In the Middle East, the idea that the Israeli government is nudge-winking the United States into conflict with Iran rings irrefutably true. In the putatively paranoid opinion of the Middle Eastern “street,” a war with Iran will allow the Israelis to refocus attention away from their strangulation of the Palestinians and to continue their ceaseless disregard of human rights and international law. It also lets them bomb Iran’s nuclear reactor, in a grander replay of Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s spanking new reactor in 1981. A showdown, first rhetorical then real, will benefit also the Bush clan by diluting the growing suspicion among so-far-assenting-Americans that there is something rotten in the White House, namely possible evidence of chronic and sweeping Enronitis in the administration. In short, messing with Iran can help Bush and Sharon postpone the day of public reckoning.
But, even if Bush and Sharon’s politically leprous administrations desperately need some cosmetic refurbishing in the mirror of world opinion, fingering Iran won’t help prettify their behavior. And if the off-the-cuff accusations, bullying and brinkmanship continue between Iran, Israel and the US, things may get even uglier than they are today. As an Iranian immigrant who knows a bit of both worlds, I wager that Iran may turn out to be more Moby Dick than this gaggle of Ahabs can chew.
That Sharon wants to reap the benefits of riding shotgun on Bush’s “War against Terrorism” is a secret only to the misled and the misinformed. In the Middle East, Iran represents one of the loudest and most active voices against Israel’s inhumane policies. The Israelis, who somehow happened to discover a shipload of small arms from Iran floating near the occupied territories immediately after the war with Afghanistan was over, are being a little coy when they claim to suddenly discover Iranian support for the Palestinians. For more than two decades since the 1979 revolution, Iran has openly and vocally condemned Israel’s occupation of Lebanon and Palestine, and made little secret of its support, military and humanitarian, for Moslem populations under brutal occupation elsewhere in the world. To most Moslems, assisting the besieged populations of Palestine, Chechnya or Bosnia seems only fair, even if we all know, in our less idealistic moments, that as far as geopolitics go, the fair remains in Pomona.
Bush’s sudden turn this week on Iran genuinely shocked the Iranians and discomfited the world. Iran’s fall from “a member of the coalition” to the “axis of evil” days after Bush felt it no longer needed Iran’s quiet but indispensable assistance in Afghanistan seems nasty and shortsighted. It is obvious to most that as enemies go, Iran has been quite gracious to the United States, its mighty nemesis. And the United States has taken full advantage of Iran’s offers to provide it with rare intelligence on the ground in its hunt for Al Qaeda and the Taliban, to rescue American military personnel if need be, and to help quietly (without the embarrassment that a US alliance with mercenary dictatorships like Pakistan or war criminals like General Dostum can bring) liberate much of Western Afghanistan, a region that is intimately tied with Iran historically, economically, culturally, and politically. But now that the war is over and the US has settled its scores and its military arsenal and personnel next door, Bush is giving Iran the finger.
It’s true that Israel, the US and the rest of their codependent gang have the economic and political need, the military muscle, and the chutzpah to bomb Bushehr (where Iran has been building a non-military reactor bit by bit for years) or Tehran (where Khamenei lives and works). After all, few Americans will sweat much if “the Mullahs” receive a good spanking from a few lethal weapons: tit-for-tat for the hostages and all the hassle ever since. Never-mind if Iran’s nuclear program is regularly inspected by the Atomic Energy Commission to ensure its compliance with civilian purposes. And never-mind that Iran never joined in the rape or destabilization of Afghanistan or any of its other neighbors, and has shown the greatest capacity and farsightedness for helping the Afghan people on the ground, both before the US forces arrived and to this today.
This school-yard nastiness has a history of course. Beginning in 1979, Iran bit the hands that leashed it, helped embarrass the United States and Israel in Lebanon, and has evolved at its own pace and beckoning without the kibbles the US offers other client nations for compliance with its narcissistic demands. Iran has survived in the face of relentless US intervention (by, for example, unleashing Saddam on Iran in 1980 or aggressively funding and arming the Mujahedin, anti-Iranian terrorists based in Iraq). No doubt, a neutralized Iran means a neutralized Middle East where a few fat hyenas would get an even bigger kill in the hunt for cheap oil and hegemony. With the fledgling nations that have mushroomed around the Caspian with the fall of the Soviet Union, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the gang of Gulf States dancing to Bush’s Nero-like cues, the place is fast becoming a political Disney-land. Bush views Iran and Iraq as the only villains in this theme park of crude-oil imperialism. Iraq has been waiting for the long-promised lethal pounce while Iran discovered it was on the menu only this week.
Of course, neither Bush nor Sharon need my advice, but I’ll give it any way: what will save much grief globally, is a little common-sense, that precious commodity among most world leaders. Attacking Iran will have global side-effects. Iran is neither war-torn and wretched like Afghanistan nor nastily dictatorial and desperate like Iraq. It is the second largest oil-producing nation, one of the region’s fastest-growing democracies, a post-revolutionary Moslem nation of 65 million with a young, educated, entrepreneurial and increasingly democratic personality. Threatening to attack Iran proves to most Iranians the folly of the reformists and the indispensability of the fundamentalists. Further, the Iranians, even the US-friendly and mullah-weary majority, will not fail to mobilize against bellicosity from other nations. Neither the return of Coca Cola to Iran nor the popularity of Britney Spears among Iranian teens should deceive Bush with regards to the country’s readiness to defend itself. If nurturing democracy and stability were in fact the West’s purpose in that region, working with Iran to continue toward an open-market Islamic democracy under people like Khatami might be a better option. Yet, America seems to be offering the world nothing more than a bully’s refrain: “I bully because I can.” Strategy please, Mr. Bush, for everyone’s sake.
But perhaps I am being paranoid. The Bush clan surely knows that a war with Iran will have consequences, and not all of them in the form of civilian casualties and returning body-bags. How will Bush survive in an America that may have to cough up $40 for a barrel of crude, even if Russia’s oil barons can be bribed to double or triple their output? And most Israelis know, even if it remains a national “unmentionable,” that with or without Iran’s support of the besieged in Palestine or Lebanon, Israel will continue to suffer the natural consequences of illegal occupation. By urging Bush to up the ante with Iran and see what happens, Israel is about to embarrass the United States, its strident buddy, and further hurt its own chances for peace.
In a post-September 11 America, immigrants like me are becoming paranoid simply by noticing things. In the same way, not all public opinion in the Middle East, however, is paranoia, and when it is, it is rarely a natural by-product of genetics, Islam, anti-Semitism or anti-Western propaganda. There is the seldom-considered possibility that this thing some in the West label as “Middle Eastern paranoia” (among Middle Easterners generally, and Iranians specifically) is primarily because of their relatively robust historical memories. America’s track record in Iran and the Middle East is available at our local libraries. I myself checked out a few books and I think I am beginning to understand why Iran’s sloganeers call America “the Great Satan.” Bush’s global gall since bombing Afghanistan with everything short of a nuclear missile proves that in 21st century international politics the devil no longer has to reside in the details. Why hide in the small print when few dare to object to your devilry in its most brazen manifestations?