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Walking the Tightrope over Burnt Bridges

By Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse - Suppose, just suppose, that President Obama does, in fact, understand the historical backdrop and the machinations of America's policies in the Middle East, especially as they relate to US/Iran relations. And again, suppose, just suppose, that he does intend to do everything in his power to change the course that has led the United States into the quagmire of the Middle East and has damaged America's prestige and credibility worldwide.


Finally, suppose, just suppose, that the President sees the solution to at least the most urgent or pressing difficulties we face in that area in coming to terms with the Iranian government as the most influential powerbroker in the region.


Now let us examine what options are available to the American administration to implement such a dramatic policy shift that is so diametrically counter to the general public's perceptions and, sadly, the expressed views of America's representatives in the Congress.


For thirty years now, Iran has been portrayed to the American people as not only an enemy of the United States, but also as a threat to the peace and security of the Middle East. It has now become common knowledge among most Americans that the Islamic Republic's "crazies" are trying to develop atomic weapons in order to wipe America's friend and ally, Israel, off the face of the map. The current Administration has, quite obligingly, found no "acceptable" alternative but to extend economic sanctions against Iran for another year, and to continue to portray Iran as a threat to American interests.


Responding to a faint call to realities on the ground, we hear the President indicating some flexibility in the Administration's attitude and approach regarding Iran by saying, should the Iranians unclench their fist, they would find America's hand stretched out toward them. But, sadly, all signs, we are told, indicate that Iran's hand remains stubbornly clinched.


In the meantime, the voices of dissent, although very seldom heard on the mainstream media, shall continue to do their "thing"; their raison d'être being nonstop criticism of the Administration's policies, regardless of who or what political party is in charge, rather than in offering sane and workable alternatives. The dissent alarmists are furious, for instance, that someone like Dennis Ross, the well-known Zionist neocon, has been chosen by the State Department to deal with the Iranian "threat".  It is as though, many have remarked, we are sending the fox to care for the henhouse.


Hillary Clinton is also viewed as a hawk in dove's plumage, harboring hostile feelings toward Israel's antagonists, particularly against the Iranian regime. Her response to Israel's decision to double the number of its illegal settlements in the West bank, as well as the most recent destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza, as simply "unhelpful" is a good example of her kowtowing to Zionist demands. Just "unhelpful", Mrs. Clinton!? Was the Holocaust also simply an "unhelpful" event in the course of international events, Mrs. Clinton?


But this shameful and cowardly behavior on the part of America's new Secretary of State, and the selection of a Zionist hawk, Dennis Ross, as the point man in dealing with Iran, as transparently counterproductive as they might seem at first glance, may prove to be the most effective way to address our concerns regarding Iran.


I would rather not repeat what I have already elaborated on several times in my previous articles. Instead, let us offer an alternative to Mr. Obama's choice of a Secretary of State, as well as the envoy to negotiate with the Iranians.


Let us have Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the former Democrat Party presidential candidate and, for a change, an outspoken voice of opposition to the former administration's hardline approach toward the Middle East, as our Secretary of State.  As for the envoy to negotiate with Iran, Syria and Lebanon, let us pick the former president Jimmy Carter, who, now that he does not have to pay a political price for his honest views, has gained a new respect among Israel's designated enemies in the Middle East.


I am sure Alexander Cockburn of and Justin Raimondo of and their respective contributors would cheer the new selections. Iranian commentators and analysts and Iran sympathizers would be equally happy to see honest brokers at work to bring about a harmonious and mutually beneficial conclusion to three decades of absolutely unnecessary rift between the two nations.


Now, let us see what the odd-man-out, Israel, is up to before our new dream-team starts its work.


Kam Zarrabi is the author of
In Zarathushtra's Shadow

Those who have cared to read beyond the front pages of our major newspapers may have come across a recent development that never received any attention by the network news organizations. According to the new Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, Iran does not have enough enriched uranium or the technology to make an atomic weapon. This confirmed the older intelligence estimate announced about a year ago that Iran was at least three years away from the capability to produce an atomic bomb, even if Iran chose to do so. Just a few weeks ago, however, announcements were made by the Pentagon and a "revised" intelligence estimate that Iran could be very close to acquiring the materials and the technology to make a bomb. The Israelis are barking already that Iran has passed the point of no return in acquiring the bomb.


It would be naïve, if not downright stupid, to think that people such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen, the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Chief of the National Intelligence Admiral Blair, or the CIA officials are not on the same page as far as the status of Iran's nuclear developments are concerned. The contradictions we see in various high-source statements must, therefore, be purely politically motivated.


It is easy to understand why the Israelis behave as though they are sure that Iran already has or is about to have the feared atomic weapon and the means of delivering a death blow to the Zionist state. They have already announced over and over again that, should it be deemed necessary, Israel would take out Iranian installations with or without the help or approval of the big daddy. They, of course, know fully well what repercussions such an action would have against America's interests in the region and worldwide.


The current Israeli military chief Gabi Ashkenazi is due in Washington to heighten the state of alert regarding the Iran threat. Meanwhile, Mr. Netanyahu, the new Prime Minister designate, is raising the alarm signaling a pending war against Iran, Hezbollah and other sources of concern for Israel.


This heightened frenzy by the Israelis and their staunch supporters here in the United States, AIPAC and its subordinate Zionist organizations, as well as the influential Jewish-dominated congressional committees overseeing America's Middle East policies (not just a coincidence, by the way!), all point to their concern over any shift in Obama administration's attitude toward possible reconciliation with Israel's designated enemies. The accounts of the recent House Financial Services Subcommittee meeting that addressed the issue of economic sanctions against Iran is a good example of how the few passionate supporters of the Likud regime steer the policies of the United States to serve Israel's objectives.


The House Subcommittee had also invited the head of National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Trita Parsi, as a guest to express his constituents' perspective on the effectiveness or the merits of economic sanctions on Iran. Even the venerable Dr. Parsi was clearly cowed into expressing accommodating statements in his report:


"In recent years, we have also seen what seems to be a specific targeting by the Iranian government of Iranian Americans. Esha Momeni, an Iranian-American student born in California, was imprisoned a few months ago while visiting Iran to write a Master's thesis on the country's vibrant women's movement. Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American journalist with NPR and a Miss America finalist, was arrested a few weeks ago while working in Tehran and is still being detained in Evin prison. In both cases, the human rights of these young Iranian-American women were violated by initially denying them legal counsel and by holding them without revealing the charges against them. And the 2007 imprisonment of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, is of course known to all."


"My prepared remarks today will focus on how America's objectives with Iran can best be achieved - ensuring a peaceful Iran that contributes to regional stability, that does not develop a nuclear bomb, and that ceases to support militant organizations." (My emphasis)


Was Mr. Parsi implying agreement to the accusations leveled against the Iranian regime, even though he had chosen his words rather carefully?


Had Dr. Parsi not been prepared to show this kowtowing to the prevailing propaganda lines, his own future as an occasional guest on news talk shows, as well as the future of the organization which he is so ably heading, would be in real jeopardy.


I personally feel sorry for Trita Parsi and don't envy his position. I am, however, quite confident that we are not seeing another Fuad Ajami in the making.


Another case in point: The latest effort by the hard core rightwing Israel supporters in the United States was to torpedo the nomination of Chas Freeman, as the Chair of the National Intelligence Council, which oversees the production of National Intelligence Estimates. Chas Freeman was nominated by Admiral Dennis Blair for the post, precisely because of Mr. Freeman's extensive Foreign Service background and independent voice, to ensure honest and impartial appraisal of developments that would concern America's security interests.


But the lobby doesn't want any honest and impartial appraisals of the situation that might disagree with Israel's contentions. Steven Rosen, who was indicted for espionage for Israel in 2005, was a long-term official at AIPAC, and is now involved with its satellite organization, Middle East Forum, spearheaded the campaign of defamation against Mr. Freeman. Senators Chuck Schumer and Joseph Lieberman then organized their lobbying efforts in the US Congress to stop this nomination.


Well, they succeeded. It now remains to be seen what might become of Admiral Dennis Blair who had dared to appoint an honest man who was not Israel-loving enough to a post that might have a bearing on American policy in the Middle East.


OK! Now imagine how the Israeli lobby and its supporters in our Congress and the media would react if our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had exhibited her honest reaction to Israel's announcement to double the number of illegal settlements in the West Bank or the latest atrocities committed against the Gazans. Would rumors then quickly circulate that Mrs. Clinton and North Korea's Kim Jong-il have had an illicit relationship of some sort, and that the Clinton Library was receiving a percentage of moneys from the sale of North Korean nuclear technology to Al Gha-eda?!


Now let us go back to the theoretical or, better put, theatrical postulate of having the Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and the former President Carter somehow pass through the Zionist minefield and report for duty in handling our negotiations with the Iranians. The lobby and its supporters would quickly conclude that Mr. Obama might be putting America's best interests in the region ahead of Israel's agendas.


This is certainly not going to sit well with Israel's hardliners such as the Prime Minister designate Mr. Netanyahu or Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Israel's far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party. And, there are other knuckleheads who lack the diplomatic knowledge or the shrewd bargaining skills of Israel's top leaders, whose basic aim is to gain for Israel whatever perceived advantage they can at everybody else's expense if need be. Just as the biggest danger in nuclear proliferation is in portable weapons falling into the hands of isolated rogue terrorists, the danger here is in a few Israeli hardheads triggering some event in the Persian Gulf that would drag the United States and Iran into a real confrontation. Nobody wants that; this would benefit no one, not even Israel.


To avoid such an eventuality, it would be imperative to maintain the posture of accommodation to whatever Israel demands in order to appease potential troublemakers. If a confrontation with Iran is to be avoided, Israel's ultra hardliners must be satisfied that their expectations and requirements are not negotiated away in any arrangements between the United States and Iran.


Israel's demands are quite clear and have never been in doubt, ignored or unattained:

  • Indefinite postponement of any land for peace agreement with the Palestinians, with the blame always on the Palestinian inflexibility. Israel is not ready, willing or even able to move out of the West Bank and dismantle its settlements anytime soon.

  • Containment of both Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, while keeping them as aggrandized sources of nuisance to further legitimize Israel's aggressive operations whenever they are deemed necessary.

  • Remaining the recipient of the lion's share of financial, diplomatic and military aid and support from the United States.

  • Remaining the unchallenged military power in the region.

By successfully portraying itself as an indispensable ally of the United States, under constant threat of annihilation by America's own enemies, and chastised by other unfriendly states around the globe, Israel has managed to create such a convincing narrative in the minds of most Americans that parallels the status of a religious faith.


Today, if one were to ask the average American if he or she could name at least one advantage America's passionate attachment to Israel has brought to our nation, the response would likely be an incredulous look of disbelief as though one had just questioned the existence of god!


In the face of the foregoing, how could the Obama Administration approach Iran in a diplomatic dialogue with any hope of success in any other way than maintaining the façade of the prevailing political rhetoric while engaging in some serious horse trading in the background?


I may be too optimistic, overly Machiavellian, or really naïve, to think that the hardline rhetoric from the White House, Hillary Clinton's non-conciliatory remarks against Iran and her appointment of the Zionist lobbyist Dennis Ross as her front man to deal with Iran are all steps necessary to engage Iran in a meaningful rapprochement, without alienating the pro-Israel forces who could torpedo the whole process.


The Iranian side, no doubt, has its own very similar dilemma in "unclenching its fist" toward the stretched hand of the United States.


Unlike their American counterparts, the Iranian people have not had the luxury of a self-delusional belief in the freedom and openness of their news media and access to honest information. It is not out of prejudice caused by propaganda or an endemic sense of paranoia that the Iranians attribute their social and economic ills, directly or indirectly, to Iran's relations with the United States: directly, as a result of economic sanctions and diplomatic pressures; and indirectly, because of the threats against the security and territorial integrity of the country, which continue to strengthen and legitimize social strangulation, postponing reforms toward normalization and true democracy.


Again, unlike their American counterparts, The Iranians view the state of Israel as an illegitimate child adopted by rich and powerful parents and nurtured to grow into an arrogant bully who pushes its weight around and, whenever necessary, throws a temper tantrum to get whatever it demands.


Iranians, therefore, blame Israel's stranglehold on America's foreign policy apparatus as the mechanism responsible for the widening rift between the two countries. They did not have to read John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt book, the Israel Lobby, to reach that conclusion.


For this reason, any reconciliation with the United States that might entail the appearance of submission or capitulation by Iran or the abandonment of Iran's legal rights in the eyes of Iran's leadership and parliamentarians would prove unattainable.


While the Iranian people who have been suffering increasing social and economic pressures are much more ready to exchange some of their ideological points of contention for pragmatic or material relief, the leadership, as is the case with their counterparts in the United States, is obligated to maintain its defiant façade.


Behind all the saber rattling and chest thumping by both sides, sober negotiations could bring about a degree of understanding and mutual accommodation that would benefit all.


My hope is that the balancing act on the tightrope extended over the burnt bridges will succeed in bringing about positive results for both Iran and the United States. The alternative is too horrible for all concerned to think about.


Kam Zarrabi

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 Iran, 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 More information about Mr. Zarrabi and his work is available at:


... Payvand News - 03/16/09 ... --

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