Opinion

Compass

In the Middle East, a bonfire of alibis

By Nader Mousavizadeh
February 27, 2012

Syria can set fire to Lebanon at the wave of a hand. Hezbollah can be ordered into battle with Israel at the command of a call from Tehran. Lebanon’s sectarian politics are a plaything of outsiders whose every whim determines the fate of the country. These are among the conventional wisdoms that have long held the fate of Lebanon hostage — assumptions as widely held within the country as outside it. But a closer look suggests that it is high time these preconceived notions are challenged — not because they lack a basis in reality, but because they are rooted as much in what the country’s enemies, from Damascus to Tehran, wish to be the dominant narrative as what the far more complex conditions on the ground merit.

Today, as Syria’s civil war gains speed and severity, and the crisis of Iran’s nuclear program escalates by the day, Beirut is holding its breath — too fearful and too scarred by a war-torn history to imagine anything but the worst-case scenario. And yet, the reality as acknowledged by a growing number of Lebanese observers is more complex. If Assad really could create the distraction he needs from renewed conflict in Lebanon with such ease, would he not already have done so? If Hezbollah is nothing but an arm of Iran’s forward defense, would it not have been the first agent called into action, as opposed to Tehran’s other alleged responses — from the plot to assassinate the Saudi envoy to Washington to the recent attacks on Israeli diplomats in Delhi, Bangkok and Tbilisi? As Tom Fletcher, the British ambassador to Lebanon, pointed out to me on a recent visit to Beirut, just as Sinn Fein and Hamas discovered in their time, Hezbollah’s role in the current government means that it is having to make compromises and shift from the comfortable politics of opposition.

What is true of Lebanon is true too — and far more consequentially so — when the conventional wisdom about the aims and motivations of the region’s other players are examined. At this moment of looming conflict with worldwide implications, it is time to give far greater scrutiny to the claims made by the principal protagonists about the merits of their policies — and the ways they diverge from the global interest in the security and stability of the region. This is most evidently the case with the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and the trade-off between war and containment that ultimately faces the international community.

Iran claims that it is pursuing a purely civilian interest in nuclear technology and that as signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty it is being held to an unjust double standard. The reality is that Iran has done little to reassure the outside world of the accuracy of this assertion and that much evidence exists to the contrary. As a repressive, deeply illegitimate regime, Tehran is using all the levers available to it, conventional and unconventional, to sustain its power and destabilize its enemies as it seeks to overwhelm its own popular uprising that began, but did not end, with the 2009 Green Movement.

Israel insists that Iran’s nuclear weapons program represents an existential threat from a regime that would seek its destruction. The reality is that this assumes the regime is not only homicidal, but suicidal. An Iranian nuclear deterrent would in reality represent a change in the regional balance of power away from Israel’s near-total military dominance over its neighbors, a prospect that it may find only slightly less concerning. That the question of Palestine is pushed further to the back burner of the global agenda is to Jerusalem a secondary, but not insignificant, benefit of the global focus on Iran.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council allies — cheerleaders as avid of a military confrontation with Iran as Israel these days — allege that Iran is the font of a rising, revolutionary “Shia crescent” that will upend the entire region. The reality is that the Gulf Arabs — with U.S. backing — have come to enjoy a dominance of the Persian Gulf unattainable in the days of the Shah and are using the very real threat from Iran to divert attention from their own domestic economic and political deficiencies. If Iran is able to stoke Shia rebellions in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, it may have something to do with the fertile ground created by the policies of the regimes toward their minorities.

Behind all these claims and pretexts, excuses and diversions lies the expectation that the United States, backed by Europe, will have to finish a war that Israel may start and the Gulf Arabs will quietly endorse. For this reason, if no other, it is incumbent upon the friends of Israel and the Gulf Arabs to engage them more creatively on their legitimate security concerns — acknowledging the very real challenge of containing a regime in Tehran that is an enemy to its own people as well as to the world’s interest in avoiding a nuclear arms race. These friends need to call their bluff on seeking support for agendas that are at best unique to their narrow interests and at worst destructive to the wider aim, which is to ensure that the challenge to Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t metastasize into a military conflict with little prospect of achieving longer-term security. This is not — or shouldn’t be — a matter of the West’s commitment to ensuring the security and stability of key allies in the face of a rising threat. It is — and must be — about applying the necessary judgment on the utility of force, and the potential for containment, when no good option exists.

Ten years after the war in Iraq was set in motion — an immensely costly war variously justified on the grounds of Saddam’s WMD, his support for Al Qaeda, the certain welcome of his long-oppressed people and the transformation of Iraq into a beacon of democracy — it is well worth re-examining the claims made by the region’s interested parties about the need for another war in the Persian Gulf. When it comes to the Middle East today, a bonfire of alibis is overdue. There is no time like the present to strike the match.

PHOTO: Demonstrators burn a poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a protest in Al Mazaa, Damascus, February 12, 2012.  REUTERS/Handout

Comments
8 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Thinking that the Iranian government does not have the support of the vast majority of Iranians is wishful thinking. Iranians are deeply xenophobic and have been for centuries, if not thousands of years. One thing that is certain is that they do not want another puppet regime for a government.

Iran will have to be dealt with as it is. Like Iraq, any thinking that an invasion or other war would be over quickly is an illusion sold by people who want to personally profit from a war there.

Any involvement of Israelis or of their American advocates must be distrusted. Who knows what the truth is? Not the involved parties.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive
 

I have as yet to meet a single Iranian xenophobe and the evidence is that the Iranian government does not have the support of the vast majority of Iranians.
Repression at home and foreign policy adventurism are the hallmark of a narrow-minded government that is clutching at justifying its existence. Like their avowed enemy the U.S., the Iranian regime has wasted billions pursuing imaginary enemies in what they have come to see as their backyard. They will get a rude awakening and the process has already begun with Hamas’s declaration of support for the Syrian rebels.

Posted by Biscayne | Report as abusive
 

I have as yet to meet a single Iranian xenophobe and the evidence is that the Iranian government does not have the support of the vast majority of Iranians.
Repression at home and foreign policy adventurism are the hallmark of a narrow-minded government that is clutching at justifying its existence. Like their avowed enemy the U.S., the Iranian regime has wasted billions pursuing imaginary enemies in what they have come to see as their backyard. They will get a rude awakening and the process has already begun with Hamas’s declaration of support for the Syrian rebels.

Posted by Biscayne | Report as abusive
 

WHAT WOULD THE AMERICAN FOUNDING FATHERS SAY?

“The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible.”
- President George Washington (1796)

For the USA, did the military intervention in Libya conform to President Washington’s admonition? Would an American intervention in Syria?

For the USA, whence comes the authority to intervene in civil wars in other nations? What are the specific and objective criteria for such interventions?

As currently practiced, doesn’t “humanitarian aid” merely represent a euphemism for providing aid and comfort to one side but not the other? Doesn’t “leading from behind” merely represent Mr. Obama’s euphemism for allowing other nations to initiate a military intervention in which the USA subsequently will participate . . . decisively?

An implicit policy of selective, military intervention . . . think Libya versus Bahrain, occasions a risk of unintended but inescapable consequences. An explicit policy of non-interventionism, direct threats to American national interest excepted, avoids such consequences but, admittedly, raises the obverse . . . the consequences of inaction. The American Founding Fathers, nevertheless, favored the latter.

Why? Were George Washington and John Adams smarter and wiser than George W. Bush and Barack Hussein Obama?

For the USA, viewed in the light of recent history . . . think Viet Nam and even Afghanistan, it seems that, in the long run, a scientific analysis of one policy versus the other would confirm the position of her Founding Fathers; namely, that a policy of non-interventionism offers the lesser risk (www.inescapableconsequences.com).

Conversely, Iran falls into a different category. The issue is not internal to Iran but external to its neighbors and even to far-flung nations, including the USA. For issues in this category, direct, military intervention may be in the national interest of the USA. If so, it should be undertaken with a goal being to have achieved total and complete victory; anything less would be self-defeating.

Posted by BioBehavioral | Report as abusive
 

Mr. Mousavizadeh: You state,
“a regime in Tehran that is an enemy to its own people”.

I can’t say exactly where you get your information, or what your agenda is.

But, as Professor Juan Cole, a Farsi speaker, has well described, recognized polls prior to the last election of Ahmadinejad indicated that he would win the election with about the percentage of votes that were recorded as the final outcome.

Also, you need to consider the probable effects of the billions of dollars spent on the CIA and US special ops groups, as far as promoting provocateurs in Iran. How real was the Green movement, is difficult for us civilians to know, always kept in the dark by “our” government.

If you are referring to Ayatollah Khamenei as an enemy of his people, I’d remember that it was the Islamic revolution which drove the US/British installed, and much hated Shah out of Iran. (And the Shah was installed in Iran by US/UK after a CIA sponsored overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh, as you know.) Moreover, it is abundantly clear that the Islamist group was the only organized group left in the country to take on the Shah, so the people made a choice to support the Islamic revolution over the US-backed Shah. You can’t expect it to be any different now, especially as they are again under great pressure from the West.

Moreover, Ahmadinejad, being duly elected, is in conflict with the clerics over attempting to gather greater power to himself, that is, a further move in the democratic direction.

Let Iranians work it out themselves! It is their sovereign right!

Furthermore, it is not the right of the West to know all details of their military defense.

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive
 

Dear Dr. Mousavizadeh,

Very interesting analysis, simultaneously in depth and wide spectrum; tho, i wander why all the above comments are focused around Iran and Iranians, is it because you are a proud Iranian descendant? or is it rather ” There is no smoke without fire”?
The law of the Sword and the law of the (Holly) Book are about to meet on the battle ground and they will certainly annihilate each other and make room for Global Incorporation.
As you say: When it comes to the Middle East today, a bonfire of alibis is overdue. There is no time like the present to strike the match, the present is actually subject to the 3 upcoming elections, a new deck will be introduced and the card will be dealt again, would they be still playing the same game? with the same rules? have the stakes changed? is the outcome as vague as it has always been?
On a total different note : how close are we to Nostradamus prophecies on the same topic ? now that we know that the speed of light is no longer the fastest measure around …

Be safe my brother and keep writing, hopefully the right people will soon take better notice of what you are unraveling .

Posted by SocialCapital | Report as abusive
 

Well most of you who have never met an Iranian xenophobe have, obviously, not lived there. They generally are xenophobic, although perhaps 10%, mostly young, are not.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive
 

Iraq as a beacon of democracy, as in: all are equally free to murder each other?

Posted by yummy8755 | Report as abusive
 

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