How to Deal With the Iranian Genii?

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How to Deal With the Iranian Genii?

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry take the stage in Switzerland on April 2, 2015 after marathon negotiations to reach a nuclear deal with Iran. (Photo: AP)

The deal reached in Lausanne, Switzerland by Iran and five powers, led by the US, appears to be about nuclear capability.  

In fact, the real issue was not nuclear weapons, which Iran does not now possess, but Iran’s potential geopolitical power.

Iran, a nation of 80.8 million, has been bottled up like the proverbial genii by US-led sanctions ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution deposed Shah Pahlavi’s corrupt royalist regime.  The Shah had been groomed to be the chief US enforcer in the Gulf.

More than a dozen American efforts to overthrow the Islamic government in Tehran have failed.  Washington resorted to sabotage and economic warfare, sought to throttle Iran’s primary exports, oil and gas,  to derail its banking system, and prevent imports of everything from machinery to vitamins. 

The US and Israel have used the extremist group People’s Mujahidin to murder Iranian officials and scientists.

There is no doubt that this western economic siege drove Iran to make major concessions over its nuclear energy program, a source of great national pride and prestige that broke what Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the “backwardness” imposed by the western powers on the Muslim world to keep it weak and subservient. 

Like Cuba, another state that long defied Washington,  Iran eventually found the price of its independence and self-interest too high to bear.  As with Saddam’s Iraq, US-led sanctions caused its military to rust away and its oil exports to fall painfully.

Israel’s anguished alarms over Iran’s supposed nuclear “threat” were not even believed by its own crack intelligence services or those of the United States, but the relentless drumbeat of hate Iran propaganda convinced many in North America and even better-informed Europe that Iran is a menace.

What Israel really feared was not Iran’s non-existent nuclear threat  but rather its ongoing support for the beleaguered Palestinians. 

Iran became the last Mideast nation giving strong backing to creation of a Palestinian state.  The Arab states opposing Israel have been silenced:  Syria, Libya and Iraq crushed by war and torn asunder, Egypt and Jordan bought off with huge bribes.  The Saudis have secretly allied themselves to Israel.  So only Iran was left to champion Palestine.   

That is why Israel made such a determined effort to push the US into war with Iran.  With the feeble Arab states largely demolished or gelded, Israel’s hold on the Occupied West Bank and Golan would be unchallenged.

But for the United States, the geostrategic calculus is somewhat different.   The Iranian revolution of 1979 profoundly challenged America’s Mideast imperium – what I call the American Raj after the manner in which  the British Empire ruled India.

Washington’s Mideast political-strategic architecture was built on feudal and brutal military regimes.  Ever since 1945, the deal was that the feudal oil states supplied oil at bargain basement prices in exchange for US military and political protection.  In addition, the Arab oil monarchies undertook to buy huge amounts of American arms from plants in key political states that none of them knew how to effectively use.  The most recent deal amounts to $46 billion of US weapons for the Saudis. 

Washington’s Mideast Raj  forms one of the enduring pillars of American global power.  Though America consumes less and less Mideast oil each year,  its control of  the flow of oil from Arabia to Europe, Japan, China and the other parts of the Asian economy gives it huge strategic leverage.  Japan and Germany both vividly remember they lost WWII because of lack of oil.  

The 1979 Iranian Revolution gravely threatened this sweetheart arrangement.   Iran demanded that its Arab neighbors follow Islam’s calls to share wealth, avoid ostentation, live modestly, and care for the needy – in short, the very opposite of the flamboyant Saudis and Gulf Arabs.  

Iran set the example by funding extensive social programs and education.  Of course, Iran’s challenge to share the wealth was anathema to the oil monarchs and their American patrons.  By 1980, an undeclared conflict was underway across the Muslim world between the Saudis and Iran – one that still rages today as we see most recently in the expanding Yemen war.

US policy has been to keep the infectious, troublesome Iranians isolated and contained, rather as Europe’s reactionary powers did with revolutionary France at the end of the 18th century.  While the reason given by Washington was Iran’s alleged nuclear threat, the sanctions regime was really aimed at fatally weakening Iran’s economy and provoking the overthrow of the Islamic government and its replacement by tame Beverly Hills Iranian exiles.

Unfortunately for US imperial policymakers, the dangerous chaos they created  in Iraq and Syria, and the rise of ISIS, necessitated working with Iran to keep a lid on this boiling pot.  That means easing sanctions on Tehran and allowing its economy to start coming back to life.

Hence the Lausanne deal.  But Tehran does not trust Washington to adhere to the pact.  Grand Ayatollah Khamenei asserted last week there would be no deal unless sanctions against Iran were lifted “immediately.”  To many Iranians it seemed clear that Washington had no intention of lifting key sanctions, only slowly lessening relatively unimportant ones.

Washington faces a major dilemma over the isolation of Iran.  If sanctions are substantially lifted, Iran will increase oil and gas exports and begin rebuilding its industrial base and obsolete military forces.  Europe,  Russia, China and India are all eager to resume doing business with Iran.

But lifting sanctions will make Iran stronger and even more of a political threat to America’s Mideast satraps – who want the Persian genii bottled up.  Claims that Mideast states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE fear a nuclear arm race are spurious.  Save Egypt and Jordan, all are next door to Iran.  Nuclear weapons have no use in such close quarters.  Egyptians lack food, never mind nuclear arms.

Israel and its partisans, who have successfully purchased much of the US Congress, remain determined to scupper the nuclear deal.  There are so many potential slips between cup and lip that reaching an effective, lasting deal will be very difficult.  Iran is not wrong to be skeptical.

Eric Margolis

Eric Margolis

Eric Margolis is a columnist, author and a veteran of many conflicts in the Middle East. Margolis recently was featured in a special appearance on Britain’s Sky News TV as “the man who got it right” in his predictions about the dangerous risks and entanglements the US would face in Iraq. His latest book is American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World.

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