A way for the U.S. to end its isolationist policies in the
November 18, 1998
The time has come for the United States and its allies to do what in
diplomatic circles is politely called "an agonizing reappraisal."
The failure of "dual containment" in the Persian Gulf policies
of the last few years have now become apparent to everyone except the most
obstinate. Iran and Iraq have not been contained. On the contrary, both
countries have taken advantage of the emerging rivalries of the post-Cold
War era to develop economic and political ties to subvert those policies.
Russia, France, and China as well as the U. S. Arab allies are opposing
military action against a recalcitrant Iraq, while revolutionary Iran under
President Mohammad Khatami is entering into a rapprochement with Europe
and the conservative regional powers, notably Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Despite
its current reconsideration of past policies, the Clinton Administration
has not yet shown a more imaginative approach. Why is the United States
being isolated in this vital region of the world?
Fundamentally because current policies are the relic of the Cold War
in a post-Cold War world. Following World War II, the United States inherited
the mantle of hegemonic domination of the European colonial powers in this
region. By pursuing policies of opposition to communism as well as Arab
and Iranian nationalism, the United States itself became identified as
a hegemonic power. By aligning itself with conservative and dictatorial
regimes, U. S. succeeded in preventing the Soviet penetration of the region.
But it paid a high price for this success. In Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan,
and Pakistan, those policies created regional hegemonic regimes that constitute
threats to their neighbors and regional security. Before the Iranian revolution
of 1979, the twin pillars of U. S. policies were Iran and Saudi Arabia.
That led to the creation of two heavily armed regional superpowers that
were perceived as threats by other countries in the region. Those policies
also led to the unintended consequence of an Islamic revolution in Iran,
a stimulus to the spread of Islamic militancy elsewhere in the region.
With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the U. S. surrogates
of power became Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Attempting to stem the
tide of Islamic revolution, with the support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and
Western powers, Iraq attacked Iran in 1980 in a bloody war that lasted
for eight years with enormous casualties and destruction in both countries.
The war came to a standstill and a grudging peace but in the meantime,
Iraq had become the new hegemon of the region. It should have occasioned
no surprise therefore when Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, reclaiming
it as its 19th province. In a moment of enthusiasm, all of the U. N. Security
Council rallied to the United States call for driving the aggressor out
of Kuwait and subsequent subjection to economic embargo and weapons inspection.
In Afghanistan, United States made common cause with Pakistan and Saudi
Arabia to support the Islamic Mujahedin to fight a successful war against
the Soviet occupation. When the Soviets withdrew, however, Afghanistan
became a tribalized scene of conflict among rival Islamic factions. With
U. S. weapons, Saudi cash, and Pakistani military training and direction,
the Taliban are the faction that has finally taken over 90 percent of Afghan
territory. But just as in the case of Saddam Hussein, the Taliban are another
Frankenstein monster beyond the control of their creators. They constitute
a threat to ethnic peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.
If this narrative rings true, the lessons are clear. In the long run,
hegemonic policies are self-defeating. In the post-Cold War era, in which
there is no single enemy to counter, it is best for the United States and
the regional powers in the Gulf to pursue communitarian policies. That
means efforts to build a regional security community in which perceptions
of threat are reduced to a minimum by confidence building, non-aggression
pacts, arms control, and regional cooperation. In collaboration with Australian
National University, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, and
Copenhagen Peace Research Institute, the Toda Institute for Global Peace
and Policy Research is initiating a triple-track diplomatic effort to do
The first meeting of an International Commission for Gulf Security is
planned for March 6-7, 1999, in Istanbul, Turkey. Yasushi Akashi, former
UN Under-Secretary General and currently director of the Hiroshima Peace
Institute, will chair the meeting. Distinguished representatives from the
eight Gulf littoral states, the five permanent members of the Security
Council, and the UN Secretary-General's office will meet to explore ways
to build a lasting security community in the Gulf. In lieu of saber rattling,
this plan deserves the support of all realists and peace-loving people.
- Send a comment for The Iranian letters
- Send a comment to the writer, Majid