Bush Reelection and the Middle East:
Iran in Focus!
Keywords: Middle East, U.S. elections, Iran’s nuclear project, Iraq situation, Democratization process, Terrorism, Conservative agenda, EU talks with Iran…
The much-debated November 2, 2004 presidential elections in the United States has finally come to an end with an unprecedented victory for the republican candidate, George W. Bush. Bush reelection for a second term as United States president was interpreted and received variously both inside and outside the U.S. Although many Americans expected this triumph for the conservative president, but the perplexing polls shed a lot of confusion on the results until the last minutes. The reason for this perplexity was that many Americans were not quite sure as to whether they should vote for a warrior president who consistently maintained that USA was in a state of war against terrorism at home and abroad.
While Bush reelection into office for a second term came not as a surprise and many people around the world welcomed the event, some others, including heads of states and politicians, got severely disappointed. Now the question at this juncture is what would be the implication of Bush’s reelection for the world at large and the Middle East in particular? This paper shall try to examine the question especially from the vantage point of Iran which, at the midst of its nuclear ambition, seems to be caught between the “devil and the deep sea.” However, it will be argued that the fate of peace and order in the Middle East appears to be very much tied up to the policy that the United States will pursue with respect to Iran.
* Professor Ali-Asghar Kazemi holds a Ph.D. in International Law and Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Mass. He is the author of many books and articles, and a legal advisor on matters concerning the international law of the sea. Currently, he is dean of the Graduate School of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science and Research Campus) Tehran-Iran. For more information please consult: http://www.akazemi.homestead.com/
Mixed Reactions to Bush Reelection in the Middle East
US entanglement in Iraq and to some extent in Afghanistan, and the ominous news of daily casualties of US soldiers, had scared many people inside and outside the US, to the extent that about 75% of foreigners around the world wished that John Kerry would be elected as US president. In the Middle East it was received with mixed reaction. Some traditional undemocratic rulers feared the “democratization” plan as a de-stabilizing force threatening their very survival. While some peace hungry people expressed joy for reinstating the peace process in Arab-Israeli relations and re-establishing law and order in Iraq.
In the Middle East the situation was much more confusing, since the US presidential elections coincided with Yasser Arafat’s aggravating health condition, which resulted to the emergency evacuation of the Palestinian leader to France for treatment. The day the results of the elections were announced, Arafat was declared clinically dead, and therefore he would never know the outcome of this election, so important and critical for the Palestinian cause.[i]
In Iran there was a split between the leaders and the people. While Iranian officials abstained to formally take either side, because of harsh position of the two candidates during the election campaign on Iran’s nuclear issue, in the back of their mind they preferred democrats to replace the much dangerous “war president.” On the other hand, a large majority of Iranian people rejoiced Bush reelection on various grounds. Average people and those who had fought during the Iran-Iraq war or lost members of their families and beloved, looked at Bush as a “knight in shining armor” who miraculously fulfilled the Iranian dream of defeating Saddam Hussein and his cruel regime. The intellectuals and opposition groups saw a promising outlook in their vision of a democratic Iran in the years ahead.[ii]
On the other hand, Israel[iii] and the US-backed interim leaders of Iraq were confident a second term for Bush would signal more of the same policies. Before the election result was announced, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi expressed hope that "Whoever is the winner will be our friend. The United States has liberated us from a dictator and a very long period of war and agony.”[iv]
Elsewhere in the world, many politicians, officials and heads of states did not hide their sentiment against Bush’s reelection. In Europe, while many countries, which opposed United States military intervention in Iraq, tried to walk on the borderline in their remarks, awaiting for the results. Indeed, if Bush reelection means that the conservative agenda will continue its previous course with more rigor and resolve, this would be bad new for EU and the rest of perplexing world.
Below we shall examine some of the most critical issues that the new Bush administration will be facing in the years ahead and with particular reference to the Middle East and Iran.
Pending Critical Issues on the Middle East Agenda
President Bush’s reelection for a second term into office with an unprecedented majority, legitimately gives him the mandate to pursue his plans and to achieve the strategy he has followed in the past years throughout the world, including the crises-ridden Middle East. Since the second US military intervention in Iraq, which brought down Saddam Hussein and his cruel regime, the new conservatives in Washington became subject of a number of accusations both from inside and outside the United States.
Much has been said about the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and lack of clear evidence for their existence and relations between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, on which basis apparently Iraq was target of US military intervention. Many US allies in Europe, such as France and Germany, objected to American unilateralism and abstained to endorse US strategy in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. It goes without saying that these countries did not wish to see Bush reelected. But now they have no other choice than to go along with the Americans who by their votes endorsed their president for another four years. Indeed, the years ahead could be very critical for the fate of the Middle East and as a consequence, the world as a whole.
It is safe to say that now, more than anytime in the past, the people of the greater Middle East look towards Washington for their hopes and wishes. They are aware that now the US president has a much better position inside (vis a vis the Congress) and outside, with respect to American allies, who once were hesitant in dealing with the United States ventures around the world. But, this does not necessarily means that the tasks before the US president, with a fresh mandate, are easy to achieve. Furthermore, the neo-conservative hawks in the US administration should be warned against the temptation that they can solve all the outstanding issues in the world by military might and hard power. This is especially true with regard to new genre of terrorism religious radicalism around the world.
A number of urgent problems would have to be included in the agenda of the US president that can be classified as follows disregard of their priorities:
· The lingering issues of Arab-Israeli situation, including the Palestinian problem in the wake of Yasser Arafat disappearance from the Middle East political scene,
· The Iraqi situation and the necessity for a quick round up of the ongoing entanglement,
· The issue of nuclear proliferation and the condition created by Iran’s nuclear ambition,
· The problem of Islamic radicalism and the growing threats of international terrorism,
· The issue of democratization of the greater Middle East as a solution to contain terrorism,
· Other situations susceptible to emerge as crises endangering US interests in the region.
It goes without saying that peace and order in the Middle East are severely geared to the timely and appropriate management of those critical issues, which could otherwise be a heavy burden on the way of American policy and strategy in the years ahead. Indeed, George W. Bush would have difficult times in his second term in office to properly carry out his stated plans to unravel these critical issues. However, if he chooses to go it alone and to continue to persist on unilateralist actions, as he did in the past, the chances for a quick way out of the impending problems would be very meager.
Perhaps one of the main handicaps of Bush and his neo-cons advisers around him is his reductionism approach to political realm. That is to say, that he tends sees everything in a dual manner: black and white, good and evil, etc. Whether we like it or not, this approach is susceptible to increase animosity against Americans around the world, not only in the Middle East but also among Europeans, who are demonstrating more and more dissatisfaction against U.S. policy in the region.
Considering the fact that this short paper lacks enough space to address all of the above issues, it would only focus on the recurring problem of nuclear proliferation and the U.S. policy toward Iran. Of course, it could be argued that Iran’s nuclear ambition is somehow geared to other critical problems such as Islamic radicalism and democratization in the region. One can go even further to contend that Iran’s position with respect to the Palestinian problem and the unfortunate condition in Iraq has direct bearing upon U.S. policy towards Iran. Since, from the beginning of the American intervention in Afghanistan and later in Iraq, after the 9/11, Iran has shown that it can play a crucial role in the region with respect to the success or failure of American policy in the whole Middle East.
Iran’s Nuclear Venture in the wake of Bush Reelection
While U.S. elections were underway, Iranian and EU3 (French, British and German), diplomats were in the process of negotiating on the nuclear issue[v]. The talks had started in the midst of the hot debates between the two candidates for U.S. president. Interestingly, both contenders voiced their position with much concern about Iranian attempt to become a nuclear actor. Whereas Iranian hardliners did not hide their preference for the Democrat’s candidate, the average people and intellectuals favored Bush to be reelected into office.
The second round of EU negotiations with Iran came as a result of a split between Europe and the United States as to how they should tackle with Iran’s nuclear ambition. Then emerged the “stick and carrot” policy, with the EU accepting the task of continuing to encourage Iran with a package of incentives to abandon its nuclear project, including the immediate termination of nuclear enrichment for an undetermined period in the future. Before the results of U.S. elections were released, Iranian negotiators showed intransigent attitude towards their European counterparts. Meanwhile the conservative hardliners in the Islamic Parliament in Tehran ventured to pass a resolution requiring the government to resume the nuclear enrichment process, with a view to influence Iran-EU negotiations underway.
Claiming that Iran would not allow itself to forego its legitimate rights to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, Iranian diplomats took a hard position vis-à-vis Europe and occasionally threaten to leave the negotiation table. However, when the outcome of the elections became known and Bush prevailed, this had immediate impact upon the atmosphere and Iranians clearly softened their attitude. Meanwhile Iran had attempted to attract Russian and Chinese attention to the problem and succeeded to obtain some kind of verbal assurance from them with respect to the eventual hand over of the case to the United Nations Security Council[vi]. Iran is conscious of the fact that these two countries, as permanent members of the SC, can use their veto right to block an eventual resolution against it in this important organ. But, it is not quite sure whether Russia and China would do so for the mere fact of pleasing Iran against the discontent Western powers.
European Union leaders while showing the “carrots” dangled the prospect of important trade pact to Iran, provided that this country suspends its nuclear program[vii]. However, the United States, which implicitly assumed the role of “bad guy” with the “stick,” does not seem to be happy with the formula and calls for a permanent halt to Iran’s uranium enrichment project. It is being speculated that if until the next meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog on November 25, 2004 the negotiation does not succeed to convince Iran on a full and sustained suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities, then the chances of the case being submitted to the SC are very high.
Considering the fact that Iranians thus far seem very uncompromising on the matter of “perpetual cessation” or “indefinite suspension” of their nuclear program, and might only temporarily suspend this activity on a “voluntary basis,” as a measure of confidence building, the following points could be speculated:
· Iranians are not so much worried about their case being submitted to the Security Council, because they seem to have some other kinds of assurance,
· They may be counting upon the support of Russia and China, as two important permanent members of this UN body, to block any eventual resolution,
· By prolonging the negotiation process, Iranians may be buying time to reach to a stage in their nuclear program, which put them in an un-returnable path and then, they will withdraw from the NPT altogether in order to proceed their way to nuclear option!
· Iranians may be on the verge of reaching to a nuclear deterrence position, which permits them to negotiate on an equal footing with their nuclear rivals in the West,
· Iranians may be merely caught between “the devil and the deep sea,” not knowing what to do with the current situation, fearing that any move might further endanger the overall survival of the Islamic regime.
We cannot be quite sure which of the above speculations may be true. But, from the face value of Iran’s rather bold diplomatic undertakings, it is safe to suggest that the Islamic regime is actually using all the leverages at hand, both economic, political and even military[viii], to come clean out of this muddle. The recent deal on liquefied gas with China, which amounts to an overall value of $200 billion, is one such undertaking which would tie Iran’s political fate to China’s growing needs for energy over the next 25 years. Russians on the other hand, are very happy about the current nuclear plant in Bushehr and the prospective other nuclear plant deals with Iran and seem not to be ready to forego this lucrative business just for the sake of giving a hand to American plan to contain Iran’s ambition to use nuclear technology, which in their view, is not harmful.
Iran may even try to lure Europeans in giving out concessions on oil and other business of mutual interests, which could deflect American pressure. On the other hand, Europeans well know that any attempt to pass a UN Security Council resolution under chapter 7 of the Charter, with the effect of preventing Iran’s oil export, would have a disastrous impact upon the market price, already unbearable by them. Thus, they might not be ready to go along with eventual economic sanctions against Iran.
Furthermore, an eventual preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities or oil installations on land or offshore, either directly by the United States or through Israel, will not be supported by EU or the international community as a whole. On the other side, one should recognize that if Iran perceives a real threat in the Persian Gulf or elsewhere in its land territory, it has the capacity to make the whole region insecure. Indeed, these impediments make it very difficult for the U.S. president and his entourage to carry out a strategy in the Middle East, which would threaten Iran’s survival or undermine its regional interests. Since, as we said before, Iran has already shown in other occasions that it is capable to frustrate any such plans throughout the region. Therefore, the fate of peace and order in the Middle East seems to be very much tied up to the policy that the United States will pursue with respect to Iran. This will bring us to a tentative conclusion that follows.
Looking to the Future
Considering recent development in the Middle East, the future of this region seems not to be very promising at this juncture. However, with the passing away of Yasser Arafat, some observers who regarded him as the main bottleneck in the peace process are now very optimistic on the matter. All would depend on the course of action that Arafat’s successors will choose to fulfill the long-awaited cause of Palestine. Current fluid situation does not permit to pass a realistic judgment on other impending issues issues. We have to wait and see how the future course of events may progress.
As to role that the new Bush administration may assume with respect to other outstanding issues on the Middle East agenda, we may come to the following concluding remarks, based on the information that we now have at hand:
· -Given that, according to official statements, no substantive change may take place in U.S. policy toward the Middle East, it does not appear that we should expect any immediate breakthrough in many respects, including the Palestinian problem,
· -The absence of Yasser Arafat from the political scene of the Middle East may open new horizon for a durable peace solution, but it is not quite sure whether Bush’s road map can be revitalized in the foreseeable future,
· -Recognizing that President Bush and his neo-conservative entourage have a definite propensity to solve problems of terrorism and related issue by using hard power and force, the prospects for eradicating this unusual phenomenon do not seem bright,
· -Notwithstanding the result of the upcoming elections in Iraq, that might take place next January 2005, the fluid situation in this country might not bring an end to Iraq’s chaos in near future,
· -Considering the fact that many traditional states in the Middle East are fearful of the Bush’s vision of “democratization” of the region, it does not seem that this controversial course of action will succeed to any considerable degree in the near future,
· -Iran might continue to remain evasive on the nuclear issue and the United States may not be able to put rein on this country’s ambition to acquire the nuclear technology with dual purposes of hostile and pacific ends,
· -It is not quite sure whether the United States can convince EU and two important permanent member of the UN Security Council (Russia and China) to submit Iran’s nuclear case to this organ for eventual sanctions,
· -Perhaps the only way out of this embarrassing situation for the United States is to open direct dialogue with Iran in order to put an end to all problems of mutual interests, including the nuclear issue.
[i] Most countries in the region opted for caution after the White House claimed victory for the incumbent and challenger John Kerry conceded defeat. The Palestinian Authority's envoy to France admitted that veteran leader Yasser Arafat, who is being treated in Paris for a serious but undiagnosed illness, was "worried". Arafat "hopes the second mandate will be different" if Bush is confirmed the winner of Tuesday's election, Laila Shahid said. Echoing a generally negative Palestinian stand towards Bush, deputy parliament speaker Hasan Khraishah said "neither Bush nor Kerry spoke about the Palestinian question during their campaign.” ”Bush has only served to isolate the Palestinian leadership and block the peace process," he said. Cf., “Middle East concern over Bush Victory”, Aljazeera.Net, November 3, 2004.
[ii] On November 2, 2004 in Iran, thousands of demonstrators chanting "Death to America" marked the 25th anniversary of the US hostage crisis at the former American embassy in Tehran. One hard-line member of the parliament observed that America was headed for "international and economic ruin unless Bush is more careful in his second term” Iran student news agency ISNA
[iii] Before the election results, Israel was confident it would preserve its special relationship with Washington whoever will be elected to the White House. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said he did not expect Israel to come under any heightened US pressure over the dormant peace process. "So far we have cooperated with all American administrations and we will continue to do so. I don't think pressure will be necessary, Israel wants to advance on the road to peace," he said. Aljazeera.Net, ibid, Nov. 3, 2004.
[iv] Aljazeera.Net ibid.
[v] Iran had previously agreed in the final Statement by the Iranian Government and visiting EU Foreign Ministers of 21 October 2003 in Tehran, in order to promote mutual confidence with a view to removing barriers for cooperation in the nuclear field, “… to suspend voluntarily all Uranium enrichment and processing activities as defined by the IAEA.” See my paper on the subject presented to the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, “Iran’s Nuclear Venture: Legal Obligation and Political Temptation,” May 2004.
[vi] Chinese foreign minister visiting Tehran on November 6, 2004, stressed the necessity of long-run cooperation between the two countries and referring to Iran’s nuclear project said “ we support the continuation of Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA and also negotiation with the three European countries.” He expressed hope that the ongoing negotiation could lead to positive outcome and added that peaceful use of nuclear energy is a legitimate right of all countries. He further said that through more flexibility and cooperation, Iran can avoid the case being sent to the UN Security Council. Cf. Iran Daily, November 8, 2004, p.1
[vii] For example, the United Kingdom offered Iran to build a light nuclear reactor provided it discontinued it nuclear activities. British representatives presented the proposal during the November negotiation with Iranian diplomats in Paris, France. Based on this proposal, Iran should stop all of its ambiguous nuclear activities, including the enrichment process, which is essentially aimed at preventing Iran from making an “Islamic bomb.” Cf. : Iran Daily, November 8, 2004 . P.1
[viii] During the negotiation of Iranian and EU diplomats on nuclear issue, Iran’s conservative media have expounded various statements from high-ranking officials, including the leader and other military authorities warning against any pressure or blackmail unto Iran. At the same time it was announced by Iran’s Defense Minister that Iran is now in the process of mass production of its long-range missiles (Shahab 3). The commander of the Iranian ground forces also announced that the biggest military exercise in Iran’s history would soon be carried in Iran’s western frontiers bordering Iraq.