When it comes to Republican candidates and their ideas about foreign policy, the recent contenders have reached the peak of shrillness and stupidity. Gingrich, Romney and Perry share one word constantly: Iran. In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Gingrich has gone as far as saying that if he is elected he would side with Israel in a joint operation attacking Iran's nuclear facilities.
The war on Iran, which escalated when, during his first term, G. W. Bush called the country part of an "axis of evil," has now gained new momentum. Not a day goes by when Iran is not in the headlines and on the lips of especially the Republican presidential candidates. And it's not just a war of words. There is the cyber war, the recently stepped-up sanctions, the blowing up of facilities near Isfahan and Karaj, the assassination of Iran's nuclear scientists, and now, stymieing any diplomatic contract, the passage of a law which forbids any negotiations by the Obama team with the Islamic Republic -- all manifestations of a clear agenda: to isolate Iran on all levels and fronts.
One country, Israel, enthusiastically supports this stance, doing all it can to push the U.S. and its allies to go after Iran's nuclear facilities. Even though the ex-Mossad chief made it clear to Netanyahu that this would be the worst possible move, every other editorial in Israel talks about the existential threat Iran poses to the country.
Not that the rulers of Iran are not to blame for the ratcheting up of tensions. Iran's leadership has done everything to exacerbate the situation. While continuing to stifle its civil society, it is using the nuclear issue in a high-stakes game of one-upmanship; and the recent invasion and ransacking of the British Embassy shows that itwon't stop short of anything to defy the international community. Iran's leadership does everything wrong at the worst possible time, practically inviting the enemy to attack. Of course, this very defiance is exactly what the Islamic Republic needs in order to stay in power; it is the only card the hardliners have to play.
There is no question that the Iranian people will suffer in the short and long run and will bear the brunt of an attack. Americans will suffer in a different way: Higher gas prices at home which is not even comparable to what ordinary Iranian citizens will pay if and when a war breaks out. The damage will be irreversible.
Are there no more sane diplomats or politicians amongst us? On the eve of 2012, are we witnessing a lack of leadership and sanity on the part of the American policy makers? Even though Obama offered to negotiate, the IRI hardliners chose not to sit and continue with the talks. However, negotiation is not a one-day or one way process. It takes months to come to a compromise in order to avoid a catastrophe. The factionalism in Iran stops any attempts in its tracks. The United States, on the other hand, refuses to consider granting Iran what it seeks: a grand bargain involving the recognition of Iran as a regional player.
In 1951, the formidable statesman and Truman's Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, led the American nation in seeking a solution to the oil dispute between Iran and Great Britain. Iran was then led by a democratic-minded Prime Minister. Acheson thought that fostering democracy in the Middle East was the best solution for the region. He believed that Mosaddeq was representative of "a very deep revolution, nationalist in character, which was sweeping not only Iran but the whole Middle East."
But the newly appointed Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, who was a lover of Persian literature and thought he knew the Iranian mind (through the advice of his friend and iranologist Anne Lambton), famously said that "they were rug dealers and that's all they were. You should never give in and they would always come around and make adeal with you if you stayed firm."
Eden wanted the U.S. to go along with British policy in bringing down Mosaddeq. Truman refused and it was not until a Republican administration took over that the final blow to Mosaddeq came by way of Washington and London. When all negotiations failed in 1952, Acheson, angry at the way the British had behaved, commented that it was they who were behaving like "rug dealers."
In those days, democracy and nationalism were not chic words for the Middle East. The Cold War was in full swing and neither the British nor the French took the idea of Arab or Iranian nationalism seriously. The former were surprised by its vigor in the Iran of the early 1950s, and any illusions about its temporary nature would end with the outbreak of the Algerian rebellion and the Suez Crisis of 1956.
Short sightedness only caused misery for the people in the region who have had to deal with unsavory regimes for decades.
Today, after thirty years of accommodation with the repressive regimes that came out of the nationalist fervor, the rise of discontent in the Arab world, the "Arab Spring," has forced the U.S. and its allies to change course; they now profess to want democratic regimes to replace autocracies, theocracies and brutal dictatorships.
The Islamic Republic has failed its people in many ways, but an attack on Iran would only bring the Iranian people together and prolong the life of the regime. No wise Iranian, neither the leaders of the now silenced Green movement, nor any patriotic Iranian would want an attack on its soil by any foreign government.
It is only through diplomatic efforts that Iran's nuclear program can be contained. Harsh words by the U.S. and its allies, more sanctions, including possible sanctions on oil, will only harden the regime. It is already hurting the people more so than the government.
A Dean Acheson on the American side with humanity, statesmanship and wisdom is needed to come forward. On the Iranian side, it would be difficult these days to find anyone close to Mosaddeq's character. Yet the only way to save both nations from a very bad deal is sitting at a table and reaching acompromise. In the long run both nations will avoid a catastrophe of enormous magnitude.
In these trying moments, both sides should be reminded of the wise words of Iran's great Sufi poet Rumi who wrote:
"Out beyond the idea
of right-doing and wrong-doing,
there is a field, I'll meet you there."