Finally A Time For Pragmatism
Sounding the Revolutions thunder, the Ayatollah Khomeini’s plane touched down just outside of Tehran on a cold winter’s day in 1979. The revolution was young then but as Khomeini approached the microphone, the crowed streets of Tehran grew quiet. Kick out the “Western Lackey’s” for they are the source for all of our great nations ills. By now the ruling mullahs of Iran have mastered this trick—turning foreign threats into nationalism. So why can’t U.S policymakers seem to get it? It's time to sit down and negotiate with Iran.
Iran is an old country. It was a rich empire that even had a recorded history of human rights. But standing in 2008, it is ironic to think that the Persian Empire was once known for its tolerance, even towards the Jews in Israel. Just ask a Jew about the ancient Persian Kings and the rebuilding of their second temple. But the last 100 years of Iranian history have been more about dodging the West than basking in its glory years. Iranians know all too well the feeling of western entrapment: the Tobacco Protest, the Mossadeq coup of 1953, or even President Carter’s unwavering support for the Shah. But watch virtually any documentary, talk to anyone who’s been to Iran or an Iranian community and they’ll tell you that Iranians generally admire American culture. So despite recent political tensions, Iran has had times of tolerance and admiration with both the Jew’s of Israel and the U.S.
But lately, the international press has been in a real frenzy, spun with speculation: will Israel attack Iran? Just last month, Israel reasserted its regional status by sending fighter jets to scramble over the Mediterranean in an “attack Iran exercise.” And, according to Haaretz, the intellectual newspaper in Israel, only one of two “red lines” needs to be crossed for them to launch a surgical air strike. The first potential red line would be for Iran to enrich enough uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. The second red line would be if Iran acquired “SA-20” Russian-made air defense systems that would vastly increase Iran’s deterrence against such air strikes. As a senior Pentagon official expressed “[its] not a rehearsal, but basic, fundamental training.” This same anonymous official went on to predict that Israel would strike by the years end.
So how is the U.S positioning itself in this escalating crisis? Or, more to the point, why is the U.S reenacting its same failed policy?
Sounding a bit of his own thunder, in the July 8th edition of The New Yorker, Seymour M. Hersh broke a story about the Bush administration’s covert actions to destabilize Iran from within. By supporting dissident groups, empowering commandos, and tracking down “highly valued targets,” Bush and Cheney are waging a sort of covert jihad inside Iran. This is not too different from 1953 when Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA were buying, arming and supporting mercenaries in the coup. As Hersh quotes, “this is the ultimate for the Iranians—to blame the CIA.”
In 1953 CIA overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq of Iran. Dr. Mossadeq was perhaps one of most skilled, principled and constitutionally minded Iranian politician for generations—not to mention a real admirer of the U.S and its struggle for independence from the British. But caught in the Cold War, the newly elected President Eisenhower declared Mossadeq to be a communist and sent the CIA to overthrow him. This brought back the Shah, who created an extremely repressive regime that led to 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini crafted the Islamic Republic that turned violently anti-American. It’s no secret that Iranians are “a little touchy” about the CIA.
A large part of America’s “today’s” strategy is to support various dissident groups already inside Iran. In fact, one of these groups is a Baluchi band of Sunni fundamentalists that has “ties” to al-Qaeda (talk about the U.S losing its principals). Iranian analyst and scholar Dr. Vali Nasr is quoted in the New Yorker article saying that these “Minority groups that the U.S is reaching out to are either well integrated or small and marginal, without much influence on the government or much ability to present a political challenge.” Dr. Nasr goes on to say that this tactic will likely “backfire, and alienate the majority of the population,” thus allowing the mullah’s to consolidate their power by spinning the same old anti-Western rhetoric famed in the revolution of 1979.
In addition to supporting these groups that the U.S considers to be “terrorists”, Hersh claims that Cheney’s legal linguists are at it again. They call it “defensive lethal action.” This, in theory, provides legal shelter that “if” our clandestine forces were facing capture inside Iran for example; they would be legally obliged to “shoot back.” It gets more complicated. The CIA is helping JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) operate from rural bases from Western Afghanistan. But JSCO is new to Iran, and it relies on the CIA for local and linguistic know-how in order to make the needed connections for cross border operations. The CIA is indispensable in this; but it is JSCO’s who is in charge of operations. This means that unlike past covert CIA operations Congress is not entitled to a “findings report”—well, under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of it.
One of JSCO’s primary tasks in Iran is to track down “high-value targets.” Since there isn’t any kind of finding report, or press release, the nature of these actual missions, as Hersh says, is “speculative.” The only tool that Congress has is the now infamous power of the purse, meaning Congress could potentially cut off the $400 million dollars of taxpayer’s money that is being used to conduct these covert missions inside Iran.
But Hersh goes on to take note of a surge in domestic Iranian “terrorist” attacks inside Iran. Believe it or not, this is unusual for Iran. And Hersh suggests that these attacks could be a result of U.S backed operations. In addition, Iran is the only “Axis of Evil” that has yet to be fully addressed—and Bush’s term is running out, fast. So Hersh suggests that if these covert operations could cause enough internal dissidence as to provoke a violent crackdown, the Bush Administration, in theory could find justification for a large military campaign inside Iran.
As unnerving as this cryptic game of geo-politics may seem, we must not forget that it is a result of hard-liners and political crusaders who are willingly escalating this crisis. Nothing is inevitable. But there are needs that must be met. Israel must have security. The U.S must have Iran cease supporting regional insurgents and allow for safe passage through the straight of Hormuz. And Iran may appear as if its rich Persian days are in revival, but one can’t look far beyond the fact that it’s a highly subsidized welfare state. With up to ten percent unemployment, high inflation and property values that even the flashy can’t afford, it’s becoming clear that the religious establishment doesn’t do econ.
It would be wise for the U.S to take note of this leverage and negotiate. Just look at the latest progress out of North Korea. To oversimplify it’s barging the nuclear program for trade. And it is now as clear as ever that talking with America’s enemies is not appeasement. The U.S should revisit the bounties of negotiation and heed its call of pragmatism and just compromise. Diligent leadership can defuse this situation. But on the other hand, it could be as Defense Secretary Robert Gates said late last year, a preemptive strike against Iran would “create a generation of jihadists, and our grandchildren will be battling our enemies here in America.” And that—as everyone can agree—is in nobody’s interest.