Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Foreign Policy Suggestion that Will Go Nowhere

Why is Iran our perpetual enemy? Is it because we once subverted their democracy and installed a dictatorial government in its place? Is it because we've waged economic war on them for decades and previously encouraged their neighbor to wage real war on them to the tune of a million dead? Is it because they somehow made us shoot down one of their airliners? I know it's human nature to find it hard to forgive someone for the sins you've committed against them, but maybe we could try just this once.

A thought experiment: what if, instead of endlessly proposing ways to fence in Iran, we made our goal a real normalization of relations? Instead of suggesting that some sort of uneasy truce could be maintained by slightly lessening sanctions, we looked forward to an era when there weren't any sanctions at all? So long as we treat Iran as our version of the Great Satan, we don't have very much leverage for serious diplomacy. If a genuine peace were in prospect, Tehran might be much more amenable to a deal about its relationship with Hezbollah, for example, if it didn't need to hang on to Hezbollah as a bargaining chip in an endless cold war—the idea that the Iranians have some tremendous interest in the Palestinian issue is very dubious to me. Of course they don't like Israel's policies—almost the entire planet doesn't like Israel's policies—but I've yet to meet a Persian who really gave a damn about what was going on a couple of countries away. So long as the Israelis keep threatening to nuke 'em, however, they have to be interested. 

Of course any prospect of peace will require keeping the Israelis under control. Netanyahu, et. al. are never going to stop banging the war drum because the ongoing artificial crisis provides essential cover for the de facto annexation of the West Bank, a process that will take many years to complete. We don't need Israel to sign on, though. We just need them not to panic and push the button—coming up on one hundred years after the outbreak of World War I, we need to remember what mischief minor powers can cause by vanity and miscalculation.

I have little love and less trust for the current Iranian regime, but Iranian internal affairs are just that. Meanwhile, the notion that Iran is pursuing an aggressive foreign policy that would justify making their business our business is not something any one ever bothers to provide evidence for. It’s an assumption, a default, a prior, even an axiom, and has to be something of that sort since what you can’t argue to, you have to argue from. The historical record, which is publicly available after all, is a story of an Iran endlessly on the defensive against the machinations of the Russians, the Brits, the Americans, the Iraqis, the Israelis, and the Sunnis.