Saturday, April 17, 2010

Why does Iran not just submit to US demands?

An interesting comment was left by Roger, noting that the United States has an unusually violent and destructive history and asking why, given that history, Iran does not find a place within the US dominated world system to focus on internal growth avoiding conflict with the United States on matters the US considers important.

I have a couple of responses. 1) The United States does have a violent history. In fact a list of examples of uniquely violent policies carried out by the US does become quite impressive. It is certainly a defensible statement that "the United States is the most violent and warlike country in the history of the human race". However, the United States is also a nation that can be deterred from war and violence. The United States did not attack either Russia or Russia's most important defensively aligned territories now for more than 50 years during which there has been an intense rivalry and battle of interests.

The United States can be deterred exactly the way Iran has deterred the United States so far, by ensuring it has a capability of harming US interests more than the US could benefit from any intervention against it.

2) Lysander in a comment response points to this: Iran simply does not have the option of growing the way Japan and Germany were under US tutelage. Japan and Germany do not have countries in their region, one tenth their size in terms of population, that the US believes must necessarily be militarily, economically and technologically dominant over them.

If you want an example for an Iran that accepts US domination, you cannot look to South Korea. You have to look to Egypt or Saudi Arabia. For all of Iran's problems, nobody in Iran looks to Egypt or Saudi Arabia with envy. Or you have to look to Iran when it was under US domination, before 1979. Again, there are some Iranians who were doing better before the revolution, but many who were not.

The last thing I'm realizing is very difficult for Westerners to understand. Westerners think Iran was following a very reasonable foreign policy under the Shah, and wonder why Iran is not willing to return to that arrangement. Even worse, it is sometimes presented as a novel idea: here's something for Iran to try - do what the US tells it to do. Cooperation with the US is something Iran has very familiar experience with. Unless and until the United States is willing to cooperate with Iran on terms different from those offered in 1978, Iran has demonstrated very emphatically that it is not interested in that kind of cooperation.

I almost feel like re-writing the last paragraph. It is amazing how difficult it is for Westerners to understand that Iran does not want to return to its 1978 foreign policy. Iran is not eager for this. If an Iranian accomplishes easing tension with the US by returning to 1978 foreign policy, that Iranian would not be a hero who accomplished a victory, that Iranian would be a traitor against Iran's values and ideals.

The Shah of Iran and Sadat of Egypt are not seen as models for emulation by mainstream Middle Eastern political thinkers. They are seen as such by Westerners. This is a major disconnect that results in unnecessary suffering by Americans and people in the Middle East alike.

1 comment:

Roger said...

I meant to note the conflict with Russia in my earlier post, but left it out for the sake of brevity. The US does not automatically resort to hot war as its only option. Yes - war with Russia would have been too costly, but also the US decided the circumstances warranted "containment", code for using economics, propaganda, covert destabilization and diplomatic encirclement to achieve its objectives. It persisted with that policy for decades until the Soviet Union disintegrated. The case of Cuba is even more interesting. The US has taken a spurious excuse of lack of democracy to embargo a small, poor Caribbean nation, and is loosening that noose only at the rate that Cuba is slowly forgetting its former belligerent ways.
I think the US is warlike but is not irrational. I even disagree with Arnold when he considers America's support for Israel as irrational and contrary to American interests. When I recounted part of US's violent history I meant to show the extraordinary combination of military might and will to use it, as well as economic and diplomatic power plus - if need be - consistent and patient application of policy that can span decades until its aims are achieved.
Given the combination of circumstances that have put Iran in the cross hairs of the US, Europe and Israel combined, I would like to keep an open mind to the possibility that Iran's present course may be brave but in the long term could also prove foolish. I don't dispute that this course is what the people of Iran have chosen, but its up to leaders and statesmen to debate alternative policies and suggest a course that is likely to be sustainable in the LONG term.