The Iran/US Rapproachment Dance

It is customary in an Iranian wedding ceremony, when asked, “Do you take this man?”, for the bride to not answer “Yes!” the first time the question is posed. By tradition, the bride, but not the groom, is asked the signifying question three times. To show her proper upbringing, she must wait until the third time before answering ‘Yes!’ Otherwise, she may come off seeming too eager, not ladylike, not coy enough, aggressive or too enthusiastic (implying further bad things), way too much in a hurry, not able or patient enough to observe the proper decorum. Not good.

The Obama administration’s recent overtures for a reconciliation with Iran have come in the form of sweet talk of opening up of fisted hands, accompanied with a quotation from the wily and clever Sa’di, one of our more popular poets (1184-1283?). The initial Iranian responses to these Obama overtures are starting to resemble the coy Iranian bride’s ladylike silence upon first being asked if she would take the man.

Initial reactions from the Iranian government were predictable rebukes and denunciations to the effect that nothing has changed in reality, that the Americans should draw some lessons from their past and present behavior if they really want better relations with Iran. Yet, the Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, left open the possibility that the Americans can and may change their attitude, in which case the Iranians likewise will change theirs; which is to say, “Keep talking! I’m listening.”

Of course, the Iranian government would like nothing better than to have full and complete recognition from the global bully, a recognition that comes with a guarantee of unfettered turf and a ticket to actual and concrete cooperative joint projects with the global bully in regional matters, such as in ‘stabilizing’ Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Iranians can play a substantial role in furthering the agenda set out by the global bully. But, of course, the Iranians cannot come out and just say it like that. They have to play coy, or actually, even pissed off a bit initially, demanding the unfreezing of assets, the stopping of economic embargo and the hostile language; basically, demanding the stoppage of all abusive behavior, and a show of some real sweetness before this principled and pious bride is convinced that she can live comfortably within the coming union of objectives.

One of the signs of attitude change the Iranian side expects to see, one of the most obvious, is the un-freezing of the their assets held in American banks. This can easily be arranged without any loss of face on the part of the Americans, since not a really big deal, yet can be used in Iran as the proof that the Americans are starting to step on the righteous path and yielding to the Iranian people’s demands. This in turn will lead to more open Iranian cooperation with, say, the NATO, providing them whatever help they can in the war against Afghanistan. In time, further concrete measures will be taken to bring the two states closer.

But, the ‘bringing closer’ of the two states will only work as long as the union is beneficial to the imperialists. As long as the major interests of the imperialists are reinforced and fortified, they will have no problem throwing around some crumbs.

Signs of relational improvements between the two sides have already manifested themselves. “[A] meeting took place on March 9 between NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Martin Erdmann and Iran’s Ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union, Ali-Asghar Khaji,” (see: There is also the invitation offered to Iran (and Iran’s acceptance) to participate in a NATO-organized international conference, held on March 31, to deal with the war in Afghanistan.

And, as pertains to some of the things the Iranian government would like to see done by the American side, we have seen the throwing to the wolves of about 3,500 members of an Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin (or Mojaheddin-e Khalq-e), camped for the past twenty years in a military compound north of Baghdad, some 50 miles from the Iranian border. This organization has been a major irritant to the Iranian regime ever since 1980. The Mojahedin in Iraq have been told their camp will be moved to a location far removed from the border and much more remote, and that they will have to leave Iraq. Their presence in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussain had been tolerated by the invaders and, presumably, held as a card to be used in any potential negotiations with the Iranian government. It seems that card is now in play.

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The support base of the current Iranian state — this particular form of government, a post-modern capitalist theocracy — comprises a host of actors with a variety of socio-political backgrounds.

Internally and on the far right, there are obviously the obsessive, clerical advocates and functionaries of this despotic, religiously based state apparatus, and they have their own ideologically correct armies in the Basiji Forces and the Revolutionary Guards (which are separate from the regular armed forces), as well as in loose networks of religious vigilantes. They also have allies across the higher academia and the larger educational system, in the judiciary, in the majlis (parliament), and they control a substantial amount of print and electronic media (and theirs never get shut down by the government).

But not all theocrats are extremist zealots dependent on a cocktail of one part ideology mixed with three parts bullying. Khatami, to name an internationally known ‘moderate’, is a representative of another strand of theocrats, those with a gentler face (and their ‘reformist’ newspapers regularly get shut down; theocrats can’t even fully tolerate their own!). As the reader may well know, the moderates have been more vocal, and for a longer time, about finding it reasonable to have relations with the Great Satan as long as those relations are based on respect. Khatami famously advocated a ‘Conversation between civilizations’.  But, ‘hardliners’ too welcome better relations and even cooperation with the Great Satan. Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said that relations with the U.S. are welcome as long as some face saving issues are addressed. And the most recent contacts between Western and Iranian diplomats, lest we forget, did occur under his presidency. Of course, Iran observers and Iranian people know that the Supreme Leader has the final say on all matters and the thumbs-up to diplomatic contacts must have come from him. But, he too is considered a ‘hard-liner’.

The theocratic state apparatuses have their backs watched by ideological armed forces of their own but, more significantly, they make great use of the state run foundations that form an echelon-specific welfare state, making sure that the relative well being of millions of lower-working class and poor people is directly dependent on the survival of this particular form of government. Additionally, the state can count on the support of the bazaari merchant classes, though merchants may not be the most reliable of the state’s allies since, from time immemorial, they have had their own independent social interests, regardless of who wields the state power. But, it must be said that this particular state has been a particularly good friend of the merchant classes.

Internationally, the Islamic Republic has also built strong alliances. They have very cooperative relations with major western European powers, including France, Germany, and Italy; they have economic and trade ties with the U.K.; their strategy of building trade and bilateral economic alliances with Russia and China, as well as with Japan, South Korea and others, has extended their independence from purely western connections. They have also made sure to create key political alliances with Latin American leftist leaders in countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, which furthers their standing among the left-leaning elements of societies in those countries as well as internationally.

Finally, they have developed a network of international lobbyists cleaning up the Iranian state’s image abroad, trying to win it business as well as parliamentary and congressional allies in Europe and the U.S. In the case of the U.S., beside seeking and securing key business and some Congressional allies, we have seen a particular effort by the Iranian state’s lobbyists since 2004-2005 to neutralize any radical left objections to the Iranian state’s violations of basic human rights, and to preempt any objections to the fact of it being a theocracy; inherently anti-democratic, an abhorrent phenomenon for any Westerner, the inheritors of the Enlightenment project advocating the separation of state and religion.

This is not an insignificant move. Iranian state functionaries have basically clipped the wings of any American leftist critique of the normalization of relations between the U.S. and a theocratic state — a normalization that will most definitely include Iran’s active and direct participation in the American war against the people of Afghanistan, a war opposed by most Americans and anybody who thinks of themselves as being on the left.

So, all in all, one can say the Iranian mullahs have covered most of their bases pretty well. And if their calculations are correct, they are about to load all the bases and hit a home run.

And what calculations are those? They are derived simply from basic facts of human history: as omnipotent as imperialists would like to make themselves look, their powers are not infinite, meaning they are not god, and their wishes are not the only determinants in the calculus of international power relations.

Just like everybody living in the world outside the gated U.S.A, Iranians have eyes and can see that this particularly American global bully — with all the mountains of resources, the trillions of dollars of expenditure on hi-tech armory, ‘intelligence’ and know-how, with a military budgetary might that equals the combined military expenditures of all the rest of the world — cannot successfully pacify an infinitely poor and most devastated country like Afghanistan. Further, the American imperialists have not been able to pacify the people of Iraq; not with mass slaughter nor with creating mini-civil wars and proliferation of death squads, not with incineration of entire cities and neighborhoods, not with open bribery, not even while a great portion of the majority Shiite population of the country is either with them (since the imperialists put their representatives in power) or passively hoping and wishing to hell that they wouldn’t have to take up arms against the imperialists.

Further, in both cases, the U.S. attacked countries that had already been devastated by over a decade of warfare (in the case of Afghanistan, over two decades): of bombings, of economic strangulation, and the destruction of infrastructure.

Iran’s case, in contrast, is greatly different. An attack on Iran would be countered by two sets of armies (the regular, traditional army and the ideological one created after the revolution), a well-fortified military infrastructure totally intact, and by an army of civilian support that will easily swell in ranks to millions in short order (who knows how many thousands or more of even expats and exiles would rush back home to fight the imperialists?).

So, a war against Iran is not in the imperialists’ short to mid-term interests, nor is it their real wish. Not at this point. To use a very crude analogy (with all its pitfalls), when building a tunnel, after you’ve dug for a while, with the completion of each section and before going farther, you need to reinforce each bit of the tunnel just dug. If you don’t, many a dead miners would tell you, you get buried alive when the tunnel collapses.

The permanent foothold into the Middle East and the West- and Central-Asia that the American imperialists have been constructing needs to be reinforced at this point. By recklessly expanding the war further, as some neocon crazies have been espousing, imperialists run the highly explosive risk of having everything blow up in their faces and lose all they have achieved so far, particularly in Iraq.

For those who believe that the Iraq war has been a fiasco, it is worth reviewing the American achievements in their war against the people of Iraq. Those achievements are: destruction of Iraqi society’s structural protections that previously limited and shaped western multinationals’ access to Iraq’s natural and social resources and markets; destruction of Iraq’s taxation regime, and its replacement with one far friendlier to foreign capital investments; destruction of some of the most fundamental rights of Iraqi women, thereby lowering the floor for expected, overall social misery; structural integration of parts of the leadership of the Iraqi society into the American imperial machinery; under the cloak of war, the Iraqi organized labor has been driven further into the ground, to assure it would not pose any serious strategic challenge to the imperialist designs for Iraq; tribalization, or Balkanization, of a unified Iraqi society into religious and ethnic based identities (Shiite’s, Sunni’s, and Kurds); and most importantly, the establishment of an Iraqi government absolutely dependent on the American military and political backing for its survival. For imperialists, these are tangible strategic achievements, not the stuff of ‘utter disaster’, which is how the liberals like to portray the results of the neocons’ policies in Iraq.

But, again, for these achievements to last and become part of the ‘permanent’, long-term and structural setup in the Middle East, they need to be reinforced.

Enter Iran. In the contextual scenario of a global bully wanting more than its might allows, the differences between the Iranian state acting as an outright enemy (which it would have to, the minute an attack against it is launched) and a friendly and cooperative Iran are not small. In fact, the differences are huge, and can make the difference between utter disaster and the possibility of some salvation. Especially at this historical junction, when it comes to the available tools at the disposal of the American imperialists. The crazies may well yell and scream bloody murder, or, “Bomb, bomb Iran,” all they want, but such chest thumping is more like the overjoyed outbursts of a crotchety old, impotent yet macho man momentarily caught up in the euphoric delusion of real potency induced by Viagra.

Social reality has its own dynamics and those dynamics invariably slap all power-wielding idiots in the face equally dispassionately. The Iranian government’s bet has been that at some point the tunnels being burrowed by the Americans into the social life of the region will need their Iranian, able hands in constructing the needed reinforcements.

Of course, more than anybody, the Iranians know that once the reinforcements are built, they themselves may come under a real attack. But, that is always the rub when dealing with imperialists: there are no guarantees. Look at Pakistan and how miserably enslaved she is in the American imperialists’ bear hug.

So, there may be grumblings by the Iranians about the release of their bank assets and the need for a lifting of trade sanctions, as there will surely be demands by the U.S. for Iran to reject ‘terrorism’ (coming from the U.S., that’s balls!) and suspend their ‘nuclear activities’, or to stop their support for ‘terror groups’ such as Hamas and Hezbollah, but by the end of this dance, the bride will say ‘Yes!’ and the gathered celebrators of normalization will happily cheer the newly reconciled into the dark chambers, where big deals shall be made.

But, do not be fooled by either side. Normalization of relations between the U.S. and Iran will have nothing to do with reaching a civilized agreement, in which the U.S. agrees not to interfere in the affairs of the Iranian society and Iran agrees to be nice. Quite the contrary, the normalization will have to be about integrating more methodically the Iranian government’s resources into the ongoing American imperial projects for the region, and this by nature will have to lead to increased U.S. interference in how things are run in Iran.

When social and natural resources of the Iranian society are put into creating a ‘corridor’ for the NATO to transport its supplies to Afghanistan, that must be called what it is in plain language: aiding and abetting the imperialists in their war of aggression in Afghanistan.

Socialists must ask, Why should any amount of the Iranian social wealth be integrated into some sub-section of a NATO planner’s schemes? Gradually and by extension, are we to become a cog in the American imperial military machinery? That cannot be considered progress for the Iranian people. It would be more like the Pakistanization of Iran.

From the standpoint of the Iranian socialists, the best form of relations with the imperialists is no relation at all. That means both no negative or adverse relations (no embargoes, no economic harassment, no military bullying, no diplomatic bullying, no covert interferences, no destruction of any of our resources, human or otherwise), and no so-called positive relations, either (no U.S. corporations in Iran to steal our natural and social resources, no one-sided trade agreements, no shared production agreements in oil industry, ditto for gas resources or any metals and minerals in Iran).

Imperialists do not enter any relations based on equality or respect or any such irrelevant principles. They enter relations of dominance. Only. To not do so is fundamentally against their nature. It should be enough to observe how the Yankee imperialists approach their European allies; not based on equality. So, for the Iranian theocratic state to seriously expect to be treated as an equal by the American imperialists … well, as politically (not to forget romantically) correct as that may be for some, such notions will simply not become operational in the really existing world capitalist system of today. Not by a long shot.

But, a marriage does not have to be one between equals, as most marriages rarely are. Just as in actual marriages anywhere in the world, and especially as is the case with marriages of convenience (which the Iran-U.S. rapprochement will surely be), both sides will continue to pretend that all is worth the sacrifices made internally and externally, both will do their best to keep up the pretenses, no matter how awkward it may become at times to keep appearances and hold things together. But, hold things together they will, because bigger objectives are at stake.

For the U.S., the bigger objectives at stake include the continuation of its project of tunnel building into the deep structures of social life in the Middle East as well as West- and Central-Asia. For the Iranian theocrats, the larger goals include a much awaited sigh of relief, a reprieve for sure, and the golden opportunity to bring water for the global bully in a fashion that saves face and assures the expansion of Iran’s own regional power plays.

Alas, happy together and happily ever after they shall not live. This one will be a messy marriage, filled with sour bickering about past affairs, past abuses and aggressions, past failings of character and failures to allow for possibilities of better lives; there shall be arguments over current flaws, current neglects and continued abuses. There will, for sure, be some trouble over wife number one, Israel, that the U.S. keeps in the same neighborhood. Expect major catfights.

So, all in all, this Iran-U.S. rapprochement dance will make for a very entertaining but overall abusive relationship to be worked out, as well as observed and chronicled. Brace yourselves and try not to be too taken by the bickering coming down the line. It’s all about uniting over a miserable cause anyway.

REZA FIYOUZAT can be reached at:

Reza Fiyouzat may be contacted at: