Sunday, November 13, 2011

Post #70 - More on the Middle East Region

Geoffrey Kemp, an adviser on this “neighborhood” for the Iraq Study Group, contrasts the cautious, multinational and collaborative approach the United States took before going into Afghanistan (including working closely with its neighbors, such as the Iranians, the Uzbeks and the Pakistanis – only six weeks prior to the “Axis of Evil” speech) with the “Lone Ranger” approach we took to Iraq. He summed up the present situation in the immediate region this way, in a Special Report done for the U.S. Institute of Peace:

"Predominantly Shiite Iran emerges from the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's fall with considerable power and influence in Iraq...Iran's leaders meet with Iraq's most influential personality, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani; American diplomats do not meet with Sistani. Iraq's new elected leaders make visits to Tehran and negotiate on substantive issues, including border security and joint energy projects...
"Yet Iran faces a number of dilemmas with its Iraq policy that decoupled from the broader challenges it faces in the region, especially its relations with the United States. Iran has reason to fear chaos in Iraq. It has reason also to worry about an eventually successful U.S. policy that leads to the establishment of a secular, democratic state. In the short run, its primary concern is that the nuclear standoff...could lead to...the use of force.
"Nevertheless, Iran's leaders appear to have calculated that they can withstand the diplomatic pressure...and that even if sanctions are imposed, Iran has the will and financial resources to ride them out...
"Iran's vital national interests could be helped by ending the standoff with the United States. Likewise, the United States has more to gain than lose if it adopts a more coherent and pragmatic policy toward the Islamic Republic."

The difficulty, said Selig Harrison, as director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy, is that for Iran “the United States [stuck in an intractable conflict in neighboring Iraq] is like a fox in a trap; why [say the Iranians] should we let you out of the trap if you're going to have us for dinner?” ( This may explain why Iran seems more combative these days; Iraq is settling down somewhat.)

Establishing a level of trust for good-faith negotiations to begin is made difficult by the very threats and pressure that the U.S. administration feels are so necessary to maintain. In the case of North Korea, even the South Korean president, Roh Moo-Hyun, recognized that his northern neighbor was seeking, in its nuclear weaponization, a deterrent protection from external attack, and he added, "In this particular case it is true and undeniable that there is a considerable element of rationality in North Korea's claim" (quoted in Chomsky's Failed States). Would not Iran have even a greater claim to adoption of such an attitude?

A further consideration is the widening circles of impact that are always generated by major conflicts. Even in the case of the First Gulf War -- relatively contained and limited -- one of the ramifications, little known or appreciated in the United States, was a major disruption of life in adjoining regions. A Canadian anthropologist who spent time in Yemen during the 1990s, Anne Meneley, wrote of the change that was wrought in Yemeni society during that period (in Cultural Anthropology, May 2007):

"I had to say goodbye to my friends...during the tense time that followed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The common connections we had forged as neighbors, friends, fictive kin, and fellow residents of Zabid were suddenly strained. Zabidis asserted that Americans (and, by extension, Canadians) were in alliance with the oil rich Gulf Arabs at the expense of the less-privileged Arab peoples like the Yemenis, who are often treated as inferiors in the Gulf States where they work as migrant laborers.
"I did not return to Yemen until 1999. The intervening years had featured...the expulsion of nearly 800,000 Yemeni migrant laborers from Saudi Arabia, which resulted in a subsequent loss of $1.8 billion in remittance income..."

USS Cole, October 2000
Yet, when the USS Cole was bombed in a Yemeni harbor in the fall of 2000, with seventeen Americans killed and scores injured, were any of these factors even mentioned? Rather, the "worldwide Islamist network" or "global terrorism" was implicated, and later, in 2007, blame was laid at the feet of the government of Sudan. Did anyone think to ask why U.S. assets in the port of Aden might have been chosen as a target? "'Tis a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive," and we may ourselves be caught in the webs we spin.

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