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Why Doesn’t the US Talk to Iran?

The unrelenting diplomatic and geopolitical standoff between Iran and the United States is often blamed on the Iranian government for its “confrontational” foreign policies, or its “unwillingness” to enter into a dialogue with the United States. Little known, however, is the fact that during the past decade or so, Iran has offered a number of times to negotiate with the United States without ever getting a positive response from the U.S.

The best known of such efforts at dialogue, which came to be known as Iran’s “grand bargain” proposal, was made in May 2003. The two-page proposal for a broad Iran-U.S. understanding, covering all issues of mutual concern, was transmitted to the U.S. State Department through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran. Not only did the State Department not respond to Iran’s negotiating offer but, as reporter Gareth Porter points out, it indeed “rebuked the Swiss ambassador for having passed on the offer.”

Since then Iran has made a number of other efforts at negotiation, the latest of which was made by President Ahmadinejad ahead of his recent (2010) trip to the United States to attend the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly. Regrettably, once again the United States ignored President Ahmadinejad’s overture of meeting with President Obama during his UN visit.

The question is why? Why have successive U.S. administrations been reluctant to enter into a conflict-resolution dialogue with Iran, which could clearly be in the national interests of the United States?

The answer, in a nutshell, is that U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, is driven not so much by broad national interests as they are by narrow but powerful special interests—interests that seem to prefer war and militarism to peace and international understanding. These are the nefarious interests that are vested in military industries and related “security” businesses, notoriously known as the military-industrial complex. These beneficiaries of war dividends would not be able to justify their lion’s share of our tax dollars without “external enemies” or “threats to our national interests.”

Embezzlement of the lion’s share of the national treasury was not a difficult act to perform during the Cold War era because the pretext for continued increases in military spending—the “communist threat”—seemed to conveniently lie at hand. Justification of increased military spending in the post–Cold War period, however, has prompted the military-security interests to be more creative in inventing (or manufacturing, if necessary) “new sources of danger to U.S. interests.”

Thus, when the collapse of the Soviet system and the subsequent discussions of “peace dividends” in the United States threatened the interests of the military-industrial conglomerates, their representatives invented “new threats to U.S. interests” and successfully substituted them for the “threat of communism” of the Cold War era. These “new, post-Cold War sources of threat” are said to stem from the so-called “rogue states,” “global terrorism” and “Islamic fundamentalism.” Demonization of Iran and/or President Ahmadinejad can be better understood in this context.

Now, it may be argued that if it is true that beneficiaries of war-dividends need external enemies in order to justify their unfair share of national treasury, why Iran? Why of all places is Iran targeted as such an enemy? Isn’t there something wrong with the Iranian government and/or President Ahmadinejad’s policies in challenging the world’s superpower knowing that this would be a case of David challenging Goliath, that it would cause diplomatic pressure, military threats and economic sanctions on Iran?

These are indeed the kind of questions that the “Greens” and other critics of Ahmadinejad’s government ask, rhetorical questions that tend to blame Iran for the brutal economic sanctions and military threats against that country—in effect, blaming the victim for the crimes of the perpetrator. Labeling President Ahmadinejad’s policies as “rash,” “adventurous” and “confrontational,” Mir Hossein Mousavi and other leaders of the “greens” frequently blame those polices for external military and economic pressures on Iran. Accordingly, they seek “understanding” and “accommodation” with the United States and its allies, presumably including Israel, in order to achieve political and economic stability. While, prima facie, this sounds like a reasonable argument, it suffers from a number of shortcomings.

To begin with, it is a disingenuous and obfuscationist argument. Military threats and economic sanctions against Iran did not start with Ahmadinejad’s presidency; they have been imposed on Iran for more than thirty years, essentially as punishment for its 1979 revolution that ended the imperial U.S. influence over its economic, political and military affairs. It is true that the criminal sanctions have been steadily escalated, significantly intensified in recent months. But that is not because Ahmadinejad occasionally lashes out at imperialist/Zionist policies in the region; it is rather because Iran has refused to give in to the imperialistic dictates of the U.S. and its allies.

Second, it is naïve to think that U.S. imperialism would be swayed by gentle or polite language to lift economic sanctions or remove military threats against Iran. During his two terms in office (8 years), the former president of Iran Muhammad Khatami frequently spoke of “dialogue of civilizations,” counterposing it to the U.S. Neoconservatives’ “clash of civilization,” effectively begging the Unites States for dialogue and diplomatic rapprochement between Iran and the United States. His pleas of dialogue and friendship, however, fell on deaf ears. Why?

Because U.S. policy toward Iran (or any other country, for that matter) is based on an imperialistic agenda that consists of a series of demands or expectations, not on diplomatic decorum, or the type of language its leaders use. These include Iran’s giving up its lawful and legitimate right to civilian nuclear technology, opening up its public domain and/or state-owned industries to debt-leveraging and privatization schemes of the predatory finance capital of the West, as well as its compliance with the U.S.-Israeli geopolitical designs in the Middle East. It is not unreasonable to argue that once Iran allowed U.S. input, or meddling, into such issue of national sovereignty, it would find itself on a slippery slope the bottom of which would be giving up its independence: the U.S. would not be satisfied until Iran becomes another “ally” in the Middle East, more or less like Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the like.

It is ironic that Green leaders such as Mousavi, Rafsanjani and Khatami blame Ahmadinejad for the hostile imperialist policies toward Iran. For, as mentioned above, U.S. imperialism showed its most venomous hostility toward Iran during the presidency of Khatami while he was vigorously pursuing a path of friendship with the United States. While Khatami was promoting his “dialogue of civilizations” and taking conciliatory steps to befriend the U.S., including cooperation in the overthrow of the Taliban regime in the neighboring Afghanistan, the U.S. labeled Iran as a member of the “axis of evil.” This outrageous demonization was then used as a propaganda tool to intensify economic sanctions and justify calls for “regime change” in Iran.

In the face of President Khatami’s conciliatory gestures toward the United States, many Iranians were so outraged by its unfair and provocative attitude toward Iran that they began to question the wisdom of Khatami’s policy of trying to appease U.S. imperialism. It is now widely believed that the frustration of many Iranians with Khatami’s (one-sided) policy of dialogue with the United States played a major role in the defeat of his reformist allies in both the 2003 parliamentary elections and the 2005 presidential election. By the same token, it also played a major role in the rise of Ahmadinejad to Iran’s presidency, as he forcefully criticized the reformists’ attitude toward U.S. imperialism as naïve, arguing that negotiation with the United States must be based on mutual respect, not at the expense of Iran’s sovereignty. (For a detailed discussion of these and related issues please see “Reflecting on Iran’s Presidential Election.”)

In its drive to provoke, destabilize and (ultimately) change the Iranian government to its liking, U.S. imperialism finds a steadfast ally in the Zionist regime of Israel. There is an unspoken, de facto alliance between the U.S. military-industrial complex and militant Zionist forces—an alliance that might be called the military-industrial-security-Zionist alliance. More than anything else, the alliance is based on a convergence of interests on militarism and war in the Middle East, especially against Iran; as Iran is the only country in the region that systematically and unflinchingly exposes both the imperialist schemes of Western powers and expansionist designs of radical Zionism.

Just as the powerful beneficiaries of war dividends view international peace and stability inimical to their business interests, so too the hard-line Zionist proponents of “greater Israel” perceive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors perilous to their goal of gaining control over the Promised Land. The reason for this fear of peace is that, according to a number of the United Nations’ resolutions, peace would mean Israel’s return to its pre-1967 borders, that is, withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But because proponents of “greater Israel” are unwilling to withdraw from these territories, they are therefore fearful of peace and genuine dialogue with their Arab neighbors—hence, their continued disregard for UN resolutions and their systematic efforts at sabotaging peace negotiations.

So, the answer to the question “why is Iran targeted?” boils down to this: because Iran has broken the mold, so to speak, the pattern of imperialist domination in the Middle East (and beyond). Iran’s only “sin” (from the viewpoint of imperialist powers) is that it tries to be an independent, sovereign nation. All other alleged “offenses” such as pursuit of nuclear weapons or support for terrorism have proven by now to be harebrained excuses that are designed to punish Iran for trying to exercise its national rights as a sovereign country.

Under the influence of the hawkish Neoconservative pressure groups (representing the interests of the military-industrial-Zionist forces) the U.S. has cornered itself into a position that is afraid of talking to Iran because if it does, all of its long-standing accusations against that country would be automatically exposed as lies and baseless allegations. It is in the nature of lying that forces the liar to continuously tell more lies in order to cover the previous lies; more or less similar to the situation of a bike rider who needs to keep pedaling ahead in order to keep from falling down. Furthermore, the powerful military-industrial-security-Zionist interests need Iran as an enemy in order to justify continued increases in military spending and continued occupation of Palestinian land.

It is worth noting here that while the powerful special interests that are vested in the military-security capital benefit from (and therefore tend to advocate) war and military adventures in the Middle East, the broader, but less-cohesive, interests that are vested in civilian, or non-military, capital tend to incur losses in global markets as a result of such military adventures.  Evidence shows that foreign policy-induced losses of the U.S. market share in global markets are huge. Militaristic American foreign policy is viewed by international consumers as a significant negative. Representatives of the broad-based civilian industries are aware of the negative economic consequences of the militarization of U.S. foreign policy. And that’s why leading non-military business/trade associations such as The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and U.S.A*Engage (a coalition of nearly 800 small and large businesses, agriculture groups and trade associations working to seek alternatives to the proliferation of aggressive U.S. foreign policy actions) have expressed disappointment at the recently expanded U.S. sanctions against Iran on the grounds that such sanctions would significantly undermine U.S. national interests.

Sadly, however, U.S. foreign policy decisions, especially in the Middle East, seem to be driven not so much by broad national interests as they are by narrow (but powerful) special interests, not so much by “peace dividends” as they are by “war dividends.” These powerful special interests, represented largely by the military-security-AIPAC forces, tend to perceive international peace and stability, especially in the Middle East, as detrimental to their nefarious interests. Instead, they seem to prefer an atmosphere of war and militarism in order to justify their lion’s share of our national treasury, or their occupation of Palestinian land. This explains, perhaps more than anything else, the unjust demonization of Iran and the relentless preparations for an all-out war on that country. If this argument sounds like a conspiracy theory, it is not because it is false; rather, it is because the U.S.-Zionist policies in the Middle East are so evil that they defy tender logic, civilized comprehension, or decent human intuition.

Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, author of The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave-Macmillan 2007), teaches economics at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa.

Karla Hansen, director-producer of Silent Screams, is a social worker and peace activist from Des Moines, Iowa.

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