[OPE] Cyrus on US Foreign Policy and Post-Election Iran

From: Gerald Levy <jerry_levy@verizon.net>
Date: Sun Mar 21 2010 - 08:05:36 EDT

Attached is a new piece by Cyrus which appeared in the CounterPunch, March
12, 2010.
He wrote: 'It is written more inclusively, with an eye on larger audience,
i.e., those who voted for Obama
and addressed to the President. Please post it for the list. My hope for
the list is to recognize the context
and content of this piece accordingly and, <...> do not pick on the figures
of speech, such as "we" and "our"
in this article.'

In solidarity, Jerry

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
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
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-ŕ-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 in it), 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 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, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985, and co-editor (with H. Zangeneh)
of Modern Capitalism and Islamic Ideology in Iran, London: Macmillan, 1991.
He is an Iran specialist and a member of Economists for Peace and Security.

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Received on Sun Mar 21 08:07:40 2010

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