By Vijay Prashad. This article was first published on Gazette Net.
NORTHAMPTON — Why anyone would oppose the Iran deal bewilders the imagination. Short of this deal lies a war with Iran. If the West wants a war with Iran, then the deal is a terrible idea. If the West does not wish a war against Iran, the deal is necessary.
Iran’s nuclear program was built on the U.S. government’s Atoms for Peace project of the 1950s. A member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has followed most of the protocols for the creation of a nuclear energy sector.
Unlike Iran, India and Israel — both seen by the U.S. as allies — are not members of the NPT or the IAEA, have nuclear weapons not merely nuclear energy and are therefore international scofflaws. Yet, it is Iran that faced a sanctions regime and threats from the West and Israel.
Why was Iran treated differently than India and Israel? The only possible answer is Iran’s position in the map of Western interests. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 seriously threatened the Gulf Arab monarchies because it provided a non-monarchical Islamic form of government.
In 1980, the West and the Gulf Arabs egged on Iraq into its fratricidal war against Iran, pushing Iran into regional isolation. President Jimmy Carter’s doctrine suggested that the defense of the Gulf Arab monarchies is tantamount to the defense of the United States itself. The axis of Gulf Arabs and the West against Iran had been set before any Israeli intervention.
George W. Bush’s War on Terror unwittingly knocked out Iran’s two historic adversaries — Afghanistan’s Taliban (2001) and Iraq’s Ba’ath Party (2003). This enabled Iran to stretch its wings outward and seek regional influence. Several regional wars, including Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, attempted to put the Iranians back into their straitjacket. None succeeded.
It was the bogey of the sanctions regime (2006 onwards) that was crafted to bring Iran to its knees. This was not about any nuclear threat. IAEA reports from the mid-2000s provided no evidence of any illegal Iranian nuclear program, as shown by journalist Gareth Porter in his “Manufactured Crisis” (Just World Books, 2014). The U.S. State Department nonetheless wanted to pressure IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei to remain silent about discrepancies between IAEA findings and those of the Central Intelligence Agency (tainted as it in the lead-up to the Iraq war).
The sanctions regime, the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s computer network and the killing of Iranian scientists provoked Tehran into non-negotiation with the IAEA. The standoff, which the neoconservatives wanted, emerged.
Was Iran ever on the road toward a nuclear weapon? In 2005, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a decree against nuclear weapons. This fatwa followed an important one from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in December 1987 against chemical weapons. This is a significant ruling, because it came after Iraq used chemical weapons (components of which were supplied by the West) against Iranian troops on several occasions. Joost Hiltermann’s “A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq and the Gassing of Halabja” (Cambridge, 2007) provides the riposte to those who suggest that it was Iran that used chemical weapons in that terrible war.
It is certainly true that Iran hid parts of its program in the late 2000s from the IAEA, but this is not unusual. Old ideas of Westphalian sovereignty drive modern states to be jealous of their territorial control (it is likely this that provoked Saddam Hussein to play cat and mouse with the UN inspectors, not the presence of any dangerous weapons — since there were none in 2002-03).
When the U.S. first attacked the Taliban in 2001, Iran provided crucial support in western Afghanistan. That collusion was valuable for the troops, but it stopped when George W. Bush — surprisingly — put Iran on his “Axis of Evil” list.
Iran is the most important ally for Iraq and has substantial influence in Kabul. It has close links to the Syrian government. Pipelines and train lines run through Iran toward China, financed by India, China and Turkey. China, Russia and other Asian states have substantial commercial interests in Iran, as do the Europeans. Iran is a major player in the anti-ISIS war. In Iraq and parts of Syria, it provides the logistical and strategic support for the war-weary Iraqi and Syrian troops. To lead, as the U.S. believes, a war against ISIS without Iran on board is farcical. Iran’s isolation as a result of the Western and UN sanctions is fated to end whether the U.S. ratifies the deal or not.
Neither Sens. Charles Charles Schumer nor Bob Menendez have provided a credible answer to the question — if the deal does not go through, is the United States willing to go to war against a country of 80 million people?
If you think West Asia is in the midst of dangerous chaos now, a Western and Israeli attack on Iran would let fly from Pandora’s box what evils remain yet in slumber.
Vijay Prashad, director of International Studies at Trinity College, is the editor of “Letters to Palestine” (Verso). He lives in Northampton.