By Rami G. Khouri
June 11, 2014
A juxtaposition of recent and current tensions between a major Gulf state and the Western powers highlights yet again one of the most significant recurring themes that have defined aspects of the war-filled modern history of the Middle East.
The current issue is the continuing series of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers (the five permanent United Nations Security Council members plus Germany) over Iran’s nuclear program. The issue from the past is the Anglo-American war on Iraq in 2003, which is in the news again because likely U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in her just-published book of memoirs, mildly apologizes for her vote to authorize that war when she was a U.S. senator.
The common thread here is the total lack of accountability or restraint in how global, mostly Western, powers focus on an issue related to a powerful Middle Eastern country, and then take action, from sanctions to warfare and regime change, to achieve the goals they set. Clinton writes that she thought she had acted “in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong.”
And with that mild public admission of her mistake, we are asked to wipe clean the slate of moral accountability and open the way for Clinton to seek the American presidency. The immense and continuing dark consequences of the 2003 war on Iraq are not relevant, according to this approach. We are supposed to forget the trillions of wasted dollars, the hundreds of thousands of people who have died, the millions displaced, and the continuing aftershocks of the war in the form of lawless zones that have given rise to a flourishing expansion of Salafist-Takfiri Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.
That American intelligence agencies largely missed the truth about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction capabilities and its links with Al-Qaeda, and American and British politicians rode that wave of misinformation right into the savage war of 2003, is all supposed to be a matter for historians now. Nobody is to be held accountable for their actions or their mistakes, because the rules of power in London and Washington assume that these Western nations can act as they wish in the Middle East, regardless of the consequences. This is the colonial way of centuries past, which persists to this day.
Middle Eastern leaders, however, are subjected to different rules of accountability. If Western powers deem them to misbehave – or merely suspect them of misbehaving, or get the cue from pro-Israel zealots in Washington that Arabs or Iranians have the potential to consider misbehaving in the future – then these local leaders or countries are immediately sanctioned, threatened, accused of war crimes or attacked.
The Iran situation today continues this bitter legacy. The accusations against Iran, like those against Iraq over a decade ago, are based largely on highly dubious evidence that has been exaggerated by a parallel streak of Israeli or neoconservative American ideological extremism. The factual basis and credibility of evidence in the case of the accusations that Iran is planning to develop nuclear weapons remain consistently thin.
Recent advances in the negotiations with Iran reflect a newfound desire by all concerned to explore if a satisfactory agreement can be reached. The evidence to date suggests that this is likely, and direct talks in Geneva this week wisely aim to hasten this eventuality. The lesson I draw from the past year is that direct talks to equitably implement existing international principles and rules for all sides can succeed. But if the aim is to impose Western preconceptions and fears on Middle Eastern powers based on unproven evidence and use military force to impose such dynamics, we should expect failure and likely violence.
The important element in the current case of Iran that was missing in the Iraq situation a decade ago is the parallel political and technical tracks. Experts in the U.S., Europe and Iran have consistently offered proposals that can bridge the gaps in the quantities, treatment, storage and use of uranium and plutonium to fuel Iran’s nuclear reactors. Every legitimate concern expressed by the P5+1 is being addressed, yet Iran and others fear that the real issue is not technical, but political – involving the ability of Western powers and Israel to define who uses nuclear technology in the Middle East and who does not.
Just this week we have learned of a new proposal by Princeton University researchers (published in the journal Arms Control Today) that suggests ways to solve the contested issue of Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity. Conclusion: Better to deal with facts and negotiate honestly, than to bang the drums of war on the basis of predominantly American-Israeli lies and fears.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly by THE DAILY STAR.