Thursday, November 29, 2007

William O. Beeman--Iran Benefits from Mideast Peace Talks--New America Media

Iran Benefits from Mideast Peace Talks

New America Media, News Analysis, William O. Beeman, Posted: Nov 27, 2007

Editor's Note: The Bush administration hopes the Arab-Israeli peace process will weaken Arab support for Iran but the talks stand to give Iran an advantage and move the nation closer to America and its Arab allies.Iran was not invited to the Middle East summit in Annapolis, but the Iranians are there nonetheless, and they will benefit whatever the outcome.

After nearly seven years of inaction on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Bush administration has finally decided to act by convening a conference on the matter. Among the 50 countries invited, delegates from virtually every Middle Eastern nation were invited to a conference in Annapolis, Md. on Nov. 27, including a delegation from Syria. Given Iran’s absence, it is ironic that the event might not have taken place at all had it not been for Iranian challenges to American power in the Middle East.

The United States has been trying desperately to gain traction in the international community for some kind of action against Iran. Although it is not clear what an anti-Iranian action is designed to accomplish, the driving need of the Bush administration to do something to cripple the current Iranian regime is an idée fixe in the Bush foreign policy shop.

The Jerusalem Post on Nov. 26 confirmed this in its reporting on the conference: “The idea that brokering an Arab-Israeli peace would be a setback for Iran is a valid one. Iran wants to destroy Israel, so anything that safeguards Israel's freedom and security is a defeat for Tehran.”

However, the Bush administration’s greater hope is that moving the Arab-Israeli peace process will weaken Arab support for Iran. One mantra continually repeated by Washington officials is that Iran’s Arab neighbors are “worried” by its growing strength and nuclear program. Yet Bush officials such as Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns have been massively unsuccessful in raising alarms in the Arab world about Iran. The decision to move seriously on Arab-Israeli peace as a second route toward undermining Iran may have resulted from the realization that trying to scare the Arab world with the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons has not worked.

Iran's immediate Arab neighbors never condemn it to the same degree that Americans and Europeans do. Arab leaders have expressed mild discomfort with Iran's nuclear program, but they never present it in terms of being directly threatened: there is either quizzical musing about where Iran might use possible weapons, or expressions about potential regional destabilization.

Arab states refrain from attacking Iran directly on any issue. When the United States tried to blame the 1996 attack on the Saudi Arabian Al-Khobar Towers on Iran, the Saudis refused to cooperate. Moreover, popular Arab sentiment seems to be directly supportive of Iran's nuclear program. One non-scientific poll conducted by London Based Al-Qods on Jan. 26, 2006 showed that 85 percent of Arab readers supported the Iranian nuclear energy program. The same results were reported in a separate poll on Aug. 6, 2005 by the Arab television news service Al-Jazeera.

All states in the region continue to have full diplomatic relations with Iran. The principal discomfort with the Islamic Republic has been expressed by King Abdullah of Jordan, who is somewhat removed from Iran. The big exception, of course, was Saddam Hussein, who waged war on Iran.

Arab nations say the greater concern in the region is the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Indeed, Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s negative pronouncements on Israeli political actions have been highly popular with the Arab public—something that has received significant notice on the part of Arab leaders. The message to the United States is that if Washington wants the Arab world to go along with sanctions on Iran, or some kind of violent action against Iran, they had better do something about the Israelis and Palestinians. Thus we see a reluctantly summoned parade of nations coming to Annapolis to demonstrate the Bush administration’s seriousness about solving the issue.

Iran might feel neglected at being left out of the party, but in reality, if everything that one could hope works out satisfactorily in Annapolis, it all would work to Iran’s advantage.

Although Iran has been painted by neoconservatives as wanting to destroy Israel, nothing could be further from the truth. Iran is opposed to the extreme repressive politics of the Israeli right-wing, but if the Palestinians were given their own state, and Israel withdrew from the West Bank, Iranian opposition to Israeli politics would end. Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has privately expressed the opinion that should the Israeli-Palestinian issue be resolved, he could imagine Iran renewing diplomatic relations with Israel.

Settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian issue could also lead to improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations. The United States has been so intent on portraying Hamas as a creature of Iranian surrogate aggression against Israel and the United States, they have forgotten that Mahmoud Abbas is still held in some esteem in Iran. When Yassir Arafat had passed from the scene, Iranians were speculating about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' potential leadership among the Palestinians, but also about his possible role as mediator between Iran and the United States. If he is strengthened in his role in the Israel-Palestine conflict he could indeed play this role.

Syria would also have to come on board in a comprehensive settlement, adding another link to Iran. In this scenario, the Siniora government in Lebanon, which the Syrians oppose, would have to be sacrificed. However some settlement of the Golan Heights problem with Syria would be worth tossing out a faction that represents a minority of the Lebanese population.

If all these things transpire, there will be no real reason for Arab opposition to Iran. Iran would be on the path to rapprochement with both the United States and with Israel, and thus on the same side as American’s Arab allies. Hezbollah would be on the rise as rulers of Lebanon, but would no longer be a threat to Israel.

But aside from these rosy prospects, it is wise to remember that there never was any real threat from Iran toward any Arab nation anyway.

Of course, these positive developments are unlikely to transpire in Annapolis, and if they don’t, Iran will be no worse off than it is now. Arab states will still not be any more likely to oppose Iran then they were before. Hezbollah’s power would continue to grow in Lebanon, and the Palestinian issue would continue to fester and discredit American’s bona fides in the Middle East.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Anthropology Department at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and is President of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. He has conducted research in the Middle East for more than 30 years. His latest book is The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, which will be issued in Paperback by the University of Chicago Press next month.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

William O. Beeman--Sanctions Against Iran Will Cure Nothing (Providence Journal, November 16, 2007)

The Providence JournalNovember 16, 2007

William O. Beeman: Sanctions against Iran will cure nothing
12:30 PM EST on Friday, November 16, 2007 WILLIAM O. BEEMAN MINNEAPOLIS

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION declared new economic sanctions against Iran on Oct. 25. These new sanctions, announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, like those already in place, will accomplish nothing except to increase international tensions.

The new sanctions are an extension of a longstanding failed policy first begun under the Reagan administration, and extended under the Clinton administration. The United States is acting utterly alone; it is not supported by any other nation.

American dealings with Iran have failed in large part because the United States has never articulated any goals in its dealings with Iran that make any sense either to Iranians or to Americans. They mostly consist of calls for Iran to cease actions that Iran asserts are not being carried out in the first place. The principal accusations against Iran include: developing nuclear weaponry, supporting terrorist groups and providing arms to Iraqi insurgents. The United States then tries to prove that Iran is indeed carrying out the things it is accused of.

The Iranians counter with further proof that the accusations are baseless, and so it goes, ad infinitum. There has never been any proof that Iran’s domestic nuclear-energy program is directed at developing nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), charged with inspecting nuclear facilities under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory, has repeatedly asserted that no evidence of Iranian nuclear-weapons development exists. Iran’s leaders also maintain that they are not developing nuclear weapons; Iran’s spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, has declared that nuclear-weapons development is illegal in the Islamic Republic.

The Bush administration obscures these inconvenient facts with statements like those made recently by President Bush, who said on Oct 17, “if you’re interested in avoiding World War III . . . you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,”

implying that the weapons are actually under development.

Iran’s support for terrorist groups is also far less than it seems. Iran provided humanitarian support for the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority after Israel and the United States established an international embargo of funds for that government. Although Iran was instrumental in the founding of Lebanese Hezbollah, Tehran no longer has any effective influence or control of this group, which has evolved into an active political party with a large number of parliamentary representatives and government officials in Lebanon today.

Neo-conservative Michael Ledeen, of the American Enterprise Institute, in a new book maintains that Iran supports al-Qaida, and that Iran was instrumental in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States, but this assertion and similar claims that Iran supports the Taliban make no logical sense. Both conservative Sunni al-Qaida and the Taliban reject Shiism, the state religion of Iran, as a heresy, and sanction the killing of Shiites.

Finally, there is no proof that Iran is supporting attacks against Americans in Iraq. As analysts Seymour Hersh, Gareth Porter and others have pointed out, the Bush administration, having failed to establish that Iran is actually developing nuclear weapons, turned in desperation to the claim that Iran is supplying explosive devices to militias in Iraq through the offices of the Revolutionary Guard and its specialized Quds force. Gen. David Petraeus, who directs American military forces in Iraq, himself has admitted that no Iranian Quds force member has ever been captured in Iraq, and evidence of Iranian-supplied weapons in Iraq is nebulous.

The U.S. sanctions will also fail because Iran still has many friends. Europeans still have extensive trade with Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently warned the United States not to think of attacking Iran. On Oct. 16 the nations bordering the Caspian Sea, including Iran, issued a declaration, in which the countries agreed that none would let their territories be used as a base for military strikes against any of the others. India has renewed talks with Iran to establish a pipeline between the two nations. Iran has a positive balance of trade with China (as well as India). China’s leadership has repeatedly declared that Iran’s nuclear energy program is not an international threat. Japan continues to be an important Iranian trade and diplomatic partner.

Thus the new sanctions are being greeted with skepticism by the international community of nations. They are so insubstantial that it seems they are actually designed to fail. Increasingly, it seems that the United States itself does not believe in them, but has only imposed the sanctions as a prelude to military action. As in the build-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the world awaits the announcement from the White House that, “having tried everything,” nothing was left except to bomb Iran.

William O. Beeman, an occasional contributor, is an anthropology professor and chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He was a professor of anthropology and the director of Middle East Studies at Brown University.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pakistan Is the New Iran: U.S. Makes Old Mistakes - NAM

Pakistan Is the New Iran: U.S. Makes Old Mistakes - NAM

Pakistan Is the New Iran: U.S. Makes Old Mistakes

New America Media, Analysis, William O. Beeman, Posted: Nov 15, 2007

Editor's Note: In Pakistan the United States has again backed the wrong authoritarian regime, a clear parallel to its support for the Shah of Iran in 1979, writes William O. Beeman, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota.

In Pakistan the United States has once again placed its reliance on an authoritarian “plumber” to carry out its foreign policy goals with disastrous effects – a time-honored foreign policy blunder that seems unavoidable for U.S. presidents.

This time the plumber is President Pervez Musharraf, who is also General Musharraf, Pakistan’s military chief.

Musharraf was hardly a candidate for this in 1991. He and the Pakistani military intelligence establishment were instrumental in supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, who in turn supported al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.

There was also the matter of the proliferation of nuclear technology through Pakistani nuclear expert A.Q. Khan – something that President Musharraf must surely have known about, even if he was not directly complicit. Pakistan has nuclear weapons even though it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Musharraf’s turnaround in Washington’s estimation was rapid. Once the United States was on the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader, Musharraf quickly sensed the direction of the political winds and became the Bush administration’s new best friend, vowing to find bin Laden. Washington overlooked the A.Q. Khan incident, and conveniently maintains that Pakistani nukes are okay because Musharraf is our buddy.

But the friendship is fragile.

It is virtually axiomatic that bin Laden would have been captured long ago – except that General Musharraf knew that once bin Laden was gone, his days as leader of Pakistan would be numbered. The United States would lose interest in the South Asian nation, or would scuttle him as an inconvenience. American officials might deny such a scenario, but the U.S. track record is extremely clear: once an American "plumber" ceases to be of use, he or she is toast.

The clearest parallel to General Musharraf is the Shah of Iran, who was deposed in the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79. The United States saw the Shah as a bastion against Soviet penetration into the Persian Gulf and armed him to the hilt. The Carter administration never talked to the Shah's Iranian opposition and had no clue about the power of the religious forces surrounding Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, until it was too late. By making the Shah the United States’ sole plumber in the region, when he fell, the United States could only watch helplessly as it lost everything.

The same may well hold true in Pakistan. The Bush administration propped up Musharraf with massive financial aid and arms supplies. They never tried to take opposition to his rule seriously, or develop any backup strategy for preventing Pakistan’s disintegration should Musharraf fall.

And fall he may. He has the backing of segments of the Pakistani military, but lacks broad support among the people. His heavy-handed tactics in quashing public dissent have all but killed Pakistan’s progress in establishing an independent judiciary and an effective civil society. Having tasted a bit of freedom, the opposition to Musharraf has become emboldened, and is not likely to tolerate his authoritarian rule or singular stubbornness in hanging onto absolute power.

If he does fall, Pakistan risks disintegration. As a nation cobbled together from disparate former Indian states at the end of World War II, Pakistan is not well integrated ethnically. Its sole integrating principle is Islam, and a post-Musharraf nation will likely embrace Islamic government as a unifying force. Whole parts of the country are barely under central control. Al Qaeda and the Taliban operate with impunity near the Western border, running international terrorist training camps. And those nuclear weapons are still present, ready to be used to threaten anyone who opposes those who control them. Pakistan’s neighbor is Hindu-dominated India, and every nation that is looking toward the burgeoning Indian economy needs to be very afraid.

All the Beltway blather and talk of support for President Musharraf fail to conceal that he is both weak and vulnerable, and that the United States has no backup plan whatsoever if he is deposed. This event would extend the grand scope of American failure in the region from the Mediterranean to the borders of China. Increasingly, no place in the world may be left safe from the violence emerging through the gaping holes in U.S. foreign policy.

William O. Beeman is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He is president of the Middle East section of the American Anthropological Association, and has conducted research in the Middle East and South Asia for more than 30 years.