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Opposition to War with Iran: Lessons of the Last Decade

By Muhammad Sahimi (first published by IMEnews)


Hardly any day goes by in which the mass media does not speculate on the possibility of military attacks on Iran. The mainstream media consistently blows way out of proportion the “threat” that the Islamic Republic supposedly poses to Israel and the West, and ignores the decade-long covert war waged by Israel on Iran. The neoconservative and pro-Israel media do the same, but in a much more one-sided way. They have been using all sorts of “rationale” to justify the military attacks, ranging from likening Iran to the Nazi Germany of 1938, to claiming that if the military attacks do happen, then, unlike what most military experts believe, Iran will not be able to mount a credible counter-attack and, therefore, the world must not be wary of the consequences of such a war.

The same type of intense discussions is raging within the Iranian community in the Diaspora, and in particular in the United States. Generally speaking, the politically inclined Iranians in the Diaspora may be divided into two groups. One group is represented more or less by a statement signed by 122 Iranian intellectuals, human rights and political activists, and journalists [including the author] at the height of Israel’s threats against Iran. The thinking represented by this group condemns all the crimes that the Islamic Republic has committed against the people, and criticizes harshly the inflexible position that Tehran has taken with respect to Iran’s nuclear program, but it also makes it clear that it is opposed to any military intervention in Iran under any guise or excuse, and in particular what is usually referred to as “humanitarian intervention,” akin to what happened in Libya and to some extent is happening in Syria.

In the second group are those who hold the Islamic Republic totally responsible for the current state of affairs in the standoff between Iran and the West, and pay only lip service, if at all, to any criticisms of the West’s double standards regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and the vast campaign of propaganda, exaggerations, and even outright lies by the neoconservatives and their allies, and the Israeli government. The views of this group were expressed by a statement signed by 185 Iranians. This group viewed the military intervention in Libya as a justified “humanitarian intervention,” and although it claims that it rejects the same type of intervention in Iran, it does so only because it believes that Iran and Libya do not represent similar situations. In fact, as I discussed elsewhere, the first draft of the statement did try to justify the same type of “humanitarian intervention” in Iran under certain conditions, but it was deleted from the final statement. This group believes that only “active” opposition to war with Iran may be effective, but by “active” it means aligning itself, under certain unspecified conditions, with foreign powers that are imposing back-breaking sanctions on Iran and threatening it with military attacks.

A main proponent of the second group is Mr. Ali Afshari, a former university activist in Iran who was imprisoned for his political activities, and is currently residing in Washington, D.C. In a first read his arguments sound reasonable but, as I argue here, a careful reading of them indicates that he ignores hard facts in order to arrive at his conclusions. The essence of his thinking is in one of his articles about the issue, published by Rooz and entitled, “Yes to Foreign Support, No to Foreign Intervention” in which he declared,

....In addition to the black and white approach [to the issue] by some [political] activists, which is overshadowed heavily by ideological and mechanical views, one can have a different view [about the issue] based on a realistic and pragmatic approach and the new experiences in the international arena, and develop a proper framework for good use of[foreign support]. [Thus,] in principle, the issue is not “why,” but “how” to use the foreign support.

The negative experiences in the contemporary era, the unhealed wounds of the colonialism, [our] historical heritage of fear of foreigners, the anti-West [sentiments]injected [into the debate] by the classical left, and the ideological traditionalism are the impediments that do not allow a study in a rational way of the opportunities [that exist] for [utilizing] the foreign potentials [for support], based on the currently-available data and a cost-benefit analysis. Other views that permit and consider as legitimate receiving foreign support under any circumstances, have no criteria for doing so, and do not refrain from working with even those countries that have committed aggression [against Iran] and accept financial and political support [from such countries] also represent the difficulties [posed against such a study].

Afshari correctly rejects “mechanical and ideological” views, and suggests pragmatism. Pragmatism, however, is based on hard facts on the ground, or as Afshari puts it, the currently-available data. So, the question is who is the true pragmatic? Those whose views are similar to Afshari’s, or people such as the author who, due to the hard facts, reject foreign support - more precisely, support by the United States and its allies that is implicit in Afshari’s writing, although he hardly ever makes it explicit?

What are the facts? Let us just take a look at the facts on the ground since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to see whether there are any “new experiences” in the international arena as Afshari claims, or whether we have business as usual by the U.S., similar to whatever that has happened since World War II. To do so, we review the fruits of the policy of the United States for the Middle East and North Africa since the 9/11 attacks, because not only does Afshari seem to claim that there is a “new” United States, but also, despite George W. Bush’s claim, there is such a thing as objective short-term history that can guide us.


As the direct result of U.S. invasion, Iraq has effectively been partitioned between the Shi'ites in the south and central parts of Iraq, the Sunnis in the Anbar province, and the Kurds in the north. During the U.S. occupation, Iraq became a vast training ground for Islamic extremists from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan, all U.S. allies. Iraq's infrastructure has been damaged greatly; it will take decades to put Iraq back to where it was before the war. As of 2007, according to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of Iraqis lacked access to sanitation, 70 percent lacked regular access to clean water, and 60 percent lacked access to the public food distribution system. Six years later, the situation is only slightly better now.

In the first few days of occupying Baghdad in 2003, the cultural and historical heritage of Iraq were looted from the museums. When then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked about it, he famously responded, “It's untidy, and freedom's untidy ... The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase.” Nearly 2 million Iraqis left their country, and most have not returned. Clearly, these are the educated, professional and wealthy people and, therefore, a great drain on the country. In particular, 3000 Iraqi professors left their country, and at least 230 Iraqi professors were killed.

Close to 2 million Iraqis were displaced within Iraq, most permanently. Anywhere between 100,000 to over 1.3 million civilians were killed, depending on whose statistics one believes in. During the first four years of the war on average, every month 100 Iraqi women became widow, and 400 children orphaned. Overall, at least 900,000 Iraq childrenbecame orphans. Until 2007 6.5 million Iraqis were completely dependent on food ration. Things have improved since then, but nowhere close to the pre-war period. Up until 2007 70 percent of Iraqi children suffered from mental stress disorder [see here and here] and 21 percent were chronically malnourished. Clearly, they will be affected in their entire lives.

What has Iraq gained in return for all the suffering? A Shi’ite-dominated government allied with Tehran’s hardliners, which is becoming increasingly authoritarian, on its way to a dictatorship. In a debate with the author last year, the political analysts Dr. Alireza Nourizadeh who resides in London shouted that the liberation of Iraq produced “270 newspapers, radio stations,” etc. Perhaps it did, but was it worth the price?


Afghanistan was attacked in 2001, even though the U.S. knew that the al-Qaeda leadership had already escaped to the border region with Pakistan, and Donald Rumsfeld reportedly said, "There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan [to bomb]," and the U.S. needed to show some muscle. The Taliban were overthrown. But where is Afghanistan now?

The Taliban are resurgent, and at one point had pinned down 100,000 NATO forces, including 65,000 U.S. soldiers, for over a decade. Afghanistan is in turmoil with very high unemployment, and a weak President, Hamid Karzai who was “re-elected” after a sham election. He is viewed by many Afghans as the puppet of the U.S., and this in a nation that has historically had little tolerance for foreigners and their agents. Opium production, banned under Taliban, is thriving and Afghanistan supplies most of the world's heroin and a large part of its GDP is due to opium sales. The government hardly controls anything beyond the capital, Kabul and perhaps a few other cities. The country has been effectively partitioned among warlords. And things have not improved significantly during the Obama administration’s surge of troops. Over the last decade tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, and the nation is an economic basket case that needs vast amounts of international aid to barely survive, and will not be a viable state for decades, if ever. The U.S. and its allies insist on a military victory in a conflict that does not have a military solution.


The Obama administration has “succeeded” in spreading the war in Afghanistan to Pakistan, to the point that it is now referred to as the AfPak war. Since 9/11, the U.S. has given Pakistan $17.82 billion in aid, in addition to forgiving its previous debts, of which $11.74 billion has gone to the military to supposedly fight al-Qaeda and Taliban. What has been the result?

A large portion of the military aid has been used to buy advanced weapons and put them on the Pakistan-India border, one of the most unstable areas in the world, where two nuclear nations are lined up against each other. Pakistan signed peace agreements with the Taliban's sympathizers in the western and northern Pakistan provinces, providing them with secure places to train. Anger at the U.S., due to its drone attacks that have killed civilians [and soldiers] and infringement of its sovereignty is high. Pakistan is an unstable nuclear nation with a large number of radicals in its military intelligence [the ISI] who support the Taliban. And, thanks to the U.S. double standards, Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal are a threat to Iran’s national security and territorial integrity.


After the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005, and the subsequent so-called Cedar Revolution, the Bush administration supposedly pushed for democratic elections in Lebanon. They were held in the spring of 2005, but Hezbollah received a significant fraction of the votes, with its partners in the March 8 Alliance also doing the same. Hezbollah joined the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in July 2005. Bush constantly meddled in Lebanon's affairs and provoked Siniora against Hezbollah and its allies, notably Michel Aoun, the Maronite ex-general. The result was the complete paralysis of the government.

The war between Hezbollah and Israel occurred in summer of 2006. Hezbollah began the war, and was rightfully condemned by the world. But Hezbollah had carried out several such small operations in the past, and each time there was a quick cease-fire. Not this time. With strong support by the U.S., Israel started a full scale war. Meanwhile, the U.S. prevented the United Nations Security Council from reaching any consensus regarding a cease-fire, buying time for Israel to supposedly crush Hezbollah. Rice promised a "new Middle East." Twelve hundred Lebanese [1,000 civilians] and over 150 Israelis [40 civilians] were killed, and the infrastructure of Lebanon was greatly damaged by Israel's bombing. Hezbollah, however, won the war by not being crushed. The Pentagon had to revise its plans for attacking Iran. After seeing the types of weapons used by Hezbollah, Gen. John Abizaid, then the Centcom commander, said the Iranians "have given us a hint about things to come."

The same type of policy has been continued by the Obama administration. Hezbollah, an organization that the U.S. has labeled as terrorist, toppled the government of Sa’ad Hariri in January 2011 and took control of the government, and has won impressive strategic victories over both the U.S. and Israel.

Israel-Palestinians conflict

Thanks to the U.S. support of Israel, the probability of real peace between Israel and Palestinians is practically zero. G.W. Bush actually recognized Israel's policy of building and annexing settlements in the West Bank, giving Israel a secret letter, committing the U.S. to Israel’s policy of colonization. He and Condoleezza Rice pushed for democratic elections among Palestinians. The elections, certified as democratic by Jimmy Carter, were won by Hamas that took control of the Palestinian parliament. Instead of trying to work with Hamas that has never been a threat to the U.S., Bush began punishing the Palestinians by cutting off all aid because the Palestinians did not vote the “right way.” Bush paid lip service to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. In his March 2008 speech before the Knesset, Israel's parliament, he promised the Palestinians that they would have a state of their own "over the next 60 years." Some promise!

And Obama, despite declaring that resolution of the conflict has very high priority in his administration, has done nothing to achieve it. Perhaps, he recognizes that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister is, as former French President Nicholas Sarkozy Ftold him, a liar, which makes it very difficult to broker a deal. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is more farfetched than ever.


If, as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, there was one winner, it was Tehran’s hardliners who used the invasions as an excuse to take complete control of the nation, and in particular the nuclear program. And, when the U.S. could develop better relations with Iran, it did not. When Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani made a gesture of reconciliation by awarding an oil contract to Conoco in 1995, the Clinton administration responded by imposing total economic sanctions on Iran. When Mohammad Khatami and the Reformists took the presidency and the Majles, the Clinton administration removed sanction on importing Iranian pistachios, caviar, and rug!

Iran provided significant help to U.S. forces when it attacked Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 by opening its airspace to U.S. aircraft and providing intelligence on the Taliban forces. The Northern Alliance, the opposition forces that Iran had supported for years was the first to reach Kabul and overthrow the Taliban. During the United Nations-sponsored talks on the future of Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany in December 2001, it was Iran that prevented the conference from collapsing, for which Iranian envoy Mohammad Javad Zarif was praised by U.S. envoy James Dobbins. In return, two months later Bush made Iran a charter member of "axis of evil." In early May 2003 the Khatami administration made a comprehensive proposal to the U.S., offering to negotiate on all important issues, recognizing Israel within its pre-1967 war borders, putting Iran’s nuclear program under strict inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency, cutting off material support to Hamas and Hezbollah, and helping to transform the latter to a political organization. The proposal was rejected because Bush thought that he will easily topple the regime in Tehran.


I have already expressed my views on the role of the U.S. in the democracy movement in Egypt here and here. The U.S. essentially aborted the Egyptian Revolution, by helping the removal from power of Egypt’s dictator Hosny Mubarak, in order to preserve the power structure there. The Mubarak-less military regime is still a powerful organ of the nation, and Egypt has been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has not touched the structure of the military or its vast economic interests, and has even allowed it to pick the defense minister for him cabinet. Demonstrations against Morsi by moderate and secular group have continued unabated.


I have already expressed my views on the so-called “humanitarian intervention” by the U.S. and its NATO allies in Libya here and here. Thanks to the NATO-supported civil war, up to 30,000 civilians were killed and Islamic forces of the worst kind have not allowed Libya to return to a normal life. Libyan arms have also turned up in the hands of Islamic extremists in Mali and elsewhere. Most importantly, there is now complete silence about the plight of Libya and its people among those Iranians who supported the “humanitarian intervention” in Libya, because there is nothing positive to talk about.

Bahrain and Yemen

What happened to the concept of so humane “humanitarian intervention” in Bahrain and Yemen? Nothing! Backed by Saudi Arabia, the most reactionary religious dictatorship in the Middle East and one of the closest allies of the United States, the governments of the two nations kept slaughtering pro-democracy people. Saudi Arabia even invaded Bahrain, while the U.S. remained largely passive? At least 72 people have been killed, 2700 wounded, 3000 arrested, close to 1870 tortured, 500 exiled, 534 students expelled, and 4540 laid off in Bahrain, almost all of them belonging to the opposition. In Yemenup to 1870 people were killed, at least 1000 wounded, and 1000 arrested. Many believe that the statistics for both nations are too conservative, and the actual numbers are much larger.


What began as peaceful demonstrations by a home-grown, legitimate and democratic opposition, quickly turned into a bloody civil war that is still raging on. The Bashar al-Assad government responded to the demonstrations by bullets, but the bloodshed was quickly taken advantage of by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and the West, in order to topple the Assad regime and replace it with a Sunni regime hostile to Iran. But, even that goal will be unachievable, as the most extremists Islamic terrorists have taken over the fighting in Syria, all backed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to the point that even the U.S. acknowledges such facts. The result? A destroyed Syria, 65,000 dead, and no end in sight.


Which parts of the aforementioned data and facts on the ground are deniable? And, if they cannot be denied, then, who is thinking “ideologically and mechanically”? Those who consider this track record - undeniable facts on the ground - and reject the U.S. support - or more precisely, U.S. intervention - or those who have tried to present a completely different image of the U.S. by ignoring the record, and even denying many well-established facts about the disastrous U.S. Middle East policy?

What kind of support can the U.S. offer to the opposition that will not lead to its direct intervention and military attacks at some point? And, if the U.S. decided to intervene anyway, how can Mr. Afshari and comrades prevent it, if they truly reject it? We heard the U.S. rhetoric for supporting the “freedom” of the Iraqi people from 1990-2003 - the same Iraq that was supported by the U.S. in the 1980s. What happened to Iraq? Have we not learnt anything from the fates of Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan?

... Payvand News - 02/13/13 ... --

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