Will Iran be another Iraq?

    Almost a decade after the West’s venture in the Middle East, the world finds itself in a similar position having to consider whether a pre-emptive military strike is the correct approach, in order ensure future global security and stability.

    Ten years following the decision to engage in military action in Iraq, the West’s armies are still committed (although slowly withdrawing) and the controversy is still alive and in many ways has redefined the people’s attitude to war and the trust in government. Therefore, in understanding Iran it is important to first look at the events in Iraq, without the media’s hysteria and sensational headlines (at times on the expense of accuracy).

    The biggest controversy is that fact that weapons of mass destructions have never been found. That claim strengthens the notion that the West was never under any threat and therefore there was no  interest for the West to get involved. The other controversy was that at the time a new UN resolution was not sought after, rather an older resolution was used, which some consider illegal. And finally the latest major point of contention is the aftermath of the war, which has seen about 110,000 deaths from military action, although mainly from sectorial violence, which followed the toppling of Saddam.

    The case to invade Iraq is argued very well in a few resources. Perhaps the most interesting and powerful argument is put forward in Tony Blair’s biographical book, where he dedicates a whole chapter to Iraq. Without repeating the argument, Tony argues that the life in Iraq before the war wasn’t much better than after the war. Different in that instead of suicide bombs and sectorial fighting, children were dying of malnutrition and lack of medicine and ethnic groups were deprived of human rights. Tony goes on to argue against Saddam’s history of violence in attacking Iran, Kuwait and more importantly using chemical warfare against his Kurdish population.

    However, many would find that all the argument against Saddam, still do not amount to a justification for war, especially since the Western world is routinely looking the other way in different regimes committing similar crimes. This then leads to an examination of the intelligence used to justify going to war.

    There is still a notion that Tony Blair lied to the people of Britain, fiddling with the intelligence to justify the move. However, the government has exposed the intelligence that was used and made it public (http://www.fas.org/irp/world/uk/iraqwmd0903.pdf). Anyone that cares to read the report would probably conclude that it was the intelligence that was wrong, not the British government’s decision. And therefore the big question is how could the intelligence get it so wrong and could it be trusted again?

    There is no reason to crucify and doubt the intelligence, as it is almost on a monthly basis that we hear that terrorist attacks are being foiled (one has to make the base assumption that the media is doing its job finding out information and would expose a situation in which the government is manufacturing these news). Evidently, the various global intelligence services have informants in the right places as well as the ability to intercept messages and collaborate, so what was so different in Iraq?

    This is where the views differ (please note these are ‘views’ not facts). One view is that Saddam saw admitting a lack of capability of WMD as a regional suicide. In a tough neighbourhood such as the Middle East it is important to have a military might, in order to affect regional policies, ensuring survival of the regime as well as economic prosperity (this would explain, why during years of sanctions and population starvation, Saddam still found the money to fund terrorist activity as well as pay bonuses to families of suicide bombers in Israel). The other view was that Saddam truly believed that the programs were progressing, however in effect he lost control of the army, who were feeding him wrong information. A third view is that the US were so eager to attack Iraq that while knowing of chemical and biological capabilities, they forged some of the intelligence on nuclear, in order to win public support. The most crucial case is that of Saddam’s attempt to purchase uranium from Niger, which seems very unreliable after Wilson’s Op-Ed (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/06/opinion/what-i-didn-t-find-in-africa.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm) claiming he was the one that filed the  report confirming the low likelihood of Iraq signing an agreement with Niger to buy ‘Yellow Cake’.

    The war in Iraq was a political disaster to both the US and Britain. Both leaders have been accused of lying to the people. However the blow would have not been so great had it not been for the longevity of the war and the high number of deaths. Had Saddam been toppled and Iraq stabilized within months, criticism would have probably been minimal.

    However, in politics as well as warfare, not only does one not have the benefit of hindsight, but one can’t accurately assess the outcome of the road untaken.  Arguably, the sectorial fighting that took place in Iraq would have taken place today as a result of the Arab Spring. Libya, Egypt and Syria all have a great deal in common with Iraq and are suffering or have suffered a similar consequence. Or even worse, perhaps not toppling Saddam would have meant that the Arab public wouldn’t have risen against their dictators. Furthermore, in defence of the decision to go into Iraq, one should not forget that it is not the army, which is killing civilians en masse, rather ethnic differences and foreign powers, which is dominated by the old Sunni – Shiite conflict.

    So now the world is faced with Iran. Similar to Iraq, Iran has decided not to cooperate with the UN, resulting in crippling sanctions, making their civilians’ lives more difficult than they should be. Furthermore, Iran is not taking any steps towards reassuring the world that their nuclear program is peaceful as it claims and while most information is hidden from the public eye, even the media catches a glimpse every now and then of disconcerting facts, such as Iran hiding the existence of the nuclear facility in Qom, the rejection of the compromise to enrich the fuel outside of Iran, advances in the development of long range missiles and most concerning the change of attitude since El-Baradei has been replaced by Amano as the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) representative.

    There is little doubt that unless the world waits for advanced stages of the nuclear program, once again it will be hard to produce a “smoking gun”. However, one would think that the governments would have learned from past mistakes and run a different campaign, if action in a foreign country were to be taken.

Here are some of the mistakes that have not been addressed in Iraq and should be addressed in Iran:

–          The support of terrorism. Saddam was a supporter of terrorism and so is Iran. It should not be difficult to invest in collecting proof that it is Iranian financed or Iran militia fighting in Iraq, Syria, Israel as well as abroad (mainly via Hezbollah)

–            Dictator regimes, while the West cannot take the high ground on intervening with every conflict, there is no reason, why they should not intervene in certain cases. Just as there was an intervention in Kosovo to save the Muslims, purely on a humanitarian basis.

–          The UN has proved to be affected by small time international politics, a campaign needs to be done to expose such countries playing international politics rather than fulfilling their humanitarian duties (such as currently China and Russia in the case of Syria)

–          Securing the parameters, if an action is taking place in Iran, the countries have to anticipate and address the involvement of foreign powers (such as limiting across the border movements from neighbouring countries)

    Experience has shown that Iran has already decided to sacrifice its people for the bigger purpose of continuing with their plan. For example sending two war ships through the Suez Canal to Syria is another way to show defiance and give a “Business As Usual” feeling both domestically and overseas.

    The timing is crucial, since the US is going to elections in November and is therefore reluctant to commit to another war, while Israel has hinted towards a ‘point of no return’, which is said to be this spring, in which if there is no evidence of the program stopping, they will attack, not allowing Iran to secure the nuclear facilities deep in the ground.

    In the meantime, Israel is practicing warplane manoeuvres as well as drills simulating rockets hitting the center of the country and there is much talk about who is behind the mysterious killings of personnel involved in the missile and nuclear program in Iran. On the other hand, Iran’s economy is suffering with the Rial, Iran’s currency, dropping by half (the unofficial rate, which is not regulated by the government), the sanctions on oil and commerce, which will see their export revenue declining and cost of commerce increasing and the most recent blow, disconnecting them from SWIFT, the international money transfer system.

    Only time will tell whether an attack will take place and if so whether this conflict would be perceived as justified or another Iraq. However one thing is almost certain, which is the Iranians will suffer like the Iraqis did, because of their dictatorship government’s reluctance to drop their last century aggressive mentality.


Al Qaeda’s Justification

    Following the US’s assassination of Osama Bin Laden, the US’s foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, is once again taking center stage at debates. There is a reoccurring argument, which states that Al Qaeda was formed as a retaliating force to the West’s foreign policies (especially the US) and that the war on Afghanistan was wrong to initiate, since the Taliban would have delivered Bin Laden to US custody, if only, the US could provide evidence that he was behind the 9/11 bombing, as they requested at the time.

    Surprisingly a large number of people subscribe to these arguments or at least feel strongly that the US shares as much responsibility for the situation. This behaviour could be the result of the West’s democracy and free speech, which has given people the freedom to consider these claims, while not fearing persecution or even for publically doubting their governments’ motives and directly accusing them of moral wrongdoing.

    The open attitude of the West to freedom of speech, which it holds as one of the pillars of a free society has created an acceptance to misinformation and misleading by presentation of facts out of context. There is a layer of political correctness that created a gap in common sense. In this space shoddy figures strive, as the self-deprecating antigovernment narrative always finds enough audience rewarding its promoter both financially and with publicity.

    While criticising our representatives is our main defence to fend off our exploitation, it is important to understand to whom we might be lending our support and therefore question the other side equally.

    Al Qaeda was formed in 1988, well before the Afghanistan or Iraq war. It bases its ideology amongst other things, on the writings of Sayyid Qutb, which believed that the Muslims have a duty to follow strict Islamic law by creating a Muslim state and ridding their world of Jews and Orientals. In a fatwa issued in 1996, Bin Laden argued that the US must be driven out of Arab land and all the governments cooperating with the West such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be overthrown and replaced with one ruler over the entire region.  Achieving these goals would allow the Muslims to once more establish a Caliphate, which in essence would be an empire with no national borders stretching on all Arab land run by one man with divine authority, the Caliph.

    The reasoning behind the war on the West has evolved over the years. In the same Fatwa in 1996 Osama and Al Qaeda declared that the reasons for the need to fight the West are (besides of the existence of the Jewish state, Israel, on Arab land) the “…massacres in Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, the Philippines, Fatani, Ogaden, Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya, and Bosnia-Herzegovina…” However since 9/11, when Al Qaeda achieved the public exposure it was seeking, the reasoning for the attacks focused on Israel as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, which unsurprisingly are controversial issues that separate people in the same way that liberals have a different view of life than conservatives. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe that Al Qaeda’s “marketing” of their ideology was tweaked, in order to apply pressure on the topic, which would widen the gap of the two beliefs and ultimately increase the convictions of their sympathisers, most of which were young Muslims or people with resentment to the government.

    Regarding the claim of the Taliban turning in Bin Laden, it is necessary to examine Bin Laden’s relationship with Afghanistan’s ruling party, which has always been close. Bin Laden claimed that the Taliban rule has made Afghanistan into a model Muslim state, governed by Sharia. Under the Taliban, pre-9/11, Al Qaeda was given free reign and established training camps, where most terrorist received their training and inspiration for attacks on the West. Given that fact, it is absurd to think that there was any substance behind the claim that the Taliban would have delivered Bin Laden into the US hands, had the US only been able to provide enough proof that Bin Laden was behind the attacks.

    The other criticism often thrown at the US is that it is their imperialistic nature that Al Qaeda opposes. However any anti-Empire person looking onto Al Qaeda to dispel this notion, shouldn’t side with Al Qaeda on this matter, as Al Qaeda openly seek to create a Muslim Empire. Furthermore, one of Al Qaeda’s grievances was the establishment of a Christian rule in East Timor, ignoring the fact that it is a region with a clear Christian majority, which wanted to break away from bigger Muslim Indonesia.

    Last but not least, it should never be overlooked that Al Qaeda’s ideology seeks to obliterate millions of people’s rights and freedoms. As no doubt a true Muslim state under Sharia does not support democracy, does not allow women’s education or equality, believes that homosexuality is punishable by death as well as other laws, which the West finds as human rights violations. For anyone that would use the claim that most Muslim countries propagate this attitude anyway, it has been made very clear recently by the uprisings that this is not the will of the people and Al Qaeda would most certainly stop this situation from evolving into the Middle East democracies that its people seek and are for which they are willing to risk their lives.

    Therefore anyone that believes that Al Qaeda’s anti US motives are justified and believe that the solution would be for the US to leave the Middle East, should ask themselves, who would benefit from this action and more importantly, whether they truly believe that this would be the last time Al Qaeda disrupts  the Western world.

How Do We Choose a Villain?

 There has been harsh criticism of the US’s foreign policy even before it was apparent that no weapons of mass destruction were going to be found in Iraq.

    To this day many polemists, perhaps the most famous one is Noam Chomsky are quick to point out the double standards or hypocrisy of the past and present US governments. Although it is not only the US that is accused of hypocrisy, since it is the largest economy and has the most powerful army, it is usually the one leading the world strategy and bearing the brunt of being chastised.

    A blog is probably not the right platform to recount all of the US’s past “mistakes”, but it is worth looking at the motivation behind events in the last 10 years.

    One of the biggest criticisms is the reason for actions against foreign countries. For example, sanctions against North Korea’s nuclear plan, sanctions against Iran’s nuclear plan, war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, intervention in Libya and more importantly not enough intervention in other countries such as Darfur, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Congo …etc.

    Many criticizers point out that it is absurd for the US to go against nuclear ambitions of some countries, while having nuclear itself or the reluctance to put Israel through the same scrutiny. It is also absurd to arm a certain group or topple a certain dictator in the name of democracy and human rights, but happily accept and work alongside a “friendly” dictator, which tramples on the same human rights.

    Theoretically all these criticisms are valid. Looked at academically and independently, they would be hard to defend and plenty of scholars and politicians have gained fame and money pointing that out.

    However in my opinion this is where the subtle difference lays.

    There is no doubt that the Western world has become very wary of war and more liberal in its political orientation (although we are seeing this slowly changing in parts of Europe such as Finland, Netherland..etc.). At least in the intellectual communities and on the street there is still a sense of guilt because of Europe’s past, which involves years of colonization and all the negative things that come with it. South Africa is possibly the most recent example and has the biggest impact, as in its case, the wound is still bleeding as black Africans are still striving for economic freedom and Nelson Mandela is around to tell us about the horrors of Apartheid first hand. However South Africa is only one amongst many. Anyone who has the privilege to travel to exotic places such as the Caribbean, India, Australia, Africa…etc., doesn’t have to look very deep to see the marks left by the Western world. Evidence of oppressed indigenous cultures and exploitation could be found in abundance. 

    The liberal orientation manifests itself in the public being very suspicious about any political intervention in foreign countries. Any efforts to “build a country” are often seen as attempts in modern colonization in the sense of making money on the expense of another, while exploiting their natural reserves and taking advantage of their less advanced infrastructure and/or naivety. Many conflicts are seen as bullying regimes into playing ball and removing any obstacles to trade.

    While one could interpret the data in this way and conclude that this is the true motivation, there is a more convincing explanation that stands the test of reality better. The claim that it is all about the money is only half right. It would be more correct to say it is all about the money and the balance of power.  The US’s actions have always been about preserving the status quo of the world’s power balance, which in return secures its economy.

    For example, 9/11 was an event that shook America and threatened to destabilize the US economy. The US knew before 9/11 about the Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, but they never acted upon this, since it didn’t pose a real threat to the world’s power balance, just the same as they never addressed militant activity in other parts of the Middle East. However when 9/11 cut through right to the heart of America’s conscious and economy the US decided to change the regime and stop the support, which they believed would end up in further attacks on the same scale.

    In Iraq the first Gulf War in 1990 was not about the weapons of mass destruction. Rather it was about an unpredictable Arab leader, Saddam Hussein, invading another country and threatening the world economy by trying to change the terms of the game, which would affect commerce amongst other things. The next time around in 2003 it was the same unpredictable leader raising his head again and this time aiding terrorists and expressing aspirations of attaining weapons that could change world powers.

    North Korea is another example of a regime intent of changing the power balance in the world. In the Korean War in 1950, North Korea was backed by China, while South Korea was backed by the US. North Korea winning the war would have changed the balance of power and in a similar way today, a powerful North Korea still poses a risk to the world’s power balance. Moreover, the fact that the Korean leader is an unpredictable character, who the US believes is capable of using nuclear power, puts him even more as a threat to the US economy and a loose force that has to be neutralized in order to maintain the status quo.

    Iran is probably one of the most interesting out of all the examples. Apart from the extreme religious views of the regime, which is a threat in itself to the Western way of life, if ever vigorously exported to Europe and the US. Iran poses another threat to the US, since nuclear capabilities would make it the super power amongst the Arab countries in the region, some of these Arab nations have close economic ties with the US. A new power order could change trade trends as well as make the region much more flammable, which could potentially cause the US economy to ground to a halt. Therefore it is essential for the US that Iran does not obtain this advantage. However on the other hand, stopping Iran by force would not be easy and is also a path that might affect the economy and ignite a bigger conflict. This is why so far, the US has only been using sanctions, which in essence are a way to control the flames around that conflict. While keeping the conflict on a low heat for now, the US is doing something, but reserving the choice to turn up the flames to a full military operation, which is what I believe they would do, when all options have been exhausted and time would run out.

    When Iran’s nuclear aspirations are mentioned it is often compared with Israel’s ambiguous nuclear capabilities, which the US and EU seem tolerant of. This is a somewhat strange situation, since in Israel’s case the nuclear capability is already part of the equation, therefore taking it away could disrupt the balance. Israel has never confirmed their nuclear capability nor signed the non-proliferation treaty, its official stance on nuclear weapon has always been that whether it really has it or not, is not important, rather, the deterrence it creates, which helps preserve a ceasefire with its neighbouring countries. The US and much of the Western world, seem to subscribe to this claim.

    Unlike the conflicts mentioned, other conflicts which are taking place in the world have not had a response from the US or alternatively the EU. The reason for it is probably because war is a very expensive venture and when there is no significant gain or loss predicted or a successful outcome projected, governments would rather run a mile from it. It is hard for any government to justify taking much needed money and instead of investing it in the country, investing it in an over-sea operation. As justified as it may be, this would put any government in a huge disadvantage in the following elections. This probably why there has not been much intervention in massacres in African or Asia Pacific countries, where the leaders have been just as ruthless and the death toll has been much higher than in the most discussed conflicts in the Middle East. Why the UN has not led an action against these atrocities is a completely different discussion, which could be summarised as “short term politics over global values”

    As mentioned before war is a very expensive venture and governments’ goal is essentially to be re-elected, this often leads to the country that has led the war to be the first to act, in order to gain economically from the new situation. This manifests itself with establishing new economic ties with the country, bringing in workforce from home to undertake work in the country and so on. This aspect has also been criticized, sometimes unjustifiably distorted to imply that this was the motivation for an intervention in the first place.

    The one aspect which has not been adequately dealt with is why governments cannot be open about their motivation for going to war. Why did the US and EU base their military effort in Iraq mainly on the assumptions that there are weapons of mass destruction. The only reasons I could find for this is the liberal orientation of the public, which as mentioned earlier, the public is already suspicious and does not tend to support military action easily. Another reason could be the level of engagement of the public. The governments and their PR advisors are under the impression that people cannot follow complex theories and only relate to situations where they can clearly see how they would be affected, so the governments need to focus on the main points rather than try to push a complex theory. Also, in order to maintain advantage the government can make limited usage of information they have, in order to sway public opinion. For example, the US knew about the secret nuclear plant in Iran long before Iran went public, however the US never thought to “out” them and use it as part of a PR campaign.

    It is important to mention that sometimes governments get it wrong, they align with the wrong side or underestimate an event. We should judge the quality of the government on its ability to predict and act correctly in these situations (unfortunately it takes time to be able to asses a situation correctly) and it seems that we are going to have many opportunities to do so, as there is a very strong force of change sweeping the middle East and Africa.