Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Big Fight [or what could have been]

The reason I constantly scream out ‘Debate Ahmadinejad already!’ to Bush when he’s TV is simple. I really want to see if Bush can out-debate a man who he truly believes is in the wrong. I don’t suppose he can, but I’d like to see him try. But this brings me to another question, what is going on with the US and Iran never speaking to each other directly?

I’d written a paper back in college, going over what had happened since the States had helped overthrow the Shah. [I’m going to throw in some highlights]: The Shah had been giving Americans contracts for oil development. As a result, there was great opulence in the Shah’s court while the rest of the country suffered. Islam believes in equality before God, and this concept extends to economic matters as well. America was a capitalist nation, and what followed was Iranian feeling that America was in some way ‘satanic’ because it had regular dealings and good relations with the Shah. As S.T. Hunter remarked the relations between the two countries have made up in emotional intensity what they lacked in duration. In what has been called the ‘original sin’, the United States took part in a coup d’etat that toppled the government of Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. What followed next in the United States were policies concerning Iran that had more to do with the cold war and a possible Iranian- Soviet alliance than any clear concern for Iran itself.

Since the revolution there have been two factions attempting to shape Iran’s foreign policy vis-à-vis the United States. Although this is a very broad generalization, however, in layman’s terms there are differences of opinion between the conservatives and the reformists. The Ayotollah has long maintained that relations with America are ill-advised, while President Rafsanjani and after him President Khatami felt the need for greater interaction with the superpower. Well, we’ll get to the new kid on the block-- Admadinejad-- in a little bit.

At the time of the Cold War, Iran was not blind to the fact that America was indeed the only superpower left in the world and thus realized she would have to attempt to normalize relations with her. Rafsanjani was a realist, and he decided to adopt a conciliatory policy in dealing with America. This was to work against isolationist tendencies, because the need for external support for modernization was recognized. In keeping with this, attempts were made to change Iran’s image in the international arena. Tehran made efforts to resolve the TWA hijacking, and ended radio propaganda with the Soviets.

The United States recognized the olive branch being extended from the new government, and in 1989 agreed to free $567 million in frozen assets to Iran. However, America’s views on Iran need to be explained. Her actions in 1989 which not only included freeing Iranian assets but also agreeing to pay compensation to the families of the victims of the TWA hijacking showed a definite shift to strengthening ties with Iran. Now the Iranian- US position at the time was different. The US had been helping Iraq by supplying them with crucial information about Iranian military operations. The US had also been caught violating the Algiers Agreement in April 1989. In Iran there was talk about how further relations with the US could lead on a dependence on the superpower. With the call for Salman Rushdie’s death by the Ayatollah, many in the US began to wonder if better relations with Iran were feasible. And the final blow was the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in June 1989. It was a time ripe for some kind of change, and Rafsanjani attempted to serve as a catalyst.

The question needs to be asked, why did the US consider Iran such a threat? Sanctions against Iran were part of America’s ‘Dual Containment Strategy’. In his article ‘Rethinking Dual Containment’ Gary Sick defines this concept aptly calling it ‘a policy of balancing Iran or Iraq against the other as a means of maintaining a degree of regional stability and to protect the smaller, oil-rich Arab states on the southern side of the Gulf.’ He lists out five main areas that the US found objectionable about Iran; her support for international terrorism, her support for Hamas and opposition of the Israel-Palestine peace process, support of Islamic movements in Sudan and elsewhere, acquisition of weapons that may allow her to emerge as the dominating force over the Gulf, and finally, the prospective acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. The Dual Containment strategy involved the US asking China, Japan and Russia not to provide Iran with any weapons of mass destruction, and opposition to loans granted to Iran by both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. However the official line claimed that the US did not seek a total embargo or quarantine of Iran. However, it cannot be denied that the US policy harmed the Iranian economy. The Iranian rial’s exchange rate suffered and Tehran had to institute exchange controls and reduce foreign trade to balance her economy. However, this raises another question, could these policies change Iran’s attitude in the desired way? Lets see what happened a few years later..

In an unprecedented address on CNN in 1998, President Khatami spoke to the American people directly. He condemned the killing of innocents, and while he maintained Iran’s opposition to the Arab- Israeli peace process he promised not to interfere, and finally stated that Iran did not have nuclear weapons and had no intention of acquiring any. Officially the United States had chosen to view Khatami’s election as Iran’s desire for change and saw opportunity for better relations. The television address hit the intended target and six months later Madeline Albright responded positively. This meant that Iran was removed from the narcotics list, it became easier for Iranian nationals to obtain visas to the US and the number of stationed troops was reduced as a ‘signal’. The administration even gave the go-ahead for the pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey as they said it did not violate any sanctions imposed against Iran since there was no purchase of gas from Iran. Albright said that the US government did not intend to ‘cut Iran off’ and there followed only a mild reaction to Iranian testing of medium range ballistic missiles. However, the US government also had to pay special attention that they did not praise the moderate government too much, for that would only give more fuel to the cause of the hardliners in Iran. President Khatami also addressed the UN General Assembly to call for a ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ in 2001. At this time Iran also deployed troops in Afghanistan after the Taliban admitted to killing Iranian nationals. In 2000 President Khatami gained control of the parliament which had been previously dominated by conservatives, and was himself re-elected the following year.

Since George W. Bush labeled Iran a member of an ‘axis of evil’, one must attempt to understand exactly what continues to offends America about Iran. Even before Admadinejad there was a perceived sense in the current American government that somehow Iran should be corrected, that she was wrong to oppose the Middle East peace process or to try and develop nuclear power. In his book ‘American Diplomacy’ George F. Kennan explains the gradual development of American foreign policy. He faults the legalistic-moralistic approach America takes as a handicap to her understanding of why things happen the way they do in other parts of the world. He writes ‘Behind all this, of course, lies the American assumption that the things for which other peoples in this world are apt to contend are for the most part neither creditable nor important and might justly be expected to take second place behind the desirability of an orderly world, untroubled by international violence.’ America’s objectives in terms of foreign policy can be limiting because they are not mere physical objectives but ‘moral and ideological ones and run to changing the attitudes and traditions of an entire people or the personality of a regime, then victory is probably something not to be achieved entirely by military means or indeed in any short space of time at all; and perhaps that is the source of our confusion.’ Iran is a spectator to American action in Iraq and understands that she may be next on the agenda if America feels it needs to ‘free’ the Iranians. Clearly solid grounds for invading a country is no longer required, as has been demonstrated by American lack of evidence against Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destructions, which was indeed the official reason for American troops entering Iraq.

Within Iran opinion has oscillated, with increased propaganda against her by the US, all factions seem to agree on one thing. President Khatami put it perfectly when he said ‘We will not allow a foreigner to interfere with our destiny.’ Non oil exports reached six billion dollars in 2003 due to the President’s economic reforms. Dialogue with America was also difficult because conservatives feared loss of political power if any progress was made, because their position which is based partly on keeping away with the West would be threatened.

Now let’s skip ahead to Ahmadinejad and what’s going on now. Now, in 2003 when Tehran wrote to DC; an olive branch of sorts- the letter was ignored. They offered to tone down the nuclear programme, help stabilize Iraq, and end support for Hezbollah- but they no longer wanted to be referred to as part of the ‘Axis of Evil’. But what it did was help tilt the balance of power towards the hardliners in Iraq because again, American appeared to be insulting them.

Now, everyone is speculating about why Ahmadinejad is taunting Bush so. Firstly, I think history has proven that in this relationship of hits and misses, nothing is too bizarre. Iran already has sanctions against it, it has been called a part of the ‘Axis of EVIL’ and the States even backed EU negotiations that believed Iran’s nuclear program was not peaceful. Both presidents believe they have divine guidance- and both believe they have the right to nuclear weapons, and both claim that their nuclear power is peaceful. The conservative Ahmadinejad doesn’t need approval from the US (unlike some of his reformist predecessors), and that’s the difference. He wants to push Bush’s buttons, he wants to expose the hypocrisy of the Americans (as he sees it)—and I believe he is just looking to balance the scales of justice (or perhaps tilt it to his favor). I need to end this post right now- but let me conclude by saying that--- C’MON BUSH…. DEBATE AHMADINEJAD ALREADY!!!!!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what's funnier is the technique that ahmadinejad uses to get at bush, especially the 'pretend israel never happened' approach. i read an interview of his with a german newspaper in which he asks the interviewer whether german youth of today were involved in the holocaust. the interviewer said no, of course, to which ahmadinejad said, then why do they have to bear the guilt of it, by not being able to talk about it, not being able to research it, and not be able to question it, even scientifically. his point was, suppose the holocaust happened, why do palestinians have to bear the burden of european mistakes.

but the way he baits the US, over israel in particular, is fascinating. i don't think there will be any real debate between the two countries, now or soon. but wouldn't it be fun to watch if it happened?