Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Mad Mullah demonization watch

Iran's Nuclear Lies, a long Newsweek piece, natters on for 1800 words or so with very little of substance to say, and is yet another instance of Team B thinking—i.e. if we can't find any evidence of an enemy's weaponry it must be really super-sophisticated (see Soviet Arms "buildup", Iraq weapons inspections). As regards the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, Christopher Dickey fails even once to mention the most obvious—in fact, only—solution, a nuclear-free Middle East.

For some reason, such talk has become taboo, even though as recently as March, the Washington Post looked into it. In Push for Nuclear-Free Middle East Resurfaces, Walter Pincus explores the idea:

While U.S. policy has been to support the concept of a nuclear-free Middle East, administration officials almost never acknowledge publicly that Israel's possession of such weapons may be a factor in the actions of other regional powers, such as Iran, Syria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. The CIA regularly omits mention of Israel's nuclear weapons in its six-month reports to Congress on weapons of mass destruction.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a report Thursday, called for the United States and other nuclear powers "to intensify efforts to create of a zone free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the Middle East." Citing the conflicts and rivalries that abound in the region, the report says, "This knot of real and exaggerated security threats and status seeking is pulled tighter still by Israel's undeclared possession of nuclear weapons, and by its continuing conflict with the Palestinians and with neighboring Arab states that do not recognize its existence."

George Perkovich, one of the study's authors, said one starting point for the region could be to have Israel halt its production of fissile materials, the same thing that is being asked of Iran. "Our aim should be to create a security environment, and you can't do that if you don't recognize publicly that Israel has nuclear weapons," he said.

But that was before the May NPT Review Conference, where, according to Embassy magazine, "Proposals for a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East were met with disinterest or opposition by mid-level American diplomats, and high-level U.S. diplomats, like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chose not to attend the conference."

And in a broader context, as regards the efficacy of this ongoing campaign of demonization of Iran, William O. Beeman, Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University and author of The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, takes into account specific Iranian cultural attitudes and sees America's approach as being uniquely unconstructive:
It is a general principle of communication dynamics in Iran that only parties who are in an active pre-existing relationship have the ability to make demands on each other. To enter a relationship, there needs to be a clear understanding about roles -- how the parties are to be mutually supportive. In interpersonal interaction, an individual who tries to make demands on another from a "superior" position without having this understanding is practicing "power mongering" (ghodrat-talabi). This is one of the most despised actions in all of Iranian conduct, and is resisted with every fiber of one's being. Even if a party is forced into acquiescence, there are consequences down the road, since the party forced to their knees, so to speak, will harbor eternal resentment, and will look for a way to strike back at some time in the future.

The United States and Iran currently have no active relationship. Therefore American demands on Iran will be met with greater and greater resistance the more they are promulgated, either directly through shouting and invective, or through trying to use the European negotiating team to do Washington's work. The Europeans, who do have a functioning relationship with Iran, have a chance to succeed in their negotiations, if only they are not perceived as American tools. The only way for the United States to press its interests successfully with Iran is to bite the bullet and get back into direct communication with the Islamic Republic. As distasteful as this might be to some parties in the current administration -- and indeed to many in Iran -- it can be done with sufficient political will.
It's hard to imagine with the disaster in Iraq, but there appears to be no one, Republican or Democrat, willing to challenge the notion that "regime change" is a viable option in Iran, or the presumption that the United States has the right to decide who should govern that country.

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