Retired diplomat Chas Freeman, speaking about the failures of U.S. intervention in the Middle East, raises important points about the neoconservative push for ever more aggressive moves against Iran.
He writes that the U.S. is “at an unsustainable dead end with Iran.”
Freeman, who has a book of collected writings and speeches that was just published by Just World Books (Helena Cobban‘s new project), talks about the failures of the past decades, then goes into an illuminating passage on Iran, where there is plenty of blame to apportion on all sides of the impasse. Here’s the excerpt, with the full speech here (my emphasis below):
As if this were not enough, the very same people who neo-conned us into war with Iraq seven years ago are working hard to get the United States into yet another war — this one with Iran. Their reasoning mixes bluff with blackmail. They insist that the U.S. must risk regional or even global catastrophe by launching our own war with Iran. Otherwise, Israel will drag us into an even more catastrophic one. For their part, Israel’s military planners quite rationally worry about the limits the loss of their nuclear monopoly would place on their freedom of action against Arab neighbors like Lebanon and Syria. But they know there is nothing much they can do to prevent this. Military frustration plus popular hysteria about Iran in Israel produces repeated threats by Israeli politicians to bomb Iran. Their supporters here faithfully echo these threats. This, of course, increases Iran’s perceived need to develop a nuclear deterrent to such attack. And so it goes.
Ironically, the primary strategic effect of the policies these neo-conservative warmongers advocated in the past was to eliminate Iran’s enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq, while greatly enhancing Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine and cementing Iran’s alliance with Syria. As a result, while the United States remains focused on Iran’s nuclear program, it is becoming apparent to countries in the region that Iranian cooperation or acquiescence is essential to address a lengthening list of problems of concern to them. These include issues relating to Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as Palestine.
The self-defeating actions and statements of both sides over the course of the 30-year impasse in Iranian-American relations prove many basic rules of diplomacy. Unilateral suspensions of international law and comity (whether through hostage-taking or demands that rights conferred by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime be set aside) are quite naturally resented as inherently illegitimate by the affected side. Neither humiliation nor invective induce reflection; both inspire brooding about how to show unyielding determination, indirectly hurt the other side, or retaliate directly against it. Sanctions that are not in support of a negotiating process constitute mindless pressure rather than leverage and invite defiance rather than compromise. Offers of talks premised on the need to check the diplomatic box before proceeding to coercive measures understandably meet with rebuff. (As a case in point: why should Iran cooperate in legitimizing the use of force against it on the spurious grounds that measures short of war have been exhausted?) And so forth. (I’m tempted to go on, but this is not the occasion for a lecture on strategic self-frustration through diplomatic mis-maneuver.)
In sum, our military interventions in the greater Middle East have been both unproductive and counterproductive. And we have hardly tried diplomacy.