Friday, December 25, 2009

Teaching Iran a Lesson

Washington believes pressure is the way to get what it wants from Iran…and the effect so far?

Washington grandly threatens to cut off gasoline supplies. Tehran has responded to this threat by carrying out an experiment to temporarily raise gasoline production, which may or may not work of course but will certainly give Iranian leaders ideas and teach them valuable technical lessons. Washington is training Iran, whose economic abilities are minimal, to get its economic house in order.

Iran also has significant diplomatic weaknesses. Curiously, Tehran has made great use of extremist rhetoric, though it is not at all clear why they should copy the practice of their main adversaries, the U.S. and Israel. Iran has also sent arms freely to its friends, again copying the behavior of its adversaries. Everyone sends arms to their friends; Western criticism of Iran for so doing is purely hypocritical. But Iran’s awkwardness in combining “playing rough” with positive inducements has for decades undermined its quest for influence. Ahmadinejad’s failure to give Erdogan something to work with in recent weeks, embarrassing an innovative and important regional figure who has been trying to make a place in the regional china shop for the Iranian bull.

Now, under Washington’s harsh tutelage, Tehran seems to be learning a more sophisticated strategy – negotiation, courtesy, and inducements.

Iran & Egypt.

On December 20, Iranian Parliamentary Speaker and key national security decision-maker Ali Larijani held a notable two-hour meeting with Egyptian dictator Mubarak in which the two discussed, among other subjects, “regional matters.” Larijani’s summary remarks suggested significant progress in formerly cold Iranian-Egyptian relations, claiming:

There may be differing views in [sic] tactics (over Israel) between Iran and Egypt but the strategies of the two countries are not different.

Whether Iranian bravado or the sign of a real breakthrough, these are the highest level bilateral public talks in a generation, and Mubarak’s lengthy participation with an Iranian whom he greatly outranks sends a signal that perhaps he too is learning a lesson or two, regardless of what he says publicly.

Coming only a month after Ahmadinejad’s friendly visit to Turkey, in the wake of a sustained effort to make friends in the Gulf, and in the broader context of Iran’s profound influence courtesy of George Bush over now-Shi’ite-run Iraq, Larijani’s cordial visit to Cairo takes on greater significance.

A test of Mubarak’s true attitude is before him at this very moment: whether or not he will allow the Viva Palestina humanitarian aid convoy into Gaza. Building a steel underground wall with the U.S. to prevent smuggling into Gaza plus cooperating with the global pro-Palestinian movement by allowing the aid convoy on the surface to combat the utterly immoral Israeli collective punishment campaign would constitute a nicely neutral Egyptian position; let’s see if Mubarak can design such a finely balanced policy!

Meanwhile, others are also learning lessons.

Iran & Turkey.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu made it clear that Turkey has already learned the lesson that it must take the initiative to bring the region back to some semblance of sanity back in October, saying:

If something goes wrong, as a leading country in the region, we cannot remain silent…. We will not let civilians die in the region. We will do everything we are capable of doing.

Iran & Syria.

Syria too is learning lessons.

In a blunt indictment of Israel, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad just stated at a joint press conference with Erdogan:

Israel is the main cause for the deadlock in peace. The Israelis want negotiations devoid of principles, that is to say endless talks….We now want [Turkish] mediation more than ever.

That Syria is learning the lesson that it needs Turkish support to deal with Israel because Washington’s bias prevents the last remaining superpower from mounting its natural pedestal as honest mediator is made doubly significant in the context of the lesson Turkey has learned that it, despite being a U.S. ally, also cannot rely on the U.S. when it comes to ensuring regional stability.

In case anyone might make the mistake of thinking that the improvement in Turkish-Syrian ties is only a minor bilateral process, the official declaration at the conclusion of this week’s Turkish-Syrian cooperation council meeting noted that:

Turkey and Syria agree to clear the region from [sic] nuclear weapons and call for a diplomatic solution of the problem over Iran's nuclear program.

As Iran moves to strengthen its weak ties with its neighbors, turning--albeit haltingly--the neo-con attitude that "if you are not with us, you are against us" on its face with the much more sophisticated new (for Iran) policy of "if you are not against us, you are with us), Syrian rapprochement with an increasingly moderate, center-of-the-road Turkey only puts on a firmer foundation a Syrian-Iranian relationship that might otherwise come to be seen in Damascus as a highly dangerous adventure.

Iran & Lebanon.

It is also worth noting that “Washington’s man in Lebanon” has recently been in Syria. Let’s see; if Syria backs both Hezbollah and the anti-Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, then what exactly is Washington’s role to be?

Firas Azmeh gave the following concise summary of the significance of Hariri’s pilgrimage to Damascus:

To secure Damascus’ support, Hariri will have to commit to some core values that are key to Syria: Re-affirming Lebanon’s Arab identity, securing an unambiguous position vis-à-vis the conflict with Israel, supporting the resistance (i.e. Hezbollah) and committing to a distinguished relationship with Syria. From Syria’s perspective, all other issues may be negotiated.

Teaching Washington a Lesson.

In sum, Washington is provoking an impressive degree of instability in Mideast affairs as the various countries—both U.S. allies and antagonists—learn lesson after lesson about how to manage the heavy-handed intrusion of the world’s last superpower. That instability is, however, not paving the way for a rise in U.S. influence; quite the contrary. Antagonists are learning to strengthen themselves domestically and make alliances internationally. Allies are learning that a violence-prone America is not the friend it might have seemed during the Cold War. So both allies and antagonists are learning to work together to protect themselves from an increasingly dangerous level of regional instability provoked by Washington.

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