Friday, September 20, 2013

IRAN: 3 Reality Checks on the Emerging U.S. Narrative

As the Obama administration prepares in the days ahead to pivot from its focus on Syria to something truly startling -- talking to Iran! -- it is important that the American public devotes some time and energy to learning and thinking about Iran, the history of the U.S.-Iran relationship, and what the U.S.-Iran relationship means in the larger context of the effort to reduce the risk of war and violence in the world.

Here are three "reality checks," which I offer as counterweights to what will certainly prove to be the emerging U.S. narrative.

(1) The Real Lesson of Syria for the US-Iran Dialog

The Obama administration has already begun to characterize the context of the upcoming Iran talks: the U.S. and Russia, together with other countries, they say, were able to compel Syria to do what they wanted. This showed Iran they have the power to tell Iran what to do, forcing Iran to negotiate. (See The New York Times, September 15, 2013 - "In Wake of Syria Deal, Kerry Emphasizes Iran")

The real lesson of the confrontation with Syria is that the U.S. president does not have the power to unilaterally attack another country, and that the American people can and will use democratic processes to stop him from doing it.

Here in Illinois, where I live, it was very clear that the general public was taking control of the situation, telling their congressmen and congresswomen in no uncertain terms that they did NOT want an attack on Syria. The same thing happened across the country. Obama got the message.

February 4, 2012 - "No Iran War!" rallies nationwide
About 18 months ago, at the last high tide of U.S. talk of attacking Iran, the general public got the message to the government in a slightly different way: with street demonstrations in about 80 cities across the country. Obama got the message that time, too.

So . . . the assertion that Iran is entering into negotiations with the U.S. now because the U.S. has sent a clear "OR ELSE!" message is the opposite of the truth. Iran is entering into negotiations with the U.S. now precisely because they are not being forced, but rather because they now have an increased expectation of the support of the world community for negotiations in lieu of threats and violence.

(2) The Real Hostility That Has Hindered US-Iran Dialog

The U.S. portrays Iran as unremittingly hostile to our country. I would argue that the feelings of hostility flow much more in the other direction.

U.S. military bases surround Iran
It is important that Americans do some soul-searching about why we, as a nation, find it so easy to be convinced to feel hostile toward Iran.

Beyond the realm of feelings, there are concrete ways in which the U.S. expresses its hostility toward Iran: sanctions, for instance, and a circle of threatening military bases and the presence of U.S. warships off the coast of Iran at all times.

More than anything else, the thing that opened my eyes to this fact was the pronouncements of U.S. military officials who -- seemingly alarmed at the cavalier way threats were being made over and over again toward Iran -- pointed out that you can't constantly threaten someone and then be surprised if they eventually strike back.

(3) The Real Threat to World Peace and Safety

The card that American officials love to play is "nuclear proliferation": Iran is a menace because they might get nuclear weapons, they say.

U.S. Trident D5 missile is launched from
an Ohio-class submarine
The best corrective to this line, and one that is tied fully to the current context of negotiations with Iran, is the book by Mohamed ElBaradei, The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times. ElBaradei, writing from the vantage point of the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, makes it very clear that the threat posed by nuclear weapons is broadly dispersed and most definitely includes the existing nuclear states and their large arsenals. Moreover, he gives a close-up view of how negotiations take place, and how they are undermined by the enormous power that existing nuclear states wield and the threat they post of unilateral action.

After considering the situation from the standpoint of someone like ElBaradei -- i.e. a neutral facilitator whose only interest is in reducing the overall threat -- the only conclusion I could come to is that the U.S. is the real threat to world peace and safety, and that the apparent U.S. determination to be the "last man standing" with nuclear weapons is an utterly bankrupt policy.

Now is the time for all of us to find ways to help our friends and colleagues, and our local communities, engage in some reality checks about Iran, and about the U.S. behavior toward Iran, and about the prospects for a peaceful relationship between the U.S. and Iran.

Related posts

I often refer to how important the films of Iran have been in helping me open my mind to the possibilities of a peaceful relationship with that country.  I have been fortunate to be able to go see some of the best films from Iran every year at the wonderful Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. The will be another Festival of Films From Iran showing there in February, 2014.

(See A Force for Peace: Getting to Know Iran Through Film)

If we are going to stave off a U.S. war against Iran, we are going to have to have some very difficult conversations with other Americans. Some people are extremely hostile. It's confusing and a bit frightening, but we're going to have to confront it.

(See Why Does Iran Arouse So Much Hostility?)

 Nuclear disarmament isn't the only current focus of UN efforts at resolving conflict.

A new U.N. report makes it clear that the U.S. has to report fully on all its drone attacks.

(See 2014: The Year of Transparency (for U.S. Drone Use)?)