Friday, December 22, 2006
New America Media, Opinion/Analysis, William O. Beeman, Posted: Dec 23, 2006
Editor's Note: The results of recent Iranian elections were a setback for conservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a success for reformers. If Iran is left to itself, the writer says, a rising generation of young people and women will make the country more democratic and liberal than ever. William O. Beeman is professor of anthropology and Middle East studies at Brown University. He is president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association, and author of "The 'Great Satan' vs. the 'Mad Mullahs': How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other" (Praeger Publishers, 2005).
Recent elections in Iran are harbingers of change in the Islamic Republic. The rising generation of Iranian youth, along with the increasingly important population of politically active women is making itself felt in a dramatic way. It is this combination -- youth and women -- who will lead Iran in the near future.
The new political landscape is not yet at full strength -- that will occur in about five years as the post-Revolutionary population matures. However, the presence of this new political coalition in last week's election has already shown the future of Iranian political life. If left to its own devices without foreign interference, Iran undoubtedly be more democratic, more liberal, more secular and more positively disposed toward the West than ever before in the Islamic Republic.
The elections chose the members of local municipal councils as well as the Assembly of Experts, which monitors the actions of Iran's Spiritual Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i. The results were a loss for the extreme conservative elements in Iran's political spectrum, and a resurgence of moderate and reformist candidates.
Many commentators have had difficulty interpreting the election results. However, it becomes easier once the Iranian political landscape has been properly laid out.
The dominant group in Iranian political life are the post-Revolutionary Hard-line Conservatives. This is the group who came to power under the aegis of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The current spiritual leader, Ali Khamene'i and his supporters make up the bulk of this group. They currently dominate the government. However, in the three decades following the Revolution they have become increasingly more pragmatic in their dealings with the United States and other Western nations. Often identified in derogatory fashion as the "mullocracy," they are no longer dominated by clerics.
Challenging this establishment for power are three groups. First are a number of Moderate Conservatives -- individuals and factions who have posts within the conservative establishment who are vying for power. Chief among them is Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, former president who ran for a second non-consecutive term against current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last year's elections. Hashemi-Rafsanjani currently heads the Expediency Council, which mediates between the Spiritual Leader and the Parliament. Another contender for power is Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, current mayor of Tehran, who also ran for president.
The second group consists of the Reformers, who, under President Mohammad Khatami, the last president, made strong gains in modifying the hard revolutionary line of the Khomeini conservatives. They were voted out of office by a public disgruntled because they could not take their reforms far enough. They were also prevented from seeking election by the conservatives who, under the constitution, have the right through a body called the Council of Guardians to remove "unsuitable" candidates from elections. The former Parliament Speaker, Mehdi Karrubi, who came close to being in the presidential runoff last year, is part of this group.
The third challenger group might be called the Revolutionary Reactionaries, headed by current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This group is disgruntled for many reasons. Many are veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. They have never achieved real power in government, though they maintain a certain control in local politics. They reject the idea of clerical rule and want Iran to return to the ideals of the original Revolution -- particularly in the area of economic reform. They view the current conservative rulers as corrupt and venal. President Ahmadinejad's fiery rhetoric is aimed at energizing this group and attracting new followers to their philosophy. President Ahmadinejad is too weak to effect the religious conservative rollback in laws involving public behavior, or in redistribution of the nation's wealth -- one of the hallmark goals of the original Revolution.
Unfortunately for both the Reformers and the Revolutionary Reactionaries, they have very little power. President Khatami and those who represent his political stance are regularly vilified in the press and in public rhetoric. Though President Ahmadinejad has the bully pulpit at his disposal to launch whatever attacks he wishes on Israel, the United States or those who oppose Iran's nuclear energy program, in fact he has very little actual power. Under Iran's governmental system the president has no control over the military, foreign policy or Iran's nuclear program. Therefore his words are empty.
However, Iran does have a real, functioning electoral system, despite denigrating remarks made by the Bush administration. President Ahmadinejad hoped to increase his power by forming a political party and running candidates that would represent his philosophy. The Reformers also ran candidates to challenge the conservatives. Since the election, it seems clear that the voters have favored the Reformers and the Moderate Conservatives in both the local elections and for the Assembly of Experts. Mr. Ahmadinejad's supporters came in a distant fourth in all aspects of the election. This is certainly a setback for his political ambitions, and it should help Westerners to put his extreme remarks in perspective: clearly Iranians don't buy them any more than forces in the West.
The trend among Iranian voters is thus in the direction of change away from the conservatism of the past. This has been the general direction of Iranian politics, and it will undoubtedly continue. The one issue that all Iranians are united on, however, is the right for Iran to develop its nuclear energy capabilities. This is a matter of national pride in Iran where it is seen as an aspect of modernization. There is no evidence whatever that Iran is pursuing a weapons program. The United States is foolish to continue to antagonize the Iranian people by threatening attacks, sanctions and other hostile actions based on this one-note foreign policy.
A policy of talking to Iran, engaging in diplomacy and working toward reasonable mutual solutions to regional issues of mutual concern will pay off in the long run, when Iran's new generation comes to power.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
William O. Beeman
Elections in Iran last week are harbingers of change in the Islamic Republic. The rising generation of Iranian youth, along with the increasingly important population of politically active women is making itself felt in a dramatic way. It is this combination—youth and women—who will lead Iran in the near future.
The new political landscape is not yet at full strength—that will occur in about five years as the post-Revolutionary population matures. However, the presence of this new political coalition in last week’s election has already shown the future of Iranian political life. If left to its own devices without foreign interference, Iran undoubtedly be more democratic, more liberal, more secular and more positively disposed toward the West than ever before in the Islamic Republic.
The elections which chose the members of local municipal councils as well as the Assembly of Experts, which monitors the actions of Iran’s Spiritual Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i, resulted in losses for the extreme conservative elements in Iran’s political spectrum, and a resurgence of moderate and reformist candidates.
Many commentators have had difficulty interpreting the election results. However, it becomes easier once the Iranian political landscape has been properly laid out.
The dominant group in Iranian political life are the post-Revolutionary Hard-line Conservatives. This is the group who came to power under the aegis of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The current spiritual leader, Ali Khamene’i and his supporters make up the bulk of this group. They currently dominate the government. However, in the three decades following the Revolution they have become increasingly more pragmatic in their dealings with the United States and other Western nations. Often identified in derogatory fashion as the “mullocracy,” they are no longer dominated by clerics.
Challenging this establishment for power are three groups. First are a number of Moderate Conservatives--individuals and factions who have posts within the conservative establishment who are vying for power. Chief among them is Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, former President who ran for a second non-consecutive term against current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last year’s elections. Hashemi-Rafsanjani currently heads the Expediency Council, which mediates between the Spiritual Leader and the Parliament. Another contender for power is Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, current mayor of Tehran, who also ran for President.
The second group consists of the Reformers, who, under President Mohammad Khatami, the last President, made strong gains in modifying the hard revolutionary line of the Khomeini conservatives. They were voted out of office by a public disgruntled because they could not take their reforms far enough. They were also prevented from seeking election by the conservatives who, under the constitution have the right through a body called the Council of Guardians to remove “unsuitable” candidates from elections. The former Parliament Speaker, Mehdi Karrubi, who came close to being in the Presidential runoff last year, is part of this group.
The third challenger group might be called the Revolutionary Reactionaries, headed by current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This group is disgruntled for many reasons. Many are veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. They have never achieved real power in government, though they maintain a certain control in local politics. They reject the idea of clerical rule and want Iran to return to the ideals of the original Revolution—particularly in the area of economic reform. They view the current conservative rulers as corrupt and venal. President Ahmadinejad’s fiery rhetoric is aimed at energizing this group and attracting new followers to their philosophy. President Ahmadinejad is too weak to effect the religious conservative rollback in laws involving public behavior, or in redistribution of the nation’s wealth—one of the hallmark goals of the original Revolution.
Unfortunately for both the Reformers and the Revolutionary Reactionaries they have very little power. President Khatami and those who represent his political stance are regularly vilified in the press and in public rhetoric. Though President Ahmadinejad has the bully pulpit at his disposal to launch whatever attacks he wishes on Israel, the United States or those who oppose Iran’s nuclear energy program; in fact he has very little actual power. Under Iran’s governmental system the President has no control over the military, foreign policy or Iran’s nuclear program. Therefore his words are empty.
However, Iran does have a real, functioning electoral system, despite denigrating remarks made by the Bush administration. President Ahmadinejad hoped to increase his power by forming a political party and running candidates that would represent his philosophy. The Reformers also ran candidates to challenge the conservatives.
Now that election returns are in, it seems clear that the voters have favored the Reformers, and the Moderate Conservatives in both the local elections and for the Assembly of Experts. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters came in a distant fourth in all aspects of the election. This is certainly a setback for his political ambitions, and it should help Westerners to put his extreme remarks in perspective: clearly Iranians don’t buy them any more than forces in the West.
The trend among Iranian voters is thus in the direction of change away from the conservatism of the past. This has been the general direction of Iranian politics, and it will undoubtedly continue.
The one issue that all Iranians are united on, however, is the right for Iran to develop its nuclear energy capabilities. This is a matter of national pride in Iran where it is seen as an aspect of modernization. There is no evidence whatever that Iran is pursuing a weapons program. The United States is foolish to continue to antagonize the Iranian people by threatening attacks, sanctions and other hostile actions based on this one-note foreign policy.
A policy of talking to Iran, engaging in diplomacy and working toward reasonable mutual solutions to regional issues of mutual concern will pay off in the long run when Iran’s new generation comes to power.
William O. Beeman is Professor of Anthropology and Middle East Studies at Brown University. He is President of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association, and author of The “Great Satan” vs. The “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
by Jeffrey St. Clair, CounterPunch
February 7th, 2006
(Note from William Beeman--Americans should rejoice at the just announced departure on December 31 from the Department of Defense of Stephen Cambone, on whose head much of the misery that is the Iraq quagmire must fall. )
The grave fellow in the business suit sitting between two uniformed generals at the witness table during the senate hearings about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war at Abu Ghraib was Dr. Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, known throughout the Pentagon as Donald Rumsfeld's "chief henchman". In his testimony before the committee, Cambone was unapologetic and almost as dismissive as the ridiculous Sen. James Inhofe about the global disgust which erupted over the abuse and murder of Iraqi prisoners of war. Cambone, an apex neo-con and veteran of the Project for the New American Century, evinced disdain not only for the senatorial inquiry but also at a squeamish Lieutenant General Antonio Taguba, who sat next him, looking as if he suspected that he might well be the next one leashed to Cambone's bureaucratic pillory.
A Republican staffer on the Senate foreign relations Committee tells CounterPunch the little-known Cambone, who like so many others on the Bush war team skillfully avoided military service, has quietly become one of the most powerful men in the Pentagon, rivaling even Paul Wolfowitz. "Cambone is a truly dangerous player", the staffer said. "He is Rumsfeld's guard dog, implacably loyal. While Wolfowitz positions himself to step into the top spot should Rumsfeld get axed, Cambone has dug in and gone to war against the insurgents in the Pentagon. Cambone's fingerprints are all over the occupation and the interrogation scandal. For him, there's no turning back".
Cambone has stealthily positioned himself as the most powerful intelligence operator in the Bush administration. On May 8, 2003, Rumsfeld named him Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, a new position which Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz described thus: "The new office is in charge of all intelligence and intelligence-related oversight and policy guidance functions". In practice, this means that Cambone controls the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the National Reconnaissance Organization, the National Security Agency, the Defense Security Service and Pentagon's Counter-Intelligence Field Activity. Cambone meets with the heads of these agencies, as well as top officials at the CIA and National Security Council twice a week to give them their marching orders.
One senate staffer tells us he has more operational sway than George Tenet or Condi Rice. His rise to power has been quiet, almost unnoticed until the Abu Ghraib scandal forced him briefly into the spotlight. Indeed, prior to the events of May, Cambone completely evaded detection by Bob Woodward, who in two thick volumes on Bush's wars failed to mention the name Cambone once. Of course, this may reveal more about Woodward than Cambone's skill at bureaucratic camouflage.
Yes, Cambone has neo-con credentials. He got his masters and doctorate at Claremont College in southern California, an elite Straussian enclave. He went on to draft sections of the Project for a New American Century's 2001 Report, Rebuilding America's Defenses, a document notable for recommending that the US develop ethnic and race-based weapons. But more crucial for the speedy trajectory of his career is Cambone's resume as a devout Rumsfeldian. In 1998, Rumsfeld selected Cambone to serve as staff director of the Rumsfeld Commission on Ballistic Missile Defense, the Congressionally-appointed panel which justified implementation of the Strategic Defense Initiative on the grounds that the US was vulnerable to strikes from missiles freighting nuclear, chemical and biological weapons launched by rogue nations, such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq.
Cambone was no newcomer to the Star Wars scheme. From 1982 through 1986, he toiled at Los Alamos developing policy papers about the need for space-based weapons. In 1990, George Bush, Sr. picked Cambone to head up the Strategic Defense Initiative Office at the Pentagon. After Bush lost, Cambone migrated to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a DC holding pen for hawks, where he continued to hammer away in essays and speeches about the windows of vulnerability in the skies over America.Rumsfeld first brought Cambone into his inner circle not as an overlord for intelligence, but as the chief Pentagon strategist for pushing SDI through Congress. Recall that in the early days of the Bush administration, Star Wars and the obliteration of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty were the twin obsessions of the Rumsfeld gang at the Pentagon.After 9/11 Rumsfeld moved Cambone over to work on war planning and intelligence as Deputy Secretary of Defense for Policy, where he labored under the neo-con luminary Douglas Feith. There's reason to believe that Cambone's real mission was to keep tabs on Feith, a notorious hothead and Cheney loyalist whom Rumsfeld distrusts. Rumsfeld wasn't the only one who loathed Feith. Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded the Afghan and Iraq wars, told Woodward that Feith was "the stupidest motherfucker on the face of the Earth".
Cambone and Feith reportedly soon developed an equally acrimonious relationship. But as Feith's star fell, Cambone's rose. In July 2002, Rumsfeld moved Cambone to the Office of Analysis and Evaluation, where his mission was to implement Rumsfeld's plan to reorganize the military and trim some of its most highly-prized weapons systems. "Cambone loomed as a huge threat to the generals", a senate staffer told us. "The message was pretty simple. Go along with our war plans or risk losing your big-ticket items and perhaps your command. Cambone was the enforcer". At the Pentagon, the most feared weapon isn't a dirty nuke, but a line item in the budget.
In April of 2003, Rumsfeld placed Cambone in charge of counter-terrorism teams operating under the code-name "Grey Fox". This covert operation is a kind of sabotage and assassination squad run out of the civil wing of the Pentagon. Rumsfeld had grown frustrated with the military's reluctance to assassinate suspected al-Qaeda and Iraqi resistance leaders, an understandable reluctance in light of US executive orders restricting the use of assassinations. So Rumsfeld seized control of the hit teams from the generals and assigned it to Cambone, a civilian appointee with no military experience. The Gray Fox project, so one Washington Post report concluded, is geared to perform "deep penetration" missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria and North Korea, setting up listening posts, conducting acts of sabotage and assassination. When questioned about Gray Fox, Cambone snapped, "We won't talk about those things".
However, military officers did talk about Gray Fox. "The people in these units are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, anywhere around the world. They are very highly trained, with specialized skills for dealing with close-quarters combat and unique situations posed by weapons of mass destruction", a military officer told Army Times. "If we find a high-value target somewhere, anywhere in the world, and if we have the forces to get there and get to them, we should get there and get to them", the official said. "Right now, there are 18 food chains, 20 levels of paperwork and 22 hoops we have to jump through before we can take action. Our enemy moves faster than that".Aside from guarding Rumsfeld from assaults from within the Pentagon, Cambone's main role seems to be cutting through red tape and bothersome codes of conduct, such as the Geneva Conventions, to institute legally questionable policies. Take the treatment of Iraqi prisoners. The orders to soften up Iraqi prisoners for intelligence interrogators (both military and private contractors) came directly from Cambone's office.
In August 2003, as the occupation of Iraq began to turn bloody, Cambone ordered Brigadier General Geoffrey Miller, former commander of the detention facility at Guantanamo, to go to Iraq along with a team of experienced military interrogators, who had honed their inquisitorial skills with the torture of al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees captured in Afghanistan. His instructions were to "Gitmoize" the interrogations at Abu Ghraib and other prisons, including the notorious Camp Cropper on the outskirts of the Baghdad Airport, where the Delta Force conducted abusive interrogations of top level members of Saddam's regime.
Cambone's top deputy inside the military is none other than Lt. General William Boykin, the Christian warrior, whom Cambone and Rumsfeld elevated to the position to the position of intelligence czar for the US Army last fall. Boykin rose to this lofty eminence after he went on a revival tour of evangelical churches in Oregon, where he disclosed the top secret intelligence that the US "had been attacked because we are a Christian nation". Boykin also leaked the news that Bush's war on terrorism was actually "a war against Satan".
Boykin calmed the congregations by saying there was little reason to fear because the Christian god is mightier than Allah. "I know that my god is bigger than his", Boykin preached. "I know that my god is a real God and his an idol". The general also revealed to the faithful that the supreme deity of the Christians had hand-picked Bush to be president during these fraught times. It was obvious, the general reasoned, that Bush didn't win the election. He became president through a kind of preemptive strike by the Almighty.When word of Boykin's sermons landed on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in October of 2003, there was outrage in the American Islamic community that this two-star zealot was now directing US military intelligence operations in the Middle East. There were calls for his ouster and the Inspector General of the Army launched an investigation of Boykin. But Rumsfeld and Cambone shrugged off the probe and stood by Boykin.It now turns out that Boykin, the Islamophobe, played a central role in the torture scandal now gripping the Bush administration. Last summer, Boykin briefed Cambone on a list of no-holds-barred interrogation methods that he thought should be used to extract more information from Iraqi detainees.
These included humiliation, sleep deprivation, restraint, water torture, religious taunting, light deprivation, and other techniques of torture that have since come to light. A few weeks after this crucial meeting in June, Cambone sent General Miller to Iraq with instructions to oversee the implementation of the Boykin interrogation plan in order to "rapidly exploit internees for actionable intelligence". According to Lt. General Antonio Taguba, who investigated the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Miller then instructed the Military Police to become "actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of internees". The grim trio of Cambone, Boykin and Miller also conspired to put the control of the detention facilities in Iraq under the tactical control of military intelligence. At Abu Ghraib, the job fell to Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, a move that Lt. General Taguba called contrary to established military doctrine.It now seems likely that Cambone was only the one to invite Israeli advice (and perhaps interrogators) on how to extract information from Iraqi detainees. Before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Cambone freely admitted to the Washington Times that he was taking advice from the Israelis and sharing intelligence with them on the mechanics of occupation and interrogation. "Those who have to deal with like problems tend to share information as best they can".
These days advancement through the ranks of the Pentagon often goes hand-in-hand with opportunities to deliver sweetheart deals to corporate allies. Here too Cambone has not disappointed his backers. From 1986 to 1990, Cambone worked as a top lobbyist for SRS, a murky software company with deep roots in the Pentagon and CIA. Although Cambone left SRS for government work, he didn't forget his old employers. With Cambone's approval, the Pentagon awarded SRS a $6 million contract to provide management support for the Missile Defense Agency, the wing of the Defense Department charged with managing the SDI program and the development of space-base weapons.
In addition, SRS benefited from Cambone's transfer to the spying wing of the Pentagon. An SRS subsidiary called Torch Concepts was hired by the Pentagon to conduct a data mining foray into passenger records of JetBlue airlines. Bart Edsall, SRS's vice-president, described the work Torch did this way: "the company got a contract from the Pentagon to work with the Army to ferret information out of data streams [in an effort to detect] abnormal behavior of secretive people". Sound familiar? It should. The scheme was essentially a privatized version of the kind of work that John Poindexter wanted to conduct with his discredited Total Information Awareness operation. No surprise that the contracts for this outsourced form of snooping should fall to SRS. It is already the primary private contractor working with the Information Awareness Office of DARPA, the agency which Poindexter ruled and which continues the nefarious work of prying into the private lives, including travel, health and financial records, of American citizens.
As Rumsfeld's hatchetman, Cambone has become so hated and feared inside the Pentagon that one general told the Army Times: "If I had one round left in my revolver, I'd take out Stephen Cambone". This raises the concept of fragging to an entirely new level.
This essay is excerpted from Jeffrey St. Clair's new book, Grand Theft Pentagon.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
BEIRUT, Lebanon, Nov. 29 — Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told the American people on Wednesday that he was certain they detested President Bush’s policies — his support for Israel, war in Iraq and curtailed civil liberties — and he offered to work with them to reverse those policies.
The call came in the form of a six-page letter in English, published online and addressed to “noble Americans” that discussed “the many wars and calamities caused by the U.S. administration.” It suggested that Americans had been fooled into accepting their government’s policies, especially toward Israel.
“What have the Zionists done for the American people that the U.S. administration considers itself obliged to blindly support these infamous aggressors?” Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote. “Is it not because they have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors?”
This was the latest public step by Iran’s president to promote a dialogue with the United States. He wrote a letter to Mr. Bush in May, calling on him to shift his policies and open a discussion, but it was dismissed by the White House as irrelevant to the central issue dividing them — Iran’s nuclear program. Then Mr. Ahmadinejad challenged Mr. Bush to a public debate, also dismissed by the White House.
On Wednesday, the administration’s reaction remained unchanged.
“This is a transparently hypocritical and cynical letter,” Nicholas R. Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, said in Washington about the latest letter. “It reflects a profound lack of understanding of the United States.”
Still, at least tactically the letter seemed to take a page from Mr. Bush himself, who, speaking to the United Nations General Assembly in September, sought to bypass the Iranian government and address the people directly. The letter also distinguished between the administration and the people.
“Undoubtedly, the American people are not satisfied with this behavior, and they showed their discontent in the recent elections,” Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote. “I hope that in the wake of the midterm elections, the administration of President Bush will have heard and will heed the message of the American people.”
But it was the emphasis on religious themes, specifically Shiite Muslim notions of justice and fighting oppression, that characterized the new letter as it did his letter to President Bush.
“Both our nations are God-fearing, truth-loving and justice-seeking, and both seek dignity, respect and perfection,” the letter said.
The letter seemed directed at three audiences. It sought to reach out to Americans through religious values; to the Arab world, by emphasizing the Palestinian conflict with Israel; and to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s political base at home, which includes the military, hard-line clerics and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.
The letter also employed an inferential, Iranian style of communication that experts say is likely to leave Americans cold.
“Americans are going to be very puzzled by it,” said William Beeman, a linguistic anthropologist at Brown University who specializes in Persian. “People are simply not used to being talked to this way.” He added, “It is almost a sermon, which is very much in keeping with his religious background. But I should also point out it is also a lecture.”
The letter reminded Americans that “many victims of Katrina continue to suffer, and countless Americans continue to live in poverty and homelessness.”
It also lamented: “Civil liberties are increasingly being curtailed. Even the privacy of the individuals is fast losing its meaning.”
The president made no reference to the level of poverty, political freedom or judicial independence in his own country.
After referring to Abu Ghraib in Iraq and the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, he wrote: “I have no doubt that the American people do not approve of this behavior and indeed deplore it.”
Since his election in June 2005, Mr. Ahmadinejad has pursued an aggressive and outspoken foreign policy, relying on the bully pulpit of his position to make up for the limited powers of Iran’s presidency.
His refusal to end enrichment of uranium and his calls for the destruction of Israel have won him few friends in the West. But they have led to increasing popularity across the Muslim world.
Davoud Hermidas-Bavand, a professor of international relations at Tehran University, said the letter was mostly an effort to win the allegiance of Arabs. Iran has been trying to position itself as the pre-eminent power in the Middle East.
“His first objective is to get the sympathy of Arabs,” said Dr. Hermidas-Bavand. “The letter makes Ahmadinejad a subject of international talks, particularly in the Middle East.”
He said the letter gave insight into President Ahmadinejad’s understanding of American society and governance as being driven largely by Christian beliefs and values.
“He has probably been told that American people are religious and that is how Mr. Bush won, by addressing people’s sense of faith,” he said. “Now he wants to capitalize on this sense of religiousness.”
Iran finds its leverage rising, especially as Iraq struggles through bloody sectarian fighting. In Washington, there is increased pressure on the White House to open direct talks with Iran to help stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Ahmadinejad offered a litany of sharp attacks on American policy — calling, for example, for withdrawal from Iraq. And he once again highlighted a central demand of Tehran: that it be treated as an equal by Washington.
But Professor Beeman also said that Americans should recognize that the letter did represent an overture. “Iran is saying, ‘We want to have a dialogue with you,’ ” he said.
Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Amman, Jordan, and Nazila Fathi from Iran.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
William O. Beeman
October 29, 2006
The United States and Iran are moving laboriously toward confrontation—perhaps military confrontation. John Bolton and Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns are working non-stop at the United Nations to try and get international sanctions imposed on Iran. The latest attempt is to get U.N. nations to prohibit Iranian students from studying certain subjects, such as engineering, in member nations.
Iran in turn has vigorously rejected any attempts to limit its development of a full nuclear enrichment cycle. The attempts on the part of the United Nations to impose trade or other sanctions on Iran is leading to diplomatic difficulties as Russia and China will likely oppose these measures.
An examination of the U.S. position vis-à-vis Iran leads inevitably to the conclusion that the nuclear issue is merely a pretext for action against the Iranian government, which the United States has been demonizing since the Revolution of 1978-79. The Bush administration’s real goal is regime change in Iran by whatever means, and finding an issue that can be trumped up enough to garner the support of the American public, and the international community has been a constant activity since President Bush came to office in his first administration.
Now the drive to destabilize Iran by whatever means has taken on a life of its own. It has become a dangerous obsession for the Bush administration, driving them increasingly to support actions that are not only counter-productive, but dangerous for the region and the world.
I want to make several points today.
First, that the Bush administration’s goal to attack Iran predates any concern about Iran’s nuclear program.
Second, that Iran’s nuclear development program poses no immediate danger for the United States, Israel or the Middle East region—because it is not a nuclear weapons program, and all attempts to prove that it is a weapons program are specious.
Third, Iran’s attempts to address American and European fears about the program have been systematically rejected by the United States, who wishes fervently to assure that this will continue to be a live issue
Finally, that potential U.S. actions against Iran pose far more danger than Iran poses for the region and for the world.
The attacks against Iran have their origins in longstanding concerns about the safety of Israel, ratcheted up by the extremist views of the neoconservatives that now dominate the Bush administration.
These concerns combined with decades long antipathy toward Iran, and the desire of the United States to dominate the oil-rich Middle East create a perfect storm of fervent desire on the part of the Bush administration to attack Iran.
The rhetoric against Iran has now pervaded American political culture to such an extent that no American lawmaker is willing to defend Iran. Conversely, no politician, Democratic or Republican ever lost a vote by attacking Iran.
According to journalist Sidney Blumenthal in Salon
>>>, the neocons in the administration, specifically Vice President Dick
>>>Cheney and National Security Agency Middle East Director Elliott Abrams,
>>>have been funneling U.S. intelligence intercepts to the Israelis as part
>>>of a plan to target Syria and Iran (see Tom Barry, Hunting Monsters with
>>>Those intercepts were behind the recent House Intelligence Committee
>>>report blasting U.S. spy agencies for their reluctance to say that
>>>Hezbollah is nothing more than an extension of Iran, that Tehran is on
>>>the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, and that Iran poses a clear and
>>>present danger to the United States.
>>>The author of the House report, Frederick Fleitz, was a former special
>>>assistant to current UN Ambassador John Bolton. Bolton was a key figure
>>>in gathering the now-discredited intelligence that Iraq had weapons of
>>>According to Blumenthal, Cheney and his Middle East aide David Wurmser
>>>have dusted off a 1996 document called "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for
>>>Securing the Realm." The study was authored by Wurmser, ex-Pentagon
>>>official Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle, disgraced former head of the
>>>Defense Policy Board.
>>>The "Break"-originally written for then-Likud prime minister Benjamin
>>>Netanyahu-advocates that the Israelis, with support from the United
>>>States, dump the 1992 Oslo Agreement with the Palestinians, target Syria
>>>and Iraq, and redesign the Middle East.
>>>A key ingredient in the document, and one central to current
>>>administration thinking, is that since terrorism is state-supported, the
>>>war on terrorism can be won by changing regimes. Hence, to defeat
>>>Hezbollah, you have to overthrow Syria and Iran.
The only problem that the Bush administration felt they had was how to sell the overthrow of Iran to the American public. The fact that such an action would be a massive, stunning failure seems even now not to be of any great concern to them.
The only issue that really frightens and concerns the American public is their own safety. Raising the specter of atomic weapons that might be used against Americans worked effectively in convincing the U.S. public to support the Iraqi invasion. Having used this device once, the Bush administration has trotted it out again, and has fed the U.S. public a full measure of yellow journalism trying to frighten them into supporting an Iranian attack. Neoconservative Bush supporters wrote fantasy accounts of Iranian cataclysmic atomic attacks on America. Jerome Corsi, ghost author of Unfit for Command, the Swiftboat attack on John Kerry wrote Atomic Iran—in which a hyperbolic account of an Iranian atomic bomb dropped on New York’s Central Park vies for his accounts of Iranian mullahs abducting children to support their regime. Kenneth Timmerman, penned Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran in a similar vein. Let me read a passage from Ray Takyeh of the Council on Foreign Relations’ review of the book from the Washington Post:
Timmerman's thesis is simplistic and provocative: Iran is America's most militant, relentless enemy and has been involved in nearly every terrorist attack against the United States since 1979. Iran is also actively seeking the bomb -- not for deterrence, but to menace the United States and its allies. . . . Timmerman, the author of earlier books attacking France and Jesse Jackson, begins his book with the outlandish claim that Iran was complicit in the Sept. 11, 2001, atrocities. In his retelling of history, a craven CIA, determined to exonerate rogue states that sponsor terrorism, has deliberately withheld this information from the American public. The conclusions of the numerous congressional investigations and journalistic inquiries into Sept. 11 are simply ignored. The one independent examination that Timmerman does cite, the 9/11 Commission, is faulted for missing what he considers the all-too-apparent Iran link. The reader gets the impression that Timmerman would rather not bother with facts precisely because they undermine his conspiracy theory.
The book was praised by the right-wing Washington Times, New York Sun and New York Post and has been widely cited on Fox News and other sycophantic supporters of the Bush administration.
IRAN POSES NO DANGER
However, there is no proof whatever that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.
President Bush declared on June 25, 2003 that "we will not tolerate" a nuclear armed Iran. His words are empty. The physical evidence for a nuclear weapons program in Iran simply does not exist.
Iran is completing a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant in Bushehr with Russian help. The existence of the site is common knowledge. It has been under construction for more than three decades, since before the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
Two other nuclear research facilities, now under development, have come to light: a uranium enrichment plant in the city of Natanz and a deuterium ("heavy water") facility in the city of Arak. Neither is in operation. The only question of interest is whether these facilities offer a plausible route to the manufacture of plutonium-based nuclear bombs, and the short answer is: They do not.
The Bushehr plant is only part of the argument that Iran is embarked on a nuclear weapons program, but it is the part that can readily be analyzed. State Department accusations of dangerous Iranian intentions for the Natanz and Arak facilities are based on a patchwork of untestable, murky assertions from dubious sources, including the People's Mujahedeen (Mujahedeen-e Khalq, MEK or MKO), which the United States identifies as a terrorist organization. These sources assert that there are centrifuges for enriching uranium (an alternative to fissile plutonium for bombs) or covert facilities for extracting plutonium. Neither of these claims are especially credible, since the sources are either unidentified or are the same channels which disseminated the stories about Iraq's non-conventional weapons or the so-called chemical and biological weapons plant in Khartoum.
The testable part of the claim -- that the Bushehr reactor is a proliferation threat -- is demonstrably false. There are several reasons, some technical, some institutional.
--The Iranian reactor yields the wrong kind of plutonium for making bombs.
--The spent fuel pins in the Iranian reactor would, in any case, be too dangerous to handle for weapons manufacture.
--Any attempt to divert fuel from the Iranian plant will be detectable.
--The Russian partners in the Bushehr project have stipulated that the fuel pins must be returned to Russia, as has been their practice worldwide for other export reactors.
Just as there are many different kinds of nuclear reactors, there are different forms of plutonium, distinctions that are almost never made in public discussions of nuclear proliferation.
There are two different kinds of reactors, heavy-water or graphite-moderated reactors; and pressurized, or "light water" reactors (PWRs). The Dimona nuclear power plant in Israel is an example of the former. The Bushehr plant is the latter.
The Israeli plant is ideal for yielding the desirable isotope of Plutonium (Pu 239) necessary for making bombs. The Iranian plant will produce plutonium, but the wrong kind. It will produce the heavier isotopes, Pu240, Pu241 and Pu242 -- almost impossible to use in making bombs.
Crucial to extracting weapons-grade plutonium is the type of reactor and the mode in which it is operated. The Israeli-type plant can be refueled "on line," without shutting down. Thus, high-grade plutonium can be obtained covertly and continuously. In the Iranian plant, the entire reactor will have to be shut down -- a step that cannot be concealed from satellites, airplanes and other sources -- in order to permit the extraction of even a single fuel pin.
In the Israeli reactor, the fuel is recycled every few weeks, or at most every couple of months. This maximizes the yield of the highest-quality, weapons-grade plutonium. In the Iranian-type reactor, the core is exchanged only every 30-40 months -- the longer the fuel cycle, the better for the production of power.
For the Iranian reactor at Bushehr, any effort to divert fuel will be transparent because a shutdown will be immediately noticeable. No case of production of bomb-grade material from fuel from an Iranian-type plant has ever been reported.
No one can read the collective mind of a government. But even if Iran proves in the future to have ambitions for developing nuclear weapons, any actual production is years, perhaps decades away. Furthermore, Iran has fully acquiesced to the international inspections process. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). On June 22, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, reiterated that all of Iran's nuclear facilities are open for inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in compliance with treaty guarantees.
Of course, Iran is developing other facilities—an enrichment plant in Isfahan, and a deuterium production plant in Natanz have been opened. These plants are entirely legal under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and they are entirely consistent with power generation. Much has been made in the last week of the fact that Iran has placed two cascades of 164 centrifuges on line which now have produced enriched uranium at a lower grade than is even needed for power generation (5%). Production capacity would require 50,000 centrifuges and enrichment to a level of 90%. All intelligence experts agree that Iran is years away from coming even close to producing enough weapons grade uranium to produce even a single bomb. The German intelligence office last week estimated that if it worked non-stop on this level of enrichment, it might have enough weapons grade uranium by 2015. U.S. Intelligence Director John Negroponte agrees with this assessment. Mohammad el Baradei of the IAEA last week once again reiterated that he was “unconvinced” that Iran had any weapons program.
The deuterium plant has resulted in some interesting press. The U.S. press regularly reported that the plant has the capacity to produce weapons grade fuel. Of course this is absurd. The plant produces heavy water, which would then be used in a heavy water reactor, designed to be completed in 2009 or 2010. The spent fuel from the reactor would then have to be processed to extract any weapons-grade fuel, and another plant to build any weapons. The idea that this operation could go undetected by international inspection teams is absurd.
The furor in Washington over possible nuclear weapons development in Iran is fueled in part because Bush administration officials claim that Iran doesn't need to generate nuclear power. They assert that Iran's nuclear energy program is unnecessary given its oil reserves. Therefore, officials say, its nuclear plants must exist for weapons production.
In fact, for Iran, generating nuclear power makes sense. Moreover, the plans to do this were started decades ago, and with American approval.
Ex-CIA director James Woolsey, in an interview on the PBS program Frontline on Feb. 23, 2003 claimed "there is no underlying (reason) for one of the greatest oil producers in the world to need to get into the nuclear (energy) business."
At first glance, such logic seems sound. Countries with vast oil reserves also have large reserves of natural gas sitting on top of those reserves. Some years ago, the natural gas was regularly burned off to get at the oil beneath. However, technological advances today make it feasible to use this gas for power generation.
Even so, nuclear power still makes sense in a country with vast amounts of natural gas, particularly given the unusual circumstances in the Iranian hydrocarbons industry. There are needs for gas in Iran that command much higher priorities than the construction of gas power plants.
First, gas is vitally needed for reinjection into existing oil reservoirs (repressurizing). This is indispensable for maintaining oil output levels, as well as for increasing overall, long-term recovery of oil.
Second, natural gas is needed for growing domestic use, such as in cooking fuel and domestic heating (Iranians typically use kerosene for both), where it can free up oil for more profitable export. New uses such as powering bus and taxi fleets in Iran's smoggy urban areas are also essential for development.
Third, natural gas exports -- via pipelines to Turkey or in liquefied form to the subcontinent -- set an attractive minimum value for any available natural gas. With adequate nuclear power generation, Iran can profit more from selling its gas than using it to generate power.
Fourth, the economics of gas production in Iran are almost backwards, certainly counter-intuitive. Much of Iran's gas is "rich" -- it contains by-products, such as liquid-petrolem gas (LPG, better known as propane), which are more valuable than the natural gas they are derived from. Iran can profit by selling these derivatives, but not if it burns the natural gas to generate power. Furthermore, Iran adheres to OPEC production quotas, which combine oil and natural gas production. Therefore Iran cannot simply increase natural gas for export to make up for what it burns at home.
Overall, therefore, it can reasonably be argued that natural gas in Iran has economic uses that are superior to power generation, in spite of Iran's much-touted large reserves. The economic rationale is therefore plausible -- the costs of gas versus nuclear power generation are sufficiently close that the choice is a standoff, especially given the reported bargain price for the Russian reactor.
The great irony in America's accusations is that Iran's nuclear program was first developed on the advice of American specialists, who urged the government of the Shah to begin producing nuclear power in order to save oil reserves for more lucrative purposes than fuel. The prospect of an industrial base built on petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals never materialized, but the nuclear power program continued unabated.
Now, to have American officials express alarm over the exact same program is illogical at best and utterly disingenuous at worst. Much of the criticism of Iran's nuclear program comes from the same people who insisted that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons development program before the American invasion of that nation on March 19. That fact alone should raise severe skepticism throughout the world.
The potential impasse in the Iranian nuclear program could have been forestalled long ago, but the United States has regularly rejected all attempts on the part of Iran to negotiate this matter. The Bush administration should be called to explain why it seems to be driving the Iranian nuclear matter to crisis level.
As everyone in the world must now know, the United States maintains that Iran is in the process of developing nuclear weapons. It has convinced a number of European nations of the correctness of its suspicions. Iran maintains that its nuclear development is for domestic power generation purposes only, and everything it is doing is allowed under the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which Iran is a signatory.
There is no objective evidence whatever that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program—only the suspicions of the United States and its ally, Israel, that this is true.
As part of the basis for its suspicions, the United States maintains that Iran had concealed its nuclear program for many years—the number of years varies depending on which official one asks. In fact, Iran has done no such thing. First and foremost, as mentioned previously, Iran’s nuclear program is more than 30 years old, and was started with the encouragement of the United States. President Gerald Ford offered the Iranians a full nuclear cycle in 1976 before the Revolution of 1978-79. Despite the change in government, the program has been implemented largely as conceived with U.S. approval.
Regarding concealment of Under the NPT Iran is not required to disclose its facilities until it begins to process nuclear material. This had not taken place when the United States began to object to the Iranian nuclear development in 2003.
However, that consideration aside, Iran offered as early as 1997 to make its nuclear development known to the world through inspections. The United States was fully apprised of these developments at that time.
For example, Iran offered to provide the land for EU-United Nations University nuclear enrichment facilities to be staffed exclusively by non-Iranian personnel, with no Iranians allowed to enter the facility -- very much treated as a foreign Embassy. This proposition was rejected.
In 1997, at the request of Iran, Iranian nuclear scientist Behrad Nakha’I arranged for a group of prominent US nuclear scientists to visit Iran's nuclear facilities. After couple of days of discussions, he was able to get US State Department's agreement, but the United States Department of Defense absolutely refused this offer from the beginning to the end of the two months that we were interacting, trying to make these arrangements.
He responded to all of the concerns, but just like a telemarketer reading from a prepared statement, his contact at the Department of Defense repeated the same sentence over and over, rejecting such a visit. He offered to include a representative from the DOD of the U.S. government’s choice in the inspection group, but to no avail. Since these scientists had the highest clearance from US government, requiring government permission for them to maintain their status. he had to call off the visit. This was a huge missed opportunity, among many others.
In 2003, Iran, under the presidency of moderate Mohammad Khatami issued a general offer to negotiate all outstanding issues with the U.S. These included addressing the question of Iran’s nuclear development as well as coming to agreement on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The offer had the full support of Iran’s spiritual Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Bush administration not only rejected the offer, they excoriated the Swiss diplomatic officer who brought the offer.
Iran also was the only nation to publicly accept the 2003 U.N. proposal by Mohammad El Baradei that weapons-usable fissile materials be placed under international control . This would be a step leading to fulfillment of the Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty (FMCT). This earlier treaty was passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 over U.S. objections. El Baradei’s proposal was passed 149-2, the United States and Palau being the only dissenting votes with Israel and Great Britain abstaining. El Baradei's proposal would monitor all nuclear fission and guarantee that non-nuclear weapons states would be able to obtain adequate supplies for their nonmilitary usage of enriched plutonium. If implemented, this proposal would have ended the Iranian nuclear crisis, but at the price of establishing controls that would be incumbent on other nations as well—the basis for the U.S. objection to the FMCT.
It is hard to know precisely why the United States is driving the specter of Iran’s nuclear development so hard that it ignores all the attempts on Iran’s part to allay international concerns, and ignores even its own previous knowledge of and involvement with Iran’s nuclear program.
The conclusion that Iran has drawn is that the nuclear issue is a pretext on the part of the United States to vilify Iran before the international community, perhaps as a prelude to a military attack. With President Bush continuing to insist that with regard to Iran “all cards are on the table,” it is easy to see how they might reach that conclusion. Iran is conducting military maneuvers on all of its borders this week (August 20). Perhaps this is coincidence, or perhaps they anticipate that whatever they do regarding the nuclear issue will not preclude hostile American action.
Just now, however Americans should be on guard—a real war may break out at any minute and the resulting conflagration would likely engulf the region, and then the world. Even now, Daniel Ellesberg in the current issue of Harper’s Magazine, Seymour Hirsh in the New Yorker, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, eminent historian William Polk and numerous others have written about the coming war between the United States and Iran that few in the United States know about, but which seems to be immanent.
The Washington Post has reported that at least since March, large teams have been working on invasion plans in the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies, while the Iran “desk” at the State Department has been augmented to task force size. It reports to Elizabeth Cheney, daughter of the vice president, who is assistant secretary of state for the Near East. In the Pentagon, a similar organization has been established under Neoconservative Abram Shulsky. In addition a new outpost has been set up in Dubai to coordinate plans. On October 2, a powerful naval battle group around the giant aircraft carrier Eisenhower sailed for the Persian Gulf and is due to arrive a week before the November Congressional elections to join a similar battle group led by the aircraft carrier Enterprise. Meanwhile aircraft of the U.S. Air Force are being readied in bases surrounding Iran and in distant locations. These forces could deliver destructive power that would dwarf the aerial assaults on Iraq.
The Israeli bombardment of Lebanon has been regarded as a test. Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker talks he had with current and retired American military and intelligence experts who told him that it was regarded as “a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations.” They did terrible damage and killed many people, but they failed to accomplish their mission. As Bush’s former Deputy of State Richard Armitage said, “If the most dominant military force in the region – the Israel Defense Forces – can’t pacify a country like Lebanon, with a population of four million, you should think carefully about taking that template to Iran, with strategic depth and a population of seventy million…The only thing that the bombing has achieved so far is to unite the [Lebanese] population against the Israelis.”
The Air Force plans have been resisted by the senior generals of the Army, Navy and Marine corps. In rare public statements and frequently in private, they have said that the plans are fatally flawed and that even if an invasion begins with aerial attack it will soon require ground troops. Despite the misgivings of the military professionals, Joseph Cirincione wrote in the March issue of Foreign Policy that conversations with senior officials in the Pentagon and the White House had convinced him that the decision for war had already been made.
This is it folks. As I have warned, history changes on October 31st. It is now apparent that Bush does intend to have our ships sunk in the Gulf by Iran in a last-ditch effort to save himself and the GOP with a short bounce in the polls caused by a New Pearl Harbor. The USS Boxer Strike Group has now joined the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group and the Eisenhower and Enterprise Carrier Groups off the coast of Iran.
IRANIANS DON’T HELP
In closing I should make it clear that Iranians have not helped the situation very much. They have continued to antagonize the United States, largely due to their anger about being singled out for attack by the United States. Iran views nuclear energy development as a hallmark of modernization and a source of national pride. They think the United States is putting them down and trying to keep them backward. It is for this reason that although the majority of Iranians do not support their government, the absolutely support the development of nuclear energy.
President Ahmadinejad has also exacerbated Iran’s situation. He has been misquoted on his views on Israel and the holocaust, but he has also learned that making extreme statements raises his own political stock at home. He needs public support for his domestic political agenda -- an agenda that is paradoxically opposed by a large number of the ruling clerics in Iran. Every time he makes a defiant assertion against the United States, the public rallies behind him.
This creates what political scientist Richard Cottam termed a "spiral conflict" in which both parties escalate each other's extreme positions to new heights. It is entirely possible that Iran could goad President Bush into a disastrous military action, and that action would result in an equally disastrous Iranian reaction.
What have the Iranians done? True to fashion, they have declared the U.S. action a bluff, and have behaved in an even more defiant manner. The spiral conflict continues to everyone’s detriment.
Obviously the most reasonable position for both the United States and Iran is for the two states to sit down and talk face to face. As I have pointed out, Iran has tried to get the United States to respond to this need, but the U.S. has thus far refused. One obstacle is that Iran wants talks constructed between equals; the United States refuses to treat Iran as an equal, preferring to continue to denigrate and demonize the Islamic Republic. The U.S. wants to bring Iran to its knees or destroy its current government, and face-to-face talks are not likely to achieve that goal.
So, we have gunboats in the Persian Gulf this week. A conflagration that should never take place is ever more likely. It is a tragedy in the extreme.
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
The Persistence of Illusion
Conn Hallinan | August 30, 2006
Editor: John Feffer, IRC
Foreign Policy In Focus www.fpif.org
The Middle East has always been a place where illusion paves the road to disaster. In 1095, Pope Urban's religious mania launched the Crusades, the reverberations of which still echo through the region. In 1915, Winston Churchill's arrogance led to the World War I bloodbath at Gallipoli. In 2003, George Bush's hubris ignited a spiral of chaos and civil war in Iraq.
Illusions once again threaten to plunge the Middle East into catastrophe. The central hallucination this time is that the war in Lebanon was a “proxy war” with the mullahs in Tehran, what one senior Israeli commander has called “Iran's western front.” Behind this hallucination is yet another. According to William O. Beeman, a professor of anthropology and Middle East studies at Brown University, there is “a longstanding U.S. foreign policy myth that believes terrorism cannot exist without state support.”
In short, if Hezbollah exists, it is solely because of Iran. This particular illusion, according to a number of journalists, is behind the carte blanche the White House handed the Israelis during the war in Lebanon (see Stephen Zunes, How Washington Goaded Israel).
As a result of the Lebanon debacle, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima Party is almost certainly dead. A Dahaf Institute poll found that 63% of Israelis want the Prime Minister out, and 74% want to oust Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz. The latter is busy trying to shift the blame to Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. General Dan Halutz (54% want him to resign) for claiming that Hezbollah could be destroyed from the air.
The army is whispering that the politicians held them back, and the politicians are grumbling that the army mishandled its budget. Olmert is stonewalling a formal inquiry on the war, which almost 70% of the population is demanding, and the reservists are up in arms. After 34 days of war, Hezbollah is intact, and the two soldiers whose capture kicked the whole thing off are still in its hands. Last but not least, the war knocked 1% off Israel's GNP.
The war's outcome is giving some Israelis pause, and there are some interesting straws in the wind. Amir Peretz, for instance, has called for negotiations with the Palestinians. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says she is willing to “explore” the idea of talks with Syria. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter has gone even further and says Israel should give up the Golan Heights.
It is not clear where these discussions are going. If nothing else, however, the war has energized an Israeli peace movement, one rather more inclusive than such movements in the past.
For the Bush administration and its neoconservative allies, the ceasefire is just a break between rounds in the president's war on “Islamofascism.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says the United States is “in an emerging third world war.” William Kristol calls the Lebanon war an “act of Iranian aggression” and urges the United States to attack Iranian nuclear sites. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, neocon heavy Max Boot calls for a U.S. attack on Syria.
According to journalist Sidney Blumenthal in Salon, the neocons in the administration, specifically Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Agency Middle East Director Elliott Abrams, have been funneling U.S. intelligence intercepts to the Israelis as part of a plan to target Syria and Iran (see Tom Barry, Hunting Monsters with Elliott Abrams).
Those intercepts were behind the recent House Intelligence Committee report blasting U.S. spy agencies for their reluctance to say that Hezbollah is nothing more than an extension of Iran, that Tehran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons, and that Iran poses a clear and present danger to the United States.
The author of the House report, Frederick Fleitz, was a former special assistant to current UN Ambassador John Bolton. Bolton was a key figure in gathering the now-discredited intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
According to Blumenthal, Cheney and his Middle East aide David Wurmser have dusted off a 1996 document called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” The study was authored by Wurmser, ex-Pentagon official Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle, disgraced former head of the Defense Policy Board.
The “Break”—originally written for then-Likud prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu—advocates that the Israelis, with support from the United States, dump the 1992 Oslo Agreement with the Palestinians, target Syria and Iraq, and redesign the Middle East.
A key ingredient in the document, and one central to current administration thinking, is that since terrorism is state-supported, the war on terrorism can be won by changing regimes. Hence, to defeat Hezbollah, you have to overthrow Syria and Iran.
Brown University's Beeman argues that Iran has no direct control over Hezbollah. While Iran does provide the organization some $200 million a year, that money “makes up a fraction of Hezbollah's operating budget.” The major source of the group's funding is the “sakat,” or the tithe required of all Muslims.
Georgetown University professor Daniel Byman, writing in Foreign Affairs, says that Iran “lacks the means to force significant change in the [Hezbollah] movement and its goals. It [Iran] has no real presence on the ground in Lebanon and a call to disarm or cease resistance would likely cause Hezbollah's leadership, or at least its most militant elements, to simply sever ties with Tehran's leadership.”
If a wider war is to be avoided, argues Christopher Layne of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, the United States “will have to engage in direct diplomacy with Syria and Iran—both of which have important stakes in the outcome of security issues in the Middle East, including those involving Israel's relations with the Palestinians and with Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Recently a group of 21 former generals, admirals, ambassadors, and high ranking security advisers proposed exactly that, calling on the Bush administration to “engage immediately in direct talks with the government of Iran without preconditions.” The group warned that “an attack on Iran would have disastrous consequences for security in the region and U.S. forces in Iraq. It would inflame hatred and violence in the Middle East and among Muslims everywhere.”
Just as Middle East illusions have done for almost a millennium.
Conn Hallinan is an analyst for FPIF.
Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a joint project of the International Relations Center (IRC, online at www.irc-online.org) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS, online at www.ips-dc.org). ©Creative Commons - some rights reserved.
Conn Hallinan, "The Persistence of Illusion" (Silver City, NM and Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, August 30, 2006).
Monday, August 21, 2006
Cheney Gets Flawed Neocon Briefings on Iran
By Larisa Alexandrovna, Raw Story
Posted on August 19, 2006, Printed on August 21, 2006
The Bush administration continues to bypass standard intelligence channels and use what some believe to be propaganda tactics to create a compelling case for war with Iran, US foreign experts and former US intelligence officials have said.
One former senior intelligence official is particularly concerned by private briefings that Vice President Dick Cheney is getting from former Office of Special Plans (OSP) Director, Abram Shulsky.
"Vice President Cheney is relying on personal briefings from Shulsky for current intelligence on Iran," said this intelligence official.
Shulsky, a leading Neoconservative and member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), headed the shadowy and secretive Department of Defense's OSP in the lead-up to the Iraq war -- helping to locate intelligence that would support the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq.
In an earlier report by Raw Story on an OSP spin-off dubbed the Iranian Directorate (ID), Lt. Col. Barry E. Venable -- a spokesman for the Pentagon -- confirmed that Shulsky was consulting for this new initiative as well.
"Mr. Shulsky continues in his position as Senior Advisor to the USD, focusing on Mid-East regional issues and the [global war on terror]," stated Venable.
Several foreign policy experts, who wish to remain anonymous, have expressed serious concern that much like the OSP, the ID is manipulating, cherry picking, and perhaps even -- as some suspect -- cooking intelligence to lead the U.S. into another conflict, this time with Iran.
"Cheney distrusts the information being disseminated by CIA on Iran," said one former senior intelligence official. "The reports assembled by the Iranian Directorate at the Pentagon differ significantly from the analysis produced by the Intelligence Community. The Pentagon Iranian Directorate relies on thin and unsupported reporting from foreign sources."
In the build-up to the Iraq war, Cheney relied on intelligence almost exclusively from the OSP, which leveled allegations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was later debunked, but no OSP or DOD officials were held accountable for what many believe was a "deliberate effort" to mislead the nation into war.
New uranium allegations
Adding to the similarities between the pre-war build up to Iraq, new allegations of Uranium transactions began aggressively circulating earlier this month. For example, in an August 6th Sunday Times of London article entitled "Iran's plot to mine uranium in Africa," Iran is alleged to have purchased Uranium from the Democratic Republic of Congo:
A United Nations report, dated July 18, said there was 'no doubt' that a huge shipment of smuggled uranium 238, uncovered by customs officials in Tanzania, was transported from the Lubumbashi mines in the Congo.
Tanzanian customs officials told The Sunday Times it was destined for the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, and was stopped on October 22 last year during a routine check.
The UN report, however, does not mention Iran. It is only the Tanzanian official who does.
The article also quotes the Tanzanian official on his description of the uranium amounts found in each container and how it was located.
This one was very radioactive. When we opened the container it was full of drums of coltan. Each drum contains about 50kg of ore. When the first and second rows were removed, the ones after that were found to be drums of uranium.
Experts familiar with both African mining and atomic energy have expressed serious concern about these allegations, which have been circulating for some time.
According to a source close to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the story is "highly unlikely" and "not well researched."
This source, who wished to remain anonymous given the nature of the subject, explained that the main concern in the Congolese mines is environmental waste and how it affects workers and villages near the areas where the mining is done.
A former senior US official with experience in the region also finds the story improbable, in this case regarding the Tanzanian interception of a Congo- to- Iran based shipment and the amount transferred.
"My understanding is that the Congolese mines were closed years ago and that any mining now is purely artisanal," said this official.
"[It] would take a lot of labor to produce the volume of uranium they are talking about. The reduction ratio of rock to ore is roughly one hundred to one in the Niger mines. I can't imagine the vein is any richer in the Congo." Still other experts took issue with the description of the uranium and its suggested purpose, including the sentiment that u-238 is "highly radioactive."
Steven Aftergood, senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), an organization that was formed in 1945 by atomic scientists from the Manhattan Project, is doubtful. "U-238 is one of the isotopic forms of uranium. Another isotopic form, [for example], U-235, is used in fission bombs," explained Aftergood.
"U-238 is not highly radioactive. On the contrary, it decays very slowly. It has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. That means that a given quantity of u-238 would radioactively decay by 50% in 4.5 billion years. So you could hold it in your hand without any adverse effect. On the other hand, it is a toxic metal, and you wouldn't want to inhale or ingest uranium dust if you could avoid it."
But the stories of Iran attempting to purchase uranium from abroad leave many experts highly concerned.
One official close to the United Nations Security Council explained that Iran has its own mines, making any allegations of imported uranium from abroad highly questionable.
"Why would Iran import U-238 when it mines it itself?" The official asked. "This makes no sense whatsoever."
Several sources suggested that the Iranian Directorate, as did its predecessor -- the OSP, may be cherry picking, manipulating, and even planting intelligence abroad that would support a case against Iran in the minds of the public.
Expressing great frustration, one former high ranking intelligence officer said "it is all the Neocons." Asked about the allegations of the uranium transaction from Congo-to-Iran, this source remarked: "Total bullshit."
Wendy Morigi, spokeswoman for U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Vice-Chairman Jay Rockefeller, would not confirm or deny that the committee had received any information regarding the Iran uranium purchase. "We can't comment on what briefings the committee has received," Morigi stated in an email response.
Morigi did, however, explain that as with any sensitive information, "Generally speaking, it's safe to assume that the committee closely follows everything related to Iran's nuclear program."
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/40539/
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
William O. Beeman
The conflict in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah had hardly begun when the Bush administration and its neoconservative supporters began blaming Iran for the conflagration. On July 25, Henry Crumpton, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, told a reporter that Iran is “clearly directing a lot of Hezbollah actions. Hezbollah asks their permission to do things, especially if it has broader international implications.” Meanwhile, in the July 24 Weekly Standard, William Kristol called Hezbollah’s fighting an “act of Iranian aggression” and suggested “we might consider countering [it] … with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.”
However, giving Iran another tongue lashing, or worse, deciding to attack it, will do nothing to stop the violence in the region. Not only is there no evidence that Iran had a role in instigating this round of violence, the possibility itself is unlikely.
Iran’s control over Hezbollah has been steadily declining since approximately 1996, during the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami. Money does continue to come “from Iran” to support Hezbollah, but not the Iranian government. Instead, it’s private religious foundations that direct the bulk of support, primarily to Hezbollah’s charitable activities. Nor are the amounts crucial to Hezbollah’s survival; even the high estimate frequently cited in the press—$200 million per annum—is a fraction of Hezbollah’s operating funds. However, the most important reason for not targeting Iran for the continued fighting in Lebanon is that this conflict is antithetical to Iran’s interests.
Neoconservatives clearly have another agenda in attacking Iran besides stopping Hezbollah. By blaming Iran for this latest flare-up, neoconservatives are following their decade-long program to encourage a military attack against the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s support for Hezbollah
The broad assertion that Iran supports Hezbollah is verifiable, but it is important to understand what the nature of this support is, and the extent to which Iran is able to influence the actions of this Shi’ite Lebanese group.
Since 90 percent of Iran’s population is Shi’ite, its citizens had an undeniable interest in the fate of its co-religionists in Lebanon following the Revolution of 1978-79. Like Iranians, the Lebanese Shi’ite community was under oppression both from Sunnis and Maronites. Moreover, Palestinian refugees, settled in Lebanon without consultation with the Shi’ite community, served as a drain on weak local economic resources and drew fire from Israel. The Shi’ites felt helpless and frustrated. The successful revolution in Iran was enormously inspirational to them. While the Iranian central government was weak and scattered after the Revolution, semi-independent charitable organizations, called bonyad (literally, “foundation”) sponsored by individual Shi’ite clerics began to help the fledgling Hezbollah organization establish itself as a defense force to protect the Shi’ite community. This was simply not state support. Given the semi-independent corporate nature of Shi’ite clerics, especially in the early days of Iran’s revolution, when internal power struggles were endemic, there was little the Khomeini government could do to curtail these operations.
Now, after nearly two decades, this ad hoc export of Iranian revolutionary ideology may have succeeded too well. Whereas today the bulk of the Iranian population has at least some doubts about their government, Hezbollah maintains a stronger commitment to the symbolic legacy of the Iranian Revolution than Iranians, according to Georgetown University professor Daniel Byman. In a 2003 Foreign Affairs article, Byman pointed out that, “[Iran] lacks the means to force a significant change in the [Hezbollah] movement and its goals. It has no real presence on the ground in Lebanon and a call to disarm or cease resistance would likely cause Hezbollah’s leadership, or at least its most militant elements, simply to sever ties with Tehran’s leadership.”
In short, Hezbollah has now taken on a life of its own. Even if all Iranian financial and logistic support were cut off, Hezbollah would not only continue, it would thrive.
Hezbollah has achieved this independence by becoming as much a social welfare and political organization as a militant resistance organization. In a 2004 speech, Dwight J. Simpson, a professor of international relations at San Francisco State University, reported that it had “12 elected parliamentary members…[and] many Hezbollah members hold elected positions within local governments.” At that time, the group had already built five hospitals and was building more. It operated 25 primarily secular schools, and provided subsidies to shopkeepers.
The source for their money, Simpson reported, is zakat—the charitable “tithe” required of all Muslims. The Shi’ites, having seen their co-religionists in Iraq succeed in initial elections there in 2005, had hopes that they too would assume the power in Lebanon that accorded with their status as the nation’s largest community, approximately 40 percent of the population. The growth of Hezbollah’s charitable operations increased non-state-level financial support for the organization not only from Iran, but from the rest of the Shi’ite world, since formalized charity is a religious duty. As this charitable activity increased, Hezbollah was on the road to ceasing its activities as a terrorist group and gradually assuming the role of a political organization. Even in its current engagement with Israel, its “terrorist” activities have been reframed as national defense, especially as Hezbollah began to use conventional military forces and weapons.
Many of these weapons, it is claimed, have been acquired from Iran over the years, but even this is not fully verified. The rockets used by Hezbollah have been tentatively identified as Katushya rockets, of the form manufactured by Iran, and known as Fajr-3 and Fajr-5. But the United States has not been able to identify that these rockets are absolutely Iranian.
Moreover, although it is certainly possible that branches of Iran’s Islamic guard may be operating in Lebanon without the full knowledge of the central government of Iran, no country has yet been able to verify their presence in the current conflict, and rumors that they have aided in the firing of the rockets have been vehemently denied by Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah. Given the loose and ambiguous nature of the Iranian government’s control over support for Hezbollah, claims by U.S. officials that Iran has an organized state-level support system for such activities are clearly exaggerated.
Added to all of this is the fact that the Lebanese violence does not serve Iran’s political purposes. The verbal attacks of its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, against Israel would cause it to be targeted if Israel were ever involved in a wider conflict with the Islamic world. Although Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has claimed that Iran instigated this attack to draw attention away from criticism of its nuclear development program, this scenario seems far-fetched. Indeed, Iran’s strategic situation has certainly been worsened by this fighting. Kenneth Katzman, senior Middle East analyst at the Congressional Research Service, recently told Voice of America: “Iran is viewed, widely viewed, as at least complicit in what is going on, supporting Hezbollah. And that is likely to make some of the fence-sitters, I guess Russia and China perhaps, take a dimmer view of Iranian intentions and perhaps be more amenable to U.S. and other arguments that Iran is playing a destabilizing role in the region and needs to be confronted by the [U.N. Security] Council.”
Beyond state support
Why would the United States repeat such unfounded assertions with such incessant regularity as if they were established fact? Aside from their continuity with 27 years of ongoing attacks against Iran, such assertions accord with a longstanding U.S. foreign policy myth that believes terrorism cannot exist without state support. If a state is needed to explain the continued existence of groups like Hezbollah, then Iran is an ideal candidate. Ergo, the connection must exist. Such claims serve to bolster the central, but fallacious, political doctrine for the Bush administration that the Global War on Terrorism really exists.
The alternative is to understand that terrorism is fundamentally community-based. Sub-state groups with grievances that they feel cannot be addressed in any other way resort to terrorism as a way of increasing attention to their plight and pressuring those whom they perceive to be oppressing them. Though they may welcome external financial support, the impetus and motivation for terrorist groups’ actions is not dependent on it. Indeed, the more pressure they are subjected to, the stronger their collective will to resist increases.
When this dynamic is understood, the problems of addressing terrorism also come into focus. Rather than looking for global fantasy structures such as al-Qaeda and their state supporters, the international community needs to employ methods to address the needs of sub-state groups, while simultaneously working to curtail their activities as conditions improve. For the Shi’ites in Lebanon, it may be far too late to employ such a strategy.
William O. Beeman is Professor of Anthropology and Middle East Studies at Brown University. His most recent book is The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs": How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Attacking Iran will not Stop the Violence in Lebanon
William O. Beeman
Blaming Iran for the horrific violence between Israel and the Arabs of Lebanon and Palestine is a popular stance in the world today. Although it might make many people feel good to give Iran another tongue lashing, such an exercise will do nothing to stop the violence and destruction going on in the region. Paradoxically, however, Iran could play a role in bringing about peace if it were allowed to do so.
Iran makes a convenient scapegoat. It has no defenders. Americans and Europeans are already furious with Tehran over the development of Iran's nuclear program. The Sunni States in the region--principally Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt are worried about growing Iranian power as Shi'a forces throughout the region grow in influence. The Sunnis are uncomfortable defending the Shi'a community in Lebanon, and are quite happy to have Iran bear blame for the war, even if the reasoning is weak. Meanwhile in the United States, neoconservatives are primed with a decade-long program to attack Iran that they have conveniently grafted onto the Hezbollah-Israeli conflict as a suggested response.
However, both of these positions are mistaken in their analysis and in their strategic goals.
The Sunni States' position is short-sighted and pusillanimous. Perhaps they hope that the Shi'a world as a whole will be weakened through Israel's actions. But there is no magic Israeli bullet that will eliminate the need of the nations in the region to come to peaceful terms with Iran, which grows stronger and more prosperous every day with every American misstep and every increase in the price of oil. Nor can the Sunni states avoid accommodating the significant, growing non-Iranian Shi'a population in the region. Standing silent and allowing the Lebanese Shi'a to be attacked is also bringing about the destruction of the Sunni population in Lebanon--including the "Jewel of the Eastern Mediterranean," the Sunni/Christian city of Beirut, long a financial and tourist center for the Sunni Arab community. Standing on the sidelines in the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict also effectively ignores the backlash that is being felt by the Palestinians and their supporters as Israel lashes out at Hamas.
The neoconservative position is far more complex, and potentially more dangerous. The neoconservatives purposely ignore the fact that their basic thesis is wrong. Hamas and Hezbollah are not puppets. They have control of their own actions and destinies. More importantly, the neoconservative proposed action--attacking Iran militarily--is impossible at present; a campaign against Iran is acknowledged by American military strategists to be impractical and potentially ineffective. Finally, even if the United States or Israel could be successful in destroying Iran's government through a military attack, this action would not curtail violence against Israel. More specifically, it would not destroy Hezbollah or Hamas, as the neoconservatives claim.
One can only conclude that the neoconservatives have been calling for Iran's destruction for so long, they can not give up the habit. William Kristol writing in the Weekly Standard and London's Financial Times on July 16 writes: "No Islamic Republic of Iran, no Hezbollah. No Islamic Republic of Iran, no one to prop up the Assad regime in Syria. No Iranian support for Syria . . . little state sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah. "The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page has stated flatly: "Keep in mind that Hezbollah is not the indigenous Lebanese "resistance" organization it claims to be, but is a military creature of Tehran." Neoconservative guru Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute writes: "there is a common prime mover, and that is the Iranian mullahcracy, the revolutionary Islamic fascist state that declared war on us 27 years ago and has yet to be held accountable." Finally, Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, picking up these themes announced on July 19 that Hezbollah timed the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, the event which set off the violence, to deflect world attention away from Iran's nuclear development program.
These representative positions sound reasonable in Washington only because they perpetuate the dominant mythology in American foreign policy that State support is the only thing that sustains groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. The glib neoconservative solution: destroy the State supporters, in this case Iran, and the offending groups will be destroyed in turn, sounds great to sound-byte driven legislators who have no knowledge of the Middle Eastern region.
However, with a little reflection, Washington policy makers should be running away from the neoconservatives on this point, since their spiel should sound ominously familiar. It is the precise formula promulgated by a major group of neoconservative advisors, including Richard Pearle, and Douglas Feith to Israeli Prime-Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996. Their paper, entitled "'A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," called for the overthrow of the governments of Iraq, Iran and Syria as a way to eliminate threats to Israel, on the theory that this would undercut support for groups opposing Israel.
This call for action was repeated by many of the same neoconservative group members, along with William Kristol, Dick Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and Zalmay Khalilzad under the rubric of the organization, The Project for the New American Century in 1998. This group wrote a recommendation to President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich calling again for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, in part to obtain security for Israel. The basic logic in these position papers drove the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Then as now, the idea that regime change in the region will secure Israel's safety is wrong. It is mistaken both in its reasoning and in its understanding of basic facts about Hezbollah and Hamas, their history and their purpose.
Hamas, as some, including Kristol, actually point out, is an emanation of the Muslim brotherhood, now enjoying resurgence in Egypt. Hamas predates the Iranian Revolution, since the pedigree of its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood goes back to the 19th Century and the original Islamic Movement led by reformer Jamal ed-Din al-Afghani, designed to counter European powers and the Middle Eastern rulers who collaborated with them to rob the people of the region of their patrimony.
Iran has no control at all over Hamas' actions or its political agenda. The closest Iran comes to actually influencing Hamas is financial support provided based on a general open appeal from Hamas leader Khaled Mesha'al after Hamas came to power in Palestine in a democratic election, and was subsequently isolated by Israel and the United States.
Hezbollah would never have existed if the French had not created a state where the plurality of Shi'a Muslims would be ruled by minority confessional groups in their own nation--groups that had no interest in protecting the Shi'a as they were attacked by Israel throughout the late 20th Century.
Iran was instrumental in the birth of Hezbollah in the early 1980's when it was the only defense available for the Shi'a community. However, today, though Hezbollah uses Iranian arms (Iran in fact sells to many nations), and Iran has communication with Hezbollah, every expert on Hezbollah today agrees that Iran has had no effective control over Hezbollah's actions for several years--especially since Hezbollah has become largely a political and charitable organization. As former CIA analyst and now Georgetown University professor Daniel Byman wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2003, Iran "lacks the means to force a significant change in the [Hezbollah] movement and its goals. It has no real presence on the ground in Lebanon and a call to disarm or cease resistance would likely cause Hezbollah's leadership, or at least its most militant elements simply to sever ties with Tehran's leadership."
In short, both Hamas and Hezbollah have their own history, their own reasons for existing, and their own agendas regarding Israel and the West. The idea that they are empty vessels waiting to be filled with an Iranian agenda is absurd in the extreme. Even if Iran were leveled, like Carthage in Roman times, both Hamas and Hezbollah would continue their struggle against Israel, and the Shi'a world, energized by the outrages perpetrated against it, would continue to grow in strength and defiance.
It is better by far to embrace Iran as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Many Westerners, noting the hostile rhetoric against Israel emanating from Iran may find it hard to believe that Iran could ever play a positive role in a conflict of this sort. However, this attitude is part of the problem. Iran talks the way it does in great part to retaliate against the United States for its actions against Iran. The fact that the United States has not yet found a way to actually talk to Iran exacerbates this situation, promoting even more Iranian hostility.
Iran craves the respect of the international community more than any other commodity one might offer, though Western observers will find their methods for obtaining that respect counter productive. Nevertheless, Iran models its macho posturing on those who confront it-primarily the United States. Iran relishes the idea that it might be offered a respectful position as a peacemaker. In practical terms, the Islamic Republic may not directly influence the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas, but they offer a way to talk to the two groups.
Iran has been willing to serve as mediator in the past in the region, notably in working with Armenia and Azerbaijan, and has garnered bona fides for its efforts. Moreover, Iran has hinted in the recent past that it would drop its hostile posture toward Israel if relations with the United States were to improve. Many Middle Eastern problems will be solved once the United States decides to get serious about dealing with Iran, as myriad foreign policy advisors, including former National Security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinsky and the Council on Foreign Relations have recommended. Vilifying Iran is not doing anyone any good, but asking them for a little help might do a great deal to bring peace to the region.
William O. Beeman is Professor of Anthropology and Middle East Studies at Brown University. He has lived and worked in the Middle East for more than thirty years. His most recent book is The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs": How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.
William O. Beeman
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(2004-2005 Visiting Professor, Cultural and Social Anthropology,
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My latest book: The "Great Satan" vs. The "Mad Mullahs": How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other. (Praeger/Greenwood).
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