And US: Nuclear Standoff
By Ramzy Baroud
12 May, 2006
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice couldn't possibly have been more
accurate when she accused Iran of "playing games" with the
Rice was specifically referring
to an announcement made April 30, by the deputy head of the Iranian
Atomic Energy Agency Muhammad Saeedi, that his country is willing to
allow "snap inspections" by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the
International Atomic Energy Agency on the condition that the U.N. Security
Council is excluded from any involvement in inspecting Iran's nuclear-enrichment
Iran is playing games in
the sense that it is repeatedly testing U.S. resolve to see how far
the Bush administration is willing to go to escalate the conflict. Naturally,
the outcomes of Iran's political experimentations help adjust -- escalate
or downgrade -- the government's political attitude toward the issue.
Ironically, the "games"
to which Rice was protesting are called "realpolitik," where
practical matters are weighed, considered and taken into account based
exclusively on statistical, cost-effective analysis, and where ethics
and law carry little weight.
It's ironic because no Middle
Eastern government comes close to the United States and the so-called
EU-3 -- Germany, France and Britain -- in playing such games. After
all, realpolitik was coined by a German writer to describe the attempt
to balance the powers of European empires in the 19th century.
True, Iran is no empire and
is unlikely to metamorphose into one. Moreover, the chances are that
no balance of power -- in the real sense -- is possible between Iran
and its Western nemesis, considering U.S. military might combined with
that of "willing allies," no matter how hard Iranian President
Ahmadinejad labors to create a fearsome aura around his nation's military
But thanks to other factors
-- precisely President George W. Bush's low ratings at home and his
embattled military in Iraq -- Iran is finding itself in a much more
comfortable state than that of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
and his government, prior to the U.S. invasion in March 2003.
Some rightfully observe that
the U.S. government's rhetoric concerning Iranian nuclear enrichment
is almost an exact replica of that employed before the Iraq war. First,
there was the exaggeration of Iraq's military might, which was seen
as a "threat" to its neighbors -- most notably Israel -- and
U.S. regional interests. Then came the sanctions, formidable and suffocating,
meant to "contain" the Iraqi regime and impede Hussein's alleged
incessant drive for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Then there was the muscle
flexing and awesome military deployment. Finally came the showdown:
war, forced regime change and occupation.
The Bush administration and
the pro-war clique in Congress -- and they are many -- sound equally
enthused for another Middle East showdown, and Tehran is the new destination.
Once again, it's not respect for the law -- since Iran's nuclear enrichment
is not in violation of its commitment under the Nonproliferation Treaty
-- or respect for democracy -- for Iran is much closer to an actual
democracy than many corrupt and authoritative U.S. allies -- or respect
for human rights -- since the U.S., as the effective ruler of Iraq,
is the region's top human-rights violator -- that stimulates such enthusiasm.
Rather, it's realpolitik.
Iran alone provides 5 percent of the world's oil exports. At a time
when access to and control of energy sources translates into political
power and strategic affluence, and in an age of uncertain oil supplies
and fractious markets, the Iran prize is most enviable.
But that alone can hardly
justify the seemingly irrational readiness to expand the battlefield
for an already overstretched U.S. military. That's where the infamous
pro-Israel neoconservative warmongers are most effective. In the same
way they managed to concoct a pro-war discourse before the disastrous
war on Iraq -- using the military and ever willing mainstream media
-- they're working diligently to create another false doomsday scenario
required for a military encroachment on Iran.
If all of this is true, then
why is Iran "playing games"?
The answer is multifaceted.
While Iran is no match for an empire, it also understands that it holds
great leverage through its significant influence over Iraq's Shiite
population and their representatives. While the invasion of Iraq has
disaffected most of the country's population regardless of their sectarian
affiliation, the Shiite leaderships have yet to outwardly demand an
American withdrawal and, for strategic reasons, have yet to join the
flaring insurgency. Using its influence in Iraq, Iran could significantly
alter the equation, a decision that would unlikely suit the U.S. long-term
interests in occupied Iraq.
But Iran can do more, even
if indirectly. When the price of a barrel of oil recently reached $
75, the Group of Seven industrial nations sent terrible warnings of
an impending global economic crisis. Imagine if the prices hit the $
100 mark -- or even $ 120. How will already fractious energy markets
treat such a possibility, keeping in mind already vulnerable Nigerian
oil production and the less accommodating -- read: more independent
-- Venezuelan oil supplies? Needless to say, "unexplained"
acts of sabotage against Iraq's oil production facilities and export
pipelines will likely add fuel to the fire.
All of these outcomes exclude
entirely the implausible likelihood that the U.S. military is in fact
capable of leading a ground war or maintaining a long-term occupation
of a country several times the size of Iraq, which has not been weakened
by years of debilitating sanctions.
As optimistic as it may sound,
one can, to an extent, speak of a "balance of power." Wherever
such balance can be struck, realpolitik and its associated "games"
can also be found in profusion.
While the U.S. wishes to
maintain the posture of the uncompromising, hardheaded party, ready
to mull its many "military options" at the strike of an executive
order, Iran is calling its bluff, confidently speaking of its own options.
Iran 2006 is certainly not
Iraq of 1990-1991, or 2003. Some major changes to the political map
of the Middle East have taken place and serious challenges are appearing
day after day to the astonishment of the beleaguered U.S. government
and its president.
Whether it still genuinely
believes in military options as decisive retorts to its many global
challenges, the Bush administration must learn to deal with new political
realities, and it must also accept that playing politics is no longer
restricted to empires alone.
-Arab American journalist
Ramzy Baroud teaches mass communications at Australia's Curtin University
of Technology, Malaysia Campus. He is the author of "Writings on
the Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle"
(Pluto Press, London), and editor in chief of the PalestineChronicle.com.