Sunday, February 18, 2007

To See Ourselves

"Oh what a gift could God give us, to see ourselves as others see us." (Robert Burns)

The NY Times' Michael Slackman has a great piece today which attempts to do exactly that and give an Iranian perspective on Bush's misadventure in Iraq. It's a must-read if you want to actually understand the shifting sands of competing national interests rather than simply accept the "Us good, them evil" narrative of the neocon warmongering brigade.
From the very start of the American occupation of Iraq, at least some in the Bush administration saw an opportunity to curtail the influence of Iran’s radical Shiite leaders by producing an alternative, moderate center of Shiite Islam that would effectively neuter Tehran in ideological, political and strategic terms.

This was abundantly clear to Iran’s clerical rulers, whose paramount priority since they seized power in 1979 has been to preserve their revolution and their grip on their own country.

Faced with more than 100,000 American troops next door and a White House that pursued a policy of pre-emptive war, Iran’s leaders moved quickly to try to prevent the United States from gaining a permanent foothold.

“Iran’s policy in Iraq works to prevent the U.S. from feeling safe and secure,” said Talal Atrissi, a researcher and writer on Middle Eastern affairs based in Lebanon. “It works to prevent the formation of a pro-American Iraqi government, in favor of at least an Iraqi government that does not feel enmity toward Iran.”

While the United States sees in Iraq a venture that will affect its foreign interests for years to come, Iran sees an occupied neighbor with close religious, cultural, political and economic ties. Though Iran is Persian while Iraq is Arab, both have majority Shiite populations that have mingled, religiously and culturally, for centuries.

...In economic terms, Iran has an interest in a stable, Tehran-friendly Iraq. For decades, while Mr. Hussein was in power, Iraq was an economic obstacle for Iran, a wall blocking trading routes and diplomatic ties with its Arab neighbors.

The chaos in Iraq still means that Iran’s trade with Syria has to be routed through Turkey. But Iranian officials say they hope someday to link the railroads of Iran and Syria with Iraq’s, redrawing the economics of the region.

But Tehran’s interests in Iraq cut much deeper than the economic. They range from its ideological desire to spread its influence throughout the Arab world — part of the so-called Shiite revival — to its connection to the people and holy sites of Iraq.

“Iran and Iraq’s national interests are intertwined,” said Farzaneh Roostaee, foreign editor of Shargh, a popular reformist daily in Iran that the government shut down late last year. “Both geographically and religiously, the two countries have many common interests. No matter how much Americans try, they can not separate these two countries from one another. It won’t work.”

...Those links to Iran’s religious and revolutionary identity, combined with the presence of American troops in Iraq and thousands of NATO forces in Afghanistan, are more than enough justification for Iran to try to counter American influence next door, political analysts in the region said.

“It is not logical to have an American presence in Iraq, and Iran sitting passively, waiting for the formation of an anti-Iranian Iraqi government,” Mr. Atrissi said. “From the Iranian perspective, Iran is a country defending its national security.”
It's nice to see some thoughtful commentary instead of a kneejerk acceptance of hegemony and exceptionalism masquerading as foreign policy thinking.

Update. Many thanks to commenter "b" for pointing me to a Moon of Alabama post today:
Today the three major U.S. papers carry stories or op-eds that explain why Iran takes the position it takes and why it is "meddling" in Iraq.

The pieces are not generally positive on Iran, but they paint it as a rational actor that defends its legitimate interests in a neighboring country.

Additionally, even the rightwing Washington Post editors are coming out against an attack on Iran. For the wrong reason of course, but they do.

This is definitly a coordinated campaign.

Three questions:

  • Who launched this?
  • Why does someone feels the need to launch it now?
  • Will this deter Bush/Cheney?
  • Any answers?

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