Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Post #63 - Questions We Ask Ourselves

Aren't the Iranians against us?

We have noted that Iranians in general show little enmity toward us as people. But, we must also decide how to weigh Iran's official opposition to our nation. First, we need to admit that it is not without justification, by acknowledging one fact: we (or other Western allies) have undermined or attacked every legitimate government Iran has established over the past century. At this point, let's face it -- Iran is seen in much of the world as a nation (almost the only nation) that has "stood up to" Uncle Sam. The considerable popularity which they achieve in "the street” in many places as a consequence, is no doubt a dangerous long-term dynamic for the United States.Therefore, if we were wise, we would stop setting them up to look good when they act stubborn, and find ways to reward more cooperative behavior. Moreover, we could start trying to look good ourselves for a change by being reasonable and compassionate, as befits a great power.

Isn't Iran more dangerous than most countries? Doesn't it have a record of aggression?

Shock-and-awe in Baghdad
The catalogue of direct assaults by nations on other nations in recent history shows that Iran has not been the principal actor in any of them for two hundred years or more. Iran hasn't expanded beyond its borders in recent memory, except at the encouragement of the United States (the Shah gained possession of a couple small islands in the Persian Gulf). We should remember that "pre-emptive" attack is what used to be called "naked aggression" before we decided it was legal and laudable when we do it.

Administration officials often cite Iran's support of terrorism. The record here is cloudy; there seems to have been support given by some factions in Iran to groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Elements of the Iranian regime may be implicated in assassinations abroad, if Western intelligence is to be credited. If Iranian aid has made possible violent resistance movements, or even bombings that took civilian lives, that should certainly be condemned, but also weighed alongside our own record. We have repeatedly aided insurgent groups (from the Taliban to the Contras) in various countries when it served our own interests, even if they were unelected, antidemocratic and violent.

The Bush administration moved to classify the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. Scott Ritter writes about the Corps:

"Many of the actions of the guard have been cited by the United States as evidence that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. The guard members I spoke with reject this characterization. 'We did some pretty terrible things in our early years, but we were fighting for our national survival,' one veteran member told me. 'The MEK [or Mujaheddin] was waging a war in our cities, ambushing our forces assassinating our politicians and killing our citizens with car bombs. We had to crush them, either in Iran or out. But if we kill an MEK operative in France or Germany, we become terrorists. If America kills an Al Qaeda operative in another country, you are counter-terrorists. This makes no sense. We have never targeted or attacked Americans or American interests. We condemned the 9/11 attacks as a crime against Islam and a crime against humanity. And yet we are reviled as terrorists, or even worse, co-conspirators with Al Qaeda. Doesn't American understand that we oppose Al Qaeda and all it stands for?'”

I know that many hold Iran responsible for attacks on U.S. personnel in foreign areas -- or even implicate that country in plots on US soil, but the above perspective should be understood by Americans if we are to plan a future that does not include an ever-increasing incidence of loss and mourning on both sides.

Many are made nervous by what they perceive as sheer, crazy unpredictability on the part of Iranian leaders. Ahmadinezhad may be a loose cannon, but he is far more controlled by others within his government than, say, Idi Amin (whom we never perceived as a serious threat to our interests), Saddam Hussein (whom we actively supported for years, before he decided to go into Kuwait), Kim Jong-Il (with whom we are now actively making deals) or the rulers of Myanmar (about whom only Aung San Suu Kyi and a few human rights activists seem concerned much of the time).

What would be the consequences of allowing Iran to "get away with" their intransigence or independence?

The better question may be: what do Iran's leaders gain from our current "get tough" policy? Currently they do not have to answer to their own people for failures in finding employment for new college graduates, creating opportunities for innovation, or building infrastructure, because they can keep exploiting the (real) external threat and buy a few more months of indulgence. Their shaky economy can be seen as largely a product of the sanctions. Citizens can be urged to rally round the flag one more time. Again, we should stop letting those leaders off the hook by giving them the convenient bogey-man of a foreign threat.

What if they do develop a nuclear weapon?

Iranian nuclear facility near Natanz
Our presence course almost ensures that Iranians will feel the need to protect themselves by obtaining such a capability (they know that Israel has over 200 warheads and has tested vehicles to deliver them as far away as Iran, to say nothing of the mammoth U.S. arsenal), and they may have taken steps to make that possible. But what if they could see another avenue -- a way to coexist with the United States and the West? If they did succeed in developing nuclear armaments, it would likely be for the same reasons that all the other nuclear countries (including ours) have done so: to deter attack, rather than to commit either genocide or suicide. (Significantly, during the Iran-Iraq War, they opted not to deploy weapons of mass destruction they possessed, despite extraordinary provocation.)

Contrast President Bush's “bring 'em on,” and other cavalier expressions of bravado -- or even the measured threats of the Clinton State Department -- with the sober and temperate way in which President Lincoln described the horribly bloody war through which he was leading the nation at the time:

"...The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself; and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.
"All dreaded [war] -- all sought to avert it...Neither party expected for the war the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained...Each looked for an easier triumph...

Green hills of northern Iran
"Both...pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other... The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" ...Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away...
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations. (Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865)

Can our national policy now be fairly characterized as "with malice toward for all?"

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