Monday, March 20, 2006

Iran: The Moment of Truth

Iran: The Moment of Truth
Ali-Asghar Kazemi
March 17, 2006

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When one is guided by mere force of dogma or instinct and not reason, and the survival is at stake, everything is permissible, since ends justify means. This is to say that principles can be sacrificed when the issue reduces to this simple question: To be or not to be?

Twenty seven years after the coming into power of a regime which started its religious reign with the hostage taking of the American diplomats for 444 days, the revolutionary Iran is now facing the crude realities of the rules of the game in world politics. Iran’s nuclear case has been referred to the U.N. Security Council and is awaiting a crucial decision which will eventually decide the fate of a theological regime in the 21st century.

During the past decades Iran was somehow able to escape the long awaited chastisement for its controversial deeds in international scene, either through smart maneuvers or by taking advantage of its God-given riches to buy support or to fuel hatred and disturbances in the region. Indeed, to overcome multiple threats and complots, Iran had to pay a very high price. But, it is not quite sure whether it will be able to bear the consequences of appalling political and diplomatic blunders during the past six months.

Iran-Iraq conflict was a war by proxy conducted by those who wanted to diminish to nil the two controversial destabilizing regimes in the region. The “Dual Containment Strategy” only worked until the end of the bipolar world and then changed the course without the expected results. More than a million perished in this futile war and the two feuding powers managed to come safe out of the bloody mess.

Aggression on Kuwait by a frustrated powerful Iraq provided the opportunity to Iran to pose as an innocent party to the conflict blaming its neighbor for aggressive intentions in the region. The case temporarily ended up through the first American military intervention in Iraq, choosing not to remove the “butcher of Baghdad” fearing Iran’s ascendance to regional power. The mission was finally accomplished through a second U.S. intervention whose outcome was the collapse of Baath regime as Iran’s perennial hostile and archenemy. All of these developments occurred in absolute favor of the Islamic regime in Iran.

The fall of Saddam Hussein and the consequent turmoil in Iraq was indeed a miracle that only could be achieved through hands of the Almighty God. Miraculously, these hands came out of the sleeves of the Great Satan. In fact, U.S. President is regarded as the savior angel for revolutionary Iran; since every thing he has done so far is in the direction of achieving its interests. Furthermore, as long as the American forces are entangled in Iraq’s havoc, Iranian rulers feel secure from any harsh action that would endanger their existence.

During the two previous governments, formed by the pragmatic Rafsanjani and the self-styled reformist Khatami, Iranian leaders managed to avoid a direct confrontation with the U.S. A couple of times they preferred to settle their disputes (including the hostage, Airbus and Oil-platform cases) through the International Court of Justice (ICJ). This meant that Islamic regime’s overall propensity to engage in a conflict with a superpower has been very low. On the other hand, Americans too did not wish to entertain active hostility with Iran for the reasons beyond the scope of this short essay. This was despite all the rhetoric and verbal challenges made against Americans during the past decades.

Only six months after the coming into power of the new conservative hard-line president, the situation changed and on U.S. persistence Iran’s nuclear case was referred to the U.N. Security Council. This means paving the way for sanctions, military intervention and ultimately toppling an unwanted regime which has been listed on the “axis of evil” for quite sometimes. This was prompted by a number of unwise statements made by the inexperienced president, who out of na├»ve political beliefs or pure religious zeal, provided a fertile ground for the international community to reach a consensus against Iran’s danger for world peace and security.

This whole development is exposing a new face of the Islamic regime which never before appeared on the scene. Some people argue that there is nothing new in this outlook; since Mr. Ahmadinejad truly represents the soul of the religious Shiite enigma, and a revolutionary regime that pledges to guide the whole world to the path of salvation. Curiously enough, this regime is striving to acquire nuclear technology and claimed to be ready to pay the price for its contested venture. Who in the world of politics is ready to deal confidently with such a controversial government?

Unfortunately, the moment of truth is approaching with all of its bitterness and glumness. Now that the seriousness of the situation is felt by the intransigent hard-liners, they are declaring their readiness to sit and negotiate with the Great Satan. It does not really matter whether it is on Iraq’s situation, nuclear issue, human rights or terrorism. They just want to convey the message that finally we were not so much serious about what we said before. Surely, they can launch their propaganda apparatus in order to justify their new position for public. In fact, not only people will not object to the matter but also will be much grateful with such broken covenant, provided it would insure that there would be no foreign intervention in their homeland. To many, these direct talks should have taken place many years ago before it could inflict so much material and human damages to this country. But, as I argued elsewhere, only hard-liners could dare to raise the issue and achieve this task.

Americans however have said that this is not really a negotiating process but some kind of warning to Iran about the continued violence in Iraq and the necessity that the neighboring state should abstain from meddling in its internal affairs. The Islamic regime wishes that once ices are broken they can benefit the opportunity of the new environment to de-escalate the crisis condition. This may in turn help to redirect the nuclear case from the Security Council to the IAEA Governing Council for further negotiations.

To be or not to be, this is the question. We shall wait and see whether this maneuver can do any good to attenuate the grave situation.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Shadow of Terror over Iraq

The Shadow of Terror over Iraq

Ali-Asghar Kazemi
March 10, 2006
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The unfortunate bombing of one of the holiest Shi’a shrine in Samara is considered the most dramatic event since the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Some observers even went so far as to equate the incident as another 9/11 attack which would eventually decide the fate of new Iraq and American presence there. The immediate reaction of Shi’as against Sunnis escalated the crisis to a full-scale bloody confrontation between the two Moslem factions, and brought the country on the verge of a civil war. This whole situation happened at a critical point of time when the new democratically elected parliament was in the process of forming a permanent government.

What are the immediate and long term consequences of the impending crisis? How the neighboring nations, especially Iran as a Shiite state, will be affected by the event? What should be done to curb the negative implications and avoid the worst case situation to happen, namely the total disintegration of Iraq?

One of the most urgent outcomes of the crisis is the new obstacles before the formation of the Shiite-led government which has been charged for its anti-Sunni attitude. Mr. Al-Jafari, accused to be incompetent to establish law and order, is already under serious pressure from all sides, including secular Shiites and the Kurds, to withdraw his candidacy for premiership. The Sunni faction in the parliament (with 44 seats) may harden its position to participate in a national unity government and invest its supporting strength in the legitimacy of the political process.

Among the neighboring states, Iran has multiple interests in the current situation of Iraq. With a long history of rivalry, hostilities and war, Iran will be indeed affected in many ways by any haphazard development. Iranians perceive the present condition very volatile and fear eventual collapse of the new Iraq. Of course, this will not meet the expected objectives, aspirations and potential opportunities opened to them with the majority Shiites in Power.

First of all, we should realize that Iran’s national interests are very much tied to all political, strategic and structural changes in Iraq. The collapse of the Baath regime, through the American military intervention, has created a new strategic environment for the Islamic regime in Tehran. Thus, Iran’s national interests are best served by a stable, democratic and free Iraq with a legitimate strong government willing to cooperate with its neighbors in the promotion of regional calm and security.


From a realistic point of view, Iran has every reason now to support the established Shiite-led government in Iraq and try its best to promote the delicate balance and stability there. Of course, at the beginning of U.S. military intervention in Iraq, Iranian leaders were quite anxious and believed that a quick victory in Iraq would bring the Americans in a face-to-face confrontation with the objective of toppling the Islamic regime. But now, after three years of harsh violence and bloodshed, Iran has gained some sort of assurance that the Americans would not venture another gamble whose outcome is quite uncertain.

As a point of interest, we should remember that since the beginning of U.S. intervention in Iraq, Iran has followed a clever policy that may be termed as a ‘two pillar strategy’ with respect to Iraq. On the one hand, it condemned American military intervention as an unlawful and aggressive act against a Moslem country, on the other it considered the downfall of Saddam Hussein and the Baath regime as a God blessing.

In fact, the downfall of Iran’s archenemy and longtime hostile produced a number of challenges and opportunities for Iran. The most threatening challenge was and still is the presence of American forces all around Iran, which virtually encircle Iran’s strategic position on land and at sea. This dimension of U.S. intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan could have been very alarming if Americans had succeeded to a quick round up in Iraq and did not encounter serious challenge by insurgents.

Thus apparently, it seems that the continued turmoil and insurgency in Iraq has an immediate benefit for Iran, since the United States may not be tempted to use hard power against Iran in the foreseeable future. But, at the same time, if chaotic situation continues and passes a certain threshold, it would be counterproductive for all neighboring states and the region as a whole. This proposition is especially true with respect to Iran, which has a lot of common interests with the newly established Shiite majority in Iraq. Therefore, it is fair to suggest that Iran should rationally do everything in its power to attenuate the ethnic, religious, sectarian and tribal conflicts in Iraq; since, it is itself very vulnerable on these matters.

With respect to the United States, public opinion is rapidly changing course not only inside but outside U.S. as well. Most recent survey show that an average of 60 percent in the 33 nations agreed that the March 2003 invasion of Iraq had increased the likelihood of terrorist attacks around the world. Indeed, the new situation is quite alarming for the American strategy in the Middle East, and many U.S. traditional friends are under severe pressure to do away with the horrible hurdle.

It has now become quite evident that American military planners failed to anticipate or prepare for any serious resistance and insurgency after the downfall of Saddam Hussein and perhaps less so after his miserable capture and trial.

Still now the intelligence about the identity of peoples who commit suicide attacks is very vague and unreliable. Even Iraqi officials have little understanding of the relative strength of Iraqi nationals and foreigners including Al-Qaeda, among fighters and the probable connections between the two groups. Iraqi officials have always put the blame on “extremist groups from abroad that merely objected to the presence of Americans and other foreign troops in Iraq.” It was also claimed that these groups are out to set “a sense of permanent violence to intimidate people and turn them against the government.”

Despite the fact that attacks on the Shiite shrine have triggered widespread violence in Iraq, it appears that those who wanted to foment an all-out civil war with the evil objective to topple the fragile government are not being much successful. An optimistic assessment leads one to believe that the majority of Iraqis now have every reason to be willing to avoid bloodshed and benefit from the potential democratic environment created at a very high price. Yet, they too seem to think that terrorism in Iraq is now a direct consequence of American and foreign presence, and thus would prefer to see their gradual withdrawal from their lands. Eventually, a quick solution to the crisis would be the replacement of U.N. Peace-keeping forces, composed of major elements of the existing coalition and other states, to take charge of security and order in war-torn Iraq.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Dilemma of Iran's Foreign Policy

(First Draft: March 4, 2006)


The Dilemma of Iran’s Foreign Policy
Identifying Friends and Foes

Ali-Asghar Kazemi
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Keywords: Iran’s foreign policy, nuclear diplomacy, NPT, International Atomic Energy Agency -IAEA,

Introduction

One of the major impediments of Iran’s foreign policy, almost three decades after the establishment of the Islamic Republic, seems to be the continuing persistence on its revolutionary nature. In fact, this feature has created a strong barrier before Iran’s national objectives and aspirations in setting clear criteria for determining friends and foes. This does not suggest however that the same quandary is settled in domestic sphere. Perhaps many unfortunate events and vicissitudes during the lifespan of the Islamic regime so far are geared to this very important dimension of the revolutionary Iran.

Nevertheless, when states choose to engage in interactions with their peers, they must have a lucid definition of their ends and means, a realistic assessment of their partners and above all a faithful commitment to certain primordial standards (rules of the game) in international relations. Indeed revolutions have their own peculiarities and manners and do not necessarily follow conventional norms and expected behavior. They usually have a tendency to challenge the status quo and even alter those rules. Thus, many states prefer not to be in love with revolutionary regimes which by nature have a propensity to be rejective rather than receptive.

Is there a clear understanding of Iran’s vital national interests and capabilities in the decision making system? How far a state claiming to be guided by its ideological aspirations and revolutionary fervor can achieve its goals in international relations? Who is interested to make real friendship with an unpredictable partner? What are the consequences of foreign policy failure in the current nuclear crisis? ( Continued...) pdf version