Monday, May 31, 2010

Iran's Opportunity

 If Tehran plays correctly the valuable card in its hand, it has the opportunity to weaken U.S. control over the international political system at the same time that it enhances both its security and its prestige.

The unseemly haste of the Obama Administration--after Turkey and Brazil persuaded Iran to compromise--to reaffirm Washington's "neo-con-light" policy of pressuring Iran into a humiliating submission rather than incrementally negotiating a new arrangement allowing both sides to claim partial success has given rise to the sense that America's superpower status is being upset. With America's claim to moral leadership shattered on the rocks of its post-9/11 hostility toward Muslims and its coddling of right-wing Israeli expansionists, its enduring military superiority nevertheless proving to be a crude and ineffective tool for achieving anything beyond destruction, and its policy-making process on all fronts (security, finance, health care, and environment) unimaginative if not self-defeating, the door is clearly open for a restructuring of the international political system.
But no obvious candidate for new leader stands waiting on the edge of the stage. No country in the world has the combination of leadership and power to replace the U.S. The question that remains, then, is whether or not a new coalition of states can overcome the obvious obstacles to stable leadership inherent in any coalition and emerge as the driving force of new thinking.
The only obvious set of candidates is a group of states with gross differences of ideology and goals who nevertheless share common concerns about the threat of a nuclear conflict against Iran. Despite their dedication, Erdogan and Lula can hardly constitute a viable coalition by themselves, and Iran remains more a problem to be resolved than a helpful partner. But if Ankara and Brazilia can persuade Tehran to follow a conciliatory line, might Moscow and Beijing decide this was a bandwagon worth riding?
So far, Tehran has shown little willingness to offer Moscow and Beijing anything in return for their help, making it hard for either capital to resist American persuasion. But Tehran could get much for compromising only a little bit more. Having already agreed to trade low- for medium-enriched uranium, it could surely agree to give up further domestic enrichment to the medical (medium) grade once it was provided with a foreign source. Tehran could also surely take some steps to persuade the IAEA that it was being fully transparent. This would in turn provide cover for Moscow and Beijing to call for a compromise solution and put their money where their mouth is by:
  1. flatly stating that they will veto any further sanctions as long as Iran meets its obligations;
  2. providing Iran with defensive missiles;
  3. urging the IAEA to lay out precise conditions Iran would have to meet to be considered fully compliant with demands for nuclear transparency;
  4. calling for the cancellation of all anti-Iranian sanctions as soon as the IAEA states it is so satisfied;
  5. focusing attention on the new plans to pursue the vision of a nuclear-free Mideast adopted by the NPT Conference.
Such a deal would require no concessions of anything Iran already has while enhancing Iran's national security. This deal would also enhance the security of Israel by making it more difficult for Iran to move further in the direction of militarization. The deal would enhance the security of the U.S., not just by the obvious reduction in the likelihood of war, but also by facilitating bilateral talks with Iran on other issues of interest to the U.S., such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Washington could certainly recognize a good thing and make this policy its own, but if instead it remained insistent on opposing such a compromise, the result could be the emergence of a bloc with sufficient diplomatic, military, and financial clout to redesign Mideast politics.
Is there any evidence that Beijing or Moscow might be interested?
Writing in Xinhua ("Iran deserves a break") on 5/2910, Zhai Dequan, deputy secretary general of China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, hinted that Beijing may indeed be thinking along these lines:
The recent tripartite agreement on nuclear-material swapping among Iran, Turkey and Brazil shows that influential countries other than major Western powers have started helping resolve sensitive global issues.
Such efforts should be applauded and encouraged, especially because last year, US President Barack Obama said that instead of depending on America alone, other countries, too, should try and resolve world issues.
Continuing from this delicate description of a non-American but not anti-American initiative, Zhai turned to the specifics of the situation at the moment:
Since the situation has changed, pre-planned punitive actions, too, should be altered accordingly, meaning there is no longer any rationality in imposing further sanctions on Iran".
Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and blocking their channels of delivery is our common objective, but we should achieve it through justice, legality, equality and rationality.
The very next day, Xinhua reported extensively on remarks made by Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani in an article which ended by quoting Larijani saying that when policy does not work, "The logical solution is to find a new way." A report of a new Chinese loan to Iran the same day (May 29) furthers the impression that China will oppose a new round of sanctions at this time.
Tehran seems to have a real opportunity to enhance its position, but trying to have its cake and eat it too by trading for medium-grade uranium from the West even while it continues enriching more domestically may be biting off more than it can chew. Such Iranian behavior does indeed give the impression, as Secretary Clinton has stressed, that Tehran is trying to trick Ankara and Brasilia. A new global center of moderate, flexible policy leadership could be emerging that would leave Iran in a far better position even while calming tensions and lessening the chance of war in a way that would be good for the West as well. But Iran can easily throw away its opportunity. Indeed, the public recriminations now unfolding between Tehran and Moscow are already revealing the delicacy of the current situation.
As in certain other countries, some Iranian politicians seem to relish the global stage they stride more than their own country's national security. To the degree that Iranians genuinely want to reform the international political system, they now have a chance to be part of a broad movement with hope of achieving such reforms. But Iran will have to place the common interests of the emerging reform coalition ahead of certain specifically Iranian goals that may not resonate with their new prospective partners in order for this glimmer of a joint movement to take form and accomplish something.
The agreement with Turkey and Brazil gives Iran an honorable route to compromise...without kowtowing to the U.S. or Israel. Before, Iran was offered only humiliating, one-sided submission to Washington, but now it can play the role of peace-maker by cooperating with the spirit of its new agreement.
Iran has no hope of catching up to Israel in nuclear terms, so the possession of nuclear weapons will only undermine Iranian security. But Iranian nuclear ambiguity is a valuable card that can now be traded for real enhancement in its national security and international prestige, not to mention gaining it significant economic and technological benefits. Iran's road to regional leadership lies not through worrying those from Saudi Arabia to Israel who are concerned about their own national security; it lies not through baiting all the West's extremists, who have repeatedly shown in recent years what they are capable of.
The road to Iranian national security lies through giving up its policy of nuclear ambiguity and its program to enrich uranium past the low levels required for electricity generation in return for membership in a broad coalition of disparate states, all of whom agree that A) members of the NPT have the right to refine uranium and B) nuclear war is something to be avoided. Beyond the numerous immediate benefits to Iran of such a course, it would launch a process of reforming the rigid international political system by spurring the emergence of a moderate middle group of countries that want to replace the hierarchical structure of the global political system under Washington's leadership with a more networked system that facilitates foreign policy independence. This is an outcome Tehran should be able to live with.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Le Paradigme Modérés-Militants

The White House remains, nine years after 9/11, mired in the false paradigm that the Mideast is divided neatly into two opposing camps - "good" moderates vs. "bad" militants, which is exactly why Washington should start listening to the real moderates such as Erdogan and Lula.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Vice and Virtue

Talk about "vice" and "virtue" is just trouble-making. When you are part of a team, your duty is to "be a team player."

Spain in this generation is a fine democracy led by a moderate regime, a place open-minded Americans (Americans not yet addicted to empire) may look up to as something of a model, but today Spain's most famous judge--Baltasar Garzon--is being taken to trial with the threat of being jailed essentially for the rest of his life because he is challenging the Spanish conspiracy to pretend that fascism never existed in that land [Vicky Short, "Judge Baltasar Garzon suspended for investigating Franco's crimes," World Socialist Website 5/27/10].

The case is causing consternation both in Spain and abroad, mainly because it was brought by three ultra right-wing organizations. Among these were the Falange Española, the Fascist party once presided over by Franco himself -- whose military coup of 1936 sparked the bloody, three-year Spanish Civil War, and culminated in a long dictatorship that ended only with his death in 1975. Historians estimate that Franco's postwar reprisals cost the lives of 100,000 people.

Garzón's many supporters have responded to the case with dismay, moved by its outrageous symmetry: a highly respected judge brought to trial, for attempting to try crimes, on an accusation by the disciples of the regime that perpetrated those crimes in the first place.
[Julius Purcell, "Baltasar Garzon, "General Franco's latest victim," The  5/29/10]

In the U.S. today not one former official is on trial for having lied about the reasons for launching a war of aggression, not one person is being forced in court to justify advocating "preventive" war, not one official is being called to account for supporting death squads, not one official is being tried for undermining constitutional guarantees of civil liberties, not one is facing a hearing for attacking a city or providing arms to a state practicing collective punishment against an ethnic minority or a class of poor farmers sitting on land needed by rich cattle barons., not one has even been fired for advocating nuclear war against a non-nuclear country. Hardly a single judicial action exists today against those who cut corners and gambled with the existence of the Gulf of Mexico as a biosphere; hardly a single judicial action is investigating the possible criminal behavior of individuals whose financial gambles put millions out of work and certainly none are hauling to court officials who passed laws designed to facilitate those gambles or officials whose job it was to regulate the gamblers.

There is nothing new about this dilemma.

From the most ancient times justice has been a two-part concept: virtue triumphs, and vice is punished.

We have been fortunate enough to live to a time when virtue, though it does not triumph, is nonetheless not always tormented by attack dogs. Beaten down, sickly, virtue has now been allowed to enter in all its tatters and sit in the corner, as long as it doesn't raise its voice.

However, no one dares say a word about vice...."Why open old wounds?"....

What kind of disastrous path lies ahead of us if we do not have the chance to purge ourselves of that putrefaction rotting inside our body?...

What are we to do? Someday our descendants will describe our several generations as generations of driveling do-nothings. First we submissively allowed them to massacre us by the millions, and then with devoted concern we tended the murderers in their prosperous old age....

But let us be generous. We will not shoot them....But for the sake of our country and our children we have the duty to seek them all out and bring them all to trial! Not to put them on trial so much as their crimes....

It is unthinkable in the twentieth century to fail to distinguish between what constitutes an abominable atrocity that must be prosecuted and what constitutes that "past" which "ought not to be stirred up."

We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right to oppress others. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations. [Aleksandr SolzhenitsNY: Harper Perennial, 2007, 175-178)]

Meanwhile back in the West, heroic nuclear whistleblower Moredechai Vannunu is going back to jail; his 18-year sentence was not enough. In the U.S., Wall Street fraud-investigating whistleblowers ["Silencing the whistleblowers," Democracy Now 5/20/10] were fired. Protect the guilty; punish the trouble-makers. And we wonder why our country seems so confused.

Superpower Arterioschlerosis Then and Now

The Soviet Union may be long gone, but Americans would do well to remember its weaknesses.  Both military powers short on imagination, the similarities are sobering.

I have deplored more than once the lack of flexibility and creativity in American foreign policy formulation under Obama. Obama's Iran policy is perhaps the most obvious example, in particular in the aftermath of the agreement Iran made with Turkey and Brazil that opened a diplomatic door Obama rushed to slam shut. 

The consequences of American intransigence in this case are likely to be serious. The failure of a reform candidate (Obama) to make a sincere effort at finding a solution different from the old neo-con bullying of Iran will discredit “liberalism,” flexibility, compromise, engagement, and diplomacy even though Obama gives no more than a nod in the direction of any of those concepts as far as Iran policy is concerned. And on the other side of the coin, his policy will lay the groundwork for a resurgence of American bullying, militarism, and empire-building. 

It is ironic, to use the mildest term I can think of, to recall how during the old Cold War days of the 1970s we sneered at “arterioschlerosis of the bureaucratic arteries” in the USSR of the aged Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko. How much more nimble and creative does Washington look today than Moscow back then?

The reasons for this failure of American policy makers to devise ways of piloting the  U.S. ship of state through international waters deserve serious introspection. One clue comes, again, from the Soviet Union. As the old leadership dug its heels ever deeper into the Kremlin floors in the 1970s in an increasingly desperate attempt to retain power, famed Marxist Russian dissident historian Roy Medvedev described the curious inability of Soviet reformers to defend themselves against a resurgence of hard-line, militarist, anti-democratic Stalinism (for clarity, let's call them the Soviet neo-cons). One of his points seems directly applicable to the timidity of the Obama Administration vis-a-vis discredited hard-line American politicians:

A most important determining factor in the activity of the moderate-conservatives of all shades is the desire to avoid any kind of crisis or open conflict and as far as possible to maintain or in any case to prolong the none-too-stable equilibrium which now exists in the top ranks of the party. They are therefore in no hurry to find now long overdue solutions for many economic and political problems, and some very crucial ones they simply try to ignore or hush up. [Roy Medvedev, On Socialist Democracy (NY: Norton Library, 1975), 55-56.]

The Soviet Union of course collapsed less than two decades later, and there is hardly a word in the above description that does not apply to the confused Democratic wing of the American establishment. Every day that Obama avoids clear public condemnation of neo-con innovations such as preventive war, pretending that Iran is the new global threat, and empire-building only further compromises him.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Leaders: Experimenting on Us?

When leaders appear to be promoting a short-sighted, evil, or counter-productive policy, are they in fact simply conducting an experiment, testing an hypothesis (perhaps with you as the test material) they wish to apply to a completely different issue?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Imperial Presidency's 'Superfluous Imagination'

 The neo-cons were supposed to have lost the election, but the Imperial Presidency's attack on the U.S. Constitution continues...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mideast Nuclear Transparency

Medical-grade uranium is yesterday's issue; it is time for the Mideast to focus on nuclear transparency.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Tiny but Critical Step toward Resolving Washington's Nuclear Dispute with Tehran

 Rational world leaders must recognize that the Turkish-Brazilian-Iranian nuclear agreement is a tiny but essential first step toward overcoming the paranoia and making a place in the world for Iran.

Ankara and Brasilia have achieved with Tehran a tiny agreement on a technical detail about the normal provision of medical grade uranium to Iran, something that, outside of the current atmosphere of paranoia would never have been noticed by the world media. But there is an atmosphere of paranoia, and medical-grade uranium has become entangled with the whole issue of whether or not the Washington-based international political system can incorporate Iranian demands for foreign policy independence. In between those two extremes, Washington sees the exchange of electricity-grade Iranian uranium for medical-grade Western uranium as a means of postponing the day when Tehran will have managed to accumulate sufficient military-grade uranium (of which it presumably has none whatsoever) to build a single test bomb (the testing of which would destroy the uranium, putting Iran theoretically in the nuclear camp but in practice still weaponless until it could refine more. So the tiny agreement about a tiny exchange becomes in fact major news, offering the first substantive ray of hope that the world will be able to step back from paranoia.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Uranium Enrichment: Test of Foreign Policy Independence?

Washington should be careful not to turn domestic uranium enrichment into the test, in the eyes of emerging world powers, of independence. That would be a defeat for the security of the world far more dangerous than Iranian acquisition of the bomb.

The lack of flexibility on Washington’s part regarding its dispute with Iran about nuclear behavior is raising the likelihood that Tehran will succeed in shifting the focus of the international debate over its nuclear program from the question of militarization to the question of rights to uranium enrichment for civilian purposes. Since NPT members already have that legal right, if Iran can make that issue the focus, its position will become far stronger.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Empire: The Neo-Con/Likudnik State of Mind

To learn, read what you disagree with! If you care about world peace and oppose empire, read the revealing expose of neo-con attitudes toward Iran presented by political science professor and former Bush/Cheney consultant Peter Feaver.

Listening carefully to an intelligent but committed conservative is marvelously revealing, but put the emphasis on “carefully.” The recent defense [Palestine Note 5/12/10] of U.S. policy toward Iran by Duke political scientist and former advisor to the Bush/Cheney Administration on strategic planning Peter Feaver exemplifies what can be learned by careful consideration of an intellectual’s defense of empire.

Feaver characterizes the U.S.-Iranian dispute “for over thirty years” as “primarily about behavior,” a dispute that would end “if the regime were to change its behavior.” Read every word with care. This is a refreshingly honest admission from an imperial defender that the U.S. would happily deal with an Iran that would submit. Feaver’s summary effectively dispels any inclination to take seriously his earlier remark in the same paragraph that the dispute concerns “its support for international terrorism, its pursuit of WMD, and its hostility towards Israel.” Only the last—hostility toward Israel—comes close to revealing the truth. Just for the most obvious example, the U.S. works closely every day with Israel, India, and Pakistan, all of which vigorously and successfully pursue WMD.

Feaver also reveals in this passage, if only by implication, the clear order of events that Washington requires: first, Iranian change in behavior; second, U.S. acceptance of “more fruitful and cordial relations.” Again, note this carefully: Feaver is clearly not suggesting negotiations. A positive-sum outcome of mutual benefit is not at all what he is referring to; rather, Feaver is indicating about as honestly as any defender of empire is likely to do that the process of obtaining “cordial” U.S. treatment is submission to the rules of the international political system written in Washington.

These rules are significant. It is worth being clear about what the rules require and what they do not.

Rule 1 is acceptance of American international leadership. No campaigns for new leadership, no elections, no competing or reformist visions will be tolerated.

Rule 2 is acceptance of Israeli military dominance over the Mideast. Only Israel, among Mideast states, is to be allowed nuclear weapons; other countries can have arms to the degree permitted by Israel. Israel is to be allowed overflight rights across international borders to enforce the limitations on arms that it sets. Military support for Palestinian liberation or the defense of Lebanon is not only forbidden but will be terms “terrorism.” Only Israel is to be allowed to establish colonies or expand its territory (to be fair, there is now some evidence that this rule is under review in Washington).

Rule 3 is broad acceptance of the legitimacy of the current international political system. Reformers must step very, very lightly, and dissidents—even those only presenting theoretical visions, much less those who take action—are treated with exactly the same contempt with which Moscow treated its own dissidents under the bad old Soviet Union. Where the Soviet Union threw dissident individuals into insane asylums, Washington pillories dissident regimes as “crazy.” Perhaps it was “crazy” for a Solzhenitzen or a Sakharov to demand that the USSR reform; perhaps it is also “crazy” for an Iran, a Hamas, a Turkey, a Brazil, or a Cairo (!) to demand that the international political system be reformed.

Note that no rule about possession of WMD exists. That is decided on a case-by-case basis, not on the basis of defense needs but on the basis of…well, Feaver already said it: “behavior.”

The behavioral change Washington demands of Tehran is very simply its acceptance of these rules. There is a word for this, and that word is “surrender.”

Feaver’s revelations continue. Concerning the U.S. double-standard on Mideast nuclear arms, he states frankly: “The United States views the Iranian pursuit of a nuclear weapon to be substantially more destabilizing than the Israeli nuclear posture:” destabilizing to the current power structure in the Mideast, that is. One could of course take issue with the assumption that Israel can be trusted not to knock down the American house of cards by provoking regional war, but Feaver is undoubtedly correct that this is in fact the U.S. elite assumption. Few are the decision makers in Washington with the foresight and independence of mind to consider the danger to American security in an era of long-term recession and a worsening war against global activist Islam that is posed by the threat of an Israeli nuclear strike.

Unfortunately, Feaver’s efforts to put Likudnik propaganda to the side and present an intellectual defense of U.S. policy collapses once he starts trying to justify Israeli nuclear arms. He notes correctly the anti-Israeli challenge posed by “well-armed groups” without making any attempt to explain how nuclear arms will prevent rockets from Gaza or Palestinian efforts to protect their homes and olive groves from Israeli colonization. Does he anticipate small Israeli nuclear strikes on Hamas headquarters in Gaza or to clear Palestinian homes from East Jerusalem? Sliding over the indefensible implications of his reference to nuclear arms as protection from “well-armed groups,” he jumps to the standard neo-con propaganda charge that Ahmadinejad has pledged “to wipe Israel from the face of the map.” As often as Persian readers demonstrate that this charge was created by mistranslation, neo-con & Likudnik propagandists repeat the charge.

Returning the focus of his remarks to Iran, Feaver again becomes interesting. “The United States believes it needs tough sanctions as leverage on the Iranian regime; without such leverage, why would Iran negotiate in good faith. Iran believes that it should negotiate only when there are no such sanctions or leverage in place.” An adversary, Feaver evidently believes, will only negotiate in good faith when under pressure. He wastes no time with such nonsense as positive-sum outcomes; life, to Feaver, is simple: adversaries only understand the language of force. One might wonder how he deals with relatives or students; for a professor of political science to take such a perspective suggests that he skipped a couple of theory classes. But that is unfairly personal. Feaver is presenting the neo-con view and, as such, is quite correct: the language of force does indeed appear to be the only language that the neo-cons understand. Were he to say that the Iranian neo-cons (i.e., the Saddam war generation of secular military leaders that rose up literally in the trenches defending Iranian independence in perhaps the most vicious war since Vietnam) are dangerous because they only understand the language of force, he would be presenting a defensible intellectual position worthy of debate, but, as stated, his remark is useful only if read as revealing the prejudices of the neo-con/Likudnik worldview. Given the tenacity of Iran’s self-defense and the caution with which it has conducted its foreign policy when not under direct military attack, there is in truth every reason to assume that a genuinely conciliatory approach might elicit willingness to compromise on issues where mutual benefit can be identified. One might give Feaver the benefit of the doubt and assume that, as an intellectual, he can see this, but that in his capacity as presenter of the empire-builder’s world view, he would not mention it because such considerations are so far outside such a person’s perspective.

Feaver's presentation of the neo-con/Likudnik attitude toward Iran is a highly valuable explanation of why the world has seen so much war this century.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

New Evidence on Nuclear-Free Mideast Debate

Three new pieces of evidence support the hypothesis that the more Washington stonewalls on Israel's nuclear stockpile, the more Washington will lose the initiative to Israel's opponents.

First, Russian President Medvedev is in Syria [Haaretz 5/11/10] proclaiming Moscow's interest in supporting both a nuclear-free Mideast (referring of course to nuclear arms) and the development of a Syrian civilian nuclear industry, which, he reminds forgetful Americans, is a "right" of all states.

Second, the placing of Israel's nuclear armaments on the IAEA agenda for its upcoming June 7 meeting puts the official spotlight squarely on the issue that Washington and Tel Aviv have for decades tried to keep in the background.

Third, in the context of U.S. support for India's nuclear program in recent years and Russia's support for Iran's, China is now raising its support for Pakistan's nuclear program.

On 5/7/10, I discussed the possibility that initiative on efforts to combat nuclear proliferation might be slipping out of Washington's hands. Medvedev's remarks provide a bit of confirmatory evidence. The IAEA decision provides further evidence, effectively "certifying" Third World condemnation of the Western hypocrisy over Israel's nuclear stockpile as a legimate global concern. Once the taboo against discussion of the topic is eliminated, change becomes possible, so this tiny crack in Israel's shield of secrecy may have significant implications.

Monday, May 10, 2010

America Caught in the Israeli Right's Iran Trap

The crux of the debate over the impact of the U.S.-Israeli alliance on U.S. national security is its undermining of U.S.-Iranian relations.

The pressure by Israeli hawks on the U.S. to maintain a hostile policy toward Iran, to combat its emergence as a regional power, and to discriminate against it on the nuclear issue illustrates exactly why the U.S.-Israeli alliance harms U.S. national security. It is not the U.S. protection of Israeli security but the kowtowing of Washington to the most militarist factions in Israel that makes the alliance a threat to U.S. national security. And Iran is where the threat is the most obvious. 

The entanglement of U.S.-Israeli and U.S.-Iranian relations is of course no coincidence. First, it must be conceded that the rightwing Israeli paranoia about an Iranian threat has, like many myths, a basis in fact: Iran is the only adversary of Israel left standing and Iran is, if very slowly, gaining nuclear knowledge. That Iran could approach Israel's nuclear capabilities is hardly imaginable, but the ability of Iran over time to gain a real ability to resist Israeli power is the kernel of truth in the myth of an Iranian threat. That, however, is not the real point of the Israeli right (in my opinion; I encourage any member of the Israeli right who wishes to correct me to send me a comment): to a member of the Israeli right, the word "security" means "domination." If not in control, they feel insecure (the very definition of "paranoia," or should I say "greed?), and by that paranoid definition of security, Iran's independent foreign policy line of demanding the restructuring of the Mideast political system surely is, at least, a threat to the Israeli right's dreams of domination.

It has long been argued in Washington that Israeli power constituted a strategic benefit for the U.S. Whether or not it ever did, and the near nuclear war provoked by U.S. support for Israeli behavior in 1973, puts paid to that rather glib argument, in light of the critical importance of Iran today at the center of the arc of global conflict between Islam and the U.S., the argument is exceedingly hard to make today:

  • "Israel the land-based aircraft carrier" now seems more like Israel the catalyst for anti-American feeling throughout the Muslim world. And the last thing any American administration would be likely to do is launch a military operation in the Mideast from Israeli soil.
  • "Israel the loyal ally" is an even more specious argument, with Israel simultaneously resisting resolution of the Palestinian crisis despite U.S. urging, undermining Obama's efforts to curb nuclear proliferation, and, as will be discussed below, fanning the flames of war with Iran.

Were it not for Israel, the U.S. could negotiate a mutually beneficial arrangement with Iran in which Iran would find itself accepted as an independent regional power, free from the requirement to bow down to Israeli supremacy, while the U.S. could benefit from mutual Iranian-American interests in combating illegal narcotics flowing out of Central Asia and mutual hostility to the Taliban, not to mention reaching some accommodation on the two countries’ shared interests in Iraq. The U.S. might also be able to reach accommodation on the nuclear issue, an accommodation that would either move toward a nuclear-free Mideast, obviously including both Iran and Israel, or focus on provision to Iran of medical-grade uranium and acceptance of Iranian nuclear research in return for greater Iranian transparency to back up its claims that it has no interest in militarization.

Aside from the interference of the Israeli right, there is no obvious reason why the U.S. could not accommodate an independent Iran. 

  • Nuclear accommodation. It is not at all clear that Iran intends to militarize its nuclear knowledge and even less clear that it would do so in a less threatening international context; indeed, if it does, the blame will lie with the bellicose attitude of Tel Aviv and Washington unless it can be proven otherwise. But American acceptance of a nuclear Pakistan and encouragement, for it is hard to think of any other word to describe the Bush and Obama policies toward India, of a nuclear India, not to mention its protection of Israel's nuclear status, clearly raise the question of why a nuclear Iran would be any worse. India and Pakistan nearly fought a nuclear war a few years ago, and Israel regularly threatens, by implication, to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack on Iran. What is the likelihood that a nuclear Iran, with the relatively primitive capability that it would surely have (not just relative to the U.S. or Israel but even relative to Pakistan or India) would present a more serious threat of nuclear war than its three regional neighbors?
  • Accommodation on Iraq. The other major issue on which the U.S. and Iran would have to work hard to find a mutually acceptable accommodation in a world without Israel would be Iraq, but this too seems solvable. The U.S. already is promising to leave but, implemented carefully, it should leave an Iraq with a government that will have some hope of running the place, and fairly well integrated into the region. Iran will have great influence, as is only logical, but so will Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Like Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have economic, strategic, and ethnic reasons to support a stable Iraq open to external influence. This seems a workable plan for the future, and one beneficial to the U.S.: an Iraq balancing ties to all three of its large regional neighbors, with the U.S. well in the background. Perhaps Washington could sublet its fortress (sorry, "embassy") to Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, leaving behind just enough armed force to police a diplomats' soccer field on which the three big neighbors could work out their mutual frustrations.

Currently, the American kowtowing to the expansionist “Greater Israel” extremists prevents the U.S. from making progress on any of these issues and, worse, drives the U.S. to provoke ever-rising belligerency in U.S.-Iranian relations. American failure to control Israeli right wing appetites for Palestinian land and semi-colonial control over Lebanon and Syria unnecessarily opens wide for Iran the gate to the Levant. Israeli right wing insistence that Iran is a threat that can only be defended against by military means (rather than the obvious satisfaction of reasonable Iranian demands that the Mideast political system be reformed to allow its participation) straightjackets the U.S. into a dead-end policy of demanding Iranian surrender. Thanks to the Israeli right's interference in U.S. foreign policy-making, American options are constrained, the U.S. is entangled in an unnecessary crisis, and the rightfully feared outcome—a bitter, insecure, marginalized, and nuclear Iran—is made more likely.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tehran: Champion of Nuclear Non-proliferation?

Is Washington ceding the diplomatic initiative on nuclear proliferation to...Tehran?!?

The issue of Israel’s rogue nuclear status (i.e., possessing the weapons but rejecting the NPT) has officially been on the IAEA’s plate since a majority of its members so voted last year and is now being actively pursued by Amano in the form of an official letter to world governments requesting comment. Amano’s timing seems designed to raise the level of attention; in the context of Ahmadinejad’s reasonable call at the U.N. for a nuclear-free Mideast—an idea now also being championed by Cairo—and Washington’s rather inept murmuring of theoretical agreement but only after finding a solution to the Palestinian issue, which Washington’s Tel Aviv partner is conveniently blocking (!), global diplomatic initiative on nuclear proliferation is passing to Iran.

For Iran to emerge from the U.N. NPT review conference as the innovator and moral leader on the issue of nuclear proliferation would be not just ironic but a major blow to the prestige and influence of the U.S. This is exactly the outcome predicted by the hypothesis that if Ahmadinejad presented a moderate face at the conference, he would “win big.” For Iran clearly to gain the moral high ground on the nuclear issue would underscore the harm that American subordination to the Israeli right wing does to U.S. national security. It would, perhaps quite dangerously over the long run, empower militarist circles in Iran. It would also seem likely to undermine pro-American moderates that have been trying to find a solution to the nuclear impasse with Tehran. Ceding the initiative to Tehran, which is on a crusade to redesign the international political system, is quite different than ceding it to the likes of Ankara and Brasilia, which are relatively comfortable in the Western-led international political system, albeit desiring certain rather reasonable reforms.

Washington needs to find a way to evade a completely negative position as a roadblock to global progress on nuclear proliferation. Tel Aviv’s militarists are pulling Washington into a dangerously reactive position that only undermines Obama’s professed interest in making progress on this issue. It is bad enough for Washington to fail to offer a reasoned response to Ahmadinejad; but when Washington falls so far behind even the IAEA, it looks like a very tired superpower.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ahmadinejad has slapped down the gauntlet to Washington on the fundamental issue of nuclear equality.
It matters little whether or not Westerners pay heed to Ahmadinejad’s message. It matters little even if the non-Western global majority trusts Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad posed a fundamental question:

whether granting extraordinary authority in the IAEA to the nuclear weapon States and entrusting them with the critical issue of nuclear disarmament is appropriate

Summarizing the issue neatly as “a knife never cuts its own handle,” Ahmadinejad issued to the West a fundamental challenge to its right to lead the world. What matters is whether or not this challenge will strike home in the minds of world decision-makers.

To the extent that Ahmadinejad’s message rings a bell in the minds of Cairo and Ankara and Brasilia and perhaps even Tokyo officials, not to mention the broad masses of the non-Western world, Washington will have lost stature and, consequently, power. This is not about Ahmadinejad. It does not matter if you do not like him. This is about ideas, and the question is the degree to which this idea stands on its own.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Israeli Warnings of Fascist Shadow in Israel

The chairman of the democratic political party Meretz (now completely marginalized by the rightwing wave) Haim Oron wrote the following important warning in the Hebrew language Israeli daily Maariv [thanks to Ron Skolnik on the Meretz USA Website 2/4/10 for the translation]:

hatred is hatred, racism is racism, and fascism is fascism, whether it’s directed against Jews by the haters of Israel, or whether it’s directed by Jewish racists against the objects of their hatred. The Israel of 2010 is moving away from fundamental tenets of democracy that we once took for granted. The famous sayings of the liberal philosophers who laid the foundation for democratic rule were once self-evident slogans. Voltaire’s comment that, “I don’t agree with a word you’re saying, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, and similar quotes, were once studied in civics lessons in high school and then absorbed as part of the agreed-upon code of Israeli politics.

Perhaps such sayings are still studied in civics - occasionally they’re still voiced by politicians - but these basic democratic insights are disappearing – quickly – from our landscape. There’s a straight line that leads from the arrest of human rights protestors at Sheikh Jarrah; to the recruitment of the State Attorney’s office against Palestinian-Israeli director Muhammad Bakri; to the police interrogation of the women who wish to pray at the Wall; to the apathy with which the current campaign is being received. This line is moving us away from the enlightened world.

A society does not lose its sanity in an instant. It does not turn from democratic to fascistic overnight. As history shows, these processes occur in a string of small events. Some of these occur because the establishment is not standing guard over democracy, and some are at the initiative of the establishment itself. Each one of them is a small, almost imperceptible, step, and when it is allowed to pass without anyone taking notice, the boundaries are stretched a bit further. And further. And further.

Until one day, the society wakes up to discover that it’s somewhere that, not long ago, we wouldn’t have believed we could be. Usually that’s too late, and the awakening comes only after the catastrophe that rouses people from their slumber. “Have the courage to change before troubles strike,” Yitzhak Ben-Aharon once said. Well the troubles are at our doorstep, and we’re desperately in need of courage.
So much for the opinion of one Israeli politician. Now shift to the opinion of an Israeli political scientist [Democracy Now 2/11/09]:

what I think John Stuart Mill would say is that Lieberman is more dangerous to Israel than, say, Hamas, because Lieberman can destroy the Israeli political realm more easily than Hamas, because Lieberman does not want to allow any view that is other than his own, any criticism of the government, to enter the Israeli political realm, and that is an anti-democratic and an anti-political message that he’s giving the Israeli citizenship. So I think Lieberman is extremely dangerous. As I mentioned before, I think his party has strong neo-fascist tendencies, and I think that their rise is a manifestation of the direction Israel is going. And I would say it’s an anti-Israeli stance....

we have to blame the whole atmosphere in Israel, which is indeed a racist atmosphere, an anti-Arab atmosphere, anti-Palestinian Arab atmosphere. And Lieberman, what he has learned to do well is to feed on the hatred and the fear of the Arabs, to use a xenophobic method. And this is extremely dangerous. And to tell you the truth, I fear for Israel. I fear for the citizenry in Israel. And I think we are in a watershed moment in Israeli politics.
Consider also the words of an Israeli expert on fascism:

What caused the Nazi disease to break out in the past? Why did it break out at a certain time and not at another? Why in Germany and not in another country suffering from similar problems?

The answer is that fascism is a special phenomenon, unlike any other. It is not an "extreme Right", an extension of "nationalist" or "conservative" attitudes. Fascism is the opposite of conservatism in many ways, even though it may appear in a conservative disguise. Also, it is not a radicalization of ordinary, normal nationalism, which exists in every nation.

Fascism is a unique phenomenon and has unique traits: the notion of being a "superior nation", the denial of the humanity of other nations and national minorities, a cult of the leader, a cult of violence, disdain for democracy, an adoration of war, contempt for accepted morality. All these attributes together create the phenomenon, which has no agreed scientific definition....

Is the State of Israel approaching an existential crisis - moral, political, economic - that could leave it an endangered nation? Can Lieberman, or someone who could take his place, turn out to be a demonic personality like Hitler, or at least Mussolini?

In our present situation there are some dangerous indications. The last war showed a further decline in our moral standards. The hatred towards Israel's Arab minority is on the rise, and so is the hatred towards the occupied Palestinian people who are suffering a slow strangulation. In some circles, the cult of brute force is gaining strength. The democratic regime is in a never-ending crisis. The economic situation may descend into chaos, so that the masses will long for a "strongman". And the belief that we are a "chosen people" is already deeply rooted.

These indications may not necessarily lead to disaster. Absolutely not. History is full of nations in crisis that recovered and returned to normalcy. Besides the real Hitler, who rose to historic heights, there were probably hundreds of other Hitlers, no less crazy and no less talented, who ended their life as bank tellers or frustrated writers, because they did not meet a historic opportunity.


Fascist tendencies may be identifiable in Israel, but as long as its press remains free enough to include warnings such as this and professors articulating such opinions remain employed in Israeli universities, democratic tendencies will fortunately also be identifiable: there will still be hope.