All tied up
Reflections on the Iran-USA ball game & ballistics
January 20, 2000
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
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
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
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
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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