[OPE] US Foreign Policy and Post-Election Iran

From: Gerald Levy <jerry_levy@verizon.net>
Date: Fri Mar 12 2010 - 17:22:35 EST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Cyrus Bina" <binac@morris.umn.edu>
To: "Jerry Levy" <jerry_levy@verizon.net>
Sent: Friday, March 12, 2010 4:44 PM
Subject: US Foreign Policy and Post-Election Iran

> Dear Jerry,
> Hope this finds you well. Attached (and, just in case, copied below) is
> a copy of latest piece (addressed to Obama), published in CounterPunch
> today. Please feel free to post it for the list.
> My very best,
> Cyrus
> http://www.counterpunch.org/bina03122010.html
> Weekend Edition
> March 12-14, 2010
> /An Open Letter to President Obama /
> U. S. Foreign Policy and Post-Election Iran
> Mr. President,
> This note is intended to persuade you to go back to the drawing board on
> the question of Iran. The internal ideological confrontation in the
> Islamic Republic of Iran is irretrievably in the open. The cumulative
> effects of thirty years of political repression and internal dissent,
> both inside and outside the ruling circle, at least since the 1999
> student uprising, have already come home to roost at the doorsteps of
> the regime in the aftermath of summer (2009) election in Iran. Neither
> the difference between the Ahmadinejad-Khamenei government and the
> all-embracing spectrum of masses across the country nor the cleavage
> within the regime itself is deemed reconcilable at this point. And,
> although the leadership of the latter is cowed to some reconciling
> statements lately, the fact remains that post-election Iran and the
> preemptive coup d’état that followed are inseparable; this must mean a
> regime change (i.e., a metamorphosis) within the regime itself. The
> paramilitary government of Ahmadinejad-Khamenei, while attempting at
> cannibalization of its own fellow travelers, is gearing up to impose its
> “rationalized” version of the Islamic Republic upon the varied, vibrant,
> and vigorous opposition at large.
> “Down with the Dictator,” which was the motto of daring youth and
> intellectuals in 1999, has now become a universal expression in streets
> of Tehran and other major cities by the massive cross-section of the
> population—composed of all ages, gender, education, and all social
> classes in the mix. Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former president—who had
> allowed the “Revolutionary Guard” and the paramilitary Basij do their
> dirty work, in provocation, incarceration, and even torturing of
> protesting students then—is now among the prominent leaders of
> (intra-regime) opposition. This premeditated (mid-summer) coup d'état
> against the many founding fathers of the Islamic Republic is indeed a
> telling story about the para-militarization of economy and polity, and
> eventual inauguration of a fully-fledged paramilitary state in
> post-election Iran.
> The metamorphosis of the regime can be revealed through many critical
> changes that catapulted Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—a former guardsman—to the
> presidency of Iran in 2005. He is the quintessential face of a sub-class
> of unproductive military and paramilitary rentier whose hands are
> extended into many cookie jars, from industrial military enterprises,
> oil contracts and production facilities, pipelines and civil engineering
> constructions, to telecommunication and security, official and
> off-the-shelf interrogation facilities, administration of justice and
> judiciary, university administration, state radio and television, and
> the Majles—the law-making branch of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Today,
> the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij, including an army of
> plain-clothed thugs, are now the de facto source of power in Iran; these
> are the seven-course meal in the day-to-day governance of the country,
> and the clergy (other than Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his tiny clique)
> is like the proverbial dessert to top it off. And it is a cruel irony
> that, in the first place, mere prevention of an external coup (like the
> one by the CIA in 1953) had prompted the creation of the Revolutionary
> Guard, yet the latter has come to inflict a fatal blow so immense to
> this regime that no foreign power could have ever done it, so precisely
> and with such a bizarre twist.
> The Role of Sanctions
> There is no question that sanctions have wreaked havoc on the Iranian
> economy, from top to bottom, and created discomfort for the regime.
> There’s also no doubt that these sanctions have created disproportional
> hardships for the bulk of the population, particularly the poorest of
> the poor in Iran. Yet, at the same time, any permanent and unremitting
> regime of sanctions, no matter how targeted, tends to create some sort
> of adaptability (and immunity) if it is maintained for a long time. Here
> I sense a speck of historical helplessness in all this, which is
> grudgingly promoting the necessity of tactics against the sufficiency of
> strategy, long before your Administration. It is expected that the
> foreign policy of a civilized nation should allow no room for the
> priority of tactics over strategy. Yet it occurs to me that we have
> never had a suitable foreign-policy strategy on Iran since the fall of
> the Shah, in 1979, which was simultaneous with the end of an era—the
> fall of the Pax Americana. You may have read Sun Tzu’s The Art of
> War—please read it again. This classic volume is not about war, per
> se—it’s about strategy. The longstanding U.S. sanctions against Cuba,
> for instance, have neither been effective nor contributed to larger and
> worthwhile strategic objectives—these silly sanctions simply made us
> look like a bully in the neighborhood. In other words, imposing sanction
> is always tactical and thus one needs to watch out for their unintended
> consequences upon one’s strategy.
> However, in Iran’s case something more profound had happened in
> conjunction with the longstanding U.S. sanctions since the 1980s. These
> sanctions continued until the mid-1990s, only to be renewed and beefed
> up by the Clinton and the Bush-Cheney administrations, before being
> considered to be “toughened up” again by your administration today. On
> the surface, it looks as if the United States is running out of
> options—and that’s how the United States usually is setting itself up
> for a fall. However, something more profound and sinister has been in
> the works all the while Iran was on the road to recovery from the
> eight-year war of attrition with Iraq through Rafsanjani’s eight-year
> reconstruction and Khatami’s eight-year purported reform.
> For those in your foreign policy team who have read John Maynard
> Keynes’s The Economic Consequences of the Peace and who are kind enough
> to substitute the word “sanction” for “reparation” and “Iran” for
> “Germany,” it should be a little surprise to glimpse the remarkable
> parallels. In the aftermath of the armistice agreement at the Versailles
> (1919), Lord Keynes with incredible insight wrote:
> The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of
> degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a
> whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable—abhorrent
> and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves,
> even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe.
> Some preach it in the name of Justice. In the great events of man’s
> history, in the unwinding of the complex fates of nations Justice is not
> so simple. And if it were, nations are not authorized, by religion or by
> natural morals, to visit on the children of their enemies the misdoings
> of parents or of rulers (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1920: 225).
> In a nutshell, this passage is remarkably parallel with what the U.S.
> foreign policy has managed to accomplish against the people of
> Iran—advertently or inadvertently. And it is precisely how the
> para-militarization of the bruised, battered, and war-torn Iran got
> under way where an organized force, namely, the Revolutionary Guard, set
> out to exploit the beleaguering U.S. sanctions and rather successfully
> snatched all opportunities from its dispersed, disadvantaged, and
> disorganized private rivals across the commercial and industrial
> landscape, with the blessings of the bulky and besieged state in Iran.
> In other words, the asymmetric impact of U.S. sanctions—combined with
> political calculations by the state in searching for a way out—led to a
> state of emergency, absence of competitive environment, and urgency for
> outright control and cronyism through total reliance on the Guard. The
> Guard, while it was encroaching on the economic domain, was also gaining
> a foothold in the political arena. This was about the time that horrible
> incidents linked to multiple political assassinations of the opposition,
> and of independent writers and intellectuals, by off-the-shelf
> dead-squads within the Information Ministry, combined with the
> subsequent (1999) student unrest, made a mockery of the Khatami
> administration.
> The Revolutionary Guard’s threat of the coup d'état (1999) and Khatami’s
> ineptitude and submissiveness should be considered as the turning point
> in political domination of the Guard. Hence, it could be said that,
> while the Iran-Iraq War had created the necessary conditions for this
> para-militarization to emerge, U.S. sanctions provided the very
> sufficient condition for this monster to take hold within the Iranian
> state. As a result, Ahmadinejad’s recent paramilitary coup constitutes
> in some measure a corollary of the longstanding US sanctions against
> Iran. And, unsurprisingly, resurrection and rejuvenation of this
> Frankenstein is, quintessentially, a joint-product of three decades of
> U.S.-Iran relations, including the United States’ objectionable and
> obtuse policy of taking sides with Saddam Hussein during the course of
> the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). Now, allow me to be a bit explicit: the
> right and the responsibility to change their regime absolutely belong to
> Iranians themselves. The United States has done enough, so far, to mess
> up the peoples’ lives and mess with the course of change in this
> country. So, let the United States—for heaven’s sake—refrain from
> inhibiting this vibrant democratic resistance and flowering movement
> with our habitual Iran policy, which is shamefully no more than an
> appendage to our customary Israel policy.
> The likely U.S. Iran Policy
> The question of what to do with Iran has to be treated on his own right,
> without being made an appendage to U.S. policy vis-à-vis other nations
> in the Middle East. Neither putting words in Saudi Arabia’s mouth nor
> rehearsing tactically (and opportunistically) with other Arab nations on
> Iran will ever prove advantageous in the long run. Indeed, like our Iran
> policy, our foreign policy toward the Arabs is similarly an appendage of
> our Israel policy. And the recent statement made by your Secretary of
> State, Hillary Clinton, that the United States wants a nuclear-free
> Middle East, is not only a panoramic subterfuge but an insult on the old
> injury for the Arabs, the Turks, and the Iranians alike. Who does she
> think she’s kidding? Mark my words—Mr. President. When the time comes
> for the Arabs to be rewarded on this feeble quid pro quo dubbed our
> Middle East policy, say, on the Palestinian issue, we know darn well
> that we will have to kick sand in their face. Just recount the number of
> UN resolutions and our positions on this very single issue alone—Mr.
> President. That is why it is imperative for the United States to fully
> overhaul its Middle East policy before addressing the question of
> Palestine.
> Foreign policy is neither a charity nor an interest-group proposition.
> It’s a long-term plan of action and/or inaction. Foreign policy is not
> about the projection of power but power without projection. And the
> United States, particularly in the last decade, has done exactly the
> opposite of that. To boast that “all options are on the table” is obtuse
> for three simple reasons: (1) that it is the crudest form of bullying
> since the era of Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun, (2) that it sends a
> message that unless you are a nuclear power we’re going to mess with
> you, and (3) that it creates unnecessary suspicion and thus preempts the
> next opportunity. So, anyone who utters these words should be thrown out
> of any serious foreign-policy discussion, let alone foreign-policy
> decision.
> War is a toxic asset with incalculable probability. Considering war as
> an option by self-proclaimed foreign policy experts resembles the action
> by Wall Street portfolio managers who had hastily sliced and thrown into
> the mix the “toxic assets” and wrecked our financial system many times
> over. War, as we are experiencing it up to our elbows today, is an
> option of sophomoric, single-minded, symmetry-seeking fools in
> three-piece suits. All-options-are-open is the option of a delusional
> power that lost its sense of reality and acts in the wrong century. The
> balance of power has irreversibly shifted since the 1980s when the world
> entered the epoch of the post-hegemonic/post-Pax Americana (i.e., a good
> decade prior to the fall of the Soviets), and Iran and the Middle East
> are only a persistent constituent part of it. In other words, the
> balance of power is way beyond the potential nuclear Iran and Israel’s
> tantrum. Thus, maintaining the same good old posturing would set off,
> rather deceivingly, such a vulgar statement, by the Israeli Defense
> Minister, that “Sanctions on Iran should be for a very short time and
> then ….” This pronouncement has been made on the expectation the United
> States go to war with Iran. And when Washington is wondering how,
> manufacturing of the “existential threat” and merchandizing of the war
> take the center stage in the media frenzy. The United States has
> recently made so many of these feel-good decisions based on fictitious
> ambitions and outright colonial conduct. The two wars in Iraq and
> Afghanistan are undeniably within these categories.
> What to do with Iran is often reduced to what to do with enriching
> uranium in Iran. And any realistic expert in this field should know that
> (1) enrichment of uranium is the right of all nations, particularly the
> ones that signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NNT), (2) periodic
> inspections are necessary and available at the IAEA, (3) there’s no
> limit for any nation to gain the knowledge of nuclear technology
> (including the knowledge of making bomb), (4) The NNT is not only about
> nonproliferation of nuclear weapons but also their absolute reduction,
> (5) India, Pakistan, and Israel are all have nuclear bombs with more
> than enough warheads to below up the entire region many times over, and
> (6) none of these countries are even persuaded by the United States to
> sign the NNT. Parenthetically, in just a few weeks, the world should be
> watching what will have to come out of the so-called U.S. Nuclear
> Posture Review, particularly on the question that America’s nuclear
> arsenal is the “sole purpose” against nuclear attack or is it the
> “primary purpose,” providing the probable first-use and thus escalating
> an arms race that would potentially make the Cold-War era look like a
> school-yard altercation.
> Notwithstanding the above points, the entire question boils down to the
> perceived threat by Israel in respect to the potential knowledge of
> bomb-making by Iran, and passing it to real or imagined terrorists—which
> is a deliberate mix-up of the fact and fantasy in order to camouflage
> the real issue. This tantrum alone constitutes the hallmark of de facto
> U.S. foreign policy on Iran, which should make every serious (and
> informed) citizen of this country blush with amazement. Given the
> opinion of most respected experts, Ahmadinejad’s claim of approaching 20
> percent enrichment capability, from 3.5 percent earlier, is a technical
> impossibility. Ahmadinejad is a Sarah Palin without lipstick. He is
> known for his rabble-rousing, empty rhetoric, and idiotic boasting (he
> is nicknamed khali band, a flaky fellow who carries a gun with no
> bullets), and getting worse by the hour, given his weak and uncertain
> position at home. Time is not on Ahmadinejad’s (or Khamenei’s) side. The
> United States should not fall for either this or the Israel Lobby
> (AIPAC) in Washington—which is historically a feeder of blood to
> umbilical cord of our feudal foreign policy. There is no urgency to
> negotiate with Iran on this issue by any stretch of imagination, other
> than the urging of neoconservative warmongers inside and outside your
> Administration. Instead, we should append any such perceived threats to
> a brand new, stand-alone, thoughtful, and thorough foreign policy on
> Iran, with or without the Islamic Republic. The continuation of the
> habitual, and indeed feudal, U.S. policy toward Israel and consequently
> treating the region (including Iran) as appendage will not get you
> anywhere. The United States is stuck between killing hope (i.e.,
> sanctions and more sanctions) and a toxic future (i.e., yet another war)
> by design and help of poisonous interest-group politics in Washington.
> This is the toolbox of the devil that seeks the freefall of the United
> States and that has long been placed at the center-stage of foreign
> policy in this and other cases.
> Therefore, I urge you to delay any serious talks with Iran as long as
> Ahmadinejad is holding power. This has a double benefit: (1) it would
> create a space to for us to revisit the fault-lines between the two
> countries, and to set our Iran policy on a carefully considered
> comprehensive course that departs from this ad hoc, embarrassing, and
> double-standard posture, and (2) it would lend moral support to the
> manifold and flowering movement in Iran. This is in contrast with
> failure of sanctions and of attacking Iran (directly or by proxy), and
> literally turning the clock back for another 20 or 30 years on this
> magnificent, self-activating democratic movement that, despite all human
> costs, is now the envy of the world.
> *Cyrus Bina,* Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the
> University of Minnesota (Morris Campus), USA, is the author of The
> Economics of the Oil Crisis
> <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0850363233/counterpunchmaga>,
> New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985, and co-editor (with H. Zangeneh) of
> Modern Capitalism and Islamic Ideology in Iran
> <http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0312047800/counterpunchmaga>,
> London: Macmillan, 1991. He is an Iran specialist and a member of
> Economists for Peace and Security.

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Received on Fri Mar 12 17:25:35 2010

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