Should the Baby be Thrown Out With the Bathwater?
With great interest and anticipation, I read Dr. Trita Parsi's "Statement for the Record", dated December 15, submitted to the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs on "Iran Sanctions Options, Opportunities and Consequences."
As the President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Dr. Parsi's job is doubly challenging. Not only is he the guardian of the interests of the Iranian American members of that organization and their concerns for their former homeland, Trita must, at the same time, adhere to the principles of "political correctness" in order to avoid being labeled as an Iran apologist, or worse, a paid agent of the Islamic Republic!
Trita's tenure requires that kind of awareness if he expects to be invited to the various forums, official committees or media networks to offer his informed views on subjects dealing with Iran. In his most recent statement, Dr. Parsi has expressed NIAC's position in a well reasoned objection to the imposition of new sanctions on Iran. He also managed to dress his statements advising against the sanctions in colors and tones that safeguard his position as a credible commentator: comments such as "a tectonic shift" in referring to the impact of the recent pro-democracy movements or pointing out Iran's "flagrant" human rights violations, illegitimacy of Ahmadinejad's presidency, etc. have been helpful in that regard.
I do not envy Dr. Parsi's position and am glad I don't have to be concerned about being properly diplomatic in expressing my views.
We all know that imposing economic sanctions on Iran have been and will continue to be more than just ineffective, they are actually counterproductive to bring about the long advertised objectives, (which I have always taken as pure propaganda and window dressing, behind which lurk deeper agendas) of a regime change or, at the very least, a change of attitude by the present regime. We also know that sanctions hurt the Iranian people and actually strengthen the hands of the conservatives and hardliners. This fact alone should make one wonder why the U.S. Administration insists on imposing "crippling" new sanctions on Iran, when everyone with any knowledge of these issues would tell you that such action is the surest way to postpone any shift in current policies within the Iranian government.
Are we to believe that America's high level policy makers are less knowledgeable about the facts behind Iranian issues than are Trita Parsi, Vali Nasr, Mohammad Sahimi, Karim Sajjadpour and many others, including myself? I think not!
As I have said numerous times, criticism is the easiest exercise in futility if not followed by workable, constructive alternatives or solutions.
To understand the dynamics of the current impasses in US/Iran relations, we must take into account all the important parameters or vectors of force that bear on this issue.
The core issues continue to be control over the Middle East oil, Israel's agendas and American military presence in the region. In the periphery, but always highlighted by the Administration and the media as the primary concerns, are Iran's nuclear ambitions, war on terror and the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. These peripheral parameters have quite successfully served as effective pretexts for any diplomatic, economic or military action that was deemed necessary by the United States to pursue the primary objectives - the core issues mentioned above - in that region.
The issues that are worth debating are twofold: On the one hand we have the pragmatic approach in securing and preserving a superpower's best interests and, on the other hand, we have the perennial dilemma of moral, ethical or philosophical and legal justifications for such approach.
Once the natural dichotomy between self-serving pragmatism versus "fair play" instinct is resolved at the public level, best accomplished through self-delusional "beneficial" hypocrisy, the remaining debate could only revolve around whether the adopted pragmatic policies do actually pave the way toward securing and preserving the superpower's best interests, regardless of how amoral, illegal or unjust such policies might be.
On the surface at least, it seems as though America's recent and current policies directed toward the Middle East have had unpredictably negative consequences. Again, not being able to see the forest for the trees, one might conclude that America's policy makers did not know what they were doing on the drawing boards.
While that might be partially true, it does not diminish the significance of the three primary or core issues of concern for the Empire - and there is no denying that an Empire we are and we intend to remain.
A- Control over the Middle East oil and gas flow:
Although the bulk of America's imports of oil come from sources other than the Middle East, the Persian Gulf's biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, has always played the role of an effective buffer against undesired fluctuations in the amount and the price of crude in the international market. America's allies in Europe and Japan, and America's competitors, present and potential, depend on the Persian Gulf oil to fuel their economic engines. Next in importance is Iraq's known and as yet untapped oil reserves, estimated to be the largest in the world. Add to these the productions from Kuwait, Bahrain and the Emirates, and we can easily see the strategic importance of the Empire's control over the region's regimes and its natural resources.
The most expeditious and the least expensive way to achieve this control has been to create existential dependencies among the rulers of these states where their unequivocal obedience to the mandates of the Empire is their only ticket to their survival and prosperity.
It is in that light that we can see why Saudi Arabia's truly undemocratic rule, its violations of basic human rights and its flagrant support for radical Islamic terrorism are not targeted for criticism in the American political circles.
B- Israel and its regional agendas:
Whether by design or by default, Israel has been able to successfully sell itself as America's indispensable partner and ally in the Middle East and to remain the beneficiary of America's lion's share of foreign aid and assistance in the world.
The Jewish state's agenda could not be more clear:
The postponement of any peace treaty with the Palestinians, with the blame always successfully put on the Palestinians.
Continuous expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied lands.
Continuous marginalization of the Palestinian populations by any means possible, be it economic strangulation, demolition of homes, military assault in the name of counter terrorism, etc.
Parading as a peace-loving nation under siege, deserving of all the economic, military and diplomatic aid and support that the United States could muster.
Remaining the region's unchallenged military superpower.
C- America's military presence and bases in the region:
The fact is, we are already there and have been for some time. The rationale for this presence and its expansion has not changed.
If control over the region's oil as well as other strategic considerations are essential to the Empire's vital interests, and if the methods employed during the past decades to secure America's guardianship of the region are to continue, America's overwhelming military presence in the region is the guarantor of those interests.
Tens of billions have been spent and countless lives lost in establishing America's military bases throughout the region. We are currently engaged in two fronts, Iraq and Afghanistan, and now from what we see in many reports, involvement in Yemen, supposedly to knock out Al Gha'eda cells but in reality to help the Saudis combat militant Shi'ite rebels. The Saudis do not like those Shi'ites!
First is the issue of oil.
It would be needlessly redundant to elaborate on the strategic and economic importance of control over the Middle East oil production and the global allocation and distribution of this industrial lifeline.
The United States cannot afford or allow these vital resources to be manipulated by unstable or unpredictable regimes, or to be subjected to free market dynamics of the global supply and demand pressures. It is not just the Middle East region's oil that is of concern here, the oil and gas from the regions east of the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus are being carefully routed in such a way that Russia, for example, would not be in a position to influence it. Many believe that the pipeline planned to traverse Afghanistan, through Pakistan and on to the Arabian Sea had a lot to do with America's involvements in Afghanistan. This is while the safest and the most economic way to market the Caspian and Central Asian oil would have been through Iran, where the infrastructure and access were already present.
It thus becomes abundantly clear why the promotion of democratic reforms in the true sense of that phrase, or freedom and self-determination, as the so-called Free World of the West has been advertising, have not and could not have been honestly intended for the strategic Middle East states. One could only imagine the fate of the Saudi regime and, as a consequence, America's solid control over its assets, if the citizens of that nation could enjoy true democracy and self-determination. Similarly, states such as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf Emirates, each for their own specific strategic reasons, could not be allowed to evolve into Western style democracies and to determine their own destinies as each nation sees fit.
It is, therefore, quite obvious that the promotion of freedom and democracy could hardly be the reason for the United States and certain Western allies to commit hundreds of billions of dollars plus tens of thousands of their own war casualties, or to cause the destruction of the infrastructure and deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians among the nations targeted for the so-called liberation!
Second is the matter of Israel and its long umbilical cord attached to the United States:
Those who believe that Israel's influence over the American administrations' foreign policies with respect to the Middle East is either a myth or highly exaggerated need read no further.
Suffice it to point out America's decades-long unquestioned and unequivocal military, economic and diplomatic support for the Jewish state, all to no demonstrable advantage or benefit for this benefactor.
It has only been in the last few years that questions have been raised by some high profile public figures, albeit somewhat apologetically, about the cost/benefit ratio of this relationship. The power of the Zionist lobbies and the support by the moneyed and influential American Jewish communities that respond to the lobbies' relentless propaganda campaigns in a knee-jerk reaction, have created an atmosphere in this country where the slightest criticism of Israel's policies and behavior is translated into anti-Semitism.
As an added bonus, the magic of propaganda has even managed to equate this so-called anti-Semitism with anti-Americanism by drawing strategic as well as moral equivalencies between the two nations. This success has even emboldened the leaders of the Jewish state to boast openly and adamantly on occasion that it is they who control America's policies in that region.
So, we shouldn't be surprised that every time, without exception, the American government has attempted to pressure Israel to do or to stop doing something, the Israeli regime refused to comply, that it was the American administration that had to, sometimes quite embarrassingly, back down.
For decades the proverbial tail that wagged the dog did its job without too much public consciousness, knowledge or concern over its consequences, which were hidden from public view, being masked under the veil of pro-Israel propaganda. Any backlash from America's blind support for Israeli aggressions or anything Israel wanted to do was blamed on the victims, who were always portrayed as the real troublemakers, aggresors or terrorists.
This trend began to change, most significantly after the 9/11 terror attack on the American soil. In spite of all the efforts by the media and the Administration to bypass all other considerations and hold Islamic terrorism solely responsible, questions began to be raised by some higher profile figures that perhaps this act was at least partially a blowback from America's own blind support for Israel. Initially, any suggestion that America's military bases in the Islamic lands and its demonization of Islamic states in favor of Israeli agendas might be at the root of anti-American angst among the more militant Islamists, was viewed as unacceptable and even unpatriotic.
With slowly increasing public awareness of alternative explanations besides the official lines, thanks to the internet and the more vocal and visible left-liberal forums on the web and cable/satellite television, the radical Right media (a good example being Fox TV), neoconservatives and the Israeli lobbies redoubled their efforts to redirect public's attention back to militant Islam as the source of anti-West paranoia and international terrorism.
This strategy has served three purposes:
First was to continue the momentum behind the Administration's neoconservative-driven agenda encapsulated conveniently in the vague concept of War on Terror, specifically war on Islamic terror.
Second, it served Israel's perennial objectives of demonizing Islam in general and, in particular, those troublesome groups, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas as international terror organizations, and Iran as the chief supporter of this terror network.
Third, it provided further rationale to increase the military budget and to allocate more resources to the American military presence in the Middle East to confront and combat Islamic insurgencies that might target American assets and interests in the region.
As an added force, the semi-dormant but fanatic conservative evangelicals, particularly the self-described Christian Zionists, gained new momentum and became visible and vocal supporters of unilateral military action against Islamic targets, much to Israel's delight.
Much was prematurely expected when the Democrat Party prevailed in the last elections and the young and ambitious Barak Obama replaced the neocon puppet George W. Bush. As we are increasingly observing, Mr.Obama seems to be no more a "decider" than was George W. Bush. The forces at work continue to steer the Administration along the same path as before. For the President, regardless of how he might genuinely desire to earn the honor bestowed on him with the Nobel Peace Prize, backing down from the current military operations in the Middle East or pressuring Israel to accommodate the wishes of the international community would prove too risky in so many ways.
What looms ahead is no more reassuring. It is a good guess that the conservatives did deliberately lose the battle for the presidency this time around in order to turn over to the Democrats an unwinnable hand, in order to regain power come next elections. The strategy seems to be working at this time!
Now, to get back to the main topic; what forces are at work that might have a bearing on the Iranian crisis?
The American military establishment with its trillion dollar annual budget contributes to the nations' economy through many affiliated and supporting industries. This is what Dwight Eisenhower called the Military Industrial Complex, and warned the nation in his farewell address to not allow this self-perpetuating monster to gain too much control over the nation's destiny. It is too late now!
The atmosphere of existential dependencies that the United States has created in the oil-rich Middle East serves more than securing America's control over that region's vital energy resources. The positioning of American military bases all over that area requires enormous expenditures that must somehow be compensated for.
One way to raise tens of billions of dollars for the armed forces and the military/industrial infrastructure is to convince the wealthy Arab states to pay for those installations and to purchase expensive weaponry and equipment and pay for the management and training of them. They are simply told that they need that stuff for their very survival against impending threats from their big, bad neighbor, Iran. Before that, it was the threat of Soviet expansionism that was used as the pretext.
Iran behaving as a stubborn, belligerent and defiant "rogue" state has actually been playing that role so well that it deserves the Academy Award for the most convincing motion picture script of all time!
Iran, portrayed as the regional evil, has helped to justify and legitimize America's overwhelming military presence in the region, it has induced wealthy Arabs to stock up on tens of billions of dollars worth of American made arsenal, and it has even provided ample pretexts for increased military expenditures, missile defense shields and a variety of exotic new deep-penetrating bombs and tactical nukes, etc.
In short, the presence of a marketable "clear and present" threat aimed at American interests has been the best possible rationale to justify increased military spending and deployment.
The image created for Iran as an existential threat to Israel has also been quite a blessing for the Jewish state. Hand in hand with the American military establishment, the Israeli regime has been capitalizing on the hyped scenario of an Iranian attack that might include the use of the atomic bomb, another useful myth, in order to prioritize its concerns for self-defense over all other considerations.
The Israeli position is quite convincing at the pedestrian level: As long as there is Iran and its reckless and firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who intends to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the map, and now gaining access to the ultimate weapon, who could pressure Israel to engage in peace talks with the Palestinians or to stop the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories? What's more, under such dire circumstances, Israel needs, indeed demands and gets, increased military, economic and diplomatic support from the United States and other Western countries to protect itself.
No matter how one chooses to look at it, the presence of some ominous threat in the strategic Middle East is an essential requirement to justify certain basic objectives: One is that it would serve as a perfect pretext for the Empire's military deployment and the establishment of bases to protect its assets and interests. The other is to continue the unconditional support for Israel and its agendas.
In short, without some uninterrupted clear and present threat, only an actual war, more than likely initiated by the Israelis and backed by the United States, would serve this purpose. Ironically, the presence of a believable enemy, Iran, is the best safeguard against an actual war.
This scenario plays out best if the threats and counter threats continue to escalate and even reach a critical stage just below the flashpoint. So far the game has been played well by all sides. Ultimatums and deadlines are intermittently set and then revoked or pushed further away in order to keep the charade going. As long as no player attempts to violate the rules of the game and do something stupid, such as lighting up the match that ignites the powder keg, this macabre dance will continue.
So, Israel is sure to have its way and our armed forces must remain in full control of the region and the vital seaways. This much we know.
Now, what about Iran, its survival as a nation, its retarded economic development and the struggle of its citizenry for democratization in an open society free from overt repression?
I have absolutely no doubt that Dr. Trita Parsi, like so many other colleagues and friends of Iranian background and heritage, including myself, desires positive changes to take place to improve the socioeconomic conditions inside Iran and to mend broken fences with the outside world, particularly with the United States. Opposing economic and diplomatic sanctions is one step in that direction, so it seems.
But let's look at this particular issue for a minute. With the implementation of more sanctions the Iranian people will suffer increasing hardships while the regime will find added excuses to crack down on dissident voices and pro-reform movements. Just look at Israel: How could a nation under siege be pressured to overlook the threats from outside and concentrate on positive reforms inside?
On the other hand, the lifting of all the trade barriers and other sanctions would strengthen and embolden the Iranian government to increase its defiant stance and bellicosity against external pressures for change and reform. Aren't we dealing with a Catch 22 here?
Supporting the dissidents and the so-called pro-democracy movements and their leadership will lead either to the demise of those forces as puppets or stooges of foreign interests, or result in a national uprising and the collapse of the current regime. Not the first, but the latter alternative is, I am sure, what Dr. Parsi and other Iranian American scholars are hoping for.
If this hope is materialized, we should examine what might follow as a consequence of such a radical "tectonic shift", using Dr. Parsi's words.
Here again we might be facing two alternative scenarios: Either the "tectonic shift" leads abruptly to a bloody fragmentation and disintegration of Iran, something that has been already predicted and even planned for by certain "Orientalists" and think tanks, or the changes will occur slowly and in measured steps, rather "untectonically".
In the first case there won't remain an Iran as we know it, anyway, to worry about - a fate similar to the old Ottoman Empire or the more recent fragmentation of Yugoslavia.
No doubt, the true lovers of the homeland would like a gradual sea change in the Iranian sociopolitical system that is not accompanied by tectonic eruptions, turbulent storms or a disastrous tsunami. Dr. Parsi does, and so do I.
In such a scenario we have a velvety change of leadership and the passing of baton to moderate, reform oriented people who would abandon the confrontational stance against the United States and Israel, stop supporting groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, create total transparency and abandon Iran's nuclear works.
The next series of constructive or conciliatory steps would include dismantling Iran's missile defense and other military arsenal rendering the country literally vulnerable, releasing all political prisoners, opening diplomatic channels with the United States by exchanging embassies and taking steps toward the recognition of Israel.
If all goes well, previously imposed economic sanctions against Iran would be lifted, frozen assets released, and the flood of investments would begin to pour into Iran's starving economy. Many members of the National Iranian American Council and other Western educated intellectuals and moneyed Iranians who now reside outside of Iran would find the new atmosphere appealing and full of wonderful opportunities should they repatriate themselves.
Soon after, the Lebanese Hezbollah, being abandoned by their chief supporter, Iran, would disarm voluntarily, while the Palestinian Hamas resistance group dissolves and becomes subordinate to the U.S. and Israel supported Palestinian Authority.
Israel will find itself safe and secure after decades of violence and terrorism aimed against it. Israel can then stop its own retaliatory violence against the Palestinians and begin to return the occupied territories and the illegal settlements back to the Palestinians. And finally, the United States will channel billions of dollars of annual aid that Israel no longer needs toward rebuilding the Palestinian state's infrastructure instead, and finish the job in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fulfilling his campaign promises, President Obama will have thus earned the Nobel Peace Prize he received, and will be ready for his next term in office.
Who the hell are we kidding here?!!
Let's start by releasing all the dissidents and political prisoners. Next, let us allow anti-regime demonstrations to take place, with or without official permit or any control by the security police or the Basij. And, let's not allow the use of force, tear gas, rubber bullets, not even fire hoses, against demonstrators even if the crowds go wild and attack the police or attempt to take over government offices, armories or military facilities. After all, we want the "people" to express their feelings toward the regime freely and openly; don't we?
The fact is, this kind of daydreaming will get us nowhere, folks.
I know that I do not have any ready answers or solutions to the problems within Iran. Like so many others who are concerned about the stressful environment in our former homeland, I know what I don't like and what changes or reforms I would like to see. I would also like very much to win the Super Lotto next time I buy some lottery tickets.
What bothers me more than anything else is witnessing how Iranian American forums and web sites have channeled their resources to highlighting anything negative they can find to criticize the Iranian regime, seemingly advocating support for the reform activists and democracy movements in Iran. Who wouldn't want democratic reforms, not just in Iran but in China, Saudi Arabia or right here in these United States? We could all benefit from some positive changes. But are we the slightest bit concerned with the consequences of such advocacy or the fact that any legitimate opposition movement in Iran will be tainted and rendered as illegitimate if supported by outside interests.
Instead of jumping on the bandwagon of Iran bashing to cater to the sentiments of the elitists among us, let us encourage serious discussion and debate about potentials and possibilities that might lurk behind all the nonsensical passionate hot air being vented left and right.
For starters, why not look for a viable substitute for Iran as the "designated enemy" or the evil bad boy on the block, to serve everyone's purpose? This pariah has suffered long enough; wouldn't you say?
The old Persian anecdote, Doostyeh Khaleh Kherseh, or the mama bear's
affection for her cub, deserves repeating. Mama bear noticed a wasp sitting on
baby bear's nose. To keep the wasp from stinging her cub, she lifted a large
boulder and smashed the wasp right on top of baby bear's face! That did the job
on the wasp, alright.
Kam Zarrabi is the author of In Zarathushtra's Shadow and Necessary Illusion. He is available to conduct lectures and seminars on international affairs, particularly in relation to , with focus on US/Iran issues, at formal and informal gatherings or academic centers anywhere in the country. To make the necessary arrangements, please contact him at email@example.com. More information about Mr. Zarrabi and his work is available at: www.intellectualdiscourse.com.
... Payvand News - 12/29/09 ... --