And Iran, Iran So Far Away….

Here’s my bias: I really like Persian women. Man, are they sexy. And I am a bit obsessed with some aspects of Persian history, particularly as it intersects with the great march of Alexander the Great, a topic explored in my second book. But there ends my bias.

Well, the cards are on the table. Condy Rice said last week, “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran, whose policies are directed at developing a Middle East that would be 180 degrees different than the Middle East we would like to see developed.” So there it is, Iran has been identified by the US government as their new number one enemy. In fact, Rice has even announced an $85 million fund set aside to sabotage the current Iranian regime. (Aside: does it not seem weird to anyone else that American leadership seems at a loss to define itself except in relation to some arbitrarily chosen enemy? Paging Dr. Phil….)

As Haroon Siddiqui writes,

“Just as that pot of gold brought a bevy of Iraqi exiles, like Ahmad Chalabi, with tall tales of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and promises of American troops being welcomed with flowers, this new fund already has Iranian exiles circling Washington like vultures. Get ready to hear and read horror stories on Iran in the months ahead.”

It does us no good to duck the facts: the current regime in Iran does indeed pose something of a regional threat to neocon interests. The Iranians back Hamas and Hezbollah, which are known in the West as terror groups, but in the Near East as para-governmental groups. The Iranians back the emerging Shiite powerset in Iraq, which is certainly not the group the Americans want to see acquire power in their erstwhile colony. It’s certainly possible that the clerical leadership in Iran continues to provide money and training to anti-American terror groups. And, of course, let’s not forget that the Iranian revolution of 1979 involved the storming of the US embassy and the kidnapping of its residents!

But let’s also be fair and talk about why the Iranians are so pissed at Americans. In the 1950s, the Iranian people democratically elected Dr. Muhammad Mossadegh who moved to nationalize Iranian oil. As a result of this completely reasonable policy, the CIA engineered a coup that deposed Mossadegh and put the Shah in power. The Shah was a brutal dictator who tortured his people Saddam-style, but who enjoyed a close association with American and European elites. This is why the Iranian people hate Americans so much — a history you will never learn from watching Faux News.

Iran is not the medieval theocratic morass the neocons would have us believe it to be. As a character stated in the movie Syriana, “Persians are natural cultural allies of the United States.” Iran was complicit in the American invasion of Afghanistan, and assented to the invasion of Iraq. Like India, Iran is a young nation with a median age around 24 and a high literacy rate (around 80%), mostly among the elites. With heightened access to media and 21st century media products, young Iranians are increasingly drawn to Western sensibilities and lifestyles. Like all such countries, with young educated populations and a growing thirst for influence and products, Iran will emerge as a global power in this century, barring some catastrophic decisions or events.

The recent kafuffle regarding Iran’s nuclear programme is, of course, problematic. With a history of diplomatic brinkmanship, it’s not surprising to hear tough talk issue from Tehran. But threats of denying oil to the West are ultimately hollow. Iran’s debt remains at over a quarter of its GDP, with a $10 billion trade surplus due entirely to oil exports (mainly to Japan and China, and increasingly to Russia). It can’t afford to mess with the flow of its oil. With Iran’s traditional ally, India, voting against it at an historic IAEA session, and with Bushite policies essentially gutting the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (of which Iran –and not India or Pakistan or Israel– is a signatory), the likely course is that Iran will remove itself from the treaty, thus rendering any legal actions against it toothless.

And here’s a dimension you are unlikely to hear explored in the mainstream media. With the Americans toppling the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and handing more power and autonomy to the Northern Alliance (which is run in large part by Russia), heroin production has returned to levels enjoyed in the pre-Taliban glory days. This is, I believe, a tacitly understood price the Americans were willing to pay to have the Northern Alliance act as its proxies on the battlefield; something is paying for that war, and it ain’t all American tax money. How does heroin enter Europe, its biggest market? Via Iran, of course. Indeed, within Iran itself, heroin addiction is an increasingly large problem, with at least 2 million drug users in that country. The flow of heroin is a disincentive for the West to militarily interfere with Iran, despite Pentagonian belligerent talk.

So this is what’s happening. The clerics of Iran are increasing in power due to American actions in the region. This is despite the Iranian population’s discontentment with theocratic rule. The rise of Shiite power, as a result of the deteriorating situation in Iraq, further emboldens Iranian imams. American military action on a large scale is now highly unlikely, since they’d have their under-staffed and indebted asses handed to them in a ground fight. Instead, look for two scenarios: if Iran exits from the non-proliferation treaty, then NATO (likely through Israel as a proxy) will attempt a surgical air strike. If Iran stays with the treaty, expect Russia to take a larger role in bringing Iran’s nuclear programme under its umbrella, attempting to assure world security that way.

At this point, the smart move for all parties is to allow Iran to exit the treaty, then to barter open inspections of its programme in exchange for enormous trade concessions. And I mean enormous. It’s better to pay $100 billion buying security than waste $400 billion fighting for it.