Déjà vu

As you know, being the center of the elitist world DC is full of daily talks and panels. I wish I could go to all of them, but I often hear about them through different colleagues or peers. One friend told me about a panel set up in Oxford debate style, with a motion, and two sides to debate for or against the motion. Elliot Abrams and Joshua Muravchik argued for the motion “America cannot tolerate a nuclear Iran and must go to any lengths to prevent it” and Karim Sadjadpour and newly turned realist Martin Indyk were against it.

My friend told me that Sadjapour’s argument was weak, but the others were strong. Confused that Elliot Abrams would have a strong argument I investigated, and read the transcript of the debate. But to my chagrin, it was déjà vu: re Iraq, a terrible misunderstanding of IR theory, and a total misunderstanding of the Islamic Republic and its people. Here are my notes:

  • The neoconservatives used sensationalist language to scare the layman. They both began with the word “holocaust” and tied Iranian nukes to the possibility of a “second holocaust” to “annihilate” Israel, a misquote of Ahmadinejad’s idiotic words regarding Israel. In fact, Muravchik talks about the regime as “fascist”, “Nazi”, “Stalin”, “paranoid”, “paranoid”, “paranoid”, and “Hitler”. Hmmm… Is this descriptive or just intellectually dishonest?
  • Abrams’ introduction contains hypotheticals: “What if their apocalyptic rhetoric does reflect and predict their actions? What if they donʹt themselves launch an attack, but rather proliferate nuclear weapons to a terrorist group? That if the regimeʹs control of its weapons is less than perfect as weʹve all long feared in Pakistan?” Well these things can actually happen, but it sure sounds like talk about Iraq post-9/11. It is a repeat of the Bush Doctrine, a foreign policy objective which actually made US peoples and the world less secure. Are we still pushing these talking points of preemption/prevention? Prevention against what precedence on the Iranian part? His opponent Indyk, a strong supporter of Israel I may add, points to the historical precedence of the Islamic Republic exercising “great caution when it comes to using military force”-smart, don’t assume extreme state activism when it hasn’t been demonstrated.
  • It starts to get crazy when the side arguing for the motion guesses how the people might react to the bombing of their beloved homeland. Muravchik says that if we bomb Iran the people may react like they did in Argentina when they ousted the military government after the Falkland Islands war. This is extremely unlikely giving Iran’s national psychology and extreme distrust for foreign intervention and aggression. Ask any Iranian that is for or against the regime. In fact Sadjadpour demonstrates this consciencessness well in describing anti-regime human rights activist Ahmad Batabi‘s comments that even after years of solitude in prison and a dangerous escape from Iran, if there was war against his country he would return and fight.
    Again, Abrams shows his lack of knowledge of Iranian people here:

    “…we are not talking about a war between the United States and Iran, we are not talking about the Americans killing civilians, bombing cities, destroying mosques, hospitals, schools. No, no, no – weʹre talking about nuclear facilities which most Iranians know very little about, have not seen, will not see, some quite well hidden.

    So they wake up in the morning and find out that the United States if attacking those facilities and, presumably with some good messaging about why weʹre doing it and why we are not against the people of Iran.

    Itʹs not clear to me that the reaction letʹs go to war with the Americans, but rather, perhaps, how did we get into this mess? Why did those guys, the very unpopular ayatollahs in a country 70 percent of whose population is under the age of 30, why did those old guys get us into this mess.”

    Not only is this a bizarre characterization of how the Iranians won’t link their regime to their homeland, it also shows Abrams is still stuck in the regime change mentality of the Bush administration. You know, the one that got us into the mess where we ruined our standing in the world, shifted our attention from Afghanistan, and actually hightened Iran’s influence in the region.

    Indyk rightly points out that this strategy was employed by Israel in Gaza, hoping to turn the people against Hamas, and look what really happened…
    To which Abrams responds “I’m not persuaded thatʹs true in Gaza. Itʹs very hard to figure out, but it is not at all clear that this round was not used, by the people of Gaza, as something brought upon them by the Hamas guys”. I am still wondering why this guy still has influence. This is either quite delusional or just dishonest.

  • Muravchik chimes in with this little ditty: “I would say to Martin [Indyk] that our talks with North Korea have completely failed but if we bomb Iran they may well succeed the next day”. Again, re Iraq. Is this Groundhog Day? Have we not learned from our mistakes leading up to Iraq? Why are the same talking points being employed in regards to Iran? If anything, when the US confirms an aggressive foreign policy, like we did under the Bush Doctrine, regimes with nuclear capability will keep their weapons as a deterrent against the US. In fact, surrounding Iran in Iraq and Afghanistan has surely contributed to their desire for nuclear deterrent to prevent regime change from outside powers. Our position accelerated their desire for the weapons! This is IR theory at its most basic level.

My meta-points:

Abrams and Muravchik kept speaking of Iran’s “desire” to annihilate another country, basing this on the remarks from Ahmadinejad regarding Israel. But Iran has no such desire. The rhetoric today coming from the Iranian military is one of deterrence. They brag about their missile technology in the press, or announce the creation of longer range missiles, etc., as psychological deterrent and expression of military might in the face of an opposing military. It is arguable whether this actually works or if it just fuels Israel’s desire for preventative action, but it is certainly a strategy to make Israel think twice about aggressive actions against the Islamic Republic. We can argue in circle which state the threat came from first, but as of now Israel is the stronger state and with nuclear weapons mixed with Israel’s unilateral and aggressive foreign policy Iran feels vulnerable and is afraid.

It can be argued that Israel’s posture in respect to Iran actually fuels Iran’s perceived need for nuclear weapons capability. Israel has acted preemptively in many conflict situations, while the Islamic Republic has not.

In addition to the fact that they are dug in regarding their posture on ambiguous preventative action, there is a real disconnect in understanding the Islamic Republic. You see it in the quotes they utilize, they characterize the regime as suicidal.

The hierocracy believes it is fullfilling a moral duty, the leading figures are not driving madly towards an Armageddon, but believe to be bringing Islamic society towards a major transformation where all things have changed in the most positive direction, creating the perfect state for the Hidden Imam to return to and the Muslims to live in a state of social justice.Whether this is happening or not, the people would most certainly disagree as unemployment and inflation raises, this is the teleology of the Islamic Republic, not one of suicidal messianism.

While historical memory and nationalist rhetoric is employed to whip up religious nationalism in the face of opposition, like Israel or the US, the state acts in a rational way just as any other state surviving within the international community. As Sadjadpour said in the debate, if the regime was suicidal it would not have been celebrating its 30th anniversary in February this year. They participate in regimes like the IAEA, UN, etc., and employ economic strategies for years ahead. Discounting this regime as irrational demonstrates a cop out and an unwillingness to closely examine the complexities of an ideology before we oppose it with blood and treasure.

So unfortunately my friend was wrong. The arguments from the for side were weak, and in fact the against side actually structured their debate in real-life policy issues and IR theory. In fact, Sadjadpour, who I was told was the weakest, made the best point in a time when the US is looking to shore up its regional support: “Iran has a sizable influence on five major US Foreign Policy concerns. They’re Afghanistan, Iraq, the Arab‐Israeli Conflict, terrorism and energy security. In bombing Iran we’re going to exacerbate every single one of those issues.”

Thankfully it seems the Obama administration is airing on the side of practiced theory rather than ideological speculation and stories of Islamofascism.

UPDATE: Friend of CE Matt at FP Watch blogs about the same “Insanity”

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~ by The Common Man on March 31, 2009.

2 Responses to “Déjà vu”

  1. […] like Rubin, or Elliot Abrams for instance, are using the political climate of slight hesitation between both the US and the IRI […]

  2. […] it is just an agenda piece. As we all know Abrams is more interested in Israeli interests than US. In fact he wishes to bomb Iran asap to shut […]

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