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     Jun 13, 2008
War on Iran: Law the first casualty

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

"So foul a sky shall not clear without a storm," wrote William Shakespeare in the play King John and, indeed, the deafening saber-rattling against Iran by the United States and Israel increasingly reveals a coming storm that will likely dwarf the magnitude of the Iraq war, in light of Iran's military prowess and ability to strike back throughout the Middle East.

The US's and Israel's decision to escalate the threat levels against Iran, reflected in President George W Bush's statement in Europe this week that all options remain on the table, has been matched by an equally resolute defiance by Iran. As a result, the growing anxiety over a summer war with Iran threatens to send


already rocketing oil prices to unimaginable levels.

This is not "new realism" in US foreign policy, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice self-congratulatingly narrates in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs [1], but rather a new level of American "dumb power" that harms its own self-interest by the pursuit of warmongering policies.

The official Washington discourse is presently overwhelmed with platitude about America's "new Wilsonian" commitment to spread freedom and democracy in the Middle East. But, for example, the mere thought that "Iraq's freedom" may also mean freedom from foreign hegemonic domination is simply foreign to the discourse and understanding of US officials such as Rice. She is, nonetheless, on the mark when writing, in the article cited above, that "our policy in the Middle East is, in reality, an extension of traditional tenets".

But, looking at Iraq, where the US is desperately trying to shove down the throat of Iraqi political leaders an imperialistic "security pact" that would allow upwards of 50 or 60 US military bases in Iraq, together with the judicial immunity of US personnel, the picture reminds of another tradition - the US's gun-boat diplomacy of the 19th century. In 1854, for instance, Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry forced open Japan, prompting Japan to sign the shameful "Ansei Treaties" that provided a system of "extraterritoriality" for foreign residents in that country, aptly detailed in Michael Auslin's Negotiating With Imperialism.

Instead of charting a post-hegemonic, new liberal course of action for US foreign policy, Rice's "new realism" is in many ways the old realism of empire realpolitik, using liberal semantics to give a nice cover to the US's hegemonic motives and intentions.

Paradoxically, precisely when the US has put full steam behind its efforts to finalize the controversial security agreement with Iraq, that would put US bases near Iranian borders, the US and its allies in the "Iran Six" group are now poised to dispatch the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana to Iran to present an "incentive package" to Iran that supposedly contains references to "security". (The "Iran Six" includes the United Nations Security Council's permanent five members - the US, France, China, Russia and Britain - and Germany.)

Washington is oblivious to the linkage between the two issues, that is, that the US cannot expect Iran's compliance with nuclear demands made on it when the US is exacerbating Iran's national security worries through its military projections in Iraq. US policymakers and various US pundits have simply preoccupied themselves with a villain image of Iran, out to "subvert Persian Gulf states", to paraphrase Rice, without an iota of concern about separating fact from fiction. Rice writes about a "new political realignment" in the Middle East, yet glosses over the perceived role and image of US imperialism on the part of many people in the Middle East who regard this as the empire's "divide and conquer" tactic.

The benign American hegemon has, in a word, become self-imprisoned in make-believe altruism and Jeffersonian idealism, unwilling or unable to come to terms with the underlying reasons for "why we are losing the war on terror". This invokes the title of a recent book by Paul Rogers, who deconstructs the post-September 11, 2001, security discourses of the US, tracing them to the pre-September 11 prescriptions of the neo-conservative agenda known as the Project for the New American Century.

Any wonder then that international law does not warrant any mention in Rice's prominent article, and mention is equally missing in the hawkish "attack Iran" narratives of known pro-Israel pundits such as Daniel Pipes and Thomas Friedman. The answer is that it is hardly surprising and, in fact, makes a lot of sense, given that Iran has not breached its nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations, just as former Russian president (now premier)Vladimir Putin told the European press recently.

Consequently, another unjustified, illegal war in the Middle East is being plotted openly before our eyes, with the warmongering voices enjoying a great deal of media latitude, basking in the glory of vilifying Iran and rationalizing their incendiary viewpoints while, simultaneously, branding Iran as being "completely outside the norms of the international community".

But, what norm of international community condones an unprovoked war that will claim many innocent lives no doubt, not to mention collateral damage on the world economy? The answer is that a legal frame of reference is simply missing and hawkish warmongers in the US and Israel simply operate in a vacuum of legal foundation in their increasingly unabashed recommendations for immediate war on Iran.

Note 1. See Rethinking the National Interest. American Realism for a New World by Condoleezza Rice, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2008.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

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(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, June 11, 2008)


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