Saturday, March 18, 2006

US Doesn’t See Dangers of Iran Overtures

I have a long standing theory that I have raised on my site before regarding some of the motivations of leaders around the Middle East. In a nutshell, many leaders in the arena have believed and do believe that, if they can muster the strength of the whole Muslim or Muslim affiliated world, they could either take the position of the second super-power vacated by the Soviet Union or they could even potentially become the dominant power in the world. Accomplishing this goal would not require uniting these disparate communities under one flag but would require uniting them behind one cause, and if this is the case the US has moved Iran two steps towards that goal today.

The cause to unite the Muslim world behind is easy – the treating of the Muslim community as second class citizens by the Western world and, specifically, the United States. Every Muslim I know senses this feeling of superiority, both morally and societally, from the West. There is a disparity between those Muslims who believe this is intentional and those who believe it’s the natural evolution of the societies, and those that believe it’s intentional, and those that believe the snub is intentional are generally speaking willing to mobilize their support against their oppressors. This is the real reason for the steady stream of rhetoric we see coming out of Iran and other countries in the Middle East.

While trying to convert the Muslim people to the believe that there is a malicious attempt to relegate the Muslim world to the position of second class citizens, these Muslim leaders point to Western imperialism as proof of the true Western motivations. They indicate the push to subvert any non-democratic governments, or even democratic governments that the US doesn’t agree with. They also point to the existence of Israel, and the US’ military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan as evidence of the West trying to push Democracy. Perhaps there has never been a more blatant example of US imperialism as Bush’ new initiative to broadcast Democratic messages to Iran.

The Bush administration this month announced a $75 million initiative to advance democracy in Iran by expanding broadcasting into the country, funding on governmental organizations and promoting cultural exchanges.

I must say I don’t think that a program like this would have any positive effect. My suspicion is that, like Radio Free America, the Iranian government will ban listening to the station, maybe even go so far as to threaten a death sentence for being caught listening. This will prevent listening to the station publicly, which includes the coffee houses, which is where men in the Middle East congregate to talk and listen to politics. But it will have negative ramifications, providing a clear example of the US trying to push our values on the Iranian people. Just not a smart tactical move!

The greater challenge for a Middle Eastern leader trying to unite the region is proving that that he can represents a viable threat to the West. Middle Eastern countries have seen the repercussions of threatening the West and not having the might to back up those threats, and most are too pragmatic to enter a conflict that will assure destruction of their country, as well as probably including removal from power and maybe even a political assassination to boot. Thus, the leader aspiring to Middle Eastern or World domination has to convince his peers that he is not intimidated by the West, and can even look Western powers square in the eye.

To prove this, Middle Eastern leaders have been testing the West for the better part of the past 15 years. The invasion of Kuwait was exactly this kind of a test, as Iraq really was threatening the West’s oil supply with the invasion more than they were threatening their neighbors. 9/11, the Subway bombings, and other al Qaeda terrorist attacks,, have been further testings of the West, as has been Palestinian terrorist attacks, the protests over the Mohammed cartoons, the murder of the Jordanian president, the pushing of Iran’s nuclear program, and a ton of other events that have occurred in the region.

But unlike the 1990s, recent attacks have gone unmatched by the swift, brutal retaliation that serves as a deterrent to future acts against the West. The inability to capture bin Laden was the first crack in the façade that had come to represent the West’s to the Muslim world, and as the war in Iraq changed from a quick strike into the heart of Iraqi society to a long, protracted war to bend the collective consciousness and moral structure that is Iraq, the US and the West have been seen as progressively weaker.

And then the protests over the Mohammed cartoons, where we went the opposite direction, compromising our freedoms and admonishing our free press in fear of the rapidly spreading protests. It leaves the Muslim leader with the perception that the West is no longer strong enough to protect itself against the Muslim world, except with the total destruction of nuclear weapons. And thus the steady push to develop Iran’s nuclear program and to develop closer ties with other nuclear powers, such as Russia and China.

And the final step is to prove that the Muslim leader is the correct leader to lead the Muslim world. Now much of this has to do with who holds the most military might, and that makes Ahmadinejad the obvious choice. Certainly I believe that that’s his goal. Also that leader would be someone who’s doing a fair bit of the testing of the West, again clearly Ahmadinejad qualifies, and of late he’s shown a willingness to work with other leaders who have made their own reputations against the West, namely Basher al-Assad, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and supposedly Bin Laden himself.

Today, out of the blue, Iran accepted a 3-month old invitation to discuss the conflict in Iraq, and how Iran can help install a free government in the war-torn country. And while the US views the acceptance with skepticism, this is out of worry that Iran is using this to divert attention from their nuclear program. In reality, neither the UN nor the US probably has the ability to prevent Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, and any penalties imposed by the UN Security Council will probably have every little effect on Iran’s nuclear program. Still, the US is willing to honor the invitation assuming the negotiations are isolated from issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program, not considering other potential motivations for the meeting.

Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said earlier that Tehran had agreed to hold talks with the US following an appeal from a prominent Iraqi Shia politician.

Tehran, he said, had turned down previous requests by Washington for talks over Iraq but had accepted the proposal to start a dialogue.

"To resolve Iraqi issues, and to help the establishment of an independent and free government in Iraq, we agree to [talks with the US]," he told reporters.

By agreeing to meet with Iran about Iraq, the West legitimizes Iran, to some extent, as the country to work with over Middle Eastern issues, further enhancing the view of image of Iran as the power in the region. In this case, we are not even giving the illusion of working with a variety of leaders, a long-standing tactic in the Middle East which shows respect to multiple influential figures in the arena from both sides of the aisle, but instead we have come out directly and said we are speaking with Iran so they can use their influence to try to help in the Iraq conflict.

It is not a situation where they are contacting Iran because they have tremendous influence in Iraq itself, as they have been mortal enemies for decades, a blood feud that overshadows any potential for relations between citizens of the two countries. And it’s not as if we would ask Iran to provide a military presence to restore calm in Iran, because we certainly don’t want the Iranian military in Iraq. And I think we all know that asking Iran not to support insurgents in Iraq is an effort in futility, and just provides another opportunity for Iran to defy the US and the West. And it’s not like Iran is a normal negotiating partner for the US, as relations have been severed between Tehran and Washington since 1979.

The Guardian indicates these goals in opening negotiations with Iran over the war in Iraq:

America wants Iran to help persuade Iraqi Shia political parties to make concessions that will allow the formation of a stable government of national unity. The new Iraqi parliament opened this week with such a government notably lacking. Without one there is no chance of lessening the Sunni alienation which feeds the insurgency, threatens civil war, and prevents the adoption of a timetable for the reduction of US forces and, eventually, a respectable withdrawal. Iran wants the US to cease pushing so hard on the question of its nuclear programmes, which America and Europe have recently managed to place on the agenda of the Security Council where they are being, or soon will be, discussed.

Basically, the US is hoping Iran will use their position in the region to help cool tempers and accept some initial forms of democracy. And if Iran agrees to exert their influence, it will reinforce the image of Iran as a budding super-power, and further gather support behind Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, perhaps the scariest person in a terrifying region. Unfortunately, the Bush administration doesn’t see this, as they are thinking two dimensionally. They believe that Iran’s goal here could only be furthering their nuclear weapons program, and are missing a far scarier prospect.

The Bush administration views Tehran's acceptance of an American offer to talk about Iraq, made months ago, as an indication that Iran is feeling the international heat, national security adviser Steven J. Hadley said.

"What is interesting is that the Iranians would choose now, at this moment, in such a very public way, to embrace this idea and try to expand it to a negotiation about a broader set of issues," Hadley said.

"The concern, therefore, is that it is simply a device by the Iranians to try and divert pressure that they're feeling in New York, to try and drive a wedge between the United States and the other countries with which we are working on the nuclear issue and, if you will, divert pressure and divert attention."

Hadley added: "Obviously, this is something that we and those who are working with us on these issues will not let happen."

I think that both of these efforts, the democratic broadcasting in Iran and working with Iran to ease tensions in Iraq, are very dangerous propositions. Perhaps there are ways to utilize Iran to diffuse this situation, but we need to go into such a negotiation with our eyes wide open, and avoid winning a battle to lose a war.

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Posted by Scottage at 12:45 AM / | |