|Iran’s President Ahmadinejads|
Rather it should be viewed in the context of a longstanding war between the hegemonic superpower and the various challenges to that power. Arab nationalism, notably that of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, was the first such challenge, followed by others, all to give way to the current challenge in the form of Islamic fundamentalism.
The U.S.-Iran war, in which the seizure and subsequent release of the sailors and marines is but one battle, is a long-running war with no seeming end in sight. The Islamic Republic is the region’s most direct governmental challenge to American hegemony — for better or worse — aside from non-state actors like Al-Qaeda.
The U.S.-Iran clash has seen the stakes rise to a near war footing on both sides. Whether direct military action will be taken by the United States — something hinted at repeatedly in the media during the last two years — remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: the U.S. and Iran are at war.
This war isn’t the same as the wars against Iraq, Yugoslavia, or non-state entities such as Al-Qaeda, but it’s a cold war on a fault line, with both countries observing a détente, yet waiting to explode under the right circumstances.
The U.S. laundry list of complaints is a long one: the clandestine nuclear program; the election of neo-Khomeinist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; alleged meddling in Iraq as well as the historic grievances — the 1979 hostage crisis and Tehran’s support for terrorism.
Iran’s list of grievances goes back farther and is longer: the 1953 coup; support for the Shah’s dictatorship; support for Saddam Hussein during the war; and more recently, adopting a belligerent attitude towards Iran’s nuclear development.
From a distance, the situation appears to be one where two equally aggressive nations are caught up in a conflict made irreconcilable by competing hegemonic agendas.
And to a certain extent, that’s true.
Iran is trying to flex its muscle in the absence of Ba’athist Iraq as a counterweight, and Ahmadinejad has positioned himself as the champion of the Middle Eastern street by challenging the U.S. and Israel. Meanwhile, the U.S. remains the undisputed hegemonic force in this strategic region, both as an arms dealer, a buyer and seller of oil and in the influence it maintains with the region’s regimes.
What this worldview does, however, is blur important distinctions between the two as well as distorting an accurate view of the true dimension of this war. Just as the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is between nations — a popular one with the media, lending a false notion of parity between the two groups — the U.S.-Iran war is not one between equals. Rather, it’s one between a neo-colonial super power and an upstart challenging that superpower’s status, and it’s the superpower that started this war in the first place.
That said, it should be noted that neither country holds all the cards, and neither country can hope for a decisive victory, either; Washington can’t overthrow the Islamic Republic like it did the Taliban in 2001 and the Saddam Hussein-Ba’ath government in 2003.
Likewise, Tehran cannot hope to oust the United States from the Middle East like it did the U.S. and Israeli presence from Lebanon through proxy resistance groups. And, as seen in the Iraq civil war and Israeli war on Lebanon last summer, there is the sectarian fault line fanned by Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, a scenario that’s exploited by Washington.
“The fact is the United States has few viable military options here,” wrote George Friedman of Strategy Forecast, a private intelligence company, on March 13th. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote on Feb. 28, that “Iran is not a “weakling,” but neither is it capable of major aggression or becoming a regional “hegemon” if it meets effective resistance.”
Because of this set-up, this cold war-style confrontation between Washington and Tehran is a war of attrition, with one side trying to wear out the other in the hopes of gaining concessions in a short-term settlement. In the long run, however, this war will determine, in part, how the Middle East will be shaped.
The U.S. view on how it will be shaped can be seen in the 1992 defense planning guidance. Written by I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, current World Bank head Paul Wolfowitz and former Iraq ambassador and now current U.N. Ambassador nominee Zalmay Khalilzad, the DPG was for then Sec. of Defense Dick Cheney. According to the “Raw Story,” the U.S. is “to assume the position of lone superpower and act preemptively to prevent the emergence of even regional competitors.”
This concept reemerged in a September 2000 report from the Cheney-run think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC), called, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” A similar document authored by Richard Perle and Douglas Feith for the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies‚ in 1996, entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” also sought to play up the threat of regional competitors.
The U.S.-Iran war goes back before this, starting with the now-infamous 1953 coup that toppled the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh and set in motion events that led to the 1979 revolution, which robbed Washington of a valuable client dictator.
From the support given to the Iraq-initiated Gulf War in 1980 to the shooting down of an Iranian commercial jet in 1988, destabilizing Tehran has been a high priority. Even the transfer of U.S. weapons to Iran had the dual sinister effect of both prolonging the war — and weakening Iran — as well as making contact with the top brass to foment a military coup.
But the above-mentioned documents provide the intellectual backdrop to the current administration’s efforts to isolate and overturn the Islamic Republic. Washington snubbed Iran in 2002 when Bush labeled it a part of the “axis of evil” after cooperating in bringing down the Taliban. He did it again in 2003 after the occupation of Iraq, when Tehran “faxed a two-page proposal for comprehensive talks to the State Department,” according to “Newsweek,” which included issues like support for Hizbullah and Hamas.
More recently, Iranian government employees have been kidnapped in Iraq in December, January and February of this year, and the disappearance of former deputy defense minister Ali-Reza Asgari raised the specter of a possible CIA or Mossad operation.
This was under the pretext of alleged Iranian involvement in supplying Iraqi insurgents with sophisticated explosives, of which there’s little or no evidence. (See my commentary published last February.) The manufactured case of Iranian weapons smuggling is a diversion from the failure of the United States to manage the occupation and the ensuing civil war, but the real threat Washington is seeking to counter in Iraq is growing Iranian influence.
According to the “New York Times” on March 17, “Iranian air-conditioners fill Iraqi appliance stores, Iranian tomatoes ripen on the windowsills of kitchens here and legions of white Iranian-made Peugeots sit in Iraqi driveways.”
Masked gunmen kidnapped Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, in Baghdad in February as he emerged from a newly opened branch of an Iranian bank. When some of the gunmen were captured, they admitted to being part of an Iraqi intelligence force “affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency,” according to the “Times.”
Though all sides deny it, his release the same day shortly before the release of the British captives is not a coincidence.
There are other U.S. attacks on Iran, notably the U.N. resolution, a triumph of U.S. diplomacy that was shunned three years ago when negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program was initiated by Britain, France and Germany. The resolution was preceded by secret diplomacy started last September where the Treasury and State Departments lobbied countries to cut back business ties.
“More than 40 major international banks and financial institutions have either cut off or cut back business with the Iranian government or private sector,” reported the “Washington Post.”
In addition, the U.S., along with Israel, is encouraging Kurdish guerrilla attacks inside Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan, according to Reese Erlich, author of the forthcoming book, “The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy in the Middle East Crisis.”
And, the so-called opposition here, known as the Democratic Party, showed their true colors when the Democratic leadership of the House “stripped language blocking President Bush from going to war with Iran” on a bill, according to the “Iran Times.” “Conservatives” and “friends of Israel” in the party objected to the language, so House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered the language stripped.
And so the war rages on, with no clear winner in sight. The complex game of negotiations over Iraq as the centerpiece of regional power and influence will continue, in the shadows, occasionally punctuated by abductions and covert operations.
But as challenges to American and Western hegemony continue, historically by Arab nationalist regimes, followed by Islamic fundamentalism in today’s world, the question is, will the region finally be freed of outside intervention, or will the U.S.-Iran war continue this cycle? The future looks grim.