Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More on a nuclear Iran

This started out as a comment in response to sodiumhydrid's comment on the previous post. It got a bit long and I wanted to include some links so I'm upgrading it to the status of new post.

SH, thanks for commenting. Sure, I’ve made mistakes, and tried to learn from them to avoid repeating them in future. The people and institutions driving U.S. foreign policy could stand to do the same, especially considering that their errors of judgment and irresponsible behavior affect—often fatally—a lot more people than do the ones I make in my fairly insignificant little life. In particular, they might try weaning themselves off the “Well, he may be a son of a bitch, but at least he’s our son of a bitch” school of international diplomacy, which prevailed during the Cold War and lives on unrepentant and unreformed in the so-called War on Terror. Yes, some (though by no means all) of its earlier practitioners are dead, but the mentality survives. And it has a nasty but at this point entirely predictable tendency to lead to a) a backlash among the populations suffering most directly under same SOB, as in Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nicaragua, etc., with a wave of resentment directed, quite understandably, at the superpower without whose support local SOB could not have remained in power, and/or b) local SOB and one-time faithful U.S. ally turning against his former patron—e.g., Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and more recently, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan. See former UK diplomat Craig Murray's website for an exposé of how Anglo-American policy propped up this utterly hideous regime because Karimov was a "valued ally" in the war on terrorism.

I’m concerned myself about Iran going nuclear, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t be. However, many of us are justifiably skeptical of the way the U.S. is whipping up hysteria about it, especially given the false WMD scare used to justify the invasion of Iraq. According to the reports I’ve read, Iran is still some years away from a weapon and delivery system. And to understand the dynamics of what’s driving it, one needs to go beyond the “crazed terrorist-supporting mullahs with nukes” scare-mongering, and fill in some context. Here's a bit to start with:

First, Israel already has nuclear weapons, along with a history of aggression against its Arab neighbors. Second, not only is the U.S. continuing to actively develop nuclear and other WMD, in contravention of international treaties (not least of which is the NPT—so you tell me, how serious is the U.S. commitment to non-proliferation?), its leaders are unabashedly threatening to use them in battle. The United States has military forces and bases in nearly 130 countries around the world. It recently waged a war of aggression to instigate regime change in neighboring Iraq and it is constructing permanent military bases there, which no one seems to want to talk about.

Further: Iraq did not have nuclear weapons. Iraq was invaded by the U.S. North Korea apparently does have nuclear weapons. North Korea has not been invaded. If you were in Iran (the third member of the so-called Axis of Evil), would you not feel a little safer from U.S. aggression if you had a nuclear deterrent? Moreover, Iran’s nuclear program reportedly has the support of much of the population, both because of the need for new sources of energy to fuel economic development as the world approaches peak oil, and because the saber-rattling of the U.S. has the (counterproductive, from the point of view of U.S. policy-makers) effect of rallying Iranians, even those who are otherwise critical of the regime, around their leaders in the face of an external threat.

Iran has a rich and complex culture, an educated class, and a thriving civil society at the grassroots level, for all that it takes place largely out of sight of western eyes (as was also the case in the USSR in the 1980s, with which I have some direct experience). The best thing the United States can do to strengthen moderate, reformist and democratic voices in Iran is to stop the saber-rattling, scare-mongering, and demonizing of Iran. This is essentially the message of human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi , among others. I have far more respect for her moral authority and knowledge of Iranian history, society and politics than I do for those of American media pundits and politicians, hence prefer to pay more attention to what she says.

Update: Steve Clemons over at The Washington Note has a post and discussion going on the subject.


Blogger Sodiumhydrid said...

It's a long post, with some nice points. I'm only going to comment on a couple of items. I really enjoy reading Shirin Ebadi's write up, sounds like a good plan, if the followers of Islam go along with it. I recently read a very interesting book you may like to check out. Sorry i do't have the authors name at hand but the tittle is "Onward Muslim Soldier". It struck me as presenting a more ralistic picture of what is behind much of the terrorist activity.

As to a false WMD scare, it is true non was found by the time the forces got in there. Do keep in mind that intelegence sources from multipule countries came to the same conclusion, that there was WMD. Then there was Saddam's continued posturing as if he had them. Also one needs to cosider the convoys of trucks that crossed into Syria before forces entired th country. Then there were the IEDs that had been made from artillery shells containing mustard gas, fortunately they didn't work in the same manner they would have in shot from a gun. Last but not least, tell the Kurds that Saddam didn't have WMD. It would make a nice inscription on the grave stones of those that had been gased.

The U.S. developement of Nuc's and WMD. Guess I'm just confused. I recently read that the number of war heads has been reducing over the last 4 or so years by about half at this point and still decreasing in accordance with a treaty. Then there is Johnston Atoll a facility whose primary purpose is to distroy chemical, biological and nerve agents. As far as I know it is still in operation. They are still hiring.

I do agree with you that there needs to be a shift in aspects of U.S. foreign policy and it's implimentation.

I feel the world and Iraq are better off with Saddam where he is now. (I suspect all the Iraqis found in mass graves might voice the same if they could) I feel the first Bush dropped the ball when he had the oppertunity and pretty much the entire Arab world would have supported him.

"Iran has a rich and complex culture, an educated class, and a thriving civil society at the grassroots level,"

This is something Iraq also had prior to Saddam. I also suspect the same thing could be said about that entire area i.e. Iran, Iraq, Egypt etc. before Islam came in on the point of the sword and gave them the choices to convert, die, be a slave or you can pay a tax to observe your own religion BUT you are a second class citizen.

The history of the area is deep, and tangled, having a mindset that is utterly foreign to the west, not surprising so many mistakes have be made interacting with that part of the world.

8:10 PM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger Jean said...

I think the threat that Islam poses to the West is as overhyped as that of the nonexistent WMD in Iraq. It's true that the flames of fundamentalism are being fanned, but much of that is a result of U.S. actions. To give just one example, Iraq was a secular state (and one in which, by the way, women enjoyed far greater rights and protection against male violence than they do now) before the U.S. invaded. To give another, recall how the U.S. armed, supported, and strengthened Islamic fundamentalists from 1978 onwards in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That said, these extremist groups are nowhere near as dangerous and powerful as some American political lobbies would like us to believe. Sorry, I don't buy the story that terrorist Islamofascists want to impose their totalitarian ways on the rest of us. They probably would like to exert more influence on the development of their own societies--as would Christian fundamentalists like Pat Robertson, Tom DeLay, James Dobson and a host of others on American society--but their primary aim is to end U.S. and Israeli occupation of their lands. I'm certain the populations of Islamic countries would mostly prefer it if the U.S. stopped its destructive meddling, which only serves to strengthen the hand of the hard-liners, reactionaries, and extremists, and allowed them the freedom to develop independently and pluralistically.

As for the gassing of the Kurds, recall that Saddam Hussein was a U.S. ally at the time, supplied with the materials by western corporations, and Rumsfeld and others did their best to whitewash the atrocities. There could not be a clearer example that it wasn't Saddam Hussein's repression and atrocities that bothered the U.S., but rather the fact that he starting acting too independently.

I see no evidence to suggest that the U.S. takes seriously the disarmanent part of the NPT, much more to suggest that it would like to retain a near-monopoly on such weapons (and militarize space) as a means of ensuring American supremacy over the entire globe. Many people do not agree that American global supremacy (sometimes also called empire) is a good thing. I happen to be one of them. I also don't find the mindset "utterly foreign"--it makes perfect sense to me that Middle Easterners would want some say in developing their own resources and societies, instead of being powerless victims of U.S. global political strategy and the rigid and messianistic ideology that drives it.

11:16 AM, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Sodiumhydrid said...

Most people think the threat of Islam is overhyped, I was right there with them, till I started doing a bit of reading and not swallowing all the PC media crap.

You truly think of the U.S. as a war mongering country, yet, one of the interesting bits pointed out in the book I mentioned, is there are more armed conflicks in and around Islamic countrys then anywhere else in the world. I'm sure you will find a way to blame it all on the U.S. but you may find it interesting to look beyond the Islamic shiney side.

As to supporting Islamic fundamentalist, as I said, the west doesn't truly understand the mindset and mistakes are made. The worst of it is, we don't learn from our mistakes, in part because we can't beleive people really think the way they do.

Again I am experincing confusion, I wasn't aware that Saddam was a U.S. ally at any time after the first Gulf War.

What would is take for you to consider the U.S. is making progress in reducing it's Nuc's...start handing them out other countries in a large public forum with live around the clock web cams?

4:54 PM, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Jean said...

The gassing of the Kurds at Halbja occurred in March, 1988, before Gulf War I and while the U.S. was stongly backing Iraq against Iran. You can google it yourself if you want more information, but here are a few links to start with:



After Halabja, the Senate tried to impose sanctions on Iraq, but the bill died in the House due to pressure from the administration.

8:45 PM, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Jean said...

"What would is take for you to consider the U.S. is making progress in reducing it's Nuc's"

Some evidence would be nice. Maybe the U.S. should declassify some key documents relating to weapons development and allow in UN and IAEA inspectors? I'd be interested to read their reports.

9:19 PM, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Re the comment: ""Iran has a rich and complex culture, an educated class, and a thriving civil society at the grassroots level," I also suspect the same thing could be said about that entire area i.e. Iran, Iraq, Egypt etc. before Islam came in on the point of the sword"

Islam came into the area more than 1,000 years ago and Islam was the source of much of the culture in that area for a long time...What undermined and weakened the region was exploitive Western colonialism...

3:11 AM, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Sodiumhydrid said...

I was refering to the gasing of the Kurds that occured in the 90's (about 1993) after the gulf war. While there was a no fly zone and after the U.S. took away Saddams fighter jets and should have but didn't take away the helicopters, as that is what he used to gas the Kurds. We were not allies at that time.

Guess the reports and stats released by the government just are good enough. Have any stats on the Russian nucs? They did after all have far more then the U.S. did, with far less documention or security?????

To Elizabeth, it was still the point of the sword the brought Islam in. Are you saying you see it as a value added product and thus worth the price. Chritianity and other things were the source of the culture before Islam came in. Who is to say that the culture wouldn't have been greater if it had had the chance to develope on its own. If you look at history Egypt was the center of the cultural world long before Islam came along. The library at Alexandria was possibly the greatest repository of knowledge in the eastern hemisphere about a 1000 years before Islam came into being.

4:41 AM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Sodiumhydrid said...

Addendum: Tried to go to sleep but felt I had left somethings unsaid, to much infered with out clarity.

"Islam came into the area more than 1,000 years ago and Islam was the source of much of the culture in that area for a long time...What undermined and weakened the region was exploitive Western colonialism"

The thought I'm trying to raise is, when everybody looks back at history to try and find the source of today's issues, they refuse to look any farther then the earlist oppertunity to blame it on western society. The Arab practice of taking and selling slaves, before "western colonialism" doesn't count as exploitive. Why??? That western colonialism got the idea from the Arabs seems to get lost all the time. The history of that part of the world was one of turmoil long long before western society ever made an appearence there, from before Christ for that mater. I'm not saying western influence has been a fix all or the bane of the area, rather that it may have just knocked it off on a tangent and isn't the main part of the equation. Rather then just blaming the west for everything, perhaps it should be considered as an influencing factor and we should look for the deeper underlying issues that are rooted in the area and are the basis that all the rest of the house of cards is built on.

As long as we just point to the west and use it as a convient whipping post and refuse to consider possibilty of deeper underlying issues (it isn't politically correct to do this) can we/ will we ever truly understand the problem?

5:46 AM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Jean said...

SH, I'm afraid I don't have time to comment/respond at length, since life has moved on in the meantime. But if this discussion has encouraged you to think about these issues, I'm glad. And I'm sure the general topic will come up again. Perhaps Elizabeth will respond to your claims about Christianity, Islam, and culture.

On the general subject of religion/violence, I think one would be hard pressed to describe Christianity as a peaceful religion. Crusades, inquisition, burning of witches, Nazis and their white Christian supremacist successor groups still active today...as an atheist and independent thinker, I'm skeptical of any rigid, intolerant faith-based ideology that claims to be infallible, demands conformism, and marginalizes, persecutes, and murders heretics and infidels--and that would include some political ideologies as well, like the Stalinist variant of communism and the American neoconservative world-view as espoused by groups like PNAC and reflected in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the USA. Re the specific case of Christianity, one can counter with positive and nonviolent examples of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, whose vision was strongly rooted in faith and whose organizing strength came primarily from black churches; also, the Catholic group Voices in the Wilderness has been doing admirable work in Iraq. So I'm not prepared to brand Christianity or any other religion as inherently evil and violent--there's always a mix of good and bad. There are some pretty horrifying sections of the Old Testament, and the 1966 experiment by Israeli psychologist Georges Tamarin on 1066 children aged 8-14 is extremely interesting in this respect, but I wouldn't make too big a deal out of it since it's a) not the whole of the Biblical message and b) not unique to Judaism/Christianity--in-group vs. out-group morality is characteristic of virtually all human social groupings and would seem to be part of our basic psychological make-up.

But here again, there's a mix--dehumanizing and committing violence against the Other is not the only behavior in our repertory--there's also the capacity for altruism, communication, cooperation, etc. If you want to REALLY get at the "deeper underlying issues" you refer to, it seems to me that this is the most promising direction to go in--understanding the human mind that drives the behavior. Whatever religion, whatever culture, geographical location, political system, and so on.

9:57 AM, January 27, 2006  
Blogger Sodiumhydrid said...

Jean, to weary to coment on much as I sense it is falling on deaf ears.

you said...If you want to REALLY get at the "deeper underlying issues" you refer to, it seems to me that this is the most promising direction to go in--understanding the human mind that drives the behavior. Whatever religion, whatever culture, geographical location, political system, and so on.

My point in responding to the blog being, this will never be the case in the middle east as long as no matter what happens everybody looks to the west and says there is the problem.


3:11 AM, January 28, 2006  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Sorry, but I don't have time to argue with people like "sodiumhydrid" who "debate" by going off on tangents when they get called on their generalizations and bigoted remarks.

3:56 AM, January 29, 2006  
Blogger Sodiumhydrid said...

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Thanks! I needed a good laugh today!

4:29 AM, January 29, 2006  

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