Thursday, February 2, 2012

Post #175 - More on War and Peace

"Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance…All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity…" (Isaiah 40:15,17)

The current situation is definitely scary, but how can we actually assess the dangers rationally and realistically for ourselves? By asking a series of questions that have not always been seriously asked or seriously answered:

Aren't the Iranians against us?

We have noted in earlier posts that Iranians in general show little enmity toward us as people. We must decide how to weigh Iran's official opposition to our nation. First, we need to admit that it is not without justification, in that we (and/or other Western allies) have undermined or attacked every legitimate government Iran has established over the past century. We must recognize, too that Iran is seen in many places around the world as a nation (almost the only nation) that has "stood up to" Uncle Sam. The huge and growing popularity which they achieve among many in "the street” as a consequence, is no doubt a dangerous long-term dynamic for the United States. Consequently, if we were wise, we would stop setting them up to look good when they act stubborn, and find ways to reward their 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? Does it have a record of aggression?

Persian Gulf, as seen from space
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 took possession of a couple of small islands in the Persian Gulf at the behest of his American benefactors). We should remember that "pre-emptive" attacks, such as we launched against Iraq, are what used to be called "aggression" before we decided it was legal and laudable (if it is we who are doing 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. But, if Iranian aid has made possible resistance movements, or even bombings that took civilian lives, yes, that should be condemned -- but also weighed alongside our own record. We certainly have aided insurgent groups in various countries when it served our own interests, even if they were unelected, antidemocratic and violent.  (Remember the Contras?)

The administration moved a few years ago to classify the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. Scott Ritter, former arms inspector for the U.S. Government, writes about the Corps:

S.M.H. Beheshti, jailed by Savak, killed by the MEK
"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?” Such a statement should certainly be taken with a grain of salt, but why are such statements so rarely even made public in the mass media, so that people could assess them on their merits?

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 (if sometimes terribly hard to figure out) 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), Kim Jong-Il (with whom we made deals before his demise) or the rulers of Myanmar (about whom only human rights activists seem very concerned much of the time).  Why is it only Iran that we seem to be worried about?

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? Right now, 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. Nearly every expert on Iran agrees that outside threats create more cohesion, rather than less, within Iran. 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?

Our Secretary of Defense estimates that Iran is (still!) 2-3 years away from having a weapon they could use against Israel.  Our present course virtually ensures that Iranians will feel the need to protect themselves by obtaining such a capability. (Look at what happened to Libya after it spurned nuclear ambitions, and what does not happen to Pakistan or North Korea.) 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 suicide. (We should recall that during the Iran-Iraq War, they voluntarily opted not to deploy weapons of mass destruction they possessed, despite extraordinary provocation.)

(To be continued in my next post.)

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