Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pakistan & Iran: Two Very Different Crises

The world now faces two political crises simultaneously demanding resolution: Iran and Pakistan. Each crisis deals with an Islamic country that has for years, not coincidentally, been under extreme pressure from the West to alter its policies, and each country is in a region where an Islamic political fault line appears to be emerging that could generate a single crisis stretching from South Asia to the Horn of Africa. Nevertheless, a fundamental distinction between the Pakistani and Iranian crises needs to be kept in mind.

Pakistan is a genuine crisis, in which a nuclear state is sliding toward political collapse. The Taliban which Pakistan worked so hard to create as a proxy to extend the influence of the ruling Punjabi military elite into Afghanistan is now morphing into a domestic Pakistani rebellion of Pashtuns—not just against the middle class but against that very military elite. Musharraf’s curious coup against his own dictatorship directly attacked the middle class, further alienating the moderate, pro-democratic middle. Islamic feeling that has for years been spreading within the military raises real questions about the attitude toward nuclear weapons and the West and liberal, Western democracy on the part of whichever general may eventually take over from Musharraf. Whatever role the US may have had over the years in pushing Pakistan into this situation, there is at this point no way that the US can simply snap its fingers and eliminate the crisis: it is real.

Iran is a made-up crisis. It is a crisis because Tel Aviv and Washington treat it as a crisis and threaten to use “all options” to resolve it. The voluntary use of nuclear weapons within the Earth’s biosphere is the ultimate crime against humanity. When nuclear powers threaten to use “all options,” a crisis exists, by definition. End that threat and you end the crisis.

Of course, the problems in US/Israeli relations with Iran would not end. There are all sorts of perfectly real problems:

  • The US and Iran both want to dominate the Persian Gulf.
  • The US wants to maximize its control over sources of oil.
  • The US wants the dollar to be the official currency for the global oil market; Iran prefers the Euro.
  • Many powerful Israeli and U.S. politicians (though by no means all the thinkers in either country) want Israel to continue to be the unchallenged (and nuclear) superpower of the Mideast; Iran does not.
  • The Administration apparently wants to retain complete control over Iraq; Iran wants to see the U.S. depart quickly, leaving Iran comfortably cosy with its long-time Shi’ite allies, who are now running the Iraqi government.

But problems are not crises. Problems are the normal issues of life that require measured, thoughtful attention, mutual willingness to listen, and—almost certainly—genuine efforts to reach creative compromise. Crises may require all of this but have an unplanned immediacy that gives them a very different and far more dangerous short-term nature. The two need to be distinguished. Global political affairs are fully dangerous enough as it is. Pretending that a problem is a crisis is not just an amateurish mistake…it’s irresponsible.

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