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"Iran and its Region post-11 September"
Dr Jamileh Kadivar
Speech Delivered At:
Sidney Myer Asia Centre, University of Melbourne, Thursday 7 March 2002
Research Institute for Asia and Pacific, University of Sydney, Friday 8 March 2002
Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Australian National University 11 March 2002
Translated by NAATI-accredited translators Mrs Zahra Vida Bayani, Mrs Azadeh Fadaghi and Mrs Nousha Faizi.
The address was followed by question and answer sessions, which were not transcribed. The speech delivered at the ANU was slightly shorter than that delivered at the other universities.
From a number of different perspectives, 11 September can be interpreted as a historical turning point in the three dimensions of international, regional, and national players. This date can be considered as the end of an epoch which was characterised by the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, which heralded the end of the bipolar world. That polarization of that period had resulted in a world comprising regional blocks of countries with differing systems of government. The end of that era meant that democracy was accepted as the norm as a system of government for both the Western and Eastern blocks of countries. The event of 11 September changed the world forever, creating a clear contrast between the era preceding it.
I would like to present a summary outline of these developments after the events of 11 September at the international, regional and national levels, in respect to several major players in the region.
1. The International level
The demolition of the Berlin Wall and break-up of the Soviet Union caused the decline in the bipolar system that had been governing international relations. What superseded it was a system that hovered between the unipolar and the multipolar.
Without doubt, 11 September put the seal of confirmation on the United States’ unquestioned sovereignty as the ruling and dominant power in a unipolar system. Riding on the emotional waves provoked in the western world, the United States was able to achieve its desired new world order with the help of its allies, achieving its objective with minimum cost and maximum benefit.
During the previous years, the United States main aim was to establish itself as the world’s sole superpower so that it could make decisions freely, and to secure its supremacy. In other words, its aim was to preserve American leadership. This objective was easily facilitated with the atmosphere created after 11 September.
2. Regional level
By undermining the role of regional players, and having the advantage of its superior powers as a regional player, the United States was able to rapidly implement its own policies in the region, even without producing any clear evidence against the Taliban and its role in 11 September. It was able to implement its policies in the region, with the first phase commencing in Afghanistan. There is no doubt that the United States and its allies’ major objective in the region had been the establishment of a friendly regime in the area. The United States achieved this important objective by attacking Afghanistan and establishing its presence there. The outcome and effects of this attack on the materialisation of United States regional aims are so obvious that many political analysts have stated that even if the pretext of 11 September had not occurred and the Taliban’s role in it had not existed, the US would have found another reason to enter this territory. Under the pretext of the war against terrorism, the US was able to execute quickly a pre-planned strategy.
Prior to the 11 September event, the US had secured a foothold in the Persian Gulf after the second Gulf War (Iraqi invasion of Kuwait) and had pursued its Middle East peace process in order to shape its Middle East system which would include the Arab states and Israel. After 11 September this objective was considerably expanded.
Apart from the increase in the US presence in the Cental Asian region after the September 11 event, it appears that the policies of the US revolve around some other main objectives; including control of Afghanistan, hegemony in the Central Asia region, gaining access to the resources of the Caspian Sea, competing with Russia, curtailing China’s influence in the region, monitoring the nuclear weapons of Pakistan and India, masking the state terrorism of the Israeli government against the Palestinians, controlling Iraq and besieging Iran as a country outside the US sphere of influence. In other words the US has erected the main pole of its tent in a calculated manner in a region that contains one billion Moslems, more than one billion Chinese, and one billion Hindus. This means US has hegemony and control over half the world’s population through a long-term presence in a poor and war-ridden country like Afghanistan. With this presence, the US will not only benefit from the immense resources of oil, gas and uranium of the central Asian countries and Caucasus, but will also govern the fate of the Caspian Sea, as it does already the Persian Gulf. It can have a foothold in this region--with due consideration to various issues it has with Russia, Iran, China and India—with significant strategic importance. On the other hand the economic value of Afghanistan will be increased as a passage for Caspian and Central Asia oil and gas export pipeline, going through Pakistan to the Gulf of Oman rather than the other two routes through Iran or Azerbaijan. Bear in mind that the existing rich mineral deposits in Afghanistan also attract the US to establish this country as its new regional base.
3. Level of national players
Further to the effects of 11 September at the international and regional level, the national players in each and every country were influenced by this event, facing in one way or another the opportunities and threats the event brought about. The effects of this event on every single political unit in the region, Arab or non-Arab, can be studied and distinguished.
Considering the way in which the event was reflected in the news, and the reaction to the fact that those accused of the bombing were Arabs, there was a new wave of anti-Arabic and anti-Islamic attacks in the US and other western countries. It appears that the Islamic world in general and the Arab world in particular have been affected by the outcomes of this event more than other countries. When the president of the US announced a ‘crusade’—although this was quickly retracted—and some western authorities including the Italian Prime Minister in his reference to Moslems agreed, a strong wave of anti-American sentiment was created especially at the level of the masses in the Arab world. This issue can be observed in the demonstrations in many countries protesting against the policies of the US and other western countries. There was another issue involved. It was stated that the war against terrorism is not limited to Afghanistan and al-Qaida, but was extended to other countries and organisations that the US considered as supporters of terrorism. This gave a panoramic view of the next steps of the US. This was at a time when countries such as Libya, Sudan, Iraq, Iran and Syria are considered as terrorist countries by the US, and when Hezbullah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups that are fighting against occupation are referred to as terrorist groups.
Despite what I have discussed so far, so long as victory was uncertain and the US needed the support of Arab countries to fight against the Taliban, by rectifying some of the above-mentioned issues, the US tried to attract Arab assistance as much as possible. For the same reason, the US did not allow Israel to enter into the coalition against terrorism. In addition, the President of the US--which had previously always supported Israel--at this point spoke about the rights of Palestinians to establish an independent state. Obviously after winning the war the traditional American stance towards Israel and the Palestinians was resumed. In light of the atmosphere that was created during this period with the world’s attention on the Afghanistan issue, Israel pursued its policies of terror and crackdown on Palestinian activists. Considering that support to Israel is one of the fundamental principles of US foreign policy, in the developments after 11 September the importance of Israel for the US was multiplied. The US relies on Israel as a country to pave the way for US presence in Asia on a long-term basis. In return, Israel receives benefits from what it has done to pave the way for Washington’s presence in the region and the actions of the US in the fight against terrorism. Israel is seeking to benefit from the wealth of its region, especially in relation to oil and gas reserves. On the other hand, Israel is also concerned about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, the access of Arabs to conventional and non-conventional weapons of the former Soviet Union and Iran’s increasing capabilities. Therefore--under cover of assisting to rebuild the army and the intelligence apparatus in Afghanistan--Israel has found an exceptional opportunity to achieve its objectives. Bear in mind that Israel’s role and that of the Zionist lobby in the recent speech of the US President to Congress cannot be underestimated.
Pakistan, as a country which has played an important role in both forming and destroying the Taliban, is considered to be an important player after the 11 September event. The Pakistani president--by virtue of being a skilful tight-rope walker--has shown himself to be a strong ally of the US in the region. This was virtual political suicide in a country that had created the Taliban and was their constant supporter both openly and covertly. In addition, its people have been considerably sympathetic and empathetic to the Taliban. Since it was extremely important for the US to have Pakistan present in the coalition against terror, because it neighbours Afghanistan and because of the valuable information available to the US through Pakistan, the US prevented India from being present or showing any reaction against Pakistan, the country which India considers to be the cause of terrorism and terrorist movements in Kashmir.
The strong reaction of Pakistan’s people against Pakistan’s official stance when Afghanistan was attacked, and their threats to follow the methods of anti-colonial campaigns in India (that is, inviting people to violate civil law, refusing to pay tax or to co-operate with government organizations) are indications of the deep gulf between the nation and the views of the government. The military forces were so seriously dissatisfied with Mosharraf’s co-operation with the Americans that the President was forced to replace some of the important figures in Pakistan’s army.
Of course when US concerns in Afghanistan were resolved, Pakistan was no longer considered to be an important partner for the US. Considering the traditional attitudes of the US government towards India, there will be more movement in that direction. It seems that Pakistan is concerned about India and based on what Pakistan has seen from the US, it should worry about its own future rather than the future of Afghanistan.
So contrary to what has been claimed--that Pakistan is the principal winner of this war--for various reasons Pakistan has encountered many problems and that claim is under question. Today Pakistan faces three different possible tendencies . One tendency is absolute unity with the west. This tendency is pursued by the President: he has said his favourite style of leadership is Attaturk’s and his secularism. On the other hand internal pressures are pushing the country to be opposed to the west and to move towards Islamism. And finally tendencies within the region and neighbouring countries such as China, Iran, and so forth call Pakistan to follow their varying ideologies. Considering the nature of the Islamic government of Pakistan and its reason for existence as a Muslim state separate from India, if the government of Mosharraf tries to follow the first policy, it will definitely face difficulties.
Iran, as another important player in the region, immediately condemned the September 11th terrorist attack and sent condolences to the American people for the tragedy. In the meantime, as Iran has been a victim of terrorist activities during the years after the revolution, it refused to accept the US as the leader of anti-terrorism activities, but affirmed the authority of the United Nations in any activities against terrorism. Therefore, to support the oppressed nation of Afghanistan and to co-operate with the United Nations, Iran closed its borders with Afghanistan. Iran condemned US attack against Afghanistan and declared a policy of non-intervention and ‘active neutrality’. Iran did not support either the Taliban nor the US, and did not enter into the conflict. Iran maintained its unique policy on this issue. Right from the start, Iran requested that the US present evidence in relation to the role of Taliban in the 11 September attack. Meanwhile, Iran kept supporting the Afghan nation and was deeply concerned about the consequences of any attack on Afghanistan. When the attack was completed, Iran repeatedly supported the establishment of a government in Afghanistan with the participation of all of the tribes and groups involved and emphasised its role in rebuilding that country. Despite Iran’s positive role and the heavy expenditure that Iran has incurred in the last two decades, and disregarding Iran’s positive role in the Bonn Conference and its support to the Afghan Interim Government, in the last few months the US has tried to create suspicion and uncertainty about Iran’s role and policy in dealing with Afghanistan. But, the US did not stop there. In his most important annual speech to Congress, the US president accused Iran of supporting terrorism and called Iran part of the ‘axis of evil’. The US president has repeatedly used this term in his subsequent statements.
The only explanation for the stance taken by the US is that the US considers Iran to be a serious obstacle to its achievements and objectives in the region. Iran is not only a large country considered as the heart of the region, but also it possesses two main arteries, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. In addition Iran has 900 kilometres of common borders with Afghanistan, which adds to the importance of Iran in the region. In addition, the very close similarity of the Iranian and Afghani cultures has provided grounds for convergence. Of course, one cannot underestimate the role of Israel in causing conflict in the region. After the 11 September attack, and right from the beginning, Israel tried to point the finger of blame at Iran and accuse Iran of involvement, but it did not succeed. The proposal that was endorsed by Iran and the Arab countries to resolve the Palestinian problem in conjunction with the Afghanistan issue was not to Israel’s liking. Israel does not benefit from a peaceful relationship between Iran and the US. In other words Israel can only breathe and grow in an environment full of tension.
What makes Iran’s status more sensitive relates not only to the special circumstances in the world and the region caused by the 11 September attack, to Iran’s geographical location, or to being in neighbourhood of the region’s hot centres, but more than anything it relates to Iran’s independent opinion and its refusal to revolve in the orbit of US sovereignty. Iran also has its own comprehensive global motives and objectives which are based on having a new message for the world, especially for Moslems, which does not and will not please the US and Israel.
The streamlining of the changes, which have occurred after the events of 11 September, indicates that despite the initial backlash originated by that event, afterwards the US has been able to use the created situation to maximise its revenue. For this reason it wishes to prolong an unstable and tense atmosphere. This is confirmed by an analysis of the contents of the statements of the US president and other political and military authorities of that country. The incidents of the last few months show three principle stages of this policy of creating tension.
The first stage was the scheme identifying the Taliban and al-Qaida as the enemy. This started with the utmost severity and speed and with the assistance of US allies it continued with the occupation of Afghanistan. The second stage was the Anthrax scheme designed to create fear and widespread anxiety amongst the people. This phenomenon kept people’s minds occupied for several months. It was something, which was created suddenly and then suddenly disappeared from the scene of the media and the claims of the US authorities. And finally the third stage was the ‘axis of evil’ scheme, targeting Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
To achieve its exalted aims it is necessary for the US to create factors and agents to provoke the American people’s emotions in order to strengthen national unity. In this sort of situation the existence of an ‘enemy’, whether big or small, strong or weak, is the excuse which justifies the view of those Americans who seek war. The process of making enemies from the anthrax scare to the ‘axis of evil’ scare—when there is no relation whatsoever between the three countries of Iran, Iraq and North Korea—signals the determination of the Americans to progress in their objectives. These objectives will definitely have disturbing outcomes such as job insecurity and economic recession. These objectives have a ‘use by date’ and can be ignored over the next period of time.
Bush’s statement in the congress and his repeated emphasis on the stance he has taken, demonstrates that the US government has a policy of ruling and winning through intimidation and fear. In other words this is a promotion of national objectives and interests being assisted by frightening and provoking the minds of the public. Naturally in such an atmosphere it is easier to pave the way for the flourishing of an economy based on war and for the establishment of companies to produce weapons of war. His statement even provoked the US’s allies, so much so that the UK Foreign Minister said the US president’s war-mongering speech was related more to his concern for future presidential elections rather than to the future of the war against terrorism. Other allies used special literature to state their own opposing views. From another point of view the importance of this scheme is more comprehensible when we understand that the US is a country with a population of a diverse nationalities and identities. To be able to promote national unity, the US government needs internal and external motives. To establish a national identity post the Second World War, the US government has based its policy on the creation of real or imaginary enemies: Korea, Vietnam, the Red Peril and the Yellow Peril have been some of the US’s enemies in the last decades. The announcement of the ‘axis of evil’ was a suitable opportunity and excuse for the US government to explain its huge military budget to the public and to its allies.
Today the question which comes to the mind of the international community is that although the US keeps making statements about fighting against terrorism and these statements are repeatedly endorsed by its allies, why does it support the terrorism of the Israeli government? In the region where we reside there is this serious question about why the US has two different policies in regards to terrorism. We are seeking a fair and reasonable answer to a very basic question.
Created: 01 February 2007 3:20pm
Last Modified: 17 February 2011 12:46pm
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