Iran News ...


08/20/08

Toward a cold peace?

By Arshin Adib-Moghaddam (source: bitterlemons-international.org)

 

There is a discernible progression in the rapprochement between the United States and Iran, even during the presidency of George W. Bush. This progression was forced upon the Bush administration by the emerging new regional order in Western Asia and North Africa and the reshuffling of world politics toward a "post-imperial" era. Let me sketch a few signposts of these developments in the following paragraphs.

It has been one of the rather more salient effects of President Bush's ill-fated invasion of Iraq that the United States has lost its power to push and shove states, much less societies, toward accepting the "war on terror" as a global reality. Today, the United States cannot enforce its legitimacy as the universal "Leviathan" anymore. The country's short indulgence in the "unipolar transition moment", the period immediately after the demise of the Soviet Union, is over. If it could attack Iraq without a clear international mandate; if it could turn a terrorist attack on its soil into a global war--then nobody is safe.

 


Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is the author of Iran in World Politics: the Question of the Islamic Republic, published by Hurst & Co and Columbia University Press.
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States and societies, especially in the wider Arab and Muslim worlds, feel compelled to protect themselves from this penetrative source of instability, not least because governments are increasingly scrutinized by assertive civil societies from Cairo to Riyadh. These have made it that much more difficult for authoritarian states to favor regime survival over national interest. Incidentally, this is why US presidential candidate Barack Obama constantly stresses the necessity to repackage the American brand. What he is trying to do, in essence, is to re-position the United States in world politics, not in order to pacify its foreign policy but to re-appropriate the country's diplomatic power to legitimate future adventures. This is meant to make it easier for the allies of the United States to re-navigate toward an explicitly pro-American position.

So does it really matter if it is the erudite liberal or the macho neo-conservative who enforces the universal "embrace" of the idea of America? It does, in one very significant way: today, the neo-cons' ability to pool diplomatic power to legitimate aggression is minimized (even sanctions against Mugabe's Zimbabwe were vetoed). The slick, charismatic liberal who looks and speaks as if he understands the despair of the voiceless, on the other side, may get the benefit of the doubt.

This brings us to the logic behind the Bush administration's decision to let Undersecretary of State William Burns join envoys from France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany in talks with Iran's nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. Neoconservative supporters of aggression against Iran (and the wider Muslim world) such as Michael Rubin, Patrick Clawson, Michael Ledeen and John Bolton, all of them neatly organized in the American Enterprise Institute and all of them huffing and puffing about the possibility that there could be a peaceful solution to the current standoff, are right. What they allegorically call the "policy of appeasement" was forced upon the Bush administration by a range of interdependent developments in world politics, some of them rather novel.

There were the many signals made by Europe, Russia and China, that they will not tolerate yet another war in Western Asia. There was the systematic protest of the Arab and Muslim world about the unresolved conflicts in Palestine, Iraq and (to a lesser extent) Afghanistan. In the US there has been the containment of the "Israel lobby" brought about by a bold and honest assessment of its disastrous impact on US foreign policies. Then there is the influence Iran exerts in the very places the Bush administration wants to push ideologically and politically toward a pro-American and pro-Israeli direction, especially in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, but also in Azerbaijan and Afghanistan. There is the transnational appeal of the "liberal-Islamic" narrative that many Muslims are increasingly habilitating as an alternative to the "American" counter-narrative and there is increasingly global and organized anti-war movement, that continues to pre-empt the myths and lies concocted to lure us into conflicts. Finally, there is the structural crisis in the world economy exacerbated by the high oil price.

To those factors we may add two additional ones that indicate why the ideologues mentioned above are now shouting from the margins rather than from within the White House. First is the professional and realistic assessment of Iran's capabilities and intentions by the US intelligence and defense establishment. Thus far they have resisted efforts, concocted by the anti-Iranian cabal under the auspices of US vice President Dick Cheney, to lure them into the war campaign. And secondly, they have met resistance in the opposition to war expressed through the functioning organs of US (and Israeli) civil society.

Taken together, these factors have yielded this moment of "cold peace" between Iran and the United States. They obliged the Bush administration to adopt a rational approach. Iran and the region have narrowly escaped yet another disaster. A cold peace between the countries, characterized by diplomatic scuffles rather than military threats, may ensue. A sigh of relief? We cannot afford it. Rest assured that the next campaign to persuade us that war and sanctions are inevitable is around the corner.

 

Published 7/8/2008 bitterlemons-international.org

 

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