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 create 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.
Recent statements 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 regularly 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 or 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 impending 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, or do we, too, buy into the convenient media-issued image of Iran as just another corrupt domino that must fall to the “democracy” exporting 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 where demand 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 European states.
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.
Although 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 deal, 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 in Afghanistan.”
Despite 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 Karachi 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 interests.
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 partner.”
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 terrorism, 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).
Arguably, unhindered 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 the 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 press, 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 be competing 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 might is the ace in the hole that will ensure that we have access to diminishing supplies of oil – that our allocations receive favorable 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 economy's 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 to export 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 or strategic 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 rests 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 crisis 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 international 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 of all, 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 central 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.
Iran, 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.
Expectedly, 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 country. But don't forget that we signed the non-proliferation treaty, and when we sign something we feel obligated to it. [Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, U.S. News & World Report, March 22, 1976.]
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 — those who realize what the stakes represent for Iran and the world. True Iranians who show fidelity towards the enduring grandeur of Pars will speak through one Nationalistic Aryan voice.
With 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. [Text with references]
Author is a concerned Iranian expatriot living in the West.