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Caught In A Cold Embrace

Muzaffar Iqbal

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A quick glance at the map of Iran and the surrounding region shows that Iran is now effectively a besieged land. Sandwiched between USA-occupied countries on its western and eastern borders (Iraq, Afghanistan, and, arguably, Pakistan), and flanked by close allies of the USA to its north and south (the Central Asian states and the Arab Persian Gulf states), Iran has hardly any room left to manoeuvre. Just across the Persian Gulf, Oman now has the largest accumulation of USA troops and equipment, on a brand-new base built to maintain a USA presence in the Middle East indefinitely ? a presence reinforced by large bases in Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, north of Iran.
Neo-conservatives such as John Bolton, USA Under Secretary for Arms Control, continue to push the line for expansion into Iran.
This encircling of Islamic Iran is not a chance development. Unlike Iraq, where the recent invasion had a fast track pre-attack strategy, the USA is still moving carefully against Iran. But this must not be taken as a sign of reluctance by the USA administration to implement its overall strategy. Rather, the sobering experience of Washington’s warmongers in Iraq is caused by the unexpected difficulties emerging in occupied Iraq.

While the cloud over Iran may remain “no larger than George Bush’s hand,” as Jonathan Steele recently wrote in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the storm is certainly brewing, and the USA strategy seems dreadfully similar to the one used against Iraq. There is the familiar rhetoric of ‘illegal’ weapons, the demands for inspections, the deadlines, the involvement of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the hostile chorus of journalists, ‘dissidents,’ and would-be leaders, all contributing adverse comment on Iran.

One deadline has already come and gone, at the end of October. There was also a surprise visit by the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany, and an announcement by Iran that it has agreed to all their demands, including a halt on its uranium-enrichment program. This announcement was retracted almost immediately after it was made ? in Europe this was taken as a token denial for domestic consumption, although the USA was more cautious.

This is all in the public domain. But behind the scenes, the plot differs considerably. Consider, for instance, the recent moves of Pahlavi Jr., the son of the late ex-shah, the would-be king of Iran, as he is known to his USA mentors. Pahlavi is reported to have cut a back room deal with the neoconservatives in Washington, garnering political support and funding from Congress for ‘private’ Iranian-American satellite companies in California. He has also obtained USA government sponsorship for external radio channels such as Radio FARDA, geared toward young Iranians.

On April 8, Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, introduced an amendment that would provide $50 million for an “Iran Democracy Foundation,” set up to broadcast ‘democracy’ into Iran. Brownback, let us remember, is a born-again neoconservative and a leading player in the crusade against Iran. His bigotry is matched only by his self-righteousness. He sends regular messages to “the people of Iran,” saying he is “confident this will be the year of your liberation.”

The language of the amendment put forward in the Senate by this self-styled messiah of Iran is disturbingly similar to that used against Iraq, replete with references to Al Qaeda, terrorism, democracy, women’s rights, justice, freedom, and numerous other rhetorical strands, all aimed at delegitimising the Islamic state and creating a sense of righteous superiority in the West to justify a future war.
Tony Blair is playing the usual role of USA mouthpiece in Europe, there to bully neighbour countries into a more agressive footing.
Across the Atlantic, Tony Blair is playing his role as he did before the invasion of Iraq. In a recent speech, Blair repeated that he stands by his view that preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction ? if necessary by the use of pre-emptive force - is at the top of his foreign policy priorities. Speaking on the BBC’s ‘Today’ program, Blair spun a new theme: the “success” of the war on Iraq, he said, helped to get Iran to cooperate with the IAEA.

Together with Bush, Blair is discreetly setting the agenda for future confrontation by bringing Iran into the world’s spotlight. Again, the technique is similar to that used against Iraq. Sensational statements are issued, such as a White House spokesman warning Iranians this summer that the “development of a nuclear weapon is not in their interests,” or Bush claiming that “all options remain on the table.” Pressure is maintained with ‘leaked’ memos and ‘secret disclosures,’ such as one reported by the Los Angeles Times in August, stating that “the CIA has briefed friendly foreign intelligence services on a contingency plan for air and missile strikes on Iranian nuclear installations.”
Influential policy-makers in academia are spouting the same agressive line that they held in the lead-up to war against Iraq.
These moves against Iran are not merely the result of American preoccupations with the Islamic Republic, however: pressure comes too from Israel. The recently formed ‘Coalition for Democracy in Iran,’ which advocates the overthrow of Iran’s Islamic government, has attracted several well-known hawks, such as Michael Ledeen and Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The proliferation of nuclear weapons is indeed a serious issue. But the security threats facing Iran cannot be countered by conventional weapons alone: the balance of power is overwhelmingly against Iran, hence the need for a credible nuclear deterrent. The Islamic Republic has repeatedly assured the world that it has no intention of developing nuclear weapons. This may be prudent but it lacks moral strength, compromising on principles when neither the Israelis, nor the Americans, nor their European allies are going to believe Iran’s assurances anyway.

The right to acquire nuclear arms is not the birthright of those states that now possess them. If nuclear non-proliferation is a desirable agenda, it must apply to all states, and must have a widely recognized and internationally accepted procedure to ensure that non-nuclear states do not risk their territorial integrity (or any other integrity) by not developing a credible nuclear deterrent. Furthermore, non-proliferation must involve the disarmament of all nuclear-armed states, a principle that the USA, Britain, and the other three declared bomb-holders made public in 1995. But now we have a class distinction. The USA continues to develop new forms of nuclear weapons; USA-friendly states that refused to sign the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) but have nuclear weapons (India, Israel, and now Pakistan) are treated with kid gloves, but Iran, a signatory of the NPT, is being threatened with punishment and possible attack.

When compared with the stand taken by North Korea, the case against Iran falls flat: Iran has no bomb and has consistently said that it has no plans to develop one. It has a declared nuclear power program, however, and it plans to develop full-cycle fuel-enrichment to achieve self-sufficiency. This appears to be unacceptable to the USA and its allies. As the only Muslim country with an Islamic government, Iran stands out as a prototype for future Islamic movements. It has its weaknesses, and the revolution has not been successful in maintaining its momentum, but Iran remains the only reasonably successful experiment in establishing an Islamic state by mass revolution in modern times. This is what is not acceptable to those who wish to impose their own economic and political systems on the rest of the world.

Iran cannot simply sit back and wait for the plan drawn up against it to unfold: it needs to take action and mount a counteroffensive. One important aspect of this counteroffensive would be a media war aimed at neutralizing a growing anti-Iran feeling in the West. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, which took no measures to mobilize public opinion in the West against imminent attacks, Iran should take action on this front now, before it is too late ? pointing out the fallacies of the imposed order of things and the self-righteous ideologies of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy.’

The Iraqi quagmire has produced an environment unusually conducive to such counteroffensives; Iran must take the lead in exposing the intellectual fragility of neoconservatives in their self-appointed messianic role.

Published Saturday, December 13th, 2003 - 10:38am GMT

Muzaffar Iqbal is President of the Centre for Islam and Science at Sherwood Park, Canada.

Article courtesy of Media Monitors

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