Friday, August 24, 2007

"Classic demonstration of the limits of realist theory in foreign relations"

Today, Greg Sheridan has an excellent op-ed piece in the Austrailian, which echoes everyting I've been saying about the nature of the ISlamic Republic all along since I started this blog. Here are choice tidbits:(full-text)

A FEW weeks ago US President George W. Bush issued an unusual request to the Australian Government...
Iran is the leader of the Shia version of fundamentalist and extremist Islam. It sponsors terrorism promiscuously. Its most important terrorist client is Hezbollah, a Shia group that de facto rules southern Lebanon. It is also the most important foreign sponsor of Hamas, a Sunni terrorist organisation that rules the Gaza Strip. Islamic Jihad, which has been responsible for much Palestinian terrorism, is effectively a branch of the Iranian intelligence services.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map". Iran also sponsors Shia and Sunni elements of the insurgency in Iraq.

There is no doubt the US has given the deepest possible consideration to taking military action against Iran's nuclear plants. When I interviewed US Vice-President Dick Cheney earlier this year, he endorsed Republican senator John McCain's formulation that the only thing worse than a military confrontation with Iran would be a nuclear-armed Iran.

Yet some analysts consider the idea that Bush may strike Iran to be wildly unrealistic. Let's be quite clear. I am certainly not advocating a strike against Iran but we should all know that we are heading for an epoch-marking crisis. The US has deployed extensive naval resources into the Persian Gulf in a bid to coerce Iran into some co-operation and to reassure Iran's neighbours, especially the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, that the US will look after their security. At the same time it has strengthened its military bases in the Gulf states and provided moderate Arab governments with extensive military equipment. Washington is also considering declaring Iran's revolutionary guard a terrorist organisation.

The best-informed analysts in the world believe the Bush administration will try very hard to make UN-mandated sanctions against Iran as powerful as possible to deter Iran from pursuing nukes. However, these analysts also believe this will be unsuccessful and that, whatever the outside world does by way of sanctions and pressure, nationalism will trump economics and Iran will eventually get the weapons.
But it won't matter because Iran's leadership is motivated by a type of religious conviction that cannot be trumped by economics. Young people in Iran are reportedly alienated from their leadership, but they still want nukes. Virtually every section of the Iranian population, whether motivated by religion, nationalism, power considerations or whatever else, wants nukes.
On the positive side, the US is implicitly offering Iran full diplomatic relations, trade benefits and any other reasonable benefit it could want if it gives up the nuclear chase.

But Iran is a classic demonstration of the limits of realist theory in foreign relations. It is genuinely motivated by ideology, not by a normal calculus of national interest. Washington has been offering Iran some version of this deal - diplomatic and trade normality in exchange for nuclear non-proliferation and regional stability - virtually since the ayatollahs came to power in 1979. It was once Madeleine Albright's chief goal in life when she was Bill Clinton's secretary of state.
The deeply flawed James Baker-Lee Hamilton report on Iraq contains some sentence along the lines of saying that Iran shares the US's interest in a stable Iraq. Which Iran are the two esteemed American statesmen talking about? It is an Iran of their imagination, it is certainly not the real, existing Iran.

Iran's leaders are delighted with today's geo-strategic situation. They would rather not have sanctions but they have shown full mastery of the techniques of suppressing their population and are not seriously inconvenienced by its troubles. Otherwise, for them life is fine. The Americans are in a world of pain in Iraq. Iran's ally Hezbollah is slowly trying to take control of the Lebanese Government, in alliance with a pro al-Qa'ida Syrian front group, Fatah al-Islam. One of their techniques is novel: to assassinate the existing Lebanese parliamentary majority one by one.

Meanwhile Iran's other proxy, Hamas, goes from strength to strength. The Iranians are leading the Shia reassertion in the Middle East at the same time as they are polarising the broader Arab population around the idea of resistance to the West. Thus, as things stand, Iran has no incentive to make a bargain, except the fear of a US military strike.

The world's best analysts believe that whatever Washington decides, Israel will act to meet an existential threat. And it views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat. There is some thinking within the Australian Labor Party to the effect that Israel would have a right to pre-emptive action under international law because it legitimately faces a grave threat from a nuclear Iran.

1 comment:

A Jacksonian said...

'Realism' in foreign policy is aimed towards economic stability and not much of anything else. That is why all the supporting of dictators and such by the US was done during the Cold War: it supported economic stability. That has an extreme cost when placed on the scales of human liberty and freedom, as it is liberty and freedom that create trade not the inverse.

The 50's through '90s saw this throughout the US activities in the ME, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere. Overthrowing a socialist winner of an election, like Allende, was done for the paternalistic reason that the folks there didn't understand democracy. That came from Henry Kissinger. In actuality it was the economic applecart of S. America that would be put in danger which may or may not set a stage for Soviet aggression. Mind you the Soviet Union was also bogged down in supplying North Vietnam with an army's worth of equipment every couple of years, so its ability to do much of anything was hampered. So Kissinger decided that Allende was not good enough and had him disposed of... just like JFK did with Diem in S. Vietnam a decade previously. Can't say either of those is 'supporting democracy', and in both cases things did get worse thereafter.

In the Middle East this was first practiced by none other than Woodrow Wilson who worried that US companies in the Ottoman Empire would lose money and some lives if we went against them in WWI. That and knowing about the genocide going on there really does point out the bankruptcy of 'realism': it brokers human lives and liberty for cash.

The US did do somewhat similar in previous generations to Wilson, but such things were more for US prestige of industrial placement (like Jackson's selling of warships to the Ottomans, which made the name of the US that of a Naval power) rather than for cash alone. We could well afford, way back when, to be isolationist in outlook on those things. By the time of the 'realists' coming to fore, along with the 'arabists' in Foggy Bottom, the stage was set for the grand idea of not doing anything to support liberty and freedom there. For 90 years of that concept we now pay and dearly, with threats to the Nation and all Nations that put us at a cross-roads of history.

'Realists' and their transnational friends, want a world without borders, without nations and the rule will be by the elite. Trade over all, rights assigned out as necessary and horrific terrorists inflicted upon peoples who don't cooperate. That is where we are heading with this concept transnationalism by ruling body... meanwhile the law of nations that has nations holding each other accountable and repudiating non-Nation State actors is dying. We refuse to hold Nations accountable for their actions, and their governments are allowed to be as horrific as possible and expand that horror ever outwards. That used to be a crime against all Nations, this unaccountable warfare and threat of same utilizing non-State actors.

The old law of nations 'rap sheet' against the Iranian regime is long... very long... yet the 'realists' don't want *that* as it means that economic stability is put in jeopardy! Anything but that! They don't want to counter these creatures that grew up around them, and the transnationalists want more of these same critters...

As one that actually believes the nation state concept is a good one and the law of nations perfectly workable, I fear for the future of humanity. And when then 'economic stability' card turns out to be a dud... then what? We have destroyed the ideals of what it means to have a nation state that is accountable, we have started to make any crime *just a crime* and now we have unwarranted military actors that can do *anything* they want while only being held to the 'civil code'. Not to military justice or the law of nations.

America of the 19th century could understand these problems and address them. We are too civilized to do that, and so those tearing at civilization flourish as we dither...