On Power, Morality and Courage

My reflections last week were about the United States grand strategy anchored in the energy resources and Israel’s defense in the Middle East. How that grand strategy, offering a validation for the Cold War in Asia and Africa, has lived on since the end of the Soviet threat two decades ago gives us plenty of food for thought.

Merciless continuation of that grand strategy meant the same old policies of propping up corrupt, repressive dictatorships, which at long last brought the Arab Spring in late 2010, and which is now a bitter and bloody winter. New retaliation by Egypt’s ruling Military Council in recent days has created conditions for a second revolution in that country, whether it happens or not.

The crowds at Tahrir Square are smaller than early this year. The Muslim Brotherhood, eyeing the parliamentary elections starting tomorrow (November 28), does not support the latest protests. The Brotherhood has calculated that it does not want to forego the opportunity offered by the coming elections, in which it is expected to do well. It also does not want to risk provoking Egypt’s Military Council, and more importantly, Washington.

Little do Brotherhood members seem to appreciate the history of the West using Islamists for its narrow interests, then turning on former allies in the name of fighting extremism.

Nonetheless, the protesting crowds at Tahrir are ever more determined. With events threatening to slip out of control, the Obama administration again does not know how to deal with the crisis. For the moment, America’s response is that “we condemn the excessive use of force by the police … and urge the Egyptian government to exercise maximum restraint.” With no warning or possibility of restricting American aid to Egypt’s armed forces, this is the softest standard reaction from the U.S. State Department to government onslaught on dissidents in a friendly country.

The latest events in Egypt, and violence and clampdown in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, have somewhat overshadowed the Western maneuverings in Syria and Iran, twin targets of America’s grand strategy which I discussed earlier. A few days ago, STRATFOR published a useful analysis providing additional context to events in the Middle East with reference to Syria and Iran. It also explained reasons for escalated anxiety in Washington and friendly capitals with regard to Iran.

Feeling misled when they supported the United Nations Security Council resolution for a “humanitarian intervention” in Libya, China and Russia will not repeat what they now regard as a mistake. NATO’s conduct in the war in Libya has damaged, perhaps fatally, the future of humanitarian interventions with the Security Council’s mandate. Hence Syria is unlikely to be Libya, with the United Nations acting as a tool. It partly explains reports in the region that France is training Syrian rebels to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The United States, Britain, Canda and France, all have increased the pressure on Iran in the last few days, superficially because of the “nuclear threat” which Tehran poses to the West’s interests. In reality, the West’s anxieties about Iran have far more to do with other events challenging America’s grand strategy in the region. Washington alleges that Tehran’s aim is to acquire the bomb, for which the evidence provided is thin, if not misleading and possibly false.

Journalist Gareth Porter of the Inter-Press Service has disassembled the U.S.-backed case asserting that Iran is working on a nuclear weapons program. Porter’s determined effort to uncover the truth flatly contradicts the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report, which claims that Tehran might be developing nuclear weapons. In pointing the finger at Tehran, the IAEA director general Yukiya Amano, who had already committed himself to the United States, played a crucial role.

The New Yorker’s investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, speaking to Democracy Now!, also described Amano’s views as the “stuff of fantasyland.” What happened with regard to Iraq in 2003 is now beginning to happen with regard to Iran. Following on his illustrious predecessors, Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei, Amano has not covered himself in glory, given that the IAEA report, prepared under his authority, has been so discredited.

The United States National Intelligence Estimate 2007 acknowledged that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons development effort in 2003, when America invaded Iraq. There has been no evidential change since, and Tehran continues to deny developing nuclear weapons. As the case against Iran is ceaselessly repeated in major media outlets, it is only right to state here that Iran denies it is trying to acquire nuclear weapons. In any case, it has a right to enrich uranium, within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory. On the contrary Israel, widely believed to be in possession of a substantial nuclear arsenal, would neither sign the NPT, nor would it submit its nuclear program to IAEA inspection.

Aggressive posturing by Israel and its allies in Washington, London and Paris against Iran and Syria runs the risk of persuading Tehran that it has no alternative but to manufacture the bomb one day. Should NATO’s hawks and their Gulf allies succeed in toppling the Syrian regime, resulting in chaos and bloodbath, Iran’s fears will only be heightened. The current game of brinkmanship leads to nowhere but the road to catastrophe. The cost will be high. Who will pay the price and whose interests will be served are the questions we must ask.

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