Tensions Between Iran And The U.S. Will Not Exist Forever: Stephen Eric Bronner
By Kourosh Ziabari
19 December, 2012
Noted U.S. political scientist says that although the United States and Iran have some differences and disagreements on regional and international issues, they will finally put aside the conflicts and move toward reconciliation and rapprochement because they have certain common interests.
“ Iran and the United States have certain common interests in the region that should be brought to popular attention. But ultimately something more is involved than policy or politics. There is so much that our two nations can learn from one another: You know that Hafez' “Divan” is the basis for Goethe's “West-East Divan.” That is probably the point at which world literature was born. Tensions exist now between our two states and perhaps they will exist for the near future – but, luckily, forever is a very long time,” said Prof. Stephen Eric Bronner in an interview with Tehran Times last week.
Stephen Eric Bronner is a political philosopher and Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Comparative Literature and German Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. His writings have been translated into more than a dozen languages and he is the Senior Editor of Logos: A Journal for Modern Society and Culture.
What follows is the text of the interview.
Q: Prof. Bronner; almost one year has elapsed since the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its rising to prominence. Has this movement succeeded in realizing its objectives? It seems that it emerged suddenly and then was extinguished very soon. What do you think about the movement and the reasons why it took shape?
A: Occupy Wall Street was inspired by the bursting of the sub-prime housing bubble and the crashing of the derivates market that began in late 2007, the gutting of all corporate oversight and the largest upward shift in wealth and income in American history by the Bush Administration, as well as the timid response initially offered by President Obama to a the Tea Party and its allies in the Republican Party.
OWS had an anarchist sensibility from its beginning in 2011 and its more radical activists envisioned a new language, a new consensus, and even a new spirituality that rejects ideology and “political” conflict. They did not transform politics. But its members actually accomplished a good deal. Not only did they produce a chain reaction of other occupations in major cities throughout the United States and nearly one thousand cities worldwide but they changed the priorities of the very system whose total overhaul they desired.
OWS energized dormant unions and community groups. It raised numerous radical issues ranging from free higher education and student loans to regressive taxation and the poisoning of our electoral process by big money. OWS helped produce the jobs-oriented left-turn by the Obama Administration and, with its slogan “We are the 99%”, it shifted the national discourse from the celebration of de-regulation, the free market, small-minded individualism, and a mean-spirited attack upon the welfare state to a new concern with the economic imbalance of power, solidarity, social equality, and the responsibility of government to its citizens.
Q: Do you believe that the era of corporatism has come to an end? It seems that the corporative structure has had many benefits for the United States and helped it make enormous economic progresses in the recent decades, but the protesters of Occupy Wall Street movement are unhappy with this model of government. Do you find any disadvantage or deficiency in corporatism?
A: Corporatism is not the word I would use: Capitalism rests on a fundamental structural principle, namely, that the interests of capital must be served prior to the serving of all other interests. That is because, structurally, capital provides investment and investment determines employment. No investment – no employment. To this extent, labor and all other classes are dependent upon capital under any version of the economic system known as capitalism. OWS – or its more radical elements – sought to revolutionize this system and abolish its political parties in favor of a utopian form of participatory democracy known as “horizontalism.” That theory was never really worked out and there was no broader support for it whatsoever. But the fact of the matter is that social movements can pressure the government and also influence elections. That is because securing policies favorable to capital or its competing sectors in a liberal democracy requires coalitional support among the broader populace. These coalitions lead to very different political outcomes. Those who cannot see a difference between the Obama and the Bush administrations are living in a night where all cows are black.
Q: Some critics of the foreign policy of the U.S. argue that Washington has always supported and backed reactionary governments in the world. This is while the U.S. has always talked of its commitment to democracy and its support for the promotion of democratic values around the world. Hasn't the U.S. government failed to practice what it preaches, at least with regards to values such as democracy and freedom, in the international level?
A: Very few powerful nations have clean hands. That is certainly true of the United States – but it was also true of the Soviet Union and it is true of China . All of them supported dictatorial regimes that often contradicted their public commitment to human rights or social and economic justice.
Admittedly, the United States has shown less discretion and less sympathy for the once-colonized world. Of all the interventions and wars undertaken by the United States over the last 150 years, only World War I and arguably World War II, where most fighting took place against Japan , were fought against “white” nations. Imperialist and geo-political interests have tended to blend with an arrogant and often hypocritical ideology that is intent upon bringing democratic freedom to the rest of the world by force. Eric Hobsbawn, the great historian, once said “nothing is more dangerous than a great power that thinks it is doing the world a favor.”
Q: Do you believe that the public image of the U.S. has been tarnished during the tenure of George W. Bush? A BBC poll in 2010 showed that the U.S. is the third most hated country in the world and the main reason for that was the interventionist war policy of George Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan . Do you agree with this idea? If so, then has Barack Obama succeeded in healing and improving this contaminated image?
A: I can tell you that it was embarrassing for me as an American wherever I was traveling while George W. Bush was president: whether in Europe , Africa , or the Middle East . The blatant lying by his administration over “weapons of mass destruction” to justify the invasion of Iraq and the completely incoherent strategy it pursued in Afghanistan were disgraceful. President Obama was a breath of fresh air. He has followed a sophisticated and complex strategy in dealing with your country, Iran , and also Israel . In maintaining sanctions, whatever their terrible impact on the Iranian people, he has so far helped prevent an Israeli pre-emptive strike. His administration has, again so far, been prudent in not getting embroiled in Syria as well as in its dealings with Egypt and Tunisia . He has basically gotten the U.S. out of Iraq and a time-table is set for Afghanistan . The verdict is not yet clear on the U.S. military intervention in Libya (but, at least, there was some reliance on international law and international support). Still, there are drones being launched in Pakistan and elsewhere; Guantanamo has not been closed down; and nothing has been done to indict or even incriminate George Bush and his cronies for their irresponsible policies that have done such damage especially to Iraq and U.S. standing in the world. I have tried to talk about this in two of my books: “Blood in the Sand” and “Peace Out of Reach.”
Q: The U.S. military forces are continuing to bombard different regions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen under the pretext of demolishing Taliban and Al-Qaeda bases. However, there is sufficient evidence showing that it was CIA which financed, trained and backed Osama Bin Laden in 1990s to use him as an alternative force to empower the Afghan Mujahideen in the Afghan-Soviet war. We also know that Saddam Hussein was once one of the close allies of the U.S. and President Carter financed and equipped him in the 8-year war with Iran to derail the newborn Islamic Revolution of Iran . Why does the U.S. abandon its allies and friends such unfaithfully?
Political realism in international relations has always been predicated on the willingness to turn enemies into allies and allies into friends in order to maintain a balance of power that serves the national interest and fosters stability. The practical mistake with regard to the movements you mention is that (even at the time) none of them really served the American national interest or the maintenance of regional stability. The same mistake was made during the Vietnam War. Chalmers Johnson called this policy of financing reactionary and dictatorial forces, which were destined to confront the United States , “blowback.” There is a way in which the force of blowback only becomes evident later. But, still, it should have been clear at the time that the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and the Mujahideen did not exactly support liberal democratic values and that no plausible connection existed between the means and the ends of US policy. To get a sense of how such disastrous policies were sold to the American public, take a look at Rambo III with Sylvester Stallone.
Q: What's your viewpoint regarding the influence of Israeli lobby on the U.S. government and congress? Once Prof. Naseer Aruri, of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth has told me that no politician with an anti-Zionist mindset can even dream of living in the White House. Do you agree? What's the reason behind the enormous influence of the Israeli lobby on U.S. politics?
A: Israeli lobbies like AIPAC obviously have great influence on American foreign policy. But I think that critics make it too easy for themselves. It's not just money but rather the fact that Jews are politically organized and that they are an important voting constituency in many decisive states like California , Florida , New York , New Jersey , and others. Anti-Zionist forces in the United States are politically disorganized. Their public posture makes them appear extreme; their spokespeople usually sound demagogic; and there is no concerted effort to influence elections. There is simply no incentive for any politician to come out decisively against Israel , though, in fairness, President Obama has publicly confronted Prime Minister Netanyahu on settlements in the occupied territories and the bombing of Iran . Netanyahu would clearly have preferred having Mitt Romney in the White House. That is because Obama's approach to Israel is different from that of neo-conservatives associated with the Bush Administration – and it is important to note that the great majority of Romney's foreign policy advisors, most notoriously, perhaps, John Bolton, came from the neo-conservative camp. For all that, however, the supposedly Zionist controlled media has helped shift American public opinion away from its former uncritical support for Israel .
Q: Stephen Kinzer believes that Iran and the U.S. are not fated to remain enemies forever. What's your viewpoint regarding the prospect of Iran-U.S. relations? Are the two countries moving toward starting a comprehensive dialogue and put aside the differences? What's your viewpoint?
I remember a time when Middle Eastern politics was considered an exotic specialty; now it is at the center of our discourse. Iran and the United States have certain common interests in the region that should be brought to popular attention. But ultimately something more is involved than policy or politics. There is so much that our two nations can learn from one another: You know that Hafez' “Divan” is the basis for Goethe's “West-East Divan.” That is probably the point at which world literature was born. Tensions exist now between our two states and perhaps they will exist for the near future – but, luckily, forever is a very long time.
Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist and media correspondent. He writes for Global Research, CounterCurrents.org, Tehran Times, Iran Review and other publications across the world. His articles and interviews have been translated in 10 languages.
Comments are moderated