Stopping War in Iraq & Iran: Why Not Ask for More?
Joseph Gerson is Director of Programs of the American Friends Service Committee and author of the forthcoming Empire and the Bomb: How the United States Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World.
The Chinese say opportunity lies in crisis, and Leonard Cohen long ago wrote, "Why not ask for more?" The crisis is that Bush threatened war with Iran in his speech of January 10th, and even many Republicans are increasingly scared that Bush and Cheney will instigate a war against Iran.
Republican Senator Hagel, while questioning Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the next day, even warned Bush against attempting to distract the country a lá Nixon's invasion of Cambodia, calling Bush's threats against Iran the "most dangerous foreign policy blunder since Vietnam." In the face of this looming crisis, we need to go beyond opposing the escalation of war in Iraq, and begin to insist on the need to transform US policy towards the region.
In addition, there is no reasonable hope for a modicum of stability in Iraq without serious diplomatic engagement with Iran. So, when I trooped up Capital Hill with fifty or more Massachusetts activists to lobby Congress the Monday after the January 27, 2007 March on Washington Against the US war in Iraq, my role was to press the importance of US engagement in regional diplomacy. Everything possible must be done to prevent a US war against Iran.
I let the Congressional staffers know that I had been encouraged by Senator Webb's endorsement of the Iraq Study Group's recommendation to make a serious commitment to regional diplomacy in order to end the US occupation and Iraqi civil war and to facilitate a US withdrawal.
Nevertheless, we need to think beyond the Iraq Study Group's important but limited vision. In fact, most of the elements for a grand Middle East bargain are in place -- not unlike the foreign policy realists' gemstone, the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 (which ended decades of religio-political warfare). The question is whether there is a will to work for it. Such a bargain wouldn't be pretty. It would stabilize and reinforce the power of repressive and undemocratic governments, including those of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Israel, and Egypt, and wouldn't end US Middle East hegemony. But, it could help bring the Iraqi civil war to an end, prevent a wider regional war, and facilitate the US withdrawal from Iraq.
In the weeks before we marched around the Capitol building in DC on January 27, President Bush dispatched a second nuclear-capable aircraft carrier fleet to the Persian Gulf. The Bush Administration had warned that no options -- including a first strike nuclear attack -- had been ruled out. John Edwards, while campaigning for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, urged, "To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table." Hillary Clinton echoed Edwards' threat.
There are understandable fears that, as with the Vietnam-era "Tonkin Gulf incident" and the Bush Administration's lies used to justify its catastrophic invasion of Iraq, there could be an incident manufactured to serve as a casus belli to initiate military attacks against Iran. The most frequently cited scenario has US helicopters "drifting" into Iranian air space and being shot down, "necessitating" a massive US military response.
The US occupation and the civil war in Iraq have been disastrous not only for the Iraqi people but, much like the origins of World War I, there is also a growing possibility of its metastasizing into a wider regional war. Iraq is at what Eqbal Ahmad described as the "geopolitical center of the struggle for world power."
Throughout the 20th century, Iraq served as a keystone of the imperial structure of power. That keystone has now been shattered in what is widely seen as the greatest strategic blunder in US history. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld have delivered southern Iraq, including much of Baghdad, to the Iranian sphere of influence.
In the wake of more than a millennium of Sunni-Shia tension and conflict, 20th century Iraq functioned as a Sunni barrier to contain Shia Islam and as an Arab barrier to contain Persia (Iran). The current regional power vacuum has generated a renewed regional struggle for power and dominance. The Saudi government has threatened to intervene in Iraq's many-sided civil war.
The Bush Administration is now building a regional Sunni alliance to contain Iran. King Abdullah of Jordan has warned of possible civil wars in Lebanon and Palestine. Shia demands in Bahrain are growing. Potentially far more destabilizing for the Middle East and the world as a whole is the reality that approximately two million Shia who live in the oil-rich Eastern districts of Saudi Arabia have endured decades of discriminatory treatment at the hands of the dominant Sunni population (over 90% of the country is Sunni).
US dominance of the region's oil has been an essential element to its economic and global dominance. Yet the insurgencies and civil war in Iraq, and Iran's nuclear program, all threaten US Middle East hegemony and the global power and privilege that flow from it.
On the nuclear front, Mohammed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Association, has urged a better way forward. He has called for simultaneous concessions to resolve the nuclear crisis with Iran. He is pressing for the suspension of the implementation of sanctions against Iran, while Tehran would put on hold its plans to vastly increase its capabilities to enrich uranium. This, he believes, would open the way for serious negotiations to prevent US or Israeli attacks against Iran's nuclear infrastructure, and would also prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.
At this writing, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's star appears to be fading, and Tehran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larjani, has asked for time to study ElBaradei's proposal. The US should certainly be signaling its support for the dual suspension proposal.
Looking beyond ElBaradei's proposal and the Iraq Study Group report, what might a grand bargain include? Here's one list:
A modus vivendi for the Iraqi people and nation;
A military, political, and religious non-intervention pact, including Middle East nations, the US, the European Union, Russia, and China;
Commitment to negotiating a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty including Israel as well as Iran;
Agreement on future levels of oil production;
Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the basis of UN Resolutions 242, 338, and the creation of a Palestinian state peacefully coexisting with an Israel limited roughly to its pre-war 1967 boundaries (with accommodations for Jerusalem);
Israeli return of the Golan Heights to Syria and establishment of normal diplomatic relations between Israel, the Arab states, and Iran;
No permanent or "enduring" US military bases in Iraq; and
Removing the driving force of nuclear weapons proliferation by means of a commitment by the US and the other nuclear powers to fulfill the commitments they made at the 2000 Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference to take 13 steps toward implementing their Article VI obligation to negotiate the complete elimination of the world's nuclear arsenals.
As Commander-in-Chief of the US military, President Bush has power beyond the dreams of Roman emperors and Genghis Khan, and he has repeatedly demonstrated his murderous disregard for democracy, diplomacy, and the essential dignity of human life.
Bush, Dick Cheney, and their cohort can be stopped, but it will require development and manifestation of a powerful popular will and courageous Congressional action. We can begin by demanding that members of Congress use their bully pulpits to mobilize popular pressure to prevent a war against Iran.
Congressmembers should be urged to co-sponsor or support the DeFazio and Jones bills in the House and Byrd's legislation in the Senate designed to prevent what could only be a calamitous US or Israeli war against Iran.