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Iran Fever (part 6)

This is the last post in the Iran Fever series. See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

Since President Bush first threatened to “seek out and destroy the networks” that are supposedly attacking U.S. forces in Iraq, I have read hundreds of articles and blog posts about the conflict with Iran, and the controversy within the U.S. about how to resolve it. Almost all this material was written by Americans, so the story is almost inevitably told through a filter of U.S. interests, whether the writer is in favor of an attack or against. Occasionally, British views are presented, or those of other Middle East nations such as Israel or Saudi Arabia, or of Iran itself. But clearly, one flaw in the information I’ve compiled is its American perspective. Is this a limitation of the languages I know, or is it because the crisis is largely a manufactured one that interests only Americans? Regardless, there is a lot to be learned from all this reading, which I will summarize here in no particular order.

  • The U.S. has a new strategy in which it is seeking to form a coalition of Israel and its Sunni Arab allies—Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Jordan, Egypt—against Syria and Iran. This strategy took shape in the fall of 2006 in reaction to the Israeli–Hezbollah war.
  • Iran is indeed involved in arming and training Iraqi militias, but most of this assistance is going to U.S. allies in Iraq, such as the Badr Corps of Shia leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Some assistance also ends up with factions of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
  • The disappearance of former Iranian defense official Ali Rez Asgari, whether by defection or abduction, could be seen as a U.S. attempt to learn his techniques for building up Hezbollah in the 1980s and 1990s, since Iran is suspected of doing the same thing today in Iraq.
  • Iran has strong and growing ties with Iraq, is helping Iraq to secure the border, and is contributing to the rebuilding of the country through economic and technical assistance. Iranian involvement in Iraq seems to make the U.S. jealous, but Iraq’s leaders have made clear they will not shut it down.
  • The idea that the Bush administration cannot be trusted to make rational decisions, especially about the Middle East, is now shared across a surprisingly wide spectrum of the American political elite. As a result, intelligence experts, military men and national security officials are lining up to express their doubts about confrontation with Iran.
  • The idea that Congress should serve as an obstacle to a runaway president, to the point of impeachment if necessary, has been expressed in some form by senators, a former White House Counsel, a former National Security Advisor, a former UN weapons inspector, retired generals and others.
  • The neoconservative era has given American empire-building such a bad name, that a rethinking of the fundamental assumptions of American foreign policy seems possible for the first time in 40 years.
  • It looks like the nuclear dossier has lost the central importance it had only a few months ago. Instead, the Bush administration has expanded the field of play to confront Iranian power on all fronts simultaneously. Nearly every country in the Middle East is implicated. One possible outcome is a “grand bargain” in which Israel’s relation to its neighbors is finally resolved, the Palestinian crisis is settled, and Iran emerges as a mature international power. The other possiblity is a regionwide Sunni–Shia conflagration.
  • The U.S. has become—not for the first time in its history—a state sponsor of terrorism, providing money, weapons and training to ethnic separatist groups in Iran, and to the neo-Maoist MEK that used to work for Saddam Hussein. These “black ops” have been going on for months, have been reported numerous times, and are now “no great secret.” If Seymour Hersh is right, funding is coming partly from Saudi Prince Bandar, partly from “loose money, pools of cash” left over from the war in Iraq. This is an off-the-books operation with no congressional oversight.
  • The Saudis are still trying to work with the U.S. (see above) but have increasingly reached the conclusion that the current administration has no game plan, so they are trying to save themselves from a regional conflagration by doing some very public diplomacy—such as the agreement they brokered for Palestine, or the state visit by Ahmadinejad—which is unusual for the Saudis. Ironically, if American incompetence forces the Middle East to work out its own security arrangements in keeping with their own interests, this could be a good thing—though it may not be what the U.S. had in mind.
  • Iran is prepared for a U.S. attack, and if it comes, is likely to emerge stronger than before—in the same way that Hezbollah was strengthened by the Israeli attempt to demolish it last summer.
  • The American military is not happy, either with its current mission or with the prospect of a future mission in Iran, and they are increasingly saying so in the most public way possible without betraying their oath of loyalty to the civilian leadership.
  • Depending on how you parse the evidence, the U.S. is either cleverly raising the pressure until Iran is forced to back down, or has already decided to fight and is trying to provoke Iran into acting first—as a way of obliging Congress to go along, because in that case it would be a “legitimate” response to aggression.
  • The pressure may be having an effect. There are signs that in recent weeks, Iran has slowed or stopped its support for Iraqi militias, and may have suspended its nuclear program without publicly saying so. They have been sending signals that they are ready, even eager to talk. U.S. and Iranian officials have even met face to face, though the gesture has been meaningless so far.
  • The Bush administration is unique in American history, in that its very incompetence gives it a historic importance. Bush seems to have embraced this destiny and is using it in creative ways. The invasion of Iraq has changed the state of play in the Middle East, but not in the way he and his neoconservative friends originally intended. So in search of a more favorable outcome, he has decided to give the roulette wheel one last spin before leaving office. The ball is already bouncing, and who knows where if will land?

— • —

I want to conclude with a couple of videos I’ve come across in the last few days. The first is a clip of Dennis Kucinich speaking to an antiwar group in Washington on March 14. Kucinich represents Cleveland, Ohio in Congress, where he is known as one of the most progressive Congressmen. He was a candidate for president in 2004 and is running again in 2008. Last time, he attracted votes from the left wing of the Democratic Party, but he had no chance to win the nomination. He is a small, rumpled man in an era of show business politics. His views, which in 1968 might have been mainstream, are demonized in the media today. Next to Clinton or Obama he may look like a loser, but none of this can hide his intelligence, his conviction or his quiet common sense.

Here are some excerpts from his talk:

    Congress is on the threshhold of a momentous decision. If Congress continues to fund the war [in Iraq], the president will have money not only to carry the war through the end of his term, but he will also have money that could be used to attack Iran. […] I have long been in contact with people from all over the region…and it’s across the board, that people of the world agree that an attack on Iran has the potential to precipitate not just a catastrophe, but a cataclysm.
    The most ominous development in this whole matter came a few days ago, when the Appropriations Committee made a decision to take out of the budget…a provision that would have required the president to come back to Congress for permission [to attack Iran]. In effect what Congress did by taking that provision out, was to open the door for the president to launch an attack. It was a disastrous move on the part of congressional leaders.
    The entire world community is aware that there is a danger here. One of the leading members of the ambassadorial corps…said that he was involved in a chess game, and he…was about to make a move advancing on the queen when…he suddenly understood that if he made the move, he would create a disaster for himself because he wasn’t looking at the rest of the board. He was only looking at his piece and the queen. And it was a brilliant analogy, because we have not as a nation been looking at the rest of the world.
    There’s no question that we’re in a moment of peril, and it calls for clear thinking and a very sober approach, and a lot of courage too, because we’re going to have to take a stand….

— • —

Next, if you’ve ever wondered what day-to-day life in Tehran looks like from the inside, this 90-minute documentary from the BBC does a pretty good job. Journalist Rageh Omaar meets ordinary people, such as a cab driver, a teacher at a youth shelter, or a group of shopping mall brats; and extraordinary ones, such as a pop singer who has sold 20 million records, or one of Tehran’s most successful businesswomen. He even ends up praying next to President Ahmadinejad at a photo op.

The U.S. media seems to avoid showing images of Iranian daily life, perhaps because it is harder to attack an enemy with a human face. If this is the reason, it wouldn’t be the first time that our media have consciously or unconsciously served the agenda of war. As someone who hopes to visit Tehran one day, sit in its tea rooms and talk with Iranian bloggers, activists and poets, I can’t help thinking that war, no matter what its excuse, is both a tragic failure and a crime. Thanks to the blog Iranian Truth for pointing me to this video.

— • —

Finally, in news that just surfaced today, this is exactly the sort of silly incident that could serve as the trigger for war.

    Fifteen British Navy personnel have been captured at gunpoint by Iranian forces, the Ministry of Defence says.
    The men were seized at 10:30 local time when they boarded a boat in the Gulf, off the coast of Iraq….
    The Royal Navy said the men, who were on a routine patrol in Iraqi waters, were understood to be unharmed.
    The Foreign Office has demanded the immediate and safe return of the men, who are based on HMS Cornwall.
    The frigate’s commander, Commodore Nick Lambert, said he was hoping there had been a “simple mistake” over territorial waters.

This concludes the Iran Fever series. I have updated the Iran Reading List in this blog’s permanent pages with links to 20 new articles that have appeared since the beginning of this year.


Comment from homeyra
Time: March 25, 2007, 16:03

You have done an impressive research on the subject.
Just a note to bring two links to your attention about this last incident:

Comment from eatbees
Time: March 26, 2007, 01:33

@homeyra: Thanks for the links, especially the article on Larisa Alexandrovna’s blog. I’ve seen her reporting before on, but I didn’t know she had a blog of her own.

My working theory is that the Bush administration is schizophrenic and contains officials who are sincerely engaged in what they believe to be high-stakes diplomacy, while there are others who are using the first group (just as they used Colin Powell in 2003) as cover while doing everything they can to provoke a crisis.

I feel a mounting sense of helplessness as I did in the runup to the Iraq war. As L. Alexendrovna points out, Bush may be in so much trouble already that Congress is too distracted with old scandals to keep an eye on what is happening in Iran. Is anyone investigating the covert actions going on inside Iran’s borders? It doesn’t look that way.

May God and humanity forgive us! Even those of us who are aware what is happening can’t find the brakes on this train….

Comment from homeyra
Time: March 26, 2007, 13:33

Thank you for your reply. I think it all make sens: lets say when someone behaves just a little dishonest and get away with it, the next time he’ll push the boundaries and the next and so on … till eventually one becomes a real crook.
British foreign policy, and now together with the USA have gotten their way so far all around the world. Now it seems it is our turn.
The contempt of humanitarian concerns, the invalidity of moral stand will (has?) eventually turn against their own body.
It saddens me, not only for Iran, but for the state of the world.
Anyway, keep it up! The world need people who try to see clear and do the little they can do :)

Comment from amre El-abyad
Time: April 15, 2007, 08:33

Very interesting article. However it seems to me that you are bit carried away by anti-imperial sentiments to the extents that you abandon rational thinking, and to the extent that you are influenced by the malicious discourse of the war criminals : NAJAD, KHAMEINI AND khomeini

Sometimes, our interests might be aligned with our enemies, in that case we have to grab the chance.

Breaking the back of Iran is and was essential for the rise of a stable Iraq. The fanatic nationalistic Irani revolution (taking the shape of an Islamic one) was calling for toppling the infidel baathist regime while it manipulated the religious influence of Khomeini on southern Iraqis. How do you think Iraq should have responded? Besides, Iran has always been a destabilising agent in Iraq! remember 1973?

The Iranian hostility for Iraq is very natural, as the Arabic Iraq stands as a barrier against Iranian influence and inclusion into the middle east. Consequently Arab nationalism and Iran are mutually exclusive1

At the moment, there is no doubt that Israel is the eternal enemy of Arabs. For the last 5 decades, their interests have been aligned with Americans’

Never the less, Iran is a more imminent danger. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I tell you that the dearabisation of Iraq, or at least, bringing it under Iranian influence, means a massive reduction in the strategic weight of Arabs. You had better then forget about the Palestinian cause…… what is the humanitarian democratic world doing for the famines in east Africa, ethnic cleansings in Rowanda and Borondy?

Iran played a nasty role in instigating the sectarian strife by pushing back into Iran Iranian agents (Sistani, Hakim….etc), 2 million citizens of Irani origin which in turn provoked a collective Sunni retaliation against all Shiites. Back then American and and Irani interest were aligned.

In 2003 American and Irani interest were aligned. Iran facilitated the invasion in return for US allowing the influx of Badr and pro-Iran elements in order to help topple the legitimate regime and dearabise Iraq….

Now the situation is different, our interests are partially and temporarily aligned with the Americans. The Arabs HAVE TO STOP BEING THE LOSERS ALL THE TIME LONG .

We have to play the game for the purpose of winning and to do so we have to be less parochial, more rational and more cunning

Now I shall move one into more details that reveals the Iranian malicious threat.take into consideration that a considerable amount of killing in Iraq was carried out by the Iranian backed SCIR (Badr), which is clear that they have a score to settle with Iraqis. Also, the return of the traitors have infuriated the Iraqi patriots and was one of the main factors that started off sectarian strife.

For example, some Arab Shiites in Basra demonstrated against Irani influence in Basra and burned down the Iran consulate. The clan of those people was subjected to a killing campaign by Iranian backed elements.

The Arab Shiites clerics like El-Bohgdady and El-Khalsy are suppressed by the Persian ones like sistany and HAKIM.

Bottom of the line, Iraq would be a much more better place if Iran stays out of it……….
What is funny is that Sistany (Backed by Iran) the supreme Shiite cleric can not speak proper Arabic, and considered the occupation an act of good.

To sum up my rational stance on Iran:

The only way to save the innocent lives in Iraq is a U.S military blow to Iran that would cut off its support to the terrorist groups in Iraq and limit its influence in the Arabian gulf. Iran is playing the card of its agents in Iraq very well.

On the one hand, by unleashing its agents on Sunni civilians they wear down occupation opposition. On the other, turning their gangs against occupation, makes them , at least, think twice before instigating action against Iran.

One way or the other, it is children and innocent lives that are paying dearly for this.
The problem with Iran, is the complex overlap between religion and Persian nationalism, which in turn makes it quite easy for Iranian government to play the Islamic card with the Muslim world to divert attention from its crimes and gain their sympathy.

As the presumed guardians of Democracy and human rights in this world. U.S-U.K both have a moral duty to install a secular patriotic government (away from Iran’s influence)
That is the only way from my humble opinion that would transcend sectarian strife- and stop the killing of innocent lives and children that are wasted to save “Nuclear problems and hegemonies ambitions by middle eastern country”

Thereore it is the duty of all Arabs to stand up against the Iranian evil and teach Iran a lesson.

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