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All tied up
Reflections on the Iran-USA ball game & ballistics

January 20, 2000
The Iranian

On Sunday, January 16, the U.S. and Iranian national soccer teams labored to a 1-1 tie in an event that the editor of this netzine has aptly dubbed as "Rosy Sunday." I neither watched nor heard the game on radio. But I saw the game from the vantage of a mind's eye trained and informed by a soccer culture born and elaborated over many decades as a young spectator at Amjadieh stadium in Tehran.

I still hear the rhythmic cadence in the four one-quarter toots followed by the call of Iran. I remember the rhyme and limerick, the religious well wishing chant for the health of a player, insults and quips, praise and profanity, exhortation pouring out of the kazoo-like horns, and the final expression of "thank you, boys" regardless of outcome. In this mind's eye, Asli guarded the goal, Ranjbar worked at defense, Arab and Saedi minded the middle, Shirzadegan dominated the front, and Behzadi's head brushed the sky. In this mind's eye, there was only one flag: the green, white and red. In this mind's eye, there was room for only one country, Iran. There was the echo of one name, Iran.

In Pasadena, that was no more, not at least on the politically-correct superficies of faces tortured to be both Iranian and American. Colors blending. Double-sided flags and hats. Two-timing hearts. Mixed couples. Mixed up individuals. By all counts, the catharsis in Pasadena was a magnificent display of complete obfuscation of identity. It was also a purgation of sorts, allowing the Iranian-minded spectators to purge themselves of the pity they feel for being Iranian in an environment perceived as hostile to Iranians. There was also the purging of the fear that comes with standing up to be counted as Iranian, feeling Iranian, shouting Iranian and affirming Iran. This was all necessary therapy for a community besieged by two decades of inner turmoil. Chances are that the game will not have any direct or immediate effect on the course of Iran-U.S. relations; it will, however influence, the way the Iranian community in America will see and deal with itself.

The color rose, according to the dictionary, is a variable color averaging a moderate purplish red. It is a synthesis of red and white; it is a compromise that takes from both and offends neither. It is an apt metaphor for much that was in plain view at the Rose Bowl, a balance between the sublime and the absurd.

Rumor had it that the U.S. Secretary of State wanted to attend the game, but her busy schedule in dealing with Latin Amercian affairs did not allow it. If it was the thought that counted, then she was there, if not physically, at least in spirit. Instead, the half-Iranian CNN reporter, Ms. Amanpour, was at the gam to report on the event. She was accompanied by her husband, James Rubin, the spokesman for the U.S. Department of State. In the days of old diplomacy, when symbolism was informed by substance, Mr. Rubin's presence at the game would have been viewed with greater significance. In the age of America's yahoo diplomacy, nuance is nuisance; heck, even straight talk is crooked.

Samuel Berger, the National Security Advisor was not at the game. He was busy orchestrating yet another frontal attack on Iran, the rogue nation bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction so that it can obliterate Israel. On January 17, The New York Times reported that the U.S. was very concerned about Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear capability. That was not news. The news was CIA's admission that it no longer could provide accurate information on what Iran has and how and when is acquiring it. The White House national security spokesman, David Leavy, intoned that the U.S. will continue to work hard to block Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear technology. Two days later in Jerusalem, the Israeli deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, hinted that Israel may take steps of its own to deal with the nuclear threat from Iran. If past Israeli action with respect to Iraq is any indication, a preemptive Israeli strike on Iranian facilities will not be out of the question.

The American and Israeli officials unfairly blame the Europeans and especially Russia for cooperating with Iran in the field of nuclear technology. The blame rests squarely on the shoulders of the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations. For twenty years, the U.S. administration has demonized Iran and placed sanctions against any U.S. trade and investment and therefore presence or involvement there. In short, the administration's efforts to isolate Iran has handicapped its own efforts at gathering knowledge about Iran's nuclear program. Once again sanctions have proven ineffective and counterproductive.

Under international law and the immutable principle of self- preservation, Iran has the inalienable right to acquire weapons of mass destruction and to use them in order to defend itself against any who wish it harm. This right is not at issue. Nor at issue is the necessity for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. As Dr. Najmedin Meshkati from the University of Southern California has remarked, it is unrealistic to expect Iran to forego that option, just yet. Iran's quest for nuclear weapons is rooted deeply in Iran's geopolitical vulnerabilities, to which the U.S. itself has contributed handsomely in the past two decades. The overwhelming number of countries in Iran's neighborhood are either nuclear or under someone nuclear protection.

Kazakhstan is nuclear. Russia is nuclear. Israel has been nuclear since the early 1970's and had gone on nuclear alert during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Pakistan is nuclear, so is India, as is China, Pakistan's ally and Taliban's benefactor. Turkey is under U.S. and NATO nuclear umbrella. The United States -- physically present in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the Persian Gulf -- is a nuclear power. The United Arab Emirates is armed to the teeth by the United States. Iraq under Saddam Hussein, too, has or is developing weapons of mass destruction and has used milder versions of them in the past against Iran and its own people. Given this neighborhood, Iran would be foolish not to pursue weapons that maximize its defense capability, including nuclear and biological weapons, if need be.

As long as other countries in Iran's neighborhood either pursue or possess the nuclear option, Iran has no choice but to play into the same "mutual assured destruction" doctrine that ensured nuclear peace between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and now with Russia. The solution to the issue of Iran's search for the means to nuclear deterrence will lie not in U.S.-Iran dialogue but in a comprehensive regional approach based on universal principles of nonproliferation, safeguards, test ban, and international inspections for all, including Israel.

Much has been made of the Russian assistance to Iran in the development of nuclear and missile technologies. Neither Iran nor the United States should place much significance in the Russian involvement, because it is not in Russia's own interest to have Iran acquire weapons of mass destruction. Last thing the Russians would want is to see an Iran they can no longer beat in the field of battle, occupy, or pressure to do their bidding in the region.

When Chechnya is secured, the Russian hegemony will seek to re-establish its hold once again over the former soviet republics in the Transcaucasus and Transcaspian regions. For that venture, Russia will need Iran's neutrality, if not outright cooperation. An independent Iran armed with nuclear weapons will not serve the Russian objective. For now, Russia views Iran's nuclear power project as a cash-cow: for a decade, it has been involved in the construction of nuclear power plants at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf, but with no significant results. It is unlikely that those plants would ever go on stream, largely because as long as they are being constructed someone is getting rich. Why kill the goose that lays golden eggs?

The failure of the American containment policy with respect to Iran's nuclear program stems from the fallacious assumption that the U.S. and Israel can prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. An even greater fallacy is to assume that Iran could not develop nuclear weapons unless it gets help from other countries. In either case, it is simply a matter of time before Iran joins the nuclear club.

A smarter American policy would put a halt to the guessing game about timing and source of Iran's nuclear weapons program and should assume that Iran already has nuclear weapons. How would that fact change the U.S. behavior or attitude toward Iran? If having nuclear weapons begets respect, then the U.S. would gain much by acting treating with Iran as a co-equal sovereign beginning tomorrow. If having nuclear weapons will stiffen American opposition to Iran, then what form would that take which is not appreciably different from what presently passes for an Iran policy?

Ultimately, one may suppose, America or Israel will put an end to Iran's nuclear program by taking out its nuclear facilities. At the start of the Iraqi invasion of Iran, in 1981 Israeli aircraft took the opportunity to bomb the Iraqi nuclear facilities south of Baghdad. Almost twenty years later, Iraq continues to seek weapons of mass destruction and there is nothing that the United States and Israel could do to stop it. In the case of an Israeli or American attack on Iranian facilities, the backlash may enflame the entire Middle East. Is that a risk worth taking?

None of these considerations weighed on the minds of the spectators at the Rose Bowl this past Sunday. In the jovial atmosphere of the day, everything even down to the result of the match was noncontroversial. The final score was even. It must have saved the peace in many a bedroom across America. Yet, as the saying goes, a tie is like kissing one's own sister: it is still a kiss but one cannot get too excited over it. The result however did underscore the lovely notion of equality between states, the most elemental principle of international relations and law and the building block of respect. Regardless, in this mind's eye, there is only one flag; the rest is just ribbon.

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