I am not an expert on Iran (or for that matter, anything else), but it is clear that the US and Israel alike fear its autonomy as a factor in structuring the political-military situation in the Middle East and global power-relations in general. America is Israel’s ally, obviously; less obvious, the US thereby has established a sphere of influence in the region, beyond considerations of oil, which allows it a viable military presence to gain influence (i.e., attempt to regulate internal affairs to its own advantage) over a far wider sweep of territory. Djibouti with its drone base is both symbol and concrete example of the US presence and penetration, taking in North Africa, Southern Europe, and, meanwhile, partially checking Russia in the region and forming a jumping-off place for directly pressuring China, from West to East (the Obama Pacific-First strategy, already backed by naval power and long-range aircraft, exerting even stronger pressure, East to West). In sum, the Middle East (a) must be left a cauldron so as to provide pretext for US military activity, and (b), become the geopolitical center for confronting, simultaneously, Russia and China. Iran’s neutralization (if not worse) is the precondition for both.
It ill-behooves Israel to obstruct a settlement, given its own nuclearization of armed power, wrapped in absolute secrecy, but that is expected, its democratic pretensions long ago abandoned, not only with respect to the Palestinians, but also, aligning with world Rightist currents against indigenous popular movements and struggles. Its capacity for stirring the pot of international conflict, the US its compliant servant, is boundless. Yet, compliant servant or not, the US, in reciprocal fashion, uses Israel for its own grandiose ends, the aforementioned geopolitical framework a case in point. US hegemony, a phase truly operable only for the half-century following World War Two, has come to an unceremonious end, with the rise and reality of a multipolar world capable of resisting American unilateral leadership. The massive eavesdropping is symptomatic of US desperation in resisting dislodgement from the top of the power pyramid. And the flashes of anger in response is itself indication that the “friends and allies” theme, in order to marshal military and diplomatic support for US interventions, is starting to wear thin.
The Colossus of Washington, despite its comparative youth in world historical terms, is now becoming senescent, its industrial capacity diminishing, its infrastructure crumbling, etc., only its military power enlarging—America, a fearful, neurotic shell, and volatile core. Other nations are already planning areas of disengagement, to which the US in its determined quest for forcing European and Pacific Trading Partnerships (again, on its own terms, e.g., no restriction on tobacco products in the Far East), is making reply—in the long-term, to what avail? Obama’s blatant militarism, as in armed-drone assassination and fuller employment of paramilitary operations directed to hemispheric supervision and regime change in general, will not suffice to stave off political-economic-ideological decline in the world (while making ideological conformity at home a number-one priority, as a cloak to cover militarily-aggressive policies abroad and the failure of societal democratization in America).
Why, then, Iran? In part, the US declining fortunes fosters the conviction in falling-domino theory. It becomes imperative to take stands, to enhance the nation’s “credibility,” as when Obama draws red lines in the sand verifying his and America’s credentials of toughness. Failure to stand up to Iran invites charges of weakness (yes, the Cold-War mentality is alive and well in 21st century America). But then there is China, and perhaps, collectively, Latin America, and the European Union—where will it all end? A further explanation for why Iran, turns on the obverse of the falling-domino theory, the militarization of American capitalism: Strangelovian juices are needed to keep the system operating at supposedly peak-performance, although given the inevitable military outlays, the social safety net will suffer and class-differentiation will widen dramatically. Hold the line, therefore! Prevent Iran from loosening the noose around its neck, and keep Israel, and now more vocally, Saudi Arabia, happy, at the same time, warning Russia and China the Exclusive Superpower is here to stay, prepared to move pieces around the chess board of power politics in order to maintain that status.
My New York Times Comments on Michael R. Gordon and Mark Landler, “Roadblocks Remain as Officials Work Toward Iranian Nuclear Pact” (Nov. 8), and Landler and Gordon, “Talks With Iran Fail to Produce a Nuclear Agreement” (Nov. 10), follow:
Before praising POTUS and Sec. Kerry for taking a more constructive stance on Iran, we should step back and recognize that Catherine Ashton in forcing the US hand is performing a similar role to that of Putin, in preventing a US attack on Syria. In both cases, the US sanctions regime, and bombing Syria, the world community (minus Israel and the Saudis, themselves strange bedfellows) would strongly disapprove AND no doubt the EU would no longer cooperate on sanctions.
The US/Israel hard line on Iran is destined to fail. Obama and Kerry realize this, Netanyahu, in his brazen disregard for world opinion, does not. Israeli belligerence further confirms its growing pariah status in the international community. Thrown out of UNESCO and continuing settlement constructions suggest a savoring of that status, the desire to be a world spoiler. It’s not working.
Given Obama and Kerry’s sordid record on intervention, drone assassination, and the globalization of market fundamentalism (trade agreements, both Europe and the Pacific Partnerships), it is clear that the US is adamant about national self-interest, so that this break in the clouds with respect to Iran is less to their credit than it is testimony to EU disgust with US policymaking. NSA global eavesdropping is, of course, a factor in that disgust. Like Israel, America, by its actions, is fast losing friends–perhaps soon we will see the breakup of NATO. The Saudi-Israeli stance on Iran and Syria will also prove harmful.
It is hard for a nation to negotiate with a gun pointed to its head. Rather than a quid pro quo, I should like to see the EU, with or without US blessings, break ranks and lift for a set period the oil embargo and economic sanctions–say, three months of total abrogation of the sanctions regime, which lifts the gun and allows Iran to maintain its honor while moving toward compromise and/or agreement.
The two obvious spoilers are Israel and the US Congress, neither of which should be allowed to wreck a settlement, although, patently, neither wants other than extreme punitiveness with respect to Iran. The world must move on, the spoilers notwithstanding. Iran perceives itself being ganged up on, and with its new leadership it deserves the chance to resume membership in the international community. Sanctions hurt not a government, but the people–we have no data on the suffering incurred, but a whole generation feels the pain, a condition which can only result in long-term hostility and a push toward extremism.
Netanyahu and Obama (with Kerry the messenger boy) seek a Middle East paradigm entirely one-sided, ensuring perpetual conflict in the region.
Norman Pollack is the author of The Populist Response to Industrial America (Harvard) and The Just Polity (Illinois), The Humane Economy, The Just Polity, ed. The Populist Mind, and co-ed. with Frank Freidel, Builders of American Institutions. Guggenheim Fellow. Prof. Emeritus, History, Michigan State. He is currently writing The Fascistization of America: Liberalism, Militarism, Capitalism. E-mail: email@example.com.