit in a military attack upon Iran. There are high-profile and well-respected people such as Zbigniew Brzezinski who oppose such a war, not because of what it might cost us, but because they do not see any benefits, strategic or otherwise, in attacking the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to Dr. Brzezinski, the biggest fear is that an accident of some sort might trigger an attack, which would be a costly catastrophe for all sides concerned.

On the other side of the planet, the man bestowed with authority over foreign policy and Iran's military, Ayatollah Khamene'i,  has been doing everything within his power, with due considerations for the decades-long anti-American propaganda, to indicate his willingness for a meaningful rapprochement with the United States. As was the case with the former presidents, Rafsanjani and Khatami, this willingness for a new opening is conditional on accepted diplomatic principles. That would mean a fair and balanced approach to each side's case without threats, intimidations or unreasonable preconditions.

Examples of these "unreasonable preconditions" include demanding that Iran halt all its nuclear enrichment and research operations before the two parties could sit down and talk about the same nuclear issues. Or, Iran demanding that the United States military agree to leave Iraq before the two sides discuss how they might cooperate in stabilizing the region.

 

Now, to point #1: The greatest threat looming over Iran and the Middle East, with grave international consequences, is a military assault on Iran, whether limited to specific targets or full-scale. Even if a surgical attack takes place over one or two nuclear facilities by the Israelis, such an attack will no doubt be blamed on the United States for complicity if not for its direct involvement in the affair.

No doubt Iran can do its share of contributing to regional turmoil and even cause considerable damage to the American naval fleet and other military installations in the area. The big loser, however, will be the Iranian nation, regardless of pompous boastings by some Iranian officials who have been attempting to portray Iran as much less vulnerable than it actually is. In short, the Iranian hierarchy in charge of the nation's foreign policies would be foolish to opt for a military confrontation with the United States, regardless of what the costs might be to the American forces.

This alone should be incentive enough for Iran to welcome a diplomatic approach to resolving the issues of concern. And that, incidentally, is exactly what worries the likes of Senator Lieberman and others who portray the Iranian leaders as untrustworthy and not prone to a reasoned, negotiated resolution.

I have long suspected, as reflected in my previous writings and lectures, that the greatest concern by the American administration has been how to appease the Israelis and keep them from taking the matters in their own trigger-happy hands before some negotiated arrangement could be formulated between the US and Iran.

Without doubt, the ball of diplomacy remains in the American court. Without the cooperation of the regional powerhouse, Iran, there would be no hope of reaching an acceptable degree of calm and stability in the Middle East. Only for those who view any semblance of stability in the region counter to their own best interests such a promising potential remains unacceptable. Just listen to the voices coming out of the Israeli regime and its backers in the United States!

Economic sanctions, point #2, whether imposed by the United States or suggested by the UN Security Council or the G8, do hurt Iran much more than the Iranian leadership would like to admit. Iran's economy has a great potential for growth. This potential has, however, been greatly impeded by the trade embargos aimed at destabilizing Iran's economy with the hope of pushing Iran toward a regime change or major attitudinal adjustment.

Such strategies have thus far backfired, to the point that elements of power and control that were the targets of these strategies have been able to use them to strengthen their own positions of power and authority while the nation as a whole has been suffering from the impact.

It doesn't take the knowledge of brain surgery or rocket science to understand that the way to any opening, moderation and meaningful democratization for the Iranian nation is through diplomatic and economic reengagements with the global economic powerhouses, particularly the United States.

It is, therefore, a true no-brainer that, if defusing the current tension between the United States and Iran is honestly the object of desire, a continuation of sanctions and constant threats of attack against the Islamic Republic will not serve that purpose. That should make one wonder about the true motives behind these policies and threats.

Point #3: Why would Iran want a secession of hostilities in Iraq or Afghanistan? In Afghanistan, Iran was instrumental in defeating the hostile Taliban and Al Gha'eda elements and in helping establish the friendly toward Iran, Karzai regime in Kabul. The recently alleged involvement of Iran in the shipments of arms to the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan is highly suspect. Is it possible that Iranian made weapons could fall into the hands of insurgents in Afghanistan or Iraq? Of course it is; but it is no different than American, Israeli or Chinese made weapons falling into the hands of various warring factions.

If indeed the Iranian regime is shipping weapons to these anti-Iranian Taliban insurgents, clearly making Hamid Karzai's praise for Iran's help and support in a recent statement sound rather strange, the key to the paradox might be in what these weapons were intended for. To think that Iran is trying to undermine the Karzai government by attempting to harm the NATO forces that support and protect it requires a vivid imagination. However, if these Taliban fighters are battling the feared Al Gha'eda forces vying for control of the region, Iran's assistance to that group might have some justification.

With a calm and friendly Afghanistan, Iran, Afghanistan's principle benefactor (ask Hamid Karzai), would have less to worry about historically hostile insurgent Sunni tribal warriors and opium traffickers. Furthermore, the huge influx of Afghan refugees still being sheltered in Iran since the Soviet invasion would be returned to their homeland, easing Iran's enormous economic burden.

In Iraq, the removal of the Ba'athist Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein and the creation of a majority Shi'a Moslem governing body has opened the door for the first time to a potentially friendly relationship between the two regional antagonists. To the north, the Iraqi Kurds have been traditionally seeking autonomy, as have their tribal parallels in Turkey and Iran. Iran, as well as Turkey, would insist on creating a stable coalition regime in Iraq to prevent a division of that country and the creation of an independent Kurdistan, which might lead to similar aspirations in Turkey and Iran.

The question might be asked, Why does Iran support insurgent groups, primarily the Shi'a militias, in Iraq? The Iraqi Shi'a have been bearing the brunt of the attacks by their Sunni rivals and the Al Gha'eda elements combating the American forces. The holiest of Shi'a shrines have been the targets of these insurgencies. Supporting the Shi'a militias has, therefore, been not only viewed as a religious duty, but supporting the Shi'a dominated regime is, understandably, the primary goal of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Would Iran benefit in any way by supplying the opposition Sunni militants with weaponry and support? A case could also be made for that scenario. Is it really surprising that, with all the threats of attack against Iran, including the use of tactical nuclear weapons as suggested by the Vice President and a number of others in the American administration, Iran would like to cause as much trouble for the Americans in Iraq as possible?

However, in spite of that logic, it is highly unlikely that Iranian arms found in the possession of the radical Sunni elements and Iran's enemies, the Al Gha'eda forces, are being delivered to them with Iran's knowledge or approval. These groups are the same ones who have been terrorizing the Shi'a Iraqis and bombing the Shi'a holy sites.

With a less hostile attitude toward Iran by the American administration, the Iranians would have an added incentive to more actively guard the shipment of weapons across their border into Iraq.

Finally, we come to addressing point #4.

Those who believe that Iran's grievance against the Jewish state of Israel stems from some religious or ideological root are gravely mistaken. Sadly for the ideologues and those concerned with human rights, etc, Iran's animosity toward Israel has little or nothing to do with the plight of the Palestinians. The Palestinian's rightful demands, as well as the plight of the Lebanese Shi'a majority represented by their political/military party, Hezbollah, are pretexts for Iran to pressure Israel and curtail its regional ambitions.

Just as the American public has been sold the idea that our mission in the Middle East is to spread freedom and democracy and improve the lives of those poor Moslems, Iran's antagonism against Israel is portrayed for public consumption there as a noble mission to force the regime of occupation to back off from the repression of the Palestinians. Both the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas have been thorns on Israel's side, serving Iran's true aim of keeping Israel under pressure.

The question is, What is it about Israel that concerns Iran to a degree that its hostile sounding rhetoric aimed at the Jewish state has even caused wide criticism and condemnation, not to mention the great cost to Iran's economic well-being?

In one sentence, Iran considers Israel to be the single most instrumental influence that has kept a mutually productive rapprochement with the United States from taking place.

I have elaborated on this issue so often and in so much detail in the past that repeating it here is not necessary for those who are in agreement with my assessments, and for those who disagree, it will simply provide another opportunity to call me a conspiracy theorist, or worse, an anti-Semite.

The important fact is that the Islamic Republic of Iran's leadership believes that Israel and, by extension, America's policies toward the Middle East in promoting Israel's interests, are the principle causes of all the region's problems since World War II.

Interestingly, the former Shah of Iran stated much the same point of view regarding Israel's influence over America's Middle East policies in his interview with Mike Wallace even as a staunch ally of the United States. The same view is also shared by many distinguished political figures here and in Europe, who are either retired from government positions or have no interest in running for office.

Those who regard that view as baseless or as a scapegoat for the Middle Eastern nations' own socioeconomic failures are the same people who believe that Israel's interests and agendas and those of the United States are parallel and inseparable. The only solid and irrefutable argument against this view is the cost to America in the past fifty or sixty years for this passionate bond, the current quagmire we have sunk into, and the possible hell we might be heading for if we fulfill Israel's dream by attacking Iran.

 In conclusion, I believe there is overwhelming evidence that a rapprochement with Iran would be of historical value to both nations and to the region. Ironically, what on the surface might appear to be against Israel's stated objectives and agendas will, in the longer term, prove to be the best guarantee for the Jewish state's lasting prosperity, in peace and harmony with its former antagonists.

Only time will tell what might prove correct in this analysis. I don't believe we'd have to wait for very long to find out!

May sanity prove victorious.

 

About the author: Kam Zarrabi is the author of In Zarathushtra's Shadow and Necessary Illusion. Please visit intellectualdiscourse.com for ordering.

... Payvand News - 6/14/07 ... --



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