Post-Cold War U.S. Geo-Strategy in the Middle East

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Back in the summer of 2006, while the Israeli army was
incessantly bombing Lebanon back to the Stone Age, the
U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, comforted us all
by calling the death and destruction being inflicted upon
Lebanon “the birth pangs of a new Middle East”—a natural
process which needs to be endured if life is to renew itself. A
more apt metaphor for this and other forces of change in the
region would be “a premature Cesarean Section operation”
to speed up the delivery of a new Middle East into an American-
envisioned Uni-Polar World, under the patriarchal care
of Israel. The invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Lebanon, the
recent attempt to resuscitate the 2002 Saudi proposal for a
peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, and
the nightmarish but currently unlikely plans for an overt
military action against Iran can all be understood better
within this paradigm.
This hegemonic ambition and its policy implications
have been developed over the past decade-and-a-half by a
group of neo-conservative (neo-con) strategists and operatives
in the Bush I Administration connected to the American
Enterprise Institute (AEI) and to the right-wing of the
American Israeli lobby (AIPAC and such). Zbigniew Brzinizki’s
Second Chance details how, as early as March 1992,
Richard Perle et al. had arrived at the conclusion that
“American global military superiority” must be used “to
expand eastward in Europe and be firmly consolidated in
the Middle East.” The impetus for this ambition was derived
from the illusion that the dismantling of the Soviet Union
and the Eastern Block provided the U.S with a unique
opportunity to dominate the entire region for the benefit of
American oil companies.
Rashid Khalidi in Resurrecting Empire and John Cooley
in his 2006 Harvard International article document how the
pro-Likhud Party lobby used a continuous barrage of faulty
claims to convince America of the desirability and feasibility
of neutralizing Iraq, Syria, Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah and
the Palestinian nationalists through a series of military
assaults. The Bush I and Clinton’s Administrations, however,
were not sympathetic to this reckless vision and the neocons
had to bide their time till the Presidency of Bush II to
implement their views.
Yet by the year 2000, new forces had already started to
raise obstacles against quests for world dominance. Globalization
and technological advancements have made the
tools of communication and destruction so affordable and
accessible that even the smallest militant cells can now paralyze
the mightiest world armies. An obvious case in point,
of course, is the debacle in Iraq.
From a different direction, formation of regional security,
economic and political alliances have created formidable
forces against Uni-polarization of the world. The populist
bloc in Latin America and the European Union both keep
U.S. ambitions at bay in their respective regions. Still more
formidable have been the Chinese and Russian joint efforts
to control major markets in South Asia, the Middle East,
and Africa, and to provide regional security systems independent
of the U.S. These alliances offer prospects for partnerships
in lieu of client status that the U.S. bestows upon
weaker states. Iran, for example, as an observer within the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), has recently
expressed its interest to act as a bridge between SCO and the
Persian Gulf States.
The Asian Energy Security Grid (AESG) is another product
of such strategy, fueled by the old adage of “he who controls
the oil controls the world.” As Chomsky and Achkar
discuss in Perilous Power, control over the flow of oil and
gas from Siberia and the yet to be exploited Central Asian
fields to South Asian markets and to China itself, is vital to
the economic growth and rise in power of Russia and China.
Here again Iran can play a crucial role by providing the
AESG with the most rapid and cheapest means of transporting
Caspian, Russian, and Central Asian oil and gas to the
rest of the world markets, thus bypassing American and
European Companies. Within this context, it’s easy to
understand Russian and Chinese opposition to American
efforts to impose severe sanctions on Iran for what it claims
to be violations of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Both
countries fear that this line of action would eventually lead
to a “regime change” in Iran after the Iraqi model.
Here lies America’s Iran paradox. Attacking Iran directly
or via Israeli bombing of strategic targets is bound to unify
the Iranians and will mobilize Iraqi Shiites in S.E. Iraq,
Southern Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Lebanon against the
U.S. and Israel. It would also send Iran rushing to China
and Russia, which is the worst nightmare of Corporate
America and its political operatives. Ignoring Iran, and letting
it develop nuclear capabilities and to assume a leadership
role in the Middle East, is also terrifying to the U.S. and
its regional allies.
Over the last twenty-five years, both Democrats and
Republicans have been adamant about the taboo of open
dialogue with Iran. The Bush administration, however, is
most to be blamed for having shut the window of opportunity
that had opened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to start a
dialogue with the then reformist Iranian government. President
Khatami had gained an impressive electoral victory
over the right wing of the Islamic Republic establishment.
He had condemned al-Queda’s terrorist attacks against
American targets and had offered Iran’s assistance in the
aftermath of the tragedy. Iranian paramilitary Quds force,
with the cognizance of Pentagon, had aided the U.S.-supported
Northern Alliance against the Taliban. Khatami had
also suggested a “Dialogue among Civilizations” to replace
the neo-cons’ “Clash of Civilizations.”
President Bush’s response to these conciliatory gestures
was to place Iran on an “axis of evil” list along with Iraq and
North Korea. The obsession with Iran and Iraq distracted
the Administration from fulfilling Bush’s promise to “smoke
bin Laden out of his lair” in Afghanistan and from pursuing
Al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives into Pakistan. Instead,
Washington moved quickly to exploit the euphemistic “war
on terror” to bring about a regime change in Iraq in order to
place the control over the country’s oil resources in the
hands of American companies, and to rid Israel of one its
staunch enemies in the region. Most Americans failed to see
the invasion of Iraq for what it was and gave up their French
Fries in favor of Freedom Fries as a rhetorical defiance of the
rest of the world—and the rest is history.
Khalidi believes that, although Iraq had become the target
of an American “preemptive” strike, the ultimate objective
of the U.S. was to bring about a regime change in Iran
and to curb its ambition to shape the region’s post-Cold War
politics in its own favor. Indeed, since the 1990’s, Richard
Perle has been arguing that the most serious danger to the
U.S. and to Israel’s interests in the Middle East is posed by
Iran and its Shiite “clients.” One wonders then about the
rationale behind annihilation of Iran’s arch nemesis, the
Sunni Iraqi regime. A possible answer lies in the fact that no
solid case could have been made in 2002 to justify an attack
on Iran while Saddam Hussein had provided the U.S. with
ample excuses to rally the Congress and the public against
him. The neo-con fantasy projected the image of a free Iraq
whose Shiite majority would sever its ties with Iran in gratitude
to the U.S. and would either welcome a Hashemite
kingship or establish a republican system of government in
alliance with the U.S! It was also believed that Iran’s position
would be weakened even further when Israel destroys Iran’s
Lebanese protégé, the Hezbollah. In his August 2006 article
in Gush Shalom, the Israeli pacifist, Uri Avnery, sees the disastrous
Israeli bombing of Lebanon as part of this same
scheme.
This strategy has obviously failed: Hezbollah has gained
more prestige in the Middle East and the Iranian establishment
has become a beneficiary of the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Seymour Hirsh maintains in “The Redirection,” The
New Yorker, March 5, 2007, that this “unforeseen” empowerment
of Iran has terribly worried America, Israel, Saudi
Arabia, and the Gulf States and has created a shift in U.S.
policy to coordinate all efforts to weaken Iran’s position. The
empowerment of Iran, however, was a predictable outcome
of the invasion of Iraq, given the shared historical and religious
experiences that have bound Iran and Iraq together.
Some of the Shiite elites of both countries had spent years in
exile in each other’s native countries and had developed
among themselves familial and political connections. Ayatollah
Khomeini, for example, had been forced out of Iran
and had spent several years in Iraq while Iraqi Grand Ayatollah
Ali al-Sistani was born in Iran. Even the Kurdish Iraqi
President and his faction have been enjoying good rapport with Iran as result of the assistance the Quds
force had provided them in the 1980’s
against Saddam Hussein.
As part of this “redirection”—I would
prefer the term “refocusing”— the Administration
has started to complain about Iran’s
meddling in Iraqi affairs and accuses its
regime of training terrorists and providing
ammunitions to the radical Shiites. The U.S.
military has arrested hundreds of Iranians in
Iraq, many of whom have turned out to be
humanitarian and aid workers. According to
Paul Street, the U.S. has also placed Special
Ops and CIA teams inside Iran as well as
stationing two full carrier groups in the Persian
Gulf.
The Iraqi government insists that any
Iranian involvement in Iraq takes place at its
own request and targets only radical Sunni
cells and Muqtada al-Sadr’s anti-government
anti-American guerrilla group. Indeed, the
interest of the Iranian regime is best served
if factional fighting and terrorist attacks end,
and the governmental and constitutional
arrangements that were shaped with the
help of the U.S start working. Even Bush
admits that any connection between these
activities and the high echelons of Iranian
government is at best conjectural.
Furthermore, any objectionable and
destabilizing impact that Iranians might
have had in Iraq and elsewhere is in part the
result of the American self-fulfilling prophecy
of demonizing the entire Iranian establishment,
which has led to the ascendancy
of hard-line factions in Iran.
The right wing of the Iranian regime has
used America’s anti-Iran rhetoric to rally the
country behind itself, to isolate the
reformists within Iran’s multi-layered power
structure, and to stifle the movement
towards the creation of a civil society, which
could act as a counterbalance to militant elements
within the government, and society.
The 2005 electoral victory of Ahmadinejad
to the presidency against moderate candidates
should be viewed within this atmosphere
of fear and distrust. In addition, the
sharp contrast between the ways U.S. has
dealt with Iraq vs. North Korea has
strengthened the hands of those who have
been arguing in private that the only safeguard
against an attack by the U.S. or its
regional allies is to continue Iran’s nuclear
program.
There are some indications that a rift is in
the making within the Administration in
regards to Iran policy. The recent Iran-U.S.
meeting over Iraq might be the first sign of a
minor shift in the State Department as to the
advisability of destabilizing the Iranian
regime. Among the highest ranks in the
Administration, only Vice-President Cheney
has kept up his belligerent rhetoric against
Iran; the rest are pretty much silent. Given
the agendas of the two governments, the
best outcome one can hope for realistically
is a prolonged “Cold War” between Iran and
the U.S. with occasional talks and damage
control over Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course, it remains to be seen how Iran
and the U.S. would decide to play their
hands in this new “Great Game.” The only
certainty is that, at the end, everyone would
lose unless this and other political games are
played fairly according to a set of new egalitarian
rules established by an empowered
United Nations whose legitimacy is accepted
by all nations.

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