A modern geopolitical primer for Iranian expatriates
February 16, 2005
Q. What would
you do if Congress embargoes arms sales in the Persian Gulf region?
A. That would be so irresponsible that I am not even thinking
about it. But if it happens, do you think our hands are tied?
We have ten other markets to provide us with what we need. There
are people just waiting for that moment.
If you remain our friends, obviously you
will enjoy all the power and prestige of my country. But if
you try to take an unfriendly
attitude toward my country, we can hurt you as badly if not
more so than you can hurt us. Not just through oil - we can
trouble for you in the region. If you force us to change our
friendly attitude, the repercussions will be immeasurable. --
Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, U.S. News & World Report,
March 22, 1976.
Iranians in America are
starting to wake up to the palpable sense of danger facing their
homeland. This danger isn't limited to just the very real
sense of a potential physical encroachment by an outside state;
it is all the more felt, as it has been in decades past, in the
imminently humiliating context of a loss of vital state sovereignty
at the hands of larger, more aggressive powers.
made by US Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, alluding to the perceived need for confronting
Iran over its alleged nuclear activities, lack the normal "spin"
quotient accompanying much of what the Bush Administration emotes
regarding its foreign policy.
This is so because said statements
accompany reports of alleged reconnaissance missions being
flown over Iran, as well as the infiltration of Iran by US-hired
appointed intelligence operatives ranging from Mujahedin-e
Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) members, to European Union passport-carrying
business vendors, to seemingly meandering expatriots who make
a point of traveling to and from Iran annually.
For many Iranians
abroad who desire to see Iran ultimately change into an Open
Society, building feelings of anticipation, nay, elation, over
changes are mixed with and trepidation, concern and a demonstrably
justifiable sense of anxiety.
Yet what exactly is imminent? Has the Iranian community collectively
considered and consulted over the implications of any show of
violence towards, or in, Iran in this day and age? Or are we so
inebriated with a half-witted sense of anticipation over seemingly
epochal changes on the one hand, and the maddening general pace
of life in the West on the other, that world events guided by
other parties must, yet again, tragically visit themselves on
our homeland and core culture?
Are we aware of the fact that Iran
represents an increasingly valuable and indispensable pivot
point in the modern global geopolitical and economic landscape,
we, too, buy into the convenient media-issued image of Iran
as just another corrupt domino that must fall to the "democracy"
Neoconservative juggernaut which stretches from San Diego to
Washington, London and Tel Aviv?
Considering the dizzying global economic stakes that both the
US and Iran face in this day of dissipating petrochemical reserves,
shifting strategic alliances, precarious global finances, rising
regional instabilities, diverging demographic trends and mounting
environmental havoc, it is best that the expatriated descendents
of Darius, Kourosh and Cyrus the Great take adequate note of various
realities on the ground in Iran and Asia.
Oil, Trade, Leverage and Other Geopolitical Realities
Iran retains the second largest bed of natural
gas in the world and 10% of the globe's oil reserves. In a world
for energy resources have started to outpace supplies (discovered
or undiscovered) over the past few years and oil reserves are
dissipating in a scenario known as "Peak Oil" , these
are not insignificant facts.
The current leadership in Iran certainly
recognizes these facts and has reacted to them, as well as to
the political pressures placed on it from the "Coalition
of the Willing", partly by tactically positioning itself
alongside other strategically valuable powers which are in need
of vital energy resources.
Iran recently signed a $100 billion
oil and natural gas deal with China that will be reciprocated
with Chinese goods and services. China has the fastest economic
growth rate -- and thus, need for oil -- in the world.
China also retains a crucial United Nations Security Council
vote/veto, which could prove valuable to Iran should the UN be
urged to impose
widespread economic sanctions on Iran by the US, Israel or even
Iran also recently announced a strategically crucial $40 billion
natural gas deal with India that garnered the blessings of China,
Japan and South Korea. Such a project would ultimately necessitate
a pipeline to be built across India's arch-rival nation
of Pakistan. Iranian-Pakistani relations have strengthened after
the fall of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan and frequent
reciprocal visits have been made by senior officials.
in very preliminary stages, this deal in part reflects Tehran's
growing diplomatic ambitions -- through energy sharing, Iran
could link these two historic enemies' economic interests. The
US naturally opposes such a deal and is pressuring both Pakistan
and India to reject it. According to the Asia Times, such a
if implemented, would also "foreclose whatever prospects
remain of the revival of the trans-Afghan pipeline project,
which many still see as a raison d'etre of the US intervention
Pakistan's current alliance with the US, such economic and
diplomatic actions by Iran present the possibility that, were
the US or Israel to attack Iran, they would further alienate
Iran's Muslim neighbor to the east from the US by drawing the
street's sympathies, pressuring Musharraf and threatening
Pakistan's client-state status for the West.
To Iran's northeast is Russia, which has been collaborating
with Iran in oil and natural gas production, nuclear energy, civic
infrastructure and transportation development. The increasingly
(and justifiably) paranoid and power consolidating Vladimir Putin
is fighting off US and Israeli assertions on Russia's inherent
energy riches with actions ranging from the jailing of ambitious
American-Israeli leaning oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky , to
trying to deflect the possibility of a strategic loss of Ukraine
from Russia's sphere of influence (thus far, Putin has batted
.500 over these two goals).
With US overtures towards Eastern
Europe, the foreign-assisted procurement of a US-friendly government
in Ukraine , meddling in Kiev, as well as US Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld's recent visits to the former Soviet states
near the Caspian Sea , it is safe to say that Moscow is not
about to lose Iran as well to the US, UK and Israel.
Some modern history is in order with regard to the US, Russia
and Iran. In 1978 and 1979, the Shah of Iran initially faced increasing
pressures from a restless population and eventually, a mass revolt
that ousted him and seized the US Embassy. An itchy Carter Administration
wished at one point to use outright force to put down the Iranian
insurrection. The US hesitated and finally refrained from doing
so, due in large part to heavy admonitions from Soviet Premiere
Leonid Brezhnev, who claimed that US intrusion into Iran would
be received as an act of aggression against the Soviet Union's
According to author Larry Everest, Brezhnev "warned
the US that ‘any interference, especially military, in the
affairs of Iran, a state which directly borders the Soviet Union,
would be regarded as affecting its own security,' thereby
raising the specter that the Soviets could invoke the 1921 treaty
giving them the right to move troops into Iran in the event of
foreign armed intervention. The US replied that it would not interfere,
weakening the Shah's regime and bolstering its opponents." Tensions
between the US and the Soviets continued into 1980, during and
after the failed hostage rescue mission that was attempted by
the Carter Administration.
The same sentiments emanate from a steely-eyed Moscow today,
with Duma member and Head of Iran-Russia Parliamentary Friendship
Committee Youri Savilov stating last year that the "threats
by the U.S. and Israel against Iran contravene international law",
and announcing that "Moscow and Tehran have recently signed
a 10-year economic cooperation agreement." Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov also recently praised "prospects
for Russian-Iranian relations. Iran is our neighbor and our traditional
For the sake of at least political fluency, Iranian expatriots
must awaken to the fact that the various powers surrounding Iran,
including China, Pakistan, India and certainly Russia, are against
US / Israeli attempts at an overt attack, invasion or covert regime
change in Iran. Some of these powers may therefore understandably
react under such circumstances to protect their own growing strategic
and economic interests in Iran.
The Wider Picture, The Larger Stakes
The US and Israel desire immediate regime
change in Iran. They claim that, due to Iran's history of supporting
its meddling in Iraq's current state of affairs, and its
ambitions to develop nuclear weapons, that ideally Iran and the
world would benefit from a change in government. Yet why now are
these powers so adamant about regime change in Iran, versus during
the 1990s or even before that?
The answer may lie behind the fact
that they realize, as does the rest of the world, that Iran
is ambitiously seeking to assist in the sweeping yet controversial
reordering of global energy pricing and trading rules that is
now in procession. Iran's perceived need to defend itself
would then be triggered, in turn, by threats against its sovereign
right for seeking such tectonically sweeping economic ambitions.
Certainly, the prime reasons stated in the press for the US
to confront Iran involve the possibility that Iran is developing
a nuclear arsenal. Although the Iranian government, as well as
the Russian government which is largely responsible for the materiel
sold to Iran, deny that such nuclear intentions exist, any nation
in Iran's surrounded and threatened condition would be acting
irrationally if it weren't seeking to develop a viable deterrent
against foreign aggressions. So, regardless of any or our particular
political leanings or beliefs and for the sake of argument, let
us assume that Iran is indeed developing an atomic weapon.
Said powers who have signed massive energy deals with Iran,
or who have concurred with such economic agreements, have done
so with the hope of eventually altering or overturning the longstanding
US petro-dollar hegemony that has had large energy producing nations
over a barrel for decades (so to speak).
access to abundant flows of oil underwrites modern capitalism.
However, there is a widely held perception that a global energy
crisis is approaching due to dissipating oil and gas resources
and exponentially rising demand for said resources. Additionally,
the areas with the largest deposits of petrochemicals and hydrocarbons
on earth have also been some of the most politically unstable.
Under such a combined scenario of increasing resource scarcity
as well as political instabilities surrounding oil-rich regions
of the earth, nations with military might will expectedly
assert themselves and their economic agendas -- the US being
prime example of this phenomenon. American authors and investment
advisors Stephen and Donna Leeb recently outlined the relationship
between oil, capitalism and the need for military might in
a much more candid manner than either the mainstream American
or certainly the Bush Administration, have done:
As worldwide oil supplies grow scarcer, and as large areas
of the world, such as China, continue to industrialize, meaning
they become ever more avid consumers of energy, countries will
with one another to buy the oil their economies require. This
is a big change, and countries that have no means of throwing
their weight around will lose out. For the U.S., military
is the ace in the hole that will ensure that we have access
to diminishing supplies of oil - that our allocations receive
treatment from oil producers....
If all we had to worry about were essentially political crises,
we could maintain and upgrade our military capability at a relatively
moderate level and still have the power and flexibility we need.
It's the looming energy crisis that suggest we will need to
build up our defenses at an accelerated pace....
To understand why energy and defense are so closely linked,
consider the fact that almost all the oil in the world is produced
in economically underdeveloped and hence intrinsically unstable
countries. We're not talking only about Middle Eastern oil producers,
thought they obviously fit the bill. We're also thinking of
such countries as Venezuela and Nigeria. In other words, our
lifeblood depends on an assortment of volatile countries with
relatively immature economies....
The U.S. will need the ability to intervene militarily, or
to plausibly threaten to do so, in the event of any major disruption
in any oil-producing country....
To the extent that [the oil producers'] economies become more
developed, they will need to use more oil themselves, and the
amount of oil they are willing to export will shrink. It's not
inconceivable that at some point we'll be implicitly relying
on overwhelming military might to ensure that they continue
what we need.
[Stephen and Donna Leeb, The Oil Factor: Protect Yourself
and Profit from the Coming Energy Crisis Pages 161-164,
Time Warner Book Group (copyright 2004)]
An astonishing level of clarity is provided here,
all the more so because this information is written in an
investment guide rather than a book written on political, economic
issues, per say. Such an energy-focused bottom line was given
as well a few years ago by former CIA agent and advisor to
President Clinton, Kenneth Pollack:
"It's the Oil, Stupid - The reason the United States
has a legitimate and critical interest in seeing that Persian
Gulf oil continues to flow copiously and relatively cheaply
is simply that the global economy built over the last 50 years
on a foundation of inexpensive, plentiful oil, and if that
foundation were removed, the global economy would collapse."
Further proof of the dissipating state of global oil came in
a report submitted on behalf of former Secretary of State under
George H.W. Bush, James Baker: "[T]he world is currently
precariously close to utilizing all of its available global
oil production capacity, raising the chances of an oil supply
with more substantial consequences than seen in three decades."
So, be that as it may, it is undeniable that the US has invaded
and occupied Iraq due to its core energy and strategic interests,
rather than for the reasons stated by the Bush Administration.
Anyone still in doubt over this reality should consult the same
US government appointed mid-2001 energy task force report quoted
above on the dangers of a then increasingly wily Saddam Hussein:
[Tight oil] markets have increased US and global vulnerability
to disruption and provided adversaries undue potential influence
over the price of oil. Iraq has become a key 'swing' producer,
posing a difficult situation for the US government ... Iraq
remains a de-stabilizing influence to ... the flow of oil to
markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated
a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his
own export programme to manipulate oil markets. [Strategic
Energy Policy Challenges For the 21st Century, Report of an Independent
Task Force, Sponsored by the James A. Baker Institute for Public
Policy. Emphasis mine]
Saddam Hussein switched his energy trading currency standard
from dollars to euros as early as 1999, finally solidifying the
arrangement in 2002. He thereby sealed his fate with the US and
its "coalition", who wished to send a stern warning
to any other energy producer, OPEC member or otherwise, that such
manipulation with the longstanding petro-dollar arrangement would
be met with staunch resistance by the US.
However, not all of the other large energy producers, and certainly
not Iran, are as politically fragmented and economically dilapidated
as was Iraq after it sustained two decades of sanctions and war.
OPEC member Venezuela has also committed to such a currency move,
expectedly drawing the ire of the US. Further, according to the
Financial Times of London, Venezuela very recently enrolled Iran,
its "closest ally in OPEC", in accelerating "a
strategy to steer its oil exports to China and away from its traditional
market of the US."
There are massive global economic stakes behind Iran's
future economic direction and who will ultimately govern it. The
US wishes to prevent Tehran from setting an energy course of its
own accord. Period. It ultimately does not matter to the US government
what form of regime occupies Tehran as long as Iran does not run
counter to America's energy and strategic interests. Despite
decades of following this edict tacitly, the US officially codified
it in 1980 with the Carter Doctrine which declared, in response
to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Revolution in
Iran, that the secure flow of Persian Gulf oil and natural gas
was in "the vital interests of the United States of America." In
protecting such interests, the US would use "any means necessary,
including military force."
By signing sweeping energy deals with larger Asian nations,
as well as joining a widening global consensus that is leaning
away from default US dollar hegemony, Iran is once again attempting
to set its own economic course. This course in large part results
from Iran's Nationalistic instincts, as it had in the 1950s
and mid 1970s, yet also reflects a necessarily evolving sense
of global economic interdependency and cooperation against the
backdrop of falling global oil supplies and skyrocketing demand
for those supplies. As stated recently in the Asia Times:
The drive for resources is occurring in a world where alliances
are shifting among major oil-producing and consuming nations.
A kind of post-Cold War global lineup against perceived US hegemony
seems to be in the earliest stages of formation, possibly including
Brazil, China India, Iran, Russia and Venezuela. Russian President
Vladimir Putin's riposte to a US strategy of building up
its military presence in some of the former [Soviet Socialist
Republic nation-states] has been to ally the Russian and Iranian
oil industries, organize large-scale joint war games with the
Chinese military, and work toward the goal of opening up the
shortest, cheapest, and potentially most lucrative new oil route
southward out of the Caspian Sea area to Iran. In the meantime,
the European Union is now negotiating to drop its ban on arms
shipments to China (much to the publicly expressed chagrin of
the Pentagon). Russia has also offered a stake in its recently
nationalized Yukos (a leading, pro-Western Russian oil company
forced into bankruptcy by the Putin government) to China.
[Michael T. Klare, The oil that drives the US military, Asia Times online, 10.09.04.]
With this wider picture of Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan, Indian,
Pakistani and even European symbiotic involvement in Iran's
economic and diplomatic ambitions, one wonders if the US plans
to, or even can, use such implied means in defending its energy
interests in the manner outlined by both the Carter Doctrine as
well as by the half-century of general US strategic policy in
the Middle East.
A significant portion of US interests involve
keeping the pricing and trading of energy resources, and thus
the functioning of the general global economy, anchored to the
US dollar standard. Indeed, the stakes have never been higher
for the US economically, or for the world. America's massive
and growing account and trade deficits, along with its Himalayan-sized
national debt totaling $7.6 trillion , threaten its economy, the
global economy, and certainly the dollar's global reserve
currency role. "Never before has the guardian of the world's
main reserve currency been its biggest net debtor," proclaimed
The Economist recently.
As a result of these
systemic fiscal predicaments, the US Federal Reserve is cornered
and limited in its choice of actions with regard to available
monetary and fiscal policies. The dollar is dropping in value
against other currencies because the US has no other choice
-- it must devalue its currency, while concurrently raising interest
rates, in order to spark foreign demand for its products while
simultaneously preventing a flight on the dollar by foreign
banks (who have overwhelmingly replaced foreign private investors
as the main purchasers of US Treasury bonds over the past four
years). The US finances its deficits by issuing credit to such
an extent that a credit bubble is forming, posing grave deflationary
pressures for the global economic system which is (thus far)
so dependent on the US economy.
How is this wider, increasingly dismal economic picture related
to America's policy towards Iran? Answer: Again, safe, predictable
access to (read: control of), global petroleum and natural gas
reserves underwrite US dollar hegemony. Oil is the final arbiter
for the health of global capitalism -- a system that, despite
US Monetarist and market fundamentalist proclamations of unlimited
abundances and unhindered fiscal freedoms, is actually quite limited
by stubbornly tangible manifestations of resource scarcity.
sitting on massive reserves of oil and natural gas, recognizes
this reality, as do the nations Iran is signing energy and cooperation
contracts with (be they tight US allies such as India, or not,
such as Venezuela under Hugo Chavez). Thus, in many fundamental
ways, the United States is much more dependent upon Iran than
the other way around. Should Iran proceed with the collective
nations' plan of prying OPEC away from the dollar standard,
something the cartel is increasingly doing on its own anyway,
this could prove disastrous to US driven market fundamentalism
and the dollar as the world's fiat currency, let alone the
obscenely over-leveraged US economy itself.
With the stakes so
catastrophically high, it is not hard to see why the US and Israel
will stop at nothing to unravel Iran, however much potential death
and destruction such an action would bring about in Iran. The
fight will thus not be for "Democracy in Iran", but
for US strategic interests, as it has been for over fifty years.
The battle will not only be against Iran's ultimate ability
to sustainably determine its own economic destiny, but against
the aforementioned global economic inertia away from a fiscally
and imperially overstretched sense of American economic and military
predominance. These are the ultimate stakes; this is the abject
reality all Iranians must face in today's tense world.
Iranians in the West are naturally against the theocratic regime
that has autocratically run Iran for over a generation -- so
much so that they are blinded to the wider, unprecedented geopolitical
and global economic picture in which Iran plays an increasingly
central part. Considering such tense stakes, Iran's inherent
Nationalism, as well as how interdependent Iran's economy
has become with those of China, India, Russia, Venezuela, the
European Union and other nations, it is not inaccurate to sense
that any show of force against Iran could be the modern equivalent
of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914.
Iranians in the West, however much they oppose the Islamic Republic,
overwhelmingly reject the option of force against Iran. Iranians
everywhere also recognize, and largely concur with, the widespread
ambition of Iran to arm itself adequately against ever again
being turned into anyone's client-state, which has been a role
assigned by larger industrial powers onto energy-resource-rich
nations in the developing world for decades (a role that seems
to keep said nations in a perpetually "developing",
rather than "developed", state). Such Iranian ambitions
existed in the early 1970s as well. In fact, the coy language
of the late Shah of Iran at that period did not differ significantly
with regard to the need and use of Iranian nuclear energy than
it does today:
Q: Do you plan to buy nuclear power plants, even a nuclear fuel
reprocessing plant, from the US?
A: I intend certainly to buy nuclear plants from the U.S. if
they are competitive with those offered by France and Germany.
On reprocessing [plants], not yet, because it is only economical
if you process large amounts. Maybe one day we shall have
so many atomic plants that we will have to do that in our own
But don't forget that we signed the non-proliferation treaty,
when we sign something we feel obligated to it. [Mohammad-Reza
Shah Pahlavi, U.S. News & World Report, March 22,
The Core Issue
for Iranians worldwide
Iranians must realize where the world is going economically,
acknowledge Iran's pivotal positioning in such unprecedented
changes, recall with sobriety Iran's modern history vis-à-vis
its role as a major energy producer, and then decide what's
best for Iran -- including what's best for Iranian
relations with the West.
Ultimately, when presented with the true
gravity of the situation facing their homeland, Iranians from
Westwood to London to Sydney will match in word and deed the
Nationalism of the bright, hungry and aware Iranian youth in Tehran
who realize what the stakes represent for Iran and the world.
True Iranians who show fidelity towards the enduring grandeur
will speak through one Nationalistic Aryan voice.
that said, it is best if the Iranians in the West start early
down this path and remove any blinders or preconceived notions
they may retain regarding the bottom-line positions, stated or
unstated, for the US, UK and Israel on Iran. The past demonstrably
serves as prologue on this matter.
Author is a concerned Iranian expatriot living
in the West.