“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

calling back the dawgs of war

LI believes in détente with Iran. My friend, the Brooding Persian, doesn’t. Now, my friend, Mr. B.P., has the advantage of Persian birth, an infinitely greater knowledge of the history, culture, and politics of Iran, and all of the tacit knowledge brought by recent and prolonged immersion in the country, while LI sits on his ass in Texas and reads newspapers. So the advantage is all to Mr. B.P.

However, we are still unconvinced. We are also unconvinced that the evident belief of some in the Bush administration that we should start the bombing of Iran any day now is actually going to be realized. It is easy to get hysterical about how incompetent the Bushies are and how bloodthirsty they are, but it is best to put this in context: the thing about history is that it operates by thens. Those who think it is the year 2002 all over again fail to reckon with the consequences of the year 2002, or the year 2004. The war in Iraq, for one thing, seemed like, and was, a short term economic winner. The excuse to mount a policy of extreme military Keynesianism in 2002, after a debilitating market crash and a pretty soft demand landscape, fit into the general Bush governing policy. But the war in Iran looks like a short term economic loser – just for starters. Plus, of course, the soldiers in Iraq are hostages to fortune, and any Cambodia invasion ploy now would simply lead to both Iran and Iraq as lead and dead weights around the President’s party. Those who have been through a war hysteria are, of course, going to be impressed by it enough to suspect that it lies latent in the population like some flue virus. They ignore the other side of war – war fatigue. War fatigue about the war in Iraq has come with remarkable swiftness – see our post about legitimacy for one (partial) explanation of it. In moments of stress, we sometimes buy into the underground comix version of America as a land of redneck Neanderthals. Exaggeration in caricature does not, however, point to statistical truth – it is best at pointing to existential and particular truths. I could easily go out into the streets of Austin and find some guy whose opinion would be that the Middle East should be nuked. But to really judge this guy, I would have to know how much that opinion weighs in his life. I would have a much harder time finding a guy who really devotes a lot of time to such questions. And even my imaginary Mr. Blowhard would probably back down (if he didn’t have one for the road in his belly) to a more moderate position. One of the things I do not like about blogs is that, all too often, one feels the blogger is writing with some caricature opponent leaning over his shoulder – this leads to a Flintstone version of politics, and you just have to put in your villain – a righwinger can put in Jane Fonda and John Kerry, a lefty can put in George Bush and Dick Cheney.

Myself, I’m of the lefty tribe, and I find George Bush and Dick Cheney villainous. But I don’t think they are unhuman – they largely share a set of motives with myself. When I lose my grip on that fact, I devalue any analysis I make of what is going on in D.C.

Which brings me to this Q and A in the post with the president of the American/Iranian council, Hooshang Amirahmadi, a professor at Rutgers. I highly recommend the piece. While Dr. Amirahmadi has an academically naïve realism about states – to say that states have interests rather than allies sounds realistic, but actually presupposes more clarity within a state about its interest than is ever, or could be ever, the case – I am generally impressed by his grasp, a, of the political reality in Iran, in which President Ahmadinejad is struggling for internal power rather than invested with it, and b., his grasp of the wider situation.

First, a,: “Mr Ahmadinejad is a calculative man. He is also an ambitious person that have to run a country dominated by powerful clergies. His reference to Twelve Imam is directed at nuetralizing that power and gain legitimacy from it. In really, and as the experience in the last 7 months show, he has not been more religiously strict then his predecessors. No new religious restrictions have been imposed and the population does not feel that a major change in that direrction has taken place. Note also that he does not any more speak about imams but about nuclear techonology and other mundane issues.”

And … this should be soooo emphasized:
“On Ahmadinejad, his statements are to be condemned, but I must also note that the man is not the one who makes war and peace decisions for Iran, and strategic policies like ones toward the US and Israel are not determined at his level. Those bigger decisions, including the nuclear matter, are decided by the Leader, the Expediancy Council, and the National Security Council of the country. Iran has a 20-year "Vision Plan" that has set directions for the President to follow. He has some degree of autonomy but cannot disregard those directives.”
And on b, which is where Mr. B.P. and I disagree:

"Waldorf, Md.: Why are we assuming that these people are not telling the truth? Has the U.S. given them some kind of bomb making materials in the past and that is why we are so adamant about this? To me the U.S. is coming across as bullying these people. Why don't we back off a little bit. Or is there a hidden agenda that only certain people know and the public, of course, is the last to know?
Hooshang Amirahmadi: There is no hidden agenda! The US and Iran have had serious difficulty in the last 26 years. It all started with the revolution (which was made against past US interventions in Iran and against "its" dictator in Tehran). The nuclear matter is only one among such problems. There are issues of terrorism, peace in the Middle East and human rights/democracy. Over time, the situation has become even more complicated (e.g. the US situation in Iraq). Please note that nations have neither enemies nor friends; they have interests. It is only unfortunate that the governments in Tehran and Washington (as well as in Tel Aviv) have not looked deeper into the tremendous common interests that exist here and have instead focused on differences. This must change for the situation to normalize. [misspellings corrected]"

LI thinks that one of the roots of the Iraqi invasion was retaining a policy of double sanctions against Iraq and Iran in the nineties, when it should have been adjusted – there should have been a definite tilt towards Iran. Not only would this recognize reality, but Iran’s incorporation into the world system would, we think, work towards strengthening civil society in Iran by making palpable the everyday advantages of eroding the power of the mullahs. It seems to be the case – and I may be totally off base – that Iran’s majority working class population has been economically stagnant while its ownership class has prospered. Since the appeal of civil society freedoms is mixed up with economic policies that seem to reward the already prosperous ownership class, however, that appeal is justly subject to the suspicion that the price of freedom is continuing economic misery. The Cold War interpretive scrim, which the neo-cons like to drag out, is particularly distorting here: the Islamicist politico can well combine that position with the neo-liberal ultra – hence the American affection, at the moment, for a SCIRI leader who is also a free trader maximus, privatize the oil fields kind of guy.

Given what I am saying, however, I can imagine an easy objection: what you are saying, Mr. LI, contradicts itself. You are advocating normalizing Iran – integrating it into a neo-liberal world system – while analyzing the internal political situation in terms that posit the neo-liberal system as a standing evil that incites a nationalism that would interfere with any normalizing process.

I’ll slip out of that strait jacket, and doing amazing other Houdini like feats, in another post.

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