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Friday, March 27, 2015


Well, having made a fool of myself by making an off-hand remark about Israeli marriage law without knowing what I was talking about, I shall now once more put my foot in my mouth by offering a speculation about Iran, about which I know even less.  [By the way, a correspondent who knows whereof she speaks informs me that Jews in Israel can only marry other Jews in Israel in an Orthodox ceremony, compelling Israeli Jews who are unwilling to go through such a ceremony to travel outside the country to be married elsewhere, whereupon that foreign marriage is recognized by Israeli law.  That is totally different from what I wrote, but it does strike me as being of the same order of horribleness.]

There has been a great deal of discussion in recent days about the supposed contradictions in the Administration's policy regarding Iran.  The contradictions are said to be these:  In Iraq, we are fighting alongside Iran against  ISIL;  in Yemen we are opposed to the recent overthrow of the Yemeni government, which is supported by Iran, so we are in effect fighting against Iran;  in Syria, we are fighting with Iran against ISIL and against Iran in its support of the Assad regime; all the while we are attempting to negotiate an agreement with Iran regarding Iran's nuclear program, which if accomplished would relieve Iran of the crippling economic sanctions under which it has been laboring for some years.  Taking all in all, it is said, our actions may very well have the effect of strengthening Iran's position in  the region, despite the fact that Iran is our enemy, whom we ought in all ways to be attempting to weaken.

Let us leave to one side the fact that this sounds very much like the elaborate maneuverings of the ancien régime in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  I should like to ask some questions designed at least to begin a conversation about the unexamined presuppositions of American Middle East policy.  I ask questions because I do not know enough to hazard answers;  but I ask the questions nevertheless because I am dissatisfied with those unexamined presuppositions.

First, why would it be so unacceptable for Iran to develop nuclear weapons as to justify our launching a war to stop them?  Now, I have all my adult life been unalterably opposed to the existence, threat of use, and use of nuclear weapons, and I was working hard, publicly, to oppose their existence and use before most of the readers of this blog were born, so I cede pride of place to no one when it comes to a commitment to nuclear disarmament.  I was opposed to the development of the American nuclear arsenal and to the development of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.  I was opposed to the development of nuclear  weapons by France, Great Britain, China, Pakistan, and India.  I am opposed to Israel's current possession of a sizable nuclear arsenal, and I am opposed to the attempts by North Korea and Iran to develop nuclear weapons.  But I was not in favor of invading India or Pakistan or China or France or Great  Britain or Israel to stop them from developing nuclear weapons, and I do not see any reason to consider Iran's efforts to develop nuclear weapons different from the successful efforts by Israel.

It is said that it would destabilize the region were Iran to develop nuclear weapons.  Did Israel's development of nuclear weapons destabilize the region?  Not noticeably.  Did the development of nuclear weapons by Pakistan and India destabilize that region?  Very definitely.  Did we contemplate invasion?  Of course not.

Iran, it is said, seeks greater influence in the Middle East.  Every nation in the world seeks greater influence in its region, or, as in the case of the so-called Great Powers, in the world as a whole.  That is the nature of realpolitik, as pursued by every nation with the military and economic power to play the great game.  All nations, including the United States, claim to be pursuing the highest ideals selflessly, and none of them is doing anything of the sort.

Here is my central question:  Why should we not choose to make a self-interested alliance with Iran, rather than with Saudi Arabia or Israel or Egypt?  Is there something we can gain by such an alliance that would adequately compensate us for what it might cost us?  If so, why should we not consider it?

Would this threaten the existence of Israel?  It is difficult to see how, considering that at the present moment Israel is the only nation in the region capable of threatening a potential enemy with nuclear obliteration.  But could we not make the protection of Israel a non-negotiable condition of an alliance with Iran that would enable Iran to expand its influence?

In 1953, John Foster Duller and his brother Allan, under orders from President Eisenhower, engineered a coup that deposed Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected secular Prime Minister of Iran [the casus belli being Mossadegh's decision to nationalize Iran's oil resources.]  I think we all know how that finally turned out.

So, I ask again:  Would it be in the self-interest of the United States to form an alliance with Iran?


Richard said...

I would feel silly if I were to simply say that I agree with all that you said, in this post and in one or two recent ones. So I won't. But I will say that I wonder whether anyone of any real understanding is contemplating an invasion of Iran. What, to begin, would the American military think of that prospect? I think that even Ted Cruz, were he, to think the unthinkable, to be come POTUS, would step back from such a proposal quicker than you can say "Obamacare."

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Lord, I hope you are right, but keep in mind that John Bolton published an Op Ed in the NY TIMES calling for an invasion of Iran!

Magpie said...

I'm afraid I cannot answer any of your questions, Prof.

And God knows I hope Richard is right, but I see the Americans making aggressive moves everywhere (maybe it's just my perception).

Against Venezuela, against Russia, against Iran. I mean, the US military is (and has been for years now) the largest purchaser of military equipment in the world.

I think someone may be itching to use his new toys.

Magpie said...
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Richard said...

Robert and Magpie hope I'm right. I fear I'm wrong.

One fear contributing to my general fear of the right is that I am beginning to think that some of them are at east partially honest in their beliefs. Not so Cruz. (Mind you, this is not an endorsement.)