The mêlée of US-Iranian relations
May 30, 2006
I recently encountered in an editorial the rather melodramatic reading (to say the least) of President Ahmadinejad's open letter to President Bush as 'a declaration of war' - a rather trite and sanctimonious entreaty sure - but don't President Bush and Tony Blair engage in the same sort of self-righteous non-sequiturs almost every day? The political activist and commentator Tariq Ali was surely correct to describe the geopolitical malady in which we currently find ourselves, as a clash of fundamentalisms. The side of 'progress' and 'civilization' is not on one side, and 'barbarity' on the other -- this ideological construction is actually far more complicated and nuanced than many would have us believe.
The world-views of President Ahmadinejad and President Bush, at least from where I'm standing, are virtually indiscernible. The Manichean opposition between good and evil is firmly entrenched on both sides, elevated to the status of all-pervasive metaphysical entities, with each president espousing his unswerving conviction he has divine providence on his side. Just as 'we' are all 'good' and lie on the side of 'purity' and 'justice', 'they' are by definition 'evil' and have only one fate, that of eternal damnation. Neither believes he is accountable to the people he supposedly represents, and with an almost sickly self-assurance asserts he will be judged beyond time and history (this applies to Blair also).
We must break with this inordinately crude sort of dialectical thinking, which can only end in mutual destruction, and resolutely cast aside exhortations of the sort: 'you are either with us or against us!' When presented with such an ultimatum we shouldn't allow ourselves to be co-opted into the spirit of war-mongering and belligerence, and instead make a concerted effort to ensure our representatives pursue the route of engagement and dialogue.
Although it seems that a dialogue without intermediary has for the time being been put aside due to the explicit resistance of both parties, direct talks between the US and Iran could bear significant fruit. Firstly, speaking strictly in terms of US interests, it could provide greater stability for the fledgling Iraqi government, security guarantees for the US's ally Israel, through the solicitation of security guarantees and possible recognition. I'm not pulling this out of thin air.
A copy of a 2003 Iranian proposal for Iranian-Israeli peace was obtained by the Inter Press Service from Trita Parsi, a specialist on Iranian foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies -- the report entailed recognition of Israel which would also necessarily incorporate the cessation of funding for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah etc... Moreover, pressure would be applied in order to bridge the transition to a total renunciation of violence by these parties.
Of course this isn't a guarantee, Iran simply doesn't have that kind of power, but the proposal states unequivocally that Hezbollah would be pressured to forgo all paramilitary activity and become solely a political party. The official line on Israeli-Palestinian peace would also come into line with that of Egypt and Saudi Arabia (staunch American allies) i.e. the so-called Saudi initiative. This has also been attested to recently in the 'Middle East Journal' by Professor Mustafa Kibaroglu of Bilkent University.
The Iranian proposal also offered to accept tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for 'full access to peaceful nuclear technology.' It also pledges 'full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols).' In return the US would recognize the Islamic state as legitimate and lift all sanctions imposed since the revolution of 1979.
This was of course scuppered by the more extreme elements in the Bush Administration. You can I'm sure speculate for yourself the reasons why such a detente was unpalatable for that cabal of zealots: 'regime change' would have to be conclusively set aside, and therefore so would the dream of untrammelled access to Iran's oil fields, natural gas and other natural resources, not to mention the plethora of lucrative non-competitive building contracts to be handed down after Tehran's been razed to the ground.
One might say in response, 'yes' the Iranian proposal was a missed opportunity but now irrelevant because of the end of the Khatami presidency. Ahmadinejad's virulence on the matter of the Israeli occupation of Palestine incontrovertibly testifies to this. Although this is true in part, we should not be lead down the road of refusal and thereby relegate Iran to a pariah state that shouldn't be negotiated with on principle. This would be an insipid and short-sighted move.
It's illusory to believe that the threat of violence and sanctions is going to erode support for Ahmadinejad and ultimately topple the Islamic regime -- this issue for Iranians is far bigger than its current president -- it is a national goal: the goal of a nation in pursuit of autonomy and self-sufficiency, and lastly regional prestige. Anti-imperialist rhetoric can easily be brought to bear by the Iranian government in order to override and deracinate inter-ideological disputes in the face of the Western powers sabre-rattling.
The overthrow of Mosaddegh by the CIA-MI6 orchestrated coup in 1953 and the US's support for the Shah's dictatorship are almost automatic associations that come to mind for many Iranians with the US refusal to take the nuclear option off the table and the Israeli threat to undertake unilateral action against Iranian nuclear facilities as it did with Iraq in 1981.
The current US policy is achieving nothing other than resolutely destroying the reformists' position in the eyes of much of the Iranian public. It is eliding internal political differences and uniting a vast swathe of the Iranian population in a nationalist furore. It doesn't only allow the Iranian government to clamp down without compunction or outcry upon internal dissent; it also conjures up the spectre of imperial interference that has plagued Iran for the last one hundred years.
And these reactions of the Iranian public can't simply be put down to a proclivity for conspiracy theories as Western commentators so often surmise. Iranians have endured autocracy, revolution, theocracy and war; sanctions will only punish those whom least deserve it and will surely serve to undo the steady albeit not unproblematic opening of civil society, that so many men and women have suffered for in their embattled attempt to narrate their own modernity.
Continued pressure via the EU and direct US engagement instead of clinging to the vestiges of wounded pride, are the only serious options with a genuine chance of moderating the current Iranian government, boosting the reformist movement, and ensuring that Iran's nuclear technology remains solely attuned to peaceful ends. Negotiation and dialogue, in an ebb and flow of carrot and stick is the most feasible alternative for engendering the diverse voices latent within Iranian civil society and their translation into more representative institutions.
This of course is a difficult balance to strike but it is one that is most certainly worth striving for. The fact that over 100,000 Iraqi's have died in the last three years not to mention the thousands upon thousands that perished as a result of UN sanctions which antedated the invasion of Iraq should itself be sufficient for British and US policy makers to once and for all uproot the lunacy of 'regime change' or any other such insidious stratagem. Here, however, I have tried to stay clear of emphasizing the human disaster which that imperial misadventure has inaugurated and in lieu show that US engagement with Iran is the most reasonable option in terms of US interests.
Eskandar Sadeghi is an Iranian university student living the UK.