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Rapproachment with Iran is not optional – in one map.

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Politicians from both parties and a variety of countries like to talk as though we have multiple options with Iran, that we can prevent them from getting nuclear weapons by force or coercion. Here’s a map. caspian sea

See those countries on the top and bottom of the map of the Caspian Sea, a sea in which the US has next to no military presence? Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons or fissile material for one reason – Russia doesn’t want them to have them. There are two likely reasons for this:

1. Russia likes to have Iran threatening the West, but doesn’t want Iran to have power in its own right;
2. Giving countries, even your allies, fissile material is seriously frowned upon in the international community.

The maintenance of these two rationales needs to be the centerpiece of American foreign policy vis-a-vis Iran. Invading Iran would invalidate both of them. Indeed, any kind of aggressive behavior by the US would reinforce the idea that Iran needs nuclear weapons for self-defence, and weaken the moral or legalistic non-proliferation arguments that could be used against Russia should Iran happen across a couple bombs worth of enriched Uranium. I don’t think Russia wants Iran to have nuclear weapons, but I can absolutely see the reasoning that would lead Russian leaders to decide that a nuclear armed Iran is needed to keep the peace (and remember, we created this world when we invaded the belligerent but non-nuclear Iraq but left nuclear-armed N. Korea largely alone).

What, then, must we do? In the short term, we can’t give Russia any reason to change its belief that Iran doesn’t need nuclear weapons. In the medium turn, we need to convince Iran that it doesn’t need nuclear weapons. That means letting Syria peacefully destroy its chemical weapons and not intervening militarily there. That also means eventually normalizing relations with Iran, the first step of which is lifting sanctions in a tangible way, and moving away from a policy that centers around the needs and desires of Saudi Arabia and Israel to the detriment of the rest of the Middle East.

The Right will say this amounts to appeasement, that somehow Iran is Germany and we are the UK at Munich. But they have it wrong – there is no way to strong arm our way to a more peaceful middle east. There is a much better analogy in European history the early 1910’s. We are Germany, Iran is Serbia, and Russia is, well, Russia (if you want, Israel or Saudi Arabia can be Austria-Hungary). Iran represents almost no threat to us except as far as they can draw us or our allies into open conflict. It is imperative that we make clear that we are not going to let national machismo or misplaced fear prompt us to do something disastrous for both sides.

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The Polish Wolf

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  • We are in a damned if we do, or damned if we don’t position. Like with Cuba, I favor a policy of engagement of inviting Iran’s young here to study and live here for awhile and then go home. Perhaps that strategy would actually change both countries from within.

    • Here’s hoping we eventually do that. The steep drop in the number of Muslim students studying in the US after 9/11 is actually very troubling in that regard. Security is important, but in the long run what we need is greater cultural contact.

    • That kind of engagement with the Soviet Union payed big, although delayed, dividends. When I was in college in Houston in the mid-sixties, one of the players in the pick-up soccer games in which I played was from Iran. And my roommate was from Iraq. That’s how nations learn about each other, and it’s much preferable to being introduced to foreign nationals on a battlefield.

      • James, you are spot on. Engagement changes both parties so that when they meet it’s with a handshake and a sit down to problem solving rather than thrusts of a bayonet.

  • Though we might be enlightened about this, quite a few on either side of the Party lines are not. Make sure you call your representatives and tell them, to give diplomacy a good chance before listening to the hawks on either side of the Isle…

  • If you could disabuse yourself of the notion that it is even remotely about what they say it is about, you could move a little closer to the light. Nukes have nothing to do with it. That is merely the cover story.

    interesting how even after one cover story after another turns out to be false, you still believe the next one as if the previous ones had never fallen apart. I’ve got to study that more. American citizenship seems to carry with it the duty to be gullible.

    • Mark – I’m curious where you think the misleading part of this is. Do you really believe that Iran in fact believes that it needs nuclear power (which is no less expensive and impractical in Iran than it is in the US), not nuclear weapons? Undoubtedly there are forces in Iran that don’t support this strategy, but by and large the capacity to produce nukes is really the only guarantee of Iranian external security in a post-Iraq world.

      That gives the US a dilemma – while it can circumscribe the power of a non-nuclear Iran, the US military has fewer option dealing with a nuclear power. It’s certainly not the case the Iran would use nukes offensively, but that’s not really the concern, either. US military planners are generally uncomfortable with countries that can’t be effectively incapacitated in a matter of weeks, and the number of such countries keeps growing.

      The dilemma is that attacking Iran would be very costly, but waiting for them to develop nukes takes that possibility off the table completely (and makes it almost inevitable that Saudi Arabia will want the same – putting us in an even more difficult position). The only solution is the one here outlined – reconciliation with Iran, so that nukes are no longer needed for their security and so that he US no longer feels the need to actively circumscribe their power. Iran, Turkey, and perhaps Egypt are the ME powers of the future – Israel and Saudi Arabia are stuck with crippling politico-structural weaknesses and narrow resource and population bases that prevent them from being ‘great powers’. We can fight this inevitability or we can embrace it.

      • Amazing how Neocons and Obamabots sound alike and pursue the same agenda. Do you have Cheney’s photo on your nightstand? Your outlook merely affirms what I have been saying all along – that the forces that govern US foreign policy are not connected in any way to the electoral system. Nor is the executive – the office was effectively neutralized in the 60’s. All decisions are made in secret, and public discussions are only for effect.

        I do not know why we have these wars, but do know that wars are an important force on their own, so that the reasons for war are usually made up – Iraqi WMD’s, (I hope you now know) a hoax, Libyan I pending massacre, (I hope you now know) a hoax, Syrian internal rebellion, (I assume you don’t yet know to be a hoax), and the Iranian nuclear program, no concern to any thinking person and a Trojan horse for yet another war. (Oh – Gulf of Tonkin … Hoax. Iraqi incubator babies – hoax. You know that, right?)

        Imagine doing nothing. Then, nothing happens. There’s no threat, no cause of action, no need to encircle them. We need to disarm. Mere existence of such a mass of armaments itself is a cause of war.

        It’s just proxy wars again, bleeding resources, preventing use of resources to pursue an egalitarian agenda. Maybe they fear overpopulation, miss allocation of resources, loss of power of the 1-%, representative government here and abroad, but whatever they say it is can be safely ignored. That is what it ain’t.

        Russia is playing along, military spending, otherwise unnecessary, is justified. It’s business as usual. Don’t overthink it. Iran threatens no one. US threatens everyone.

        • Imagine President Jeb Bush wielding another thousand points of light for Compassionate Conservatism while passing the white phosphorus into the Bosphorus: work for you, Toke?

          • Would you, just once, toss that party politics lens and try to understand the world as it really works?

            it’s been interesting to watch Obama – he has pushed the same agenda that Bush did. That is boring. You perceive that he is somehow different. That is what is interesting, how your perceptions are managed.

        • Mark, good to see you’ve given up on understanding foreign policy completely. Your absurd theories on how the world works had you spouting nonsense like invading Syria and nuking Iran. Now I see you’ve adopted a new philosophy, or rather, gotten to the root of your old one: The US is just bad, and other countries are universally benign except when they align with the US or react to American provocation. You’re a regular Henry Cabot Lodge. Or maybe Kellog.

          You assume that if the US just backed off, there would be peace in the world. In that way I suppose you’re an anarchist – you really believe that absent American power the nations of the world would coexist peacefully. It’s an absurd view, though: Before 1860, and again between 1918 and ~1940, the US limited its use of power to the Western Hemisphere. Guess what? The rest of the world carried on fighting its wars, committing its genocides, etc., without us. Let’s focus on the area involved in the immediate question.

          In the century before 1800 (when you might reasonable charge that Persian history was being manipulated by British and Russian intersts), there were three separate dynasties and two civil wars, as well as perhaps a half dozen minor conflicts in Mesopotamia and the border with the Ottoman Empire, a major, destructive invasion of India and at least two major invasions from neighboring areas. No outside forces or colluding arms companies are needed to produce a bloody and chaotic history that rivals anything from this century. This is pretty typical for nations: they inevitably vie for power and attempt to dominate one another; states are traditionally fluid, and nations only slightly less so. You don’t need to look to some grand conspiracy, or throw up your hands in despair, when explaining US policy – it explains itself. The US is heavily invested in the current world order and uses its power to maintain it. That means eliminating the occasional threat to that order, but, much more frequently, maintaining the capacity to do so to discourage blatant disregard for the US’s preferred system. Nuclear powers, however, are largely exempt – that’s why the potential for Iranian nuclear development is so troubling to US policy makers.

          Where there is a major failing in US policy, it is in its lack of agility. We have failed to reconcile with Iran even though it’s obviously in our best interest, and theirs. We have not prioritized our relationship with Turkey, even as it becomes clear that we should have.

          • That is simply black/white thinking on your part, all of it filling in the blanks. I was talking about this situation, and of the framework place after 9/11 in which the Neocons planned to topple seven regimes in five years. They needed to have the mind of the American public on permanent war footing to achieve this. Both Syria and Iran are on the list, the cover story that Syria is having an internal rebellion, and that anyone gives a shit if Iran gets a bomb. Obama, as I see him! is a tool of course! like Bush before him, but also like Bush fronting for the neocon faction of the American power structure.

            Of course the five years did not work out, but Syria and Iran are still on the list. “Obama” intended and a fake gas attack was staged to allow him to attack Syria. he Russians, chess players, upset it all, but the aggression against Syria continues full bore. I’m betting that -1) you don’t know that the gas attack was staged, and have never looked at any evidence contrary to administration claims (official truth) and 2) still believe that Assad is a bad guy brutally repressing an internal freedom movement.

            Your understanding of foreign policy is wanting.

            Do other countries engage in deceit and make war on one another? Yes. Is the US the cause of all violence and war in the world? No. This does not relieve you of your vigilant citizen duties when the IS is the cause of vilolence and war.

            You’re quite smug in your bland iceberg lettuce salad assessment of events, exactly as described by people in power, lacking insight, curiosity, a nose for intrigue, or history. It’s quite a boring read. You should join a discussion group where others who read the same boring bullshit books talk duckspeak with one another. It doesn’t appeal to me. More goes by your eyes in five minutes than I can describe in long, long comments.

            But do take heart. Norma agrees with you. I,would imagine. All of the Norma’s of the world agree.

            • By the way, I said your understanding of foreign “policy” is wanting, and stand by that, but also assert that even your knowledge of foreign facts and evidence leaves much to be desired.

            • Mark, you straight up declared that if America disarms, nothing will happen. Then in your next post you admit that wars and deceit continue unabated without US influence. So…which is it? Do you believe that US disengagement will remove the threat, or that Iran and its neighbors will continue to act as they have for centuries and attempt to dominate one another, with violent consequences? There is no reason, if the US disarms, for Iran not to try to dominate Iraq and Afghanistan and Azerbaijan, not because they are inherently different than us but because they are exactly like us. The US occasionally does exceptionally stupid things – invading Iraq was one of them. But if by and large our foreign policy seems relatively consistent, that’s because absent radical stupidity, there are not a lot of options better than the current policies. I didn’t oppose Bush’s war in Iraq because he was a Republican or because I believe US foreign policy needs to be radically re-imagined; I opposed it because it was idiotic and a clear violation of reasonable policy. For the same reason, I opposed invading or attacking Syria (and I’m on the record opposing that even as it seemed Obama would order it). Our continuing hostility towards Iran is another example of an extraordinarily unrealistic and stupid policy, which is why I wrote this post.

              • You don’t know the basics of the Syrian situation, even that the “red line” gambit was the hot button, and that only the Russians stopped it. You seem to think that Iran’s relations with its neighbors, generally peaceful, are any concern of ours. With or without US involvement it goes on. With US involvement, it gets very violent and ugly. This country does not promote diplomacy. It looks for war, plans for it, inspires it, wants it, thrives on it.

                I know, you study “US foreign Policy” like a good student, talk the talk, quack the quacks, see the shiny rocks In the track bed even as the train is running you over. I know the game. It will get you by in cocktail parties, might even advance you in a teaching career, but is otherwise pretentious bullshit.

                • I have little patience when my ear is bent with conventional wisdom and imperial hubris packaged as unique insight. What he says is in the journals, the books, the CSPAN and NPR wonky gabfests. It all disassembles when exposed to outside scrutiny.

              • Iran is peaceful wit hits neighbors because it has to be. The 20 years when the US was the most conciliatory, leas aggressive in the 20th century included and led to the deadliest decade of the century. the subsequent 40+ years, when the US was fighting the Cold War, were in fact that most peaceful of human history, with exception of the decades of US hegemony that followed.

                The only stable multi-polar system to ever exist was between 1815 and 1851, and it was stable only in Europe and only as the result of a concerted effort to enforce conservatism. Wars happen with or without US involvement; the happen more frequently without. This generalization is an indisputable statistical fact. Care to turn the discussion to the policies at hand, a subjective topic you might make a point discussing, or continue to spew incorrect generalities? I’m fine either way, but please, make more absurd
                predictions or say more demonstrably false things. That always makes my day.

                • Iran was a peaceful country that even managed for a short time to eke out democratic rule, but the oil oligarchs would have none of it, and deposed Mosaddegh and installed the fascist thug Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, aka “The Shah.” He ruled with the usual secret police, disappearances, torture, and internal pressure built up, released in 1979 with a revolt that, to this day, American intellectuals and sycophants find distasteful.

                  It was that revolt that led to the US backing of an Iraqi attack on Iran, to “settle border issues.” That war, an American provocation done by means of a proxy force, was only meant to keep the area in turmoil. This can easily be seen by the various scandals of the era, Iran Contra most well known, where the US was found to be funneling arms to both sides of that conflict. Millions died. Had the US not instigated that war, millions would not have died.

                  Since that time, it’s merely been a game to bring down the regime, reimpose some version of the shah. When fascism is restored to Iran, there will be much rejoicing in your circles, as you will not be aware that fascism has been restored.

                  Your analysis of events is highly predictable and usually wrong, the result of attachment to imperial arrogance. You’ve not much of a career ahead without it, I suppose. Life in the margins, the search for truth, is not a rewarding enterprise in this land of desk murderers and sycophancy.

                  In this case, you fail to grasp the most basic facts.

                • Like every other Persian Country, there were religious and tribal factors that were always at war Mark. The Middle east has always been at war…. somewhere. The Middle east with the exception of Tusnia, has a tribal Nationality that crosses borders. Tusnia has allowed states of varying tribes.

                  The people in the middle east swear allegiance to tribes, not nations. Hence a tribe in Sryia, the Alawite Muslims who runs the country only accounts for less than 20% of the nation itself. The rest of the nation is defeated tribes from numerous wars in the past of that region hoping for some sort of sovereignty! We had nothing to do with those past internal wars, and neither did Israel. Please get your facts right. They themselves have been at wars for oil and greed, but the vast majority of them were within the regions of the middle east themselves, not because the western nations.

                  We ourselves as a nation have less than 10 years of complete peace. But we are not the cause of every war on earth Mark. We are the cause though of “The destruction of the Indians of the Americas. Far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world. According to Historians like,” David E. Stannard, American Holocaust: the Conquest of the New World (1992) The fact that we have continued to sweep that Blood lust fact under the American rug is why we havent come to grips with our own… It’s why we cant get above the fray of War. We dont study or own history and learn from it.

                  To me it is the most prolific reason Americans are considered the most warlike by other nations who understand and have a long storied life with tribes. Like the middle east

                  We do have new tribalism in the united states, along the lines of the Alawite Muslims. The petty small percentage of Americans who want to repress Democratic notions of Fairness and American Socialism…They call themselves Conservative Americans and tea partiers. Fairness is too hard for them. Balance means they might have to share…. and you fit that kind of tribe to a tea Mark( Pardon the Pun).

                  Its always them not Us for people like Mark. They don’t want to stop waring, because they believe others are below them.

                  Lastly,There’s a word for Marks Condition called; “dysrationalia.” (analogous to “dyslexia”), meaning the inability to think and behave rationally despite having adequate intelligence.

                  No cure to become a reasonable person exists I am afraid. NO help therefore can be sought for his rather insane condition.

              • So we’re getting specific again Mark? Let’s focus on Iran. We both agree that the Kermit Roosevelt coup morally wrong and strategically foolish. So I think we probably both agree that normalizing relations with Iran is vital (and, again, ethically correct). Which a) has been my position since the first persuasive paper I ever wrote for school and b) the point of this post – so I’m puzzled what here you object to.

                But let’s talk about Iran. I agree that in 1953 a huge error was made that should not have been made. But my response is wiser foreign policy, one that recognizes that the forceful removal of a democratically elected leader is almost always a strategically myopic decision. Your response is that the US should disarm and completely disengage. But even if we limit the scope of our discussion to post-War Iran, how does that seem like the superior policy? Why do you think Iran was able to eke out a democracy after WWII but not before? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the worlds largest and most engaged nation was a Democracy? Absent US engagement, is there any doubt that Iran would have become a Soviet satellite? That’s not anti-Soviet paranoia – it’s a reasonable extrapolation of centuries old Russian foreign policy. What we and the UK did to Mossadegh was wrong, but the solution is to do the right thing, not completely disengage.

                Let’s zoom out again. US Imperialism really took root in the Eastern hemisphere after WWII. Between 1919 and ~1938, there was very little US involvement,and as a result the interwar democracies almost universally collapsed into dictatorships. Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Germany, Yugoslavia, etc. Mind you, the US was not isolated during this period – merely disarmed and disengaged from all but the most idealistic and peaceful movement (Kellog Briand, for example). That policy, then as now, is not conducive to Democracy and not conducive to peace. The solution to an occasionally stupid foreign policy is not a vastly diminished one, but instead a smarter foreign policy.

  • I think that tin is warped around your head a little too tight Mark!

    You should probably seek help with all the negativeness the Tin Hat doesn’t provide you with. Maybe get your money back for buying a defective one….. Just saying!

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