Sunday, February 24, 2008


Yesterday I attended an illuminating talk about Iran by former New York Times columnist Stephen Kinzer and Iranian academic Fatemeh Keshavarz. They essentially stressed the point which people like Ron Paul and Michael Scheuer have been making, that many Americans see Iran-US relations as beginning with the hostage crisis of 1979 and everything after that being Iran's fault.

It's pretty clear that the US is almost as responsible for the current state of Iran as Iran itself. It's also pretty clear that increasing ignorance among Americans of the history of US foreign policy is going to lead them down a disastrous path. Keshavarz also indicated how Iran is much more progressive compared to Arab countries, and how any kind of belligerent action by the US against Iran is going to trample whatever goodwill the US still has among common citizens of Iran. As for Ahmadinejad, he is something akin to a court jester who thrives on rhetoric, and who is despised by many Iranians.

Clearly, George Bush attacking Iran in any way may be the worst thing to happen to the US in the last one hundred years, whose repercussions will be deadly and far-reaching.

But when I was discussing US involvement in Iran over the last 50 years, mainly for the oil, a friend quipped, "But of course, the US is going to be looking at its self-interests. Why blame it for doing that?"

There are two answers to this questions. Firstly, even if we accept the thesis that every country always does what is necessary for its self-interest, in the case of American involvement in the Middle East, Bush and even earlier Presidents have actually jeopardized American interests and national security. The effect of pursuing oil in the Middle East for self-interest is that the US has become utterly dependent on this politically unstable, frequently America-hating group of countries.

The second and more chilling effect is that this hatred of the US because of its continued presence has led to and will continue to lead to a rapid rise in terrorist activity against the US. I have just ordered Michael Scheuer's "Marching toward Hell" in which he basically says that only when there is a devastating terrorist attack in the US in the next couple of years leading to the loss of thousands of American lives- and Scheuer portentously thinks this is almost certain, especially because of the way US leaders have engaged in conflicts abroad at the cost of neglecting border security at home- will Americans realise how Bush had been misleading them about national security for the last several years since 9/11.

Secondly, and I always say this to people with whom I get into arguments, it's fine if you really want to pursue your self-interests. But then, just be prepared for the consequences. That's all. Many Americans live in a weird world of expectations in which they want it both ways, to enjoy their standard of living and to engage with the world in such a manner that all their interests will be satisfied, and also to hope that everyone will be their friend and won't harbor any resentment towards them. The only thing I say is, fine, if Americans want to linger in the Middle East to satisfy their self-interest, so be it. But then they should not complain about increased American hatred and possible increased terrorist attacks against the US.

Interestingly I also have a similar argument with some extreme Republicans who don't want any taxation at all; in their world-view where every person is on his own and nobody cares if inequality massively rises, they simply should be ready for an increased possibility of a French-revolution style uprising where poor people have had enough. I doubt if these same Republicans who grumble about taxation will agree to such a predictable consequence.

In any case, sadly, not only are many Americans unaware of these consequences, but their leaders are not only unprepared for them, but they keep increasing their probability.

Suggested reading:
All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror- Stephen Kinzer
Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq- Michael Scheuer

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Blogger Manasi said...

I definitely agree with your 'be prepared for the consequences' argument. I guess one reason why the US runs into situations like Iraq and Afghanistan is that it is not prepared for the either the immediate or long-term consequences of its actions; and neither do its policy-makers seem to be thinking about consequences when planning their actions. It is one thing if the average Joe does it, but you would expect better of people who matter.
As for your suggested readings, All the Shah's Men is definitely a good one.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Fereydoun Taslimi said...

Those who argue that this policy is due to self-interest must repsond how creating an increasingly virulent enemy is in the interest of the USA?

A few thousand Hezballah almost defeated the strongest army in the middle east, similar numbers have made a mockery of the largest army in the world with a budget almost equal to the rest at the exoense of millions of innocent souls. Art of destruction knows no boundry, one day we will wake up to the handy work of so desperate yet so advanced. Will the necons be alive to take any responsibility?

8:29 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Manasi: Correct, in fact interestingly in earlier times, these soft imperialists did not face as many repercussions. But now with growing anti-US sentiment having reached a fervor and retaliation from enemies being possible because of advanced technology, the US has really gotten itself into a swamp.

Fereydoun: That's the tragic thing. The neocons messed up the country and they will leave and live the good life. Even worse as you said, they will die and therefore escape from responsibility and punishment.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Fereydoun Taslimi said...

I like to invite yoou to


8:50 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Thanks for the invitation. I will see if I can make it.

10:07 AM  

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