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  February 8, 2002  

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Central Asia/Russia

US's myopic strategy on Iran

By Ross Peters

It has been almost a week since US President George W Bush fired the first salvos at the "axis of evil", during his State of the Union address. I was not astonished to see Iran included in this disparate group of non-allied nations. And yet I was disappointed. Bush's remarks against Iran came as the two nations had appeared to be moving closer to each other in recent weeks.

As a person involved in the democratic reform movement within Iran I feel it necessary to express that it is difficult for me to come to advocate on behalf of a government I hope to see removed one day. Yet I am moved to do so when the Bush administration places Iran within some pitifully contrived "axis of evil" and augments existing legitimate complaints of nuclear proliferation and political oppression with self-serving and unsubstantiated claims of Iranian collusion with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. President Bush's myopic strategy is unwittingly aiding Iran's clerical establishment at the expense of pro-democracy forces led by President Mohammad Khatami.

I question the logic behind President Bush's decision to lump together Iran and two other disparate and non-allied nations that had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks. Upon a closer examination, there seems to be more that divides these three nations than that brings them together. For example, Iran, a non-Arab nation of Shi'ite Muslims, and Iraq, an Arab nation of Sunni Muslims, are bitter enemies. And while Iran has received North Korean help in developing its long-range missiles, this partnership seems to have diminished recently as Iran has turned to Russian scientists and surpassed North Korean abilities.

Neither has the United States found anything that links Iran to Osama bin Laden or the terrorist attacks of September 11. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to use September 11 to justify expanding the war to Iran. The closest the Bush administration can come is to accuse Iran of harboring fleeing Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Last year Iran almost went to war with the Taliban over the massacre of several hundred Shi'ite Hasaras in Afghanistan, coupled with the assassination of several Iranian diplomats. Additionally, for the past six years, Iran was a lone supporter of the Northern Alliance. Without Iran's longtime support and military assistance to the anti-Taliban forces, there may not have been much of a Northern Alliance left to aid the US in its recent routing of the Taliban. Such an accusation bears no resemblance to reality and is not even rational. The president would have the American public believe that Iran had somehow decided it would be beneficial to amend its acrimonious relationship with the Taliban and al-Qaeda and offer them sanctuary only after they had become global pariahs. The US has offered no evidence to substantiate this claim.

And yet, in an unprecedented and conciliatory move, Iran's reformist Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi has offered an olive branch and asked for US assistance in tracking down any Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters that may have furtively entered Iran across its long and mountainous border with Afghanistan. A negative response would be very informative and betray a desire on the part of the US unilaterally to maintain the tension it already created through its baseless accusations. If the ultimate goal of the US military actions in Afghanistan has been to capture terrorists, does it not behoove the Bush administration to not reject this offer by Iran that would accomplish just that?

Continued tension between the US and Iran will benefit the Bush administration only in the short term. But lumping Iran and the other two non-allied nations of Iraq and North Korea together as an "axis of evil" will fuel and prolong the ongoing war on terrorism with its concomitant flow of needed funds from federal coffers from an economy already weakened by a recession, through the mechanism of a homeland security and military buildup. Admittedly, while there could be some short-term gains from this strategy, in the balance, the long-term interests of the US in the region will suffer.

With a population of almost 67 million and a high rate of literacy and education, Iran is a large nation located in the middle of a strategic part of the world. It covers part of the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf and lies between the potential oil reserves of central Asia and the ports of the Persian Gulf. It is also a nation in flux. A post-revolution baby boom has created an entire generation with no memory of the shah. About 60 percent of Iran is younger than 25. This generation is coming of age and demanding more control over their own lives. Reformers now hold a majority of seats in Iran's parliament. The grip of the mullahs is slowly loosening.

The Bush administration stands at a crucial crossroads in its relationship with Iran. It can accept the olive branch offered by the reformers, thus boosting their power while furthering the rapprochement between the two nations that could signal a death knoll for the hardline clerics. Or it can choose an aggressive campaign of baseless accusations that blemish its legitimacy in the region while breathing new life into the slowly crumbling tyranny of the mullahs.

Short of an armed invasion by the US, Iran will, in all likelihood, develop long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. A recent announcement by the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency, predicts that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon by 2005. Other predictions place the event at closer to 2010. Short of the continued threat of interference or an armed invasion, Iran will steadily evolve into a more democratic society during the same time frame. The US is helping to decide now who will be running Iran when it arrives as a nuclear power. Will it be the reformers backed by the younger generation? Or will President Bush's unfounded accusations temporarily breathe new life into the rhetoric of the hardline clerics?

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