U.S. vs. Iran
War is not correct solution
December 18, 2006
The current hostile relationship between Iran and the United States is governed by a grave lack of trust rather than a logical and mutually beneficial set of policies between the two countries.
To a large extent one can isolate two historical events that have catalyzed this antagonistic posture. The first is the 1953 CIA orchestrated coup that toppled the popular and democratically elected Iranian government, and restored the authoritarian and inept government of the shah to power.
This incident resulted in a profound mistrust of America, leading to the second momentous event: the 1979 American hostage-taking, during which 52 Americans were held hostage in Iran for 444 days. Thus was laid the basis of America's mistrust of Iran.
The American support of the culpable Saddam Hussein during the bloody Iran-Iraq war and the Iranian direct or indirect involvement in anti-American terrorism further aggravated this strained relationship.
Like all revolutionary movements inspired by ideology and zeal, the Iranian revolution has lost its vehemence after 27 years of war and economic misfortune. A burgeoning and restless young population yearning for greater socio-economic and political freedoms further strains the regime.
A pragmatic and reforming grass-roots movement began in the early 1990s questioning the shortcomings of the revolutionary promises, especially with regard to democracy. A proud and nationalistic people began to inquire why a society that was amongst the pioneers in mathematics, chemistry, physics, astronomy and medicine is so far behind the modern world.
The answer they have found streams most dramatically from the Internet cafes and satellite televisions: Democracy or, for that matter, its lack. More than any other large Muslim country today, the grass-roots ideologies, foundations and institutions necessary for democracy are spontaneously budding in Iran.
The Iranian people, including a sizeable reforming clergy, have learned, through hard-earned experience, the incompatibility of religion and politics. Estimates, based on actual voting events in Iran, place the portion of the public in favor of reforms as high as 75 percent to 85 percent. This is amid the fact that the overwhelming power of the state is held by unelected conservative elements that are in direct opposition to the reformers.
The uniqueness of the Iranian political divide, however, is that it is interacting in a relatively peaceful fashion. The Islamic Republic of Iran is evolving to a Democratic Islamic Republic of Iran. This evolution is not without its ups and downs but the overall progress is evident at many levels of the society. After 27 years of turmoil, violence and war, the Iranian public has no appetite for another revolution. The forces of democracy are brewing in Iran and it is only a matter of time until they peacefully transform their political system and set precedents for the entire Muslim world.
Return of conservatives
In relation to the United States, a public opinion poll in the late 1990s showed that 75 percent of the populace is in favor of rapprochement with the United States. This is in sharp contrast to the passionate early revolutionary distrust of America.
Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, spontaneous candlelight vigils were held in Tehran commemorating the innocent lives lost in the terrorist attacks. The crowd at Tehran's main soccer stadium observed a moment of silence in respect for the victims. In the ensuing war on terrorism the reformist Iranian government of Khatami genuinely cooperated with the United States in freeing Afghanistan of the Taliban and Al-Qaida.
Needless to say, all of this popular and diplomatic good will was lost when President Bush in his February 2002 State of the Union address labeled Iran as a part of the "axis of evil." To the nationalistic Iranian people, this was an affront. In combination with the doctrine of preemption it signaled a possible American attack on Iran. Exploiting the threat of foreign aggression, the conservative elements consolidated their power, the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the president, and the reform movement has since fallen to a lull.
The current nuclear standoff between Iran and the United States and the pugnacious rhetoric between the two countries are leading to further international isolation of Iran and the buttressing of the anti-democratic conservative forces. The right to uranium enrichment for the peaceful production of nuclear energy, which is guaranteed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has become a deeply nationalistic issue cutting across the reformist-conservative divide.
A recent poll in Iran shows that 85 percent of Iranians are in favor of the nuclear energy program. Despite the sensationalism and the alarmist tone of the popular U.S. media there is no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. This has been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency as well U.S. intelligence sources, including the CIA. America's unwavering stand against the Iranian nuclear program is entirely due to mistrust and is unjustifiably leading the two countries to war.
No gain in nuclear war
Even if Iran did have a secret nuclear weapons program and were to develop nuclear weapons, history has shown that they serve only as deterrents and that many countries voluntarily give them up as their security concerns are eased. What good would an Iranian nuclear bomb be in the face of the estimated 200 Israeli nuclear warheads or the immense American nuclear arsenal?
An interesting and encouraging development is Ahmadinejad's demands for direct talks with the United States. Under Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran, this would have been unthinkable. This shows that the conservative elements in Iran are heeding the sensible cries of the pragmatic and reform-minded populace that does not want the country to be dragged into yet another conflict, let alone against the world superpower.
Based upon leaked reports there are an estimated 400 identified targets for a possible U.S. attack on Iran. These include nuclear as well as non-nuclear conventional Iranian armed forces targets. This attack would be a declaration of war.
Aside from resulting in the deaths of thousands of civilians and in radiation fallout, Iran will no doubt retaliate by attacking the U.S. forces in Iraq and inciting the Iraqi Shiites to rise against them. Contrary to the assertions of neo-conservative and Iranian "exile groups," the Iranian people will not rise against their government. The overly nationalistic Iranians will rally around the flag.
There would be no doubt then, that even if Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program now, it will have one in the future. They have had ample time to disperse the enrichment equipment and what is most important is that the expertise will survive. The reform movement will be halted in its tracks. And the cycle of hostility between Iran and the United States will resume, albeit this time with a nuclear Iran.
The nightmare scenario presented above can be avoided only if the United States engages Iran in unconditional negotiations. Recently 70 members of Congress have signed a letter, authored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, urging President Bush to "initiate direct diplomatic negotiations at the highest level with Iran."
Benefits to rapprochement
The U.S.'s quagmire in the civil unrest in Iraq, and Iran's considerable influence with the Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish elements, present another chance for the two governments to engage in diplomatic discussions. A stable Iraq is as much in Iranian interests as it is in America's.
A U.S. rapprochement with Iran will also be of considerable help to U.S. activities in Afghanistan, given the common cultural, religious and linguistic links between Iran and Afghanistan.
In the long term, there is no doubt that the forces of democracy will prevail peacefully in Iran. As Gandhi so famously said, "The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within." We must urge our government not to rush into yet another conflict that will no doubt have long-term disastrous repercussions for peace and stability in the world. Comment
The writer, a physicist and an Iranian immigrant, lives in Oakland, New Jersey. First published in Bergen Record of New Jersey.