Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Neocon fantasizing

The Washington Post editorial pages are beginning to look like American Enterprise Institute (AEI) press releases, they have so many neoconservative writers pushing for war. One of the heavies of neoconism, Robert Kagan, praises the brave Iranian people who most neocons are eager to bomb massively in Iran's Struggle, and Ours: How a Movement Could Transform the Region 06/24/09. Kagan currently seems to be having a vision of returning to the good ole days of the Shah, writing, "Iran, ironically, has a better chance to dominate the region under dynamic democratic rule than it has ever had under its benighted clerisy. And that could be very good for the United States."

Because the neocons got their dream fulfilled of attacking Iraq and deposing the secular-oriented Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein, Iran's relative power in the region was increased tremendously. Our allied government in Iraq today is a pro-Iranian, Shi'a Islamist regime. Kagan argues that, hey, the neocons knew that was going to happen all along and it's a good thing, because the democratic domino effect is causing the current political turmoil in Iran:

It is crucial that we reflect on an original goal of regime change in Iraq. Anyone who supported the war must have known that toppling Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab -- whether it resulted in stable democracy, benign dictatorship or sheer chaos -- would strengthen the Shiite hand in the region. This was not seen as necessarily bad. The Sept. 11 terrorists had emanated from the rebellious sub-states of the sclerotic Sunni dictatorships of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose arrogance and aversion to reform had to be allayed by readjusting the regional balance of power in favor of Shiite Iran. It was hoped that Iran would undergo its own upheaval were Iraq to change. Had the occupation of Iraq been carried out in a more competent manner, this scenario might have unfolded faster and more transparently. Nevertheless, it is happening. And not only is Iran in the throes of democratic upheaval, but Egypt and Saudi Arabia have both been quietly reforming apace. [my emphasis]
I suppose as long as you're making up your own reality as our postmodern Republicans have become accustomed to doing, that's as good a fairy tale as any.

If we were to take it seriously, though, it would be quite a confession about what the neocons were up to in 2002-3: they knew that the 9/11 attackers had been from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. So, as a response, we needed to attack Iraq. Because attacking Iraq would make Iran stronger, and therefore somehow someway affect the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Brilliant plan, guys. Do you remember them saying that the reason they want to invade Iraq was to strenthen Shi'a Iran so that it would have a favorite effect on Sunni Saudi Arabia and Sunni Egypt? Me neither. Maybe that's the elusive "real reason" for the Iraq War.

Of course, after their spectacularly wrong analysis on the Iraq War, it's hard to see how anyone other than, say, the rightwing bankrollers of AEI or the editors of the Washington Post would take anything that comes out of the neocons' mouths seriously. It is notable to see how much Kagan has simply transferred his Cold War posture to our current world situation, which suggests that Andrew Bacevich is on the right track in considering the Long War as having begun with the Cold War and continuing right until today. Kagan writes, "The Iranian struggle for democracy is now as central to our foreign policy as that for democracy in Eastern Europe in the 1980s."

Actually, the 1976 Helsinki agreements committed the US to concern for basic human rights in the Soviet bloc and vice versa. But the US strategic posture from 1949-1991 was based on containment of the Soviet Union, not on the struggle for democracy in Eastern Europe. There were Americans and western Europeans who were sincerely concerned to see democracy in the Soviet bloc countries. And there were Cold Warriors who found such a claim a convenient propaganda point for warmongering. But democracy in eastern Europe as only "central" to American policy at the very abstract level. It was the Soviet dominance of the Warsaw Pact nations that was the most immediate problem to solve.

I don't want to overstate the case here. The United States did attempt to promote democratic sentiments - or at least anti-Communist ones - by funding "civil society" activities in the eastern bloc. But for American strategic policy, eastern European Communist states that took an independent position from the USSR, as Yugoslavia started doing early on in the Cold War, would have served Washington's immediate purposes just as well as democratization.

Kagan isn't restricting his imagination to postmodern reconstruction of the last six years:

The now-joined struggle for Iranian hearts and minds is where the universal battle of ideas -- democracy vs. tyranny -- meets the dictates of Middle Eastern geography. Whereas Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are puzzle pieces carved out of featureless desert, with no venerable traditions of statehood, the roots of a great Persian power occupying the Iranian plateau date to the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanid empires. With nearly 70 million people occupying the tableland between the oil-rich Caspian Sea and the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Iran is the Muslim world's universal joint. [my emphasis]
I suppose that if we consider the Sāsānid Empire (224–651 CE) the point in time at which a modern-day nation would have had to have a distinct identity to be anything but "puzzle pieces carved out of featureless desert", I guess that works. That makes the US, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and every other present-day nation in the Western Hemisphere "puzzle pieces carved out of featureless desert", too, except for the parts carved out of featureless wilderness and featureless rainforests.

The end date of the Sāsānid dynasty, 651 CE, is worth noting. The Prophet Muhammad (570-632 CE) unified the various tribes of the Arabian Peninsula politically and militarily during his lifetime. It was not a nation in the modern sense. No place was until roughly the Peace of Westphalia in 1948. But the united Islamic empire continued to spread rapidly after the Prophet's death at the expense of the decadent Sāsānid and Byzantine Empires. The battle al-Kādisiyya in 636 secured control of Irak for the Muslims then under the leadership of the Caliph ʿUmar I. Yazdigird III, the last Sāsānid ruler was killed in flight from the Muslim armies. But bringing Iran under Muslim control and beginning the large-scale conversion of the Persians to Islām took well into the following century. Until around the time that the Mongols under Hūlāgū overran Baghdad in 1258, Persia was ruled by the Muslim caliphs from Baghdad.

Has Iran/Persia been more influenced in its present form by its pre-eighth-century history than by its centuries as a Muslim country? That's the kind of thing people write Ph.D. dissertations about. But my point is that Kagan's expansive generalizations about Iranian history seem to be more rhetorical flourishes than anything related to the country's actual history.

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