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Neither this nor that
Neither regime change nor a deal with US: support the protest movements



Ardeshir Mehrdad
December 2, 2005

Amitai Etzioni’s recent suggestion of “no nukes, no regime change” is improbable and unrealisticfor two reasons. First, because it ignores the essential causes of the “crisis” it proposes to contain. Second, because he bases the solution on false assumptions.

Let me initially clarify one point: Etzioni’s proposal is founded on the interests of the US government. His suggestions to try and “rationalise” Bush’s policies in its dealings with the Iranian “nuclear issue” andthe idea to curb the Iranian regime’s adventurist elements are not realistic. However, by ignoring the aims and plans of this administration, Etzioni gives them his implied support. In his equations the peoples of Iran have apparently no role, nor interests.

Undoubtedly such a proposal would be possible, only if one could imagine that the Bush administration paid any attention to the sovereign rights of the peoples of Iran while it was persuading the Iranian regime to give up its plans to acquire nuclear weapons. The issue is, however, that in the unlikely event of any such deals between the two states, irrespective of who benefits from the deal, it will not be the peoples of Iran. Why?

The US policy of giving prominence to Iran’s nuclear programme, notwithstanding all its negative consequences and its potential to create one crisis after another, is mostly an excuse to continue sabre-rattling with the clerics in power in Iran, similar to the kind of excuses that led to the war and occupation of Iraq. The fact that a nuclear Iranian regime will have greater bargaining power to use as a lever to confront direct military threats is not the same as saying the regime will be a threat to the greatest military power in the world, with its huge capacity to counter.  Nor is it plausible to think that Iran poses a real danger to the US’s regional client states. The real motive behind Bush’s insistence in dragging the Iranian regime to the Security Council and threats of economic sanctions should be sought elsewhere.

The “Iranian nuclear issue” is one of several that reflect the crisis overshadowing relations between the US governmentand the Islamic government. The US project for “regime change” in Iran is riding the nuclear issue and not vice versa. In the same way that lack of   “human rights” in Iran and the regime’s “support for terrorism” are used selectively to justify plans for “regime change”.

The crisis between the two countries is nothing more than the inability of regimes such as the Islamic Republic of Iran to adapt themselves to Bush’s “project for empire” and in particular the restructuring of the “greater Middle East”. Such regimes are not proper, or favourite candidates to become the agent for implementing the project. They cannot be trusted to engineer the kind of social and economic model that corporate globalisation needs in these countries, they are not the best agents to internalise the new world order, ensure the stability and security of capital and create the optimum conditions for all aspects of its exploitation and plunder, even though they are not in position to challenge global capital.

The US accuses a country of  “failure to adhere to international law”, “trampling democracy and human rights”,  “supporting terrorism”, “attempting to acquire nuclear weapons” only when such policies are practised by undesirable regimes.  All these accusations are true ofIsrael, Pakistan and many other countries, yet the Bush administration considers them allies.

From this perspective it would be no exaggeration to say that Etzioni’s “solution” ignores the problem. In the world as it is today a call for the US administration to sign up to a non-aggression treaty and stop its policy of regime change in Iran has no real foundation. Unless, that is, Iran’s Islamic regime not only abandons its nuclear ambitions but demonstrates that it can carry out Washington’s policies and defend its strategic, political and economic interests better, and at less cost, than any other alternative. In other words, if the regime in Iran takes over the duty of “regime change” itself. Otherwise the tensions and enmities between the two will remain unabated. 

Undoubtedly there are within the Iranian ruling factions those who would be happy to take up the deal as outlined by Etzioni. More important than all the reasons he has listed; it is because his suggestions will clearly answer their greatest preoccupation: security, national integrity and remaining in power – in other words the kind of reassurances possession of nuclear weapons might be expected to give them. Moreover, since Etzioni’s suggestion does not stop the Islamic Republic getting hold of nuclear technology, making the bomb couldbe left to a convenient future opportunity.

All evidence points to the rulers of Iran, and in particular the conservatives who have taken control of every organs of power over the past two years, using every means to achieve the above mentioned goals. Notwithstanding their anti-American rhetoric, they have redoubled their efforts to forge a “deal” with the US, especially after the recent International Atomic Energy Agency’s resolution against Iran. They have gone out of their way to show their willingness to help remove the “obstacles” the Bush administration faces in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have even gone further by preparing public opinion back home for an eventual rapprochement with the US.

Perhaps the most significant of these is the fanning of the anti-British sentiments which have been pursued by the propaganda machine of the regime in a co-ordinated fashion. Britain is being portrayed as “the most dangerous enemy” and a new “bogey”, in practice overshadowing the long-standing enmity with the US. At the very least they hope to introduce into public opinion the concept that if direct negotiations with Britain are acceptable, so should it be with America, especially if dictated by “national interests”.

Readiness to make such a “deal” is, of course, not the same as being able to see it through by: firstly, adjusting their own mobility with the speed of current developments, and second, fulfilling all the expectations of the Bush administration. Undoubtedly crossing some red lines will provoke internal crises and can cause cracks in the uneven line-up of the ruling conservatives in Iran. Decision making may become fragile.

On the other hand to rely on the “reformists” to undertake the project for “regime change” via a gradual process has even less prospects. Contrary to Etzioni’s views the reformists have little influence in shifting the political directions of the Iranian regime. As a partner in any deal they are likely to be more open and flexible, and there is indeed a tendency among them that has its eye on a gradual transformation of the ruling system.

However, currently the various reformist tendencies are isolatedin the power structure and they don’t have much support amongst the people. It is therefore truly naïve to base one’s hopes on a return to power of the reformists factions following the next elections. Moreover, all the currents that want “regime change” in Iran do not share the same goals and it is equally naïve to see them all in the service of Bush’s  “regime change project”. Indeed amongst all the many tendencies thriving to end the rule of the Islamic regime (regardless of whether by peaceful means or through a general uprising) the supporters of the neo-colonial model, the group favoured by neo-conservatives in USA, have less clout than any other section of the opposition.

Bearing these points in mind it would appear unlikely that the Bush administration will find effective allies within and outside the regime for its “regime change” project in Iran, in an acceptable time scale. It would therefore seem unlikely that the crushing of the Teheran regime would be removed from Washington’s top priority shelf, at least while the neo-cons are in power.

With the existing confrontations continuing, it is not difficult to predict the next steps in US foreign policy towards Iran: economic sanctions, low level but widespread military skirmishes and tension among the various ethnic groups living within the country’s borders. Inside Iran repression will increase and the majority of the peoples will face greater destitution and deprivation.

Yet the futility of any efforts to overcome the crisis within the limits of US interests, or within the closed circuit of its relations with the clerics ruling Iran is not the same as acceding to blind fate. We cannot observe passively the disasters lying ahead.

The way to confront this catastrophe lies in exactly the opposite direction to that outlined by Etzioni. Only when the people are the main actors, and the potentials for mass resistance are realised, that the ambitions of the clerics ruling Iran can be defeated.  What is required is the removal of the existing barriers to consciousness, to mobilisation and to organisation. This requires, above all, forcing the Islamic regime to observe political and civil rights and liberties. Bringing any pressure on this regime along this trajectory is legitimate and unquestionably vital. Regardless of what shape these pressures take, whether political or diplomatic, or whether it is support for international courts to investigate the crimes of the leaders of the regime, they can and will have decisive effects.

Outside the country, an effective and irreconcilable battle against the war mongering, domineering and colonialist policies of the US governmentis critical. In its embryonic form it is alive in the anti-war movement. It is vital to mobilise, expand and strengthen this movement’s every potential globally. The effectiveness of this force, even in its embryonic form, is probably far more effective than the bargaining powers of China and Russia and a dozen other countries put together.

From the latest issue of iran-buletin - Middle East Forum.

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