Op-ed: Iran: don’t fence it in
In order to protect itself against plots hatched by US-funded dissidents the government will extend surveillance and control of moderates to the extent of repressing such freedoms as already exist. Those attempting to speak in support of liberty will be brutally punished
“Give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above; don’t fence me in” wrote Cole Porter in 1944, and the plea was warbled by Bing Crosby around a world that, alas, had too many fences, most of them of barbed wire laced with landmines. But now that there are cataclysmic changes to the way international affairs are directed we might reasonably hope that there would be demolition rather than construction of fences. Unfortunately the policies of the Bush administration involve political, military and economic fencing-in of nations it considers enemies.
One victim of fence erection at the moment is Iran, which has been exploring rapprochement with the west for several years. The problem is that Iran is run by a theocratic semi-political dichotomy, with nobody, within or outside the country, being quite certain how much influence the elected ‘moderates’ might be permitted to wield. The egregious Senator Sam Brownback, who meddles so messily in foreign affairs, describes Iran as “a terrorist regime” — and we all know, now, what that particular appellation can herald for a country.
It cannot be claimed that Iran’s overall governance is benevolent. Its weird and hideous excesses are a matter of record — although there have never been multiple atrocities such as have taken place in, for example, Congo where savage, barbaric outrages have attracted no action whatever by these guardians of the moral faith, America and Britain. It’s all pretty selective, this morality-based intervention business — although if depravity can be linked with terrorism or even non-existent nuclear weapons it is likely there will be drastic action involving cruise missiles and lots of bombing.
The recent absurdity in Iran in which a prominent actress of mature years was sentenced to 74 lashes for giving a public peck on the cheek to a student of her recently deceased husband is abundant evidence that Teheran’s excessive religiosity is aberrant to the point of lunacy. The sentence will not be carried out, of course, but the distasteful facts are there for all to despair about. Supreme authority in Iran is unrepresentative, repressive, based on religious extremism, and formidably autocratic. Whether these are reasons for America overthrowing it by force, either by invasion or giving money to encourage internal dissent, is open to doubt.
The ‘terrorist nation’ declaration by Brownback, who with other outspoken figures advocates ‘regime change’, sits comfortably with the pronouncement by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld that “There is no question that there have been and are today senior Al Qaeda leaders in Iran. And they’re busy.”
One might be able to dismiss this as normal Rumsfeld ravings were it not that the State Department’s Richard Boucher made a policy statement the same day concerning Iran’s support for terrorism: “The presence of Al Qaeda operatives working from Iran is a matter of very serious concern to us, whether they’re there with permission, not with permission, or what. It’s the responsibility of the government to prevent these kind of people from coming to their country, to take steps against them if they get there, not to allow them to operate, and to prevent the commission of terrorist acts.”
Just as, presumably, US security prevented “these kind of people from coming to their country” before the Twin Towers atrocity. Just as the Bush administration prevented “the commission of terrorist acts” before a plane slammed into the Pentagon. It is patently impossible for Iran to seal its borders, and absurd for Boucher to suggest it could do so. Not that it matters, so far as Washington is concerned, because the sights are set on Teheran.
The usual anonymous sources have been doing their insidious work with house-trained reporters, and The New York Times recorded that “administration officials, speaking privately, have described deep concern about intercepted communications strongly suggesting that the Qaeda leaders said to be in Iran played a role in directing the bombings in Riyadh that killed 8 Americans.” The ‘evidence’ is growing. Major US figures make exciting statements about Iran supporting terrorism, then nameless briefers (sometimes the same people) appear to ‘confirm’ what has been said, although there is never a hard fact produced.
Fences are being erected around Iran, and the iron grip of Washington is being exercised by sanctions and intimidation. But if there is one thing that will make Teheran even more intent on developing nuclear weapons it is being threatened with nameless punishment by the United States. If there is one thing that will unite the Iranian people it is alien bellicosity.
Washington knows that Iran has detained some suspected Al Qaeda figures but appears to imagine that if any country does this, the next — and mandatory — step is surrender of such people to the tender mercies of the interrogators in Guantanamo Bay. But in regard to international exchange of suspected criminals the Bush administration is hoist by its own petard, or several petards, because it rejects diplomatic relations with Iran, will not acknowledge the International Criminal Court, and refuses to abide by international law regarding the human and legal rights of prisoners.
Sunday’s Washington Post report that the White House is considering “an aggressive policy of trying to destabilize the Iranian government” sends a message to Iran’s rulers that if they wish to survive they will have to persecute their citizens more energetically. In order to protect itself against plots hatched by US-funded dissidents the government will extend surveillance and control of moderates to the extent of repressing such freedoms as already exist. Those attempting to speak in support of liberty will be brutally punished because they will be regarded as traitors acting on the orders of a foreign power.
The recent informal US-Iran dialogue in Geneva, facilitated by the UN, has been abruptly terminated by Bush in an action interpreted by Teheran as a threat-intensifying device. The blustering US demand to hand over suspected Al Qaeda operatives is regarded as crass bullying, and its decision to take a hard line contrary to the positive approaches made at the cordial EU/Iran meeting in Paris last week is evidence to Tehran of petulant arrogance.
Washington is trying to fence in Iran, which is most unwise. There are no starry skies to be seen, and Teheran’s exploratory moves to rapprochement have been destroyed. The Bush foreign policy is Confrontation and Fencing, and this breeds even more resentment and hatred. My thoughts are with those Iranians who seek a more open society and who have been treading a difficult and dangerous path. America’s open and disastrously naïve support for an uprising leading to ‘regime change’ will sentence them to jail terms. Those, of course, who are not hanged.
Brian Cloughley is a former military officer who writes on international affairs. His website is www.briancloughley.com