Jahanpour: As US and Iran Confront Each other, where is the Diplomacy?

Dr. Farhang Jahanpour writes in a guest column for Informed Comment :

The war of words between Iran and the West has reached dangerous proportions, and it may easily get out of hand. It is clear that the majority of people in the West and in Iran do not wish the hostilities to develop into an open conflict, but events – and rhetoric – have a life of their own and have a tendency of getting out of control and leading to unintended consequences that would harm both sides. So, instead of ratcheting up the rhetoric, it would be wiser and more productive to make some serious efforts for finding a solution to the crisis, rather than intensifying it.

Sanctions clearly have an effect on the targeted country, but their impact will be mainly on the civilian population rather than on the governments. We have had many examples of sanctions that did not lead to surrender by the targeted regimes but to war. Iraq is a clear example, where despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mainly children, died as the result of the sanctions, Saddam Hussein’s regime remained intact and was removed only as the result of a disastrous war and the occupation of Iraq. Iran is another example. It has been under intense sanctions ever since the victory of the Islamic revolution, but they have made the regime and the people more belligerent, rather than more submissive. There is no reason to assume that the latest sanctions would have a different effect.

There is a fear that both sides underestimate the resolve and the ability of the other side to inflict severe damage on their adversary. It is foolish of the Iranian leaders to either underestimate the gravity of the situation, the American resolve or America’s ability to inflict substantial damage on Iran, especially if Iran is portrayed as having acted against international law by blocking an international waterway. In a conflict with Iran, of course the United States would prevail, and Iran would suffer even more than Iraq did, because it has greater capabilities and therefore the punishment has to be more severe.

However, contrary to some commentators deliberately understating the outcome of the conflict, any use of force against Iran will have grave and unforeseen consequences. In order to prevent Iran from retaliating against American forces and against Israel, any attack on Iran should be massive, hitting thousands of targets, including missile sites, anti-missile sites, revolutionary guards and military bases, Iran’s navy and speedboats, command and control headquarters, etc, resulting in tends of thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of Iranian military and civilian casualties. A recent documentary by Aljazeera showed some of the consequences of a US-Iranian military encounter:

On the other hand, there is a tendency by some pundits in the West to downplay Iran’s response. The aim of the recent Iranian military exercises in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman and the statements by both political and military officials in Iran was to make it clear to the West that Iran would respond to threats by threats and to force by force. Although the Iranian military is no match for the US military, nevertheless, it has the capability of doing major damage to US forces and to global economy.

They have the capability to block the Strait of Hormuz where over a sixth of world oil exports and more than 80 per cent of the exports from the Persian Gulf region pass. They have a huge number of missiles, advanced artillery pieces, speedboats, aircraft, drones, fanatical fighters etc. All they have to do is to lay a few mines or sink a few tankers, or even military vessels. Then, let’s see which insurance company would be willing to touch the shipping in the Persian Gulf for a very long time until the Strait is cleared. It will result in much higher oil prices, destroying any hope of improvement in the still anaemic economic situation in the West; not to mention Iran’s possible attacks on Israeli, Israel’s massive response and the involvement of many other countries in the conflict. It’s a very risky policy. This is why many saner Israeli officials, including two former heads of Mossad, have said that an attack on Iran would be foolish. Any attack on Iran would also put back the cause of democracy and reforms in Iran for many decades, and this is why even reformist leaders opposed to the present regime have strongly condemned any military intervention.

Instead of intensifying the rhetoric and the sanctions, it is time for cooler heads on both sides to take charge of the situation before it is too late. It is also time to accompany the big stick of sanctions with some meaningful carrots. The aim of the sanctions is to reach a desired, peaceful outcome, but if the sanctions are not accompanied by diplomacy they will be self-defeating. As Richard Dalton, Britain’s former ambassador to Tehran from 2002 to 2006, told Reuters, “The West needs a flexible and imaginative approach to enable the Iranians eventually to climb down.”

Where are the diplomats on both sides who would prevent the present dangerous impasse sliding into war? The sanctions were initially supposed to persuade Iran to give up her enrichment program, but now they are clearly aimed at regime change.

The reason for the latest crisis in the Persian Gulf is the AIPAC-driven resolution that called for sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank and blocking Iran’s oil exports that account for over 70 per cent of her foreign currency earning. This is an act of war according to international law, and Iran is entitled to respond to that aggression. Iranian officials have said that if they were prevented from exporting their oil and in fact subjected to a blockade they would not allow other countries to export oil through a narrow waterway, whose navigable part mainly falls within the Iranian territorial waters. President Obama has been ambushed by that unprecedented resolution that goes well beyond anything that the Security Council had authorized, and the Congress wishes to coerce other countries to also go along with its illegal sanctions.

During the run-up to the next presidential election, President Obama cannot afford to appear weak and, therefore, has no option but to follow the resolution to its logical conclusion, which is a major and disastrous conflict with Iran, at a time when he wants to withdraw U.S. forces from the Middle East. At the same time, this serious spat with Iran has diverted world attention from the total collapse of Arab-Israeli peace talks, and has also overshadowed the more important conflicts that are brewing in the rest of the Middle East as the result of the Arab Awakening.

What is needed in this sensitive situation is for President Obama to show real leadership and turn this crisis into a new opportunity for real and meaningful negotiations with Iran, something that he promised but was aborted as the result of failure by both sides to pursue the negotiations with goodwill and with the intention of resolving all the differences. Instead of using this crisis as an excuse to wage another disastrous war, President Obama should push for a real and meaningful campaign of non-proliferation, by declaring a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, including Israel’s illegal nuclear arsenal, and a fair regional security pact that would ensure the safety of all the countries in the Middle East, including the Iranians, the Israelis, and the Persian Gulf littoral states. Iran should also be drawn in to play a positive role in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and fighting against the Taliban and al-Qaeda where Iranian and American interests largely coincide.

Another war in the Middle East will not only do great damage to Iran, but will also be disastrous for America and for world economy. It will not even save Israel from what it should do, namely to reach a fair settlement with the occupied Palestinians on the basis of UN resolutions. There is no other rational and sane solution to the present conflict but to increase engagement and dialog rather than war rhetoric.

Dr Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, Iran, and a former Senior Fulbright Research Scholar at Harvard. He is Associate Fellow at the Faculty of Oriental Studies and tutor in Middle Eastern Studies at the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Responses | Print |

15 Responses

  1. The situation around Iran’s nuclear program is more binary than Jahanpour presents it.

    Iran can or cannot have a nuclear program in line with the NPT and with other nuclear programs around the world, which includes legal nuclear weapons capabilities.

    One side has to back down, the US has to say Iran can enrich, or Iran has to accept that the US has a veto over its enrichment.

    Even getting Israel to relinquish its weapons, which would be good on its own merits and which Iran has made vastly more likely, would probably not convince Iran that should accept permanently requiring US approval for any enrichment.

    We can almost say that an essay on the nuclear issue that does not directly address enrichment, and preferably beyond that legal nuclear weapons capabilities such as those Japan, Brazil, Canada, Germany and many other countries have is a waste of time.

  2. Over 99% of Iranians have no interests in war, nuclear weapons and fighting anyone. They, just like most Americans just want to work, provide for their families, have a few extras, have some fun and live. I worked in Iran for over a year and met many great peoples. Also have a few Iranian friends in America.

    It’s only the insane leaders and politicians that use war and the Military-Industrial Complex to increase their wealth and power, continuing their insanity.

    The American Government is broken and most politicians are insane: puppets to the insane billionaires, multiple millionaires and their families, corporations and their Military Industrial Complex.

    Americans are waking up and will not accept government by the insane Democrats or Republicans any longer. Obama, the insane puppet.

    The 2012 American Spring movements will include Occupy the White House or Occupy Congress.

    The 3rd Parties must stop their childish quibbling and unite to replace the rule of America by the insane.

  3. “They have the capability to block the Strait of Hormuz where over a sixth of world oil exports and more than 80 per cent of the exports from the Persian Gulf region pass.”

    Has this assertion not been thoroughly debunked?

  4. Is Obama capable of making these concessions to Iran? Realistically, is this something the president can actually do?

  5. With all due respect to Prof Jahanpour, this is pretty much conventional wisdom amongst the rational non-aligned. What we need are concrete ideas and approaches to be pursued, not to be convinced that to somehow do so would be the far wiser course.

    So, what about some ideas about ideas about how Obama (or more likely, some smart Scandinavians), might be about to cut this ever-tightening slipknot, given the momentum and the forces that would be arrayed against them?

  6. As one who is unfortunately convinced that humans are too stupid for their smarts, and are consequently a dead-end species, whether via global warming or nuclear winter or the creation of a world where autonomous, self-repairing, self-replicating war machines ethnic-cleanse us protoplasmic pests off the planet a la “Terminator,” I say to heck with the effete-ism.

    This is the time of the Networked Battlsepace, the apparent, self-defeating hegemony of the bureaucratized war-worshipers. It’s Pentagon turned Octagon, without any of the rules that say you can’t kick ’em in the crotch or gouge their eyes or choke-hold them to death. With no referees, and an avid, violent audience cheering every decapitating blow. A bunch of barflies, pumped up with beer muscles, just aching for a fight, especially this coming one that will let “us” erase the sour taste of multi-trillion-dollar helping of DEFEAT just handed out by them hajji-towelheads in Iraq, and the long slow fade to yet another proof of the futility of the whole MIC and national-security-“diplomacy” apparatus in Notagainistan. Myth of “our” superiority of arms, meet my friend Reality…

    So let’s get it on, already, and get it over with! The waiting is so damn frustrating, for the closet worshipers of Kali and Shiva and their Christian and Muslim and Jewish analogues…

  7. If the POTUS could convince Israel to join a non-nuclear group,as every other country in the region wants, including of course Iran, it would be a miracle.
    It cannot be true that Obama was “ambushed”, yet would seem weak to refuse Israel’s immoral demands- it would be the only strong thing he has done in three years. Would it not be worth stopping this potential, avoidable catastrophe? Just say no to any further aggression, stop the war crime sanctions, work with Iran!!.

  8. This is a useful article, but I find it dangerously misleading to make the kind of remark that was cited in it to the effect that Iran must be offered the opportunity “to climb down.” Rather, it is Israeli and U.S. war party ideologues who need to climb down.

    First, it is Israel that, with a decision made in madness, introduced nukes to the Mideast. Second, it is Israel that has a foreign policy based on superior force rather than diplomacy designed to create positive-sum outcomes. Third, Iran is, so far, doing no more than North Korea, Pakistan, India…and of course far less than Israel. Fourth, Iran is under threat and has every reason to believe such threats would not end no matter how transparent its nuclear policy. Fifth, Iran has been under threat from (in order) Russia, Britain, the U.S., and Israel for most of the past two hundred years, so regardless of the facts, it is quite understandable that Iranians might perceive threats.

    Just take one example: Iran would like nothing better than to sell its oil, so it is never going to buy Washington’s statements that the U.S. naval armada is off Iran’s Persian Gulf coast to protect international oil tankers. If the U.S. would permit peaceful oil trade by all nations bordering the Persian Gulf, who would threaten it? Certainly not Iran.

    This is not about nukes. It is about the right of countries to pursue independent foreign policies. No surrender is called for on either side; no one needs to suffer defeat. The contest is about being allowed to take a different path. It is Washington and Tel Aviv that need to “climb down” from their insistence upon special privileges for themselves. At that point, the glimmer of a negotiated solution would magically appear through the mists of hubris and propaganda.

  9. IRI Not IRan will never give up its nuclear program after watching what happend to Gahdaffi (persian spelling). The only way IRI can guarantee not being toppled from within is by developing nuclear weapons. Developing nuclear weapons is to lessen the success of any popular uprising againt the regime not to attack Israel or using its weapons against its neighbors. With developing nuclear weapons/capability the regime ensure that no external powers can help/aid the looming revolution into its successful conclusion because they know they are certain that they won’t hesitate to kill half of the population if they have to to preserve their power. The regime will never enter into any meaningful negotiation to stop its nuclear program for it would be suicidal if they did not develope their nuclear program…

  10. Sanctions are a legitimate and effective measure against a government that is elected by the populace (as opposed to dictatorships).

    The anger in the Middle East is not over sanctions per se but because of the blatant double standard that this form of neo-colonialism applies: one law for us the enlightened, another law for the natives. That is what enables this macabre situation when the country pushing for sanctions and war against Iran is one that is not signed on NPT and is holding an unsupervised nuclear arsenal. It is such chutzpa and is so blatant that everybody ignores it as if it is the natural order of things.

    If you want to apply sanctions, do it evenly, not one law for the “enlightened” and another for the “savages”.

  11. Cyber basiji are paid $7 and hour

    “A conservative cleric blogger based in the holy Shiite city of Qum, Ahmad Najimi, said in his blog last week that the government was paying hackers hired in the network known as the “Cyber Army” the equivalent of $7 per hour to swarm the Web with positive comments about the Islamic
    Republic and post negative comments against dissidents.”


    link to online.wsj.com

  12. IF the 99% could regain control of government in the USA and also if the 99% are tired of stupid and unnecessary and extremely costly wars, THEN (in both the logical sense and the time sense) we could avoid this war.

    But the time-scales seem wrong. The 99% has 20-50 years to go and the war is on a short fuse.

    (Put on our helmets?) (Put our cars in storage — no gs?)

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