Tuesday, March 07, 2006

They Key to the Middle East

Mr. Bush, tear down this wall!

I remember hearing a State of the Union speech not too many years ago, when the phrase "Axis of Evil" was coined. I remember feeling punched in the gut when the American President, to the whole world, added a bit of jackassery to the trio by throwing in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Some of you may think I'm batcrap crazy for saying this, but the road to peace in the Middle East and assured victory over al-Quaeda will run through Tehran. This is not an idea that fits very well within the framework of modern American narrative - veiled women and turbaned mullahs burning American flags and calling us the 'Great Satan' - but one day very soon, we are going to have to face the facts regarding this most strategically important nation.

The Iranians have been through a lot in the last 50 years. Neo-conservatives may dismiss the importance, but they cannot dismiss the facts: Iran has been demanding constitutional & democratic changes for decades upon decades, and our hand in turning those reforms back led directly to the revolution of 1979 and the Mullahs we have to deal with today.

Memo to foreign policy wonks: When you support a brutal autocrat, and the people cry out for freedom, those people may learn to see you as the enemy, too. If the revolution gets hijacked by people who see you as the enemy, your interests are in big trouble. If those people are brutal autocrats themselves, hiding behind religion or ideology to secure their regin, then the people who cried out for freedom in the first place are still there, and they still have no freedom. (Please see also: China, Columbia, Congo, Cuba, Egypt, Haiti, Nicaragua, the Phillipines & Vietnam, to name a few. Jury is still out on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia & Palestine who are at various stages of the above scenario.)

Luckily, that last part of the scenario is what puts us in an important position. The people who cried out for freedom in the first place are still there, and last time I checked, the American Dream of liberation and self determination was a Dream shared by the vast majority of freedom seeking people around the world. We know the Iranian people share this dream.

The people of Iran have staged two pro-freedom revolutions in the modern era. They elected a pro-Iranian, pro-reform cleric to their Presidency, and returned him for a second term. The people are ready, and are working for change. But like every nation, these people are proud of who they are, and with the hatchet still bright between our two nations, we walk a fine line with any action we take.

I don't often agree with much of what Christopher Hitchens has to say, but I found myself reading this one in amazement. His suggestion is so audacious, it may be the most effective. Regarding Iran:
our options are down to three: reliance on the United Nations/European Union bargaining table, a "decapitating" military strike, or Nixon goes to China. The first being demonstrably useless and somewhat humiliating, and the second being possibly futile as well as hazardous, it might be worth giving some thought to the third of these.
Appearances sometimes to the contrary, they are not mad—or not clinically insane in the way that Saddam Hussein was and Kim Jong-il is. The recent fuss about the obliteration of Israel is largely bull****
They know as well as you do what would happen if they tried to nuke Israel or the United States. They want the bomb as insurance against invasion and as a weapon of strategic ambiguity to shore up their position in the region.
But they have a crucial vulnerability on the inside. The overwhelmingly young population—an ironic result of the mullahs' attempt to increase the birth rate after the calamitous war with Iraq—is fed up with medieval rule.
Iran has been forced to permit a lot of latitude to its citizens. A huge number of them have relatives in the West, access to satellite dishes and cell phones, and regular contact with neighboring societies. They are appalled at the way that Turkey, for example, has evolved into a near-European state while Iran is still stuck in enforced backwardness and stagnation, competing only in the rug and pistachio markets. Opinion polling is a new science in Iran, but several believable surveys have shown that a huge majority converges on one point: that it is time to resume diplomatic relations with the United States.

Maybe I'm just naive, but I can't even imagine the sense of victory it would bring both the people of Iran and the United States to see that embassy opened up again.

Before you write that off as total fantasy, keep in mind that so far, we've buried the hatchet with the South, Germany, Japan and Russia. We rebuilt three of those four, and I think we could win in Iran without firing a single shot.


Dante said...

As long as Iran is planning to develop nuclear weapons, there will be no hatchet burying. Iran as a government has no real intention of actually using a nuclear weapon against the US or Israel but I could certainly see a terrorist group "stealing" the nuke and using it.

That's how Arab terrorism works nowadays. They learned a lot by continually bashing their had against that Israeli wall. The terrorist-sponsoring gov't turns a blind eye or maybe even gives some support and/or money under the table to the terrorists and the gov't takes no blame for the terrorist activities.

I'd sure like to see Iranians get the opportunity to essentially overturn the current leadership in Iran through elections and not through military action but that spectre of Iran becoming a nuclear power will keep the US from aiding such a thing any time soon.

I just can't help but believe that the hard(ish) line that the US and NATO have taken in preventing other nations from acquiring nuclear weapons has severely slowed the rate at which countries have acquired said nuclear weapons. I don't think it's the best idea to ease up on that hard line now.

For what it's worth, I'm much more nervous about India and Pakistan having nuclear weapons merely because I think they'd be the most likely to actually use them.

Laddi said...

Two things:

1) Internal turmoil overthrowing the Iranian regime will work exactly like the Tieniman Square tragedy in China. And look how the Chinese government got punished for that fiasco, and their dictatorial government is now obviously forgiven. According to Yahoo! news, some feel there are still 70 people jailed almost 20 years later for their part.

2) The US government shot themselves in the foot with the poorly timed acceptance of India into the nuclear fold. Okay, I understand that the timing was right when they needed it to prove some point. Maybe that point is, "Iran, screw you. We now have THREE major launch points in every direction -- all nuclear-capable." But the eye blink of the US in basically cowtowing to India's nuclear proliferation (didn't they actually TEST A BOMB a few years back? I think they did and less than 10 years ago at that! ) sends a TERRIBLE precedent to Iran, one that Iran could very much use in its rhetoric as opined on the Express India Web site:

"Iran and some developing nations who have signed the NPT believe the Western position to be hypocritical. Iran also compares its treatment as a signatory to the NPT with three nations that have not signed the treaty : Israel, INDIA and Pakistan, all nuclear-weapons states."
(emphasis added)

I have to agree with James Steinberg when he concludes that "if you are determined enough to build a bomb, eventually the world will have to accept the reality and let you into the club." That's exactly what Iran is saying crystal clear:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remained defiant: “Our nation has made its decision to fully use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and all have to give in to this decision made by the Iranian nation,” he said in Iran. “We have made our choice.”

I will part with Mr. Steinberg's continued conclusion:

"Some argue it is possible to distinguish Iran from India on the (legitimate) grounds that one is a law-abiding democracy and the other a destabilizing supporter of terrorism. But this distinction may not be terribly compelling to the mullahs, or even ordinary Iranians, who will conclude that they might as well push ahead, suffer the short-term penalties associated with building nuclear weapons, and then negotiate their way back into the international community’s good graces after the fact. (Laddi's addition: see China) If they do draw that conclusion, the policy choices left to the US and our allies are unattractive indeed – acquiesce in Iran becoming a nuclear weapon state or confront the unsatisfactory choices posed by the potential use of military force to disrupt Iran’s program."

Patrick Armstrong said...

First of all, the United States cannot invade Iran, hold Iran, take apart the nuclear program and leave. Unlike the Iraq of Saddam Hussien, Iranians actually do have a stake in Iran's future, and they have a wariness of the United States built on 5 decades of mutual distrust, and the example of the highly politicized run up to the Iraq war.

Iranians will fight for their country in a way that has not been seen since WWII. We would need millions upon millions upon millions of men and women at arms to do this, and there would be far more bodybags coming home. Tehran would be another Stalingrad. Bombing Qom from above would be like bombing the Vatican.

And we would be fighting people who should be our allies in expanding liberty and democracy.

Why would this be different? Iranians have a stake in their nation's well being. Iranians have a growing middle class. Iranians do get to pressure their government in peaceful ways for change. They have been doing so for years without our help.

They are unhappy with the mullahs. Why then, do we seem so interested in giving them an outside enemy to strenghten the mullah's position? Its like we want them to hate us!

Far better it would be for us to extend the hand of peace, for us to ask that the hatchet is buried and have that visibly rejected by the mullahs and their tin-pot President. If we threaten, we are the enemy. If we ask them to come out and play, and the evil stepmother mullas won't let them, then the evil stepmother mullas are the enemy.

Does that only make sense to me, or does this administration lack the talent of a Kissinger?

And contrary to what you may have read in any Tom Clancy novels or watched on Arnold Schwartzenegger movies, Iran is not very likely to let terrorists 'steal' any nuclear weapons. The same way China under Mao didn't let anyone steal their nuclear weapons to hurt us or the Soviet Union. Just like the Soviets didn't let anyone steal their nuclear weapons during the Cold War. Just like Saddam didn't give his WMD to any terrorists back when he had them.


Because arming terrorists with WMD can get those WMD turned against you. Especially if you are Iran, where the majority of the population are Shi'a Muslim. (al-Quaeda & the Taliban - our enemies, their enemies - are a Sunni groups of the Wahhabi Sect dedicated to eradicating other Sects of Islam.) If you werent watching the news recently, Sunnis and Shi'a don't get along very well.

The only other option we have is perpetual war, because there will always be a 'next' rouge regime.

I'd like to get Iran out of the fight and maybe (since the enemy of my enemy is my friend) get a little help against our common enemy, al-Quaeda.

Dante said...

I've never actually read a Tom Clancy novel. Jerz did loan me a book on CD of Clancy's once but it was about a prostitute, not a nuclear conspiracy. I have seen Hunt for Red October though. Pretty good movie. I doubt it would ever happen in real life but even if it did it doesn't have much to do with the issue at hand. Oh, and I did used to play Ranbow Six on the PC but all I remember from that is a hostage situation on a parked airplane and another at what I think was a museum but graphics being what they were in the late 90's it could've been something else.

As far as Arnold Strong goes, I'm not really sure what robots from the future, a guy who doesn't know who he is trevelling to Mars, a lip-synch'd Hurcules, a military unit tracking an alien, or a barbarian have to do with nuclear weapons but I have missed a few of his flicks. Thinking back on it, I do think the Predator used a nuke at the end of that movie but it he stole it from the Iranians, he did it off camera.

Nice diversions but back to the real point, I'm just pointing out how a nuclear strike would occur if Iran decided to use their nukes. The Iranian government wouldn't delcare war and attack. That's not how things work over there anymore. They'd set up a dummy terrorist cell (or maybe a real one but it would really have to be one that they could rely on, unlike al-Quaeda who isn't exactly on their AOL buddy list) and they'd let the "terrorists" do the dirty work. That's what Arab nations do now and have been doing for many years.

Soviets and Chinese never gave away their nukes but they were typically empowering enemies of enemies instead of empowering friends. Despite what you've heard, the two are not equivalent.

patsbrother said...

I know many of you do not particularly have the warm fuzzies about any member of this administration, but the subsection within the Department of State, The Office of Iranian Affairs, sounds like a good damn idea. Still wondering why we didn't make big push for studying Arabic five years ago like we did Russian in the 1950s, but better late than never, you know?

While I can't say I have exhaustive knowledge of the subject, the purpose of the Office of Iranian Affairs (which perhaps should be American-Iranian Affairs) appears to be increasing cultural points of reference between the two societies, as well as encouraging democracy.

I know many of us are somewhat more than reticent when it comes to getting behind Dr. Rice or Mr. Bush, but, um, let's give them a cookie when something they propose actually makes sense (and try and ignore the Vice President as much as possible).

GP said...

I can't see Iranians succesfully gaining more freedom and democracy through internal efforts. The Government won't allow it. The people can't gain more freedom with a government that is willing to ruthlessly suppress dissent, i.e. China.

I believe one of the causes of the fall of the Soviet Union was Gorbechev's (relatively speaking) more liberal and tolerant government, which was unwilling to roll in the tanks to crush their opposition. Iran's government is certainly not there, but if it can move in that direction, the people will have a chance. Unfortunately, I dont't know what America could do to facilite that process.

In the Tom Clancy vein, James Clavell wrote an interesting novel about 1979 Iran called Whirlwind. Definately worth a read.

Jmac said...

China keeps popping up in this discussion, and most folks are failing to realize that the China we have today - which is one of opening markets, moving away from nationalism, recognition of religion, etc. - emerged in large part because of the actions of those protestors in the Square some 15-plus years ago. Now China is by no means a thriving open society, but there have been many advances which didn't exist just a few years back.

Concerning Iran, attempting to link the efforts of the government to terrorist operations is more of a stretch than linking Saddam's government to al-Qaida. Most terrorist operations stem from places of extreme poverty who are disconnected to the world and feel as if they are being wronged by another entity. In Iran's case, as Patrick pointed out, there is a growing middle class, a populace much more educated than its neighbors in the Middle East and, at the very least, some engagement with the West (Europe and Russia for instance). Much of the discontentment in Iran is from, again as Patrick pointed out, the youth of the country who are more upset with the dictatorial rule of the mullahs rather than the U.S. or West.

True, Iran doesn't really care for the U.S., but a large portion of that stems from the vitriol spewed by the ruling mullahs as well as our recent actions in the Middle East (whether you agree with them or not). I think education and diplomacy can help bridge this gap.

Plus, it's absolutely not feasible for the U.S. to even ponder military action against Iran. As of right now, our forces are stretched thin and have been at war for the past four years. To attempt to conquer and rebuild another country when we are currently struggling to do the same in both Afghanistan and Iraq makes little sense. Furthermore, continuous war is not a viable long-term foreign policy plan.

Will diplomacy work? Who knows? But I'm sure Nixon suffered through plenty of criticism when he visited China and attempted to thaw relations there, and his work paid off in the grand scheme of things. China began to open its doors to the outside world and become less and less of a threat.

There's no way to predict if this will happen in Iran, but isn't attempting diplomacy worth a shot?