Wednesday, June 26, 2019

William O. Beeman answers to Questions on U.S.-Iranian Relations posed by Persia Digest

William O. Beeman (WB) answers to Questions posed by Persia Digest
Persia Digest: Tensions between the US and Iran have been on the rise in recent weeks. Although President Trump says he does not want war, he has threatened Iran with “complete obliteration”. In return, Iran has shown its readiness to defend itself by downing a US drone in its airspace. It will also begin the second phase of scaling back its commitments under the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal on 7 July. The EU has warned Iran against abrogating the JCPOA. Under these circumstances. We posed these questions to William O. Beeman, internationally known expert on Iran-U.S. relations. 
1. Iranian politicians, and especially its military commanders, believe the chances of a military strike on Iran by Trump are minimal. As Trump’s presidential campaign has been formally launched, does such an interpretation also exist in the US (officials, the media, public opinion).

WB: American commentators are of two minds. Some believe that Trump will not risk a war with Iran because it will damage his re-election chances. He promised not to involve Americans in any further Middle East conflicts when he campaigned for the last election, so keeping the U.S. out of war would be fulfilling his campaign promise.
On the other hand, many commentators note that for a presidential re-election, a war is a good thing, because it fires up patriotism in the country, and people will often say that they “don’t want to change horses mid-stream” meaning they don’t want to change leaders in the middle of a conflict.
But what both positions are really stating is that for Trump, the decision as to whether to engage Iran in conflict is not a military or a security decision. It is purely a political decision. This is consistent with everything Trump does. He seems to care nothing for American security or the welfare of the United States (or the world). He only cares about himself and his political needs. He has accurately been described as a narcissist and an egomaniac.
It is a great shame that so many people must suffer for the sake of one selfish person, but that is unfortunately the situation with Donald J. Trump.
2. Iranian officials, including President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, have repeatedly said that Iran will not negotiate under pressure, but it will respond to politeness with politeness. Why is President Trump not willing to travel down this path instead of applying maximum pressure to reach its goal (negotiations for a deal with Iran)?
WB: Trump advertises himself as a “tough negotiator.” He has done this all his life. In his career as a real-estate investor he regularly cheated people, not paying them for work they did. When they complained, he sued them. He believes that the way to negotiate is to never apologize, never let up pressure, and never concede anything. Unfortunately, his advisors, National Security Advisor, John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also believe that the only way to negotiate with Iran is to show force, never concede anything, and to be as tough as possible. They truly believe that maximum pressure and no diplomacy is the way to force Iran to negotiate, and they believe that they will get 100% of what they want and Iran will get nothing. President Theodore Roosevelt a century ago said that in diplomacy you need to “speak softly but carry a big stick.” Some commentators in the U.S. point out that Trump’s philosophy is “all stick.”
I have written extensively on ta’arof in Iran. Trump will never understand ta’arof, and this creates a great divide in negotiating styles. It might be wise for Iranian leaders to understand that Trump is 72 years old and is never going to change his negotiating style. For this reason, Iranian leaders must find another way. By the way, one aspect of ta’arof is something that Trump responds to, and that is flattery. Leaders like Putin and Kim Jong Il have extracted a lot of concessions from Trump by flattering him extensively. This is probably not what Iranian leaders are prepared to do, but it does work with Trump.
3. Despite compliance with the JCPOA (as confirmed by the IAEA), Iran has faced a severe sanctions regime over the past year. If Iran leaves the JCPOA, it will face even further sanctions. So, what policy should Iran adopt?
WB: At this point, Iran has been sanctioned to the max, so leaving the JCPOA is not likely to make much difference in terms of sanctions. However, staying within the JCPOA provides Iran with a moral high ground. I need to point out that aside from the JCPOA, Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Leaving the JCPOA places Iran in potential violation of the NPT. In fact the entire negotiation leading to the JCPOA was to ensure that Iran would be in compliance with the NPT. Iran argued, correctly in my opinion, that the NPT allowed for enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes. The Bush administration took the position that uranium enrichment was not “automatically” allowed under the NPT. Leaving the JCPOA will raise this question once again, and if Iran decides to leave the JCPOA it should be prepared to once again face the United Nations over the NPT question.
4. Many international analysts believe that maximum pressure to change Iran’s approach has failed, or it will not lead anywhere. What will Trump do if he reaches the same conclusion? Would his Plan B be a war?
WB: It is impossible to tell what Trump will do when he realizes that his plan of maximum pressure has not worked. There is no question that there are other actors here. Netanyahu in Israel, MBS in Saudi Arabia and some of the princes in the UAE are urging the United States to attack Iran. Of course, they want the United States to fight a war for them. Trump has been flattered by these leaders, and may be enticed into conflict with Iran. John Bolton, Mike Pompeo and others are clearly trying to engineer a situation where Iran will launch a “first strike” against the United States. They want Iran to start the war so that they can claim that the United States is innocent. I urge Iranian leaders to resist this “baiting” at all costs. Iran has never launched a first strike against any nation for the past 300 years. It should not start now.
5. After years of talks with the West, Iran finally reached a clear agreement on its nuclear program. But Trump effectively put an end to it. Would you still trust the West and the US to negotiate with if you were in place of the Iranian leaders?
WB: I trust “the West.” I do not trust Trump. He withdrew from the JCPOA largely because it was negotiated by President Obama. Trump has tried to destroy everything that Obama did. He didn’t understand the JCPOA, and I doubt that he has even read it. He seemed to think that it was some kind of transaction, like a real-estate transaction, where the United States gave Iran $150 billion, and didn’t get anything in return. He either ignored or failed to understand that the money was Iran’s money which was owed by the United States.
European allies and signatories to the JCPOA understood the agreement very well, and they have been trying to find a way to stay in the deal and bypass American sanctions. The difficulty is that so much of the world’s commerce involves the United States dollar, and United States banking and financial institutions that there is no way for Europeans or others to deal with Iran and to avoid violating the prohibitions placed by the United States in dealing with Iran using dollars and U,S. institutions. The Europeans have been trying to find another financial arrangement that bypasses the United States, but it has been extremely difficult.
By the way, there is no prohibition on Iran to sell oil or petroleum products. The only prohibition levied by the United States is against people buying Iranian petroleum products using dollars or U.S. institutions.
At least one analyst claims that Trump’s decision to exit the JCPOA and to levy sanctions was due to Iran’s attempt to get petroleum sales denominated in Euros rather than dollars in 2003 []. but pressed again in 2017. This is an intriguing theory, and it may be true. But it attributes too much intelligence to Trump, who I don’t believe knows anything at all about international trade. 
William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. A linguistic anthropologist best known as a Middle East Specialist for more than 40 years, he has also worked in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Japan, China and South Asia. Recognized for special expertise in Iranian culture and linguistics, he is the author or editor of more than 100 scholarly articles, 500 opinion pieces and 14 books, including Language, Status and Power in Iran, and The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs": How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other. He has been a consultant to the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the United Nations and the European Union on Middle Eastern affairs. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

William O. Beeman Commentary on Friedman: "Trump Takes On China and Persia at Once. What’s to Worry About?" June 25, 2019

One thing I can guarantee. Any change in government in Iran that is engineered by the United States will fail utterly and completely. The United States has been meddling in Iran since World War II, and it has inherited the mantle of pre-World War II Great Britain in doing so. (Many Iranians continue to blame Great Britain for their woes). This has happened so relentlessly and so continuously, that it has engendered a habit of certitude in Iran that, given the slightest chance, the United States will do its damnedest to destroy Iran and its institutions. This happened in 1953 with the CIA overthrow of Prime Minister Mossadeq and the installation of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It happend during the Iran-Iraq war, when the U.S. aided Saddam Hussain to fight Iran to a standstill. Then there are the economic sanctions designed to cripple and destroy the country. There are many, many other incidents that reinforce this picture. The Algiers accords that ended the 444 day hostage crisis extracted a promise from the U.S. that it would "never again interfere in Iran's internal affairs." Well, that promise was almost instantly broken, and now we have Bolton, Pompeo and Trump trying to enact regime change with the despised terrorist organization Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) riding on Bolton's coattails. Iranians are pressing for internal reform. But they must do it themselves. The United States will destroy this possibility if it continues its interference. No one trusts us in Iran!

Monday, June 24, 2019

William O. Beeman response to "Trump Imposes New Economic Sanctions on Iran, Adding to Tensions" June 22, 2019

Placing restrictions on Ayatollah Khamene'i is the most ridiculous measure Trump could have taken. First, Ayatollah Khamene'i is Iran's spiritual leader. He has a gigantic foundation with billions of dollars used to support religious activities such as orphanages, schools and seminaries. Trump is attacking Shi'a Islam itself with this move, and that is how it will be interpreted in Iran. Just wait for Friday prayers this week! If Trump, Bolton, Pompeo and Brian Hook think this is the kind of pressure that will force Iran to collapse, buckle, surrender, etc., they are sadly mistaken. This action is going to result in a hardening of Iranian resolve. It is hard to underestimate the ignorance Trump and his team are demonstrating about Iranian culture, society, and reactions to pressure from external forces. They see relations with the United States and Great Britain before World War II as a continual campaign to control Iranian internal affairs. That was the crux of the Revolution of 1978-79. It is not likely that they will abandon this frame of mind, especially with foolish megalomaniacs like John Bolton continually screaming for "regime change" and threatening to replace the current government with the despised and inept terrorist group, the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK). Who will smack Trump across the forehead with a board to get him to wake up and stop pursuing this abortive, ineffectual and dangerous course. Perhaps when the shooting starts!

Friday, June 21, 2019

William O. Beeman Commentary on "Distress and Defiance in Iran" NY Times June 21, 2019

American chicken hawks like John Bolton and Sen. Tom Cotton salivating over the prospect of an Iranian government collapse should think twice. Iranians are fiercely patriotic and willing to withstand enormous hardship to preserve their nation. Above all, foolish monomaniacs like Bolton should abandon the fantasy that the terrorist organization, the Mujaheddin-e Khlaq (MEK) could ever assume power in Iran. The MEK was demonstrating today in front of the State Department for regime change with the shameful participation of US current and former officials. The MEK is despised in Iran, and if the United States tried to install them in power, that very US connection would absolutely doom them. Iranians are sick of American interference. Mr. Abdoh makes an extremely important point. Iran is hurting, yes. But since the 1980s Iran has developed a robust internal economy, and a remarkable infrastructural capacity. It has the capacity to produce everything it needs to survive an American imposed siege. There are some exceptions. Specialized medicine is in short supply. Medicine should be completely exempt from sanctions, but somehow crucial medical supplies are not making their way into the public market. This humanitarian crisis must be alleviated. If Europe and other supporters of the JCPOA are serious, they should come to the aid of the normal citizens of Iran who are caught between the towering egos of Trump and the Iranian establishment.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

William O. Beeman response to "After Iran’s Drone Attack, Trump Says He ‘Would Not Stand for It’" NY Times June 20, 2019

There are many important considerations in this incident. 1. It is claimed that the drone was shot down in international air space. Closer inspection of this claim shows that it was in fact very close to Iranian air space--virtually on the border. It is not improbable that the drone first violated Iranian air space, and then flew out into the international space. This is consistent with the United States baiting Iran into violation. This needs to be carefully investigated. 2. Trump, based on intelligence briefings, suggested that this could have been a rogue action by the IRGC. This is highly probable. Whether "rogue" or not, such an action would have been pre-authorized if the drone did in fact violate Iranian air space. There is definitely room for a mistake in personal judgment in this case. 3. The IRGC has recently had its wings clipped by the Iranian government. Many of its resources have been transferred to the regular Iranian Army. This has created a great deal of anger in the IRGC. But from the standpoint of the US, this is in fact a positive response of the Iranian government to US and International demands. 4. Along these lines, the IRGC was initially created to prevent a counter-coup to the Revolution of 1978-79 as a para-military force. It has grown to be a severe problem within Iran itself. Though the Iranian government won't admit it, they are concerned about its influence. This action could be a protest from the IRGC to embarrass Tehran.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

William O. Beeman Comment on "Iran Has Ties to Al Qaeda, Trump Officials Tell Skeptical Congress" New York Times, June 19, 2019. Claim of Iran's ties to Al-Qaeda is a total lie.

New York Times, June 19, 2019

Time out. Stop. The claim that Iran has ties to Al Qaeda is a complete and total lie.
The Trump team must be getting desperate. It is true that Iran allowed some escaping relatives of Osama bin Laden to stay in Iran for a time, but this is a far cry from Iran having ties to Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is an extreme reactionary Sunni faction of the Hanbali school of Islam. They are Wahhabi/Salafi in orientation (the Wahhabis and Salafis claim that they are different, but they espouse the same extreme views). They espouse killing of Shi'a Muslims as "not a sin," because they view Shi'ism as heretical. They have made this pronouncement many, many times. Persecution of Hazara Shi'a Muslims in Afghanistan is directly related to Al Qaeda and Taliban calls to murder them.
So is it even slightly plausible that Iran is somehow tied to Al Qaeda?
Republicans and neoconservatives tried to make this false equation during the Bush administration as a way to convince Republicans to attack Iran and effect regime change. This didn't work then, and Congressional representatives, no matter how much they dislike Iran, should not buy this utter garbage argument. It is being promulgated for the same aim as in 2003--namely to garner support for regime change in Iran.
Message to Congress: Don't buy this utter lie!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Why the United States Will Fail at Regime Change in Iran

The Trump administration has no end game for removing its economic blocade. The Trump team claims that they don't seek the destruction of the Iranian government, but that is exactly their naive aim. Lets examine why this is an incredibly stupid goal.

First, Iran is governed by a stable constitution that has been scrupulously observed for forty years since its inception. Regime change would mean trashing the Constitution. Not likely!

The nation is not a dictatorship, although Ayatollah Khamene'i does have the last word on many issues. Its presidents have served their terms and left office, replaced through elections that for the most part free and fair (the 2009 election being the possible exception). It has an active parliament with clear political factions and lively debate. Laws are not rubber stamped.

Second, there is no viable replacement for the current government. Bolton seems to entertain the fantasy that the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) could take over. This terrorist group is despised in Iran. They could never rule. 

Third, Iran has a robust internal economy. it is capable of producing everything it needs to be viable including food. building material and technical equipment.  Unlike Iraq, Iran would easily survive a siege.

Finally, Iran is huge, with a population of 80 million and a potential fighting force of 20 million. Iran survived a debilitating 8 year war with Iraq with immense patriotic fervor. A US war for regime change would be an unmitigated disaster.