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Why Obama's Iran Policy Will Fail | The Nation

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Why Obama's Iran Policy Will Fail

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Tehran and Washington

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Dilip Hiro
Dilip Hiro is the author of Sharing the Promised Land: A Tale of Israelis and Palestinians (Interlink), Between Marx...

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Its ‘generosity’ toward Cairo notwithstanding, Washington has been reduced to the role of a helpless bystander.

There is, of course, a deep and painful legacy of animosity and ill-feeling between the thirty-year-old Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States. Iran was an early victim of Washington's subversive activities, when the six-year-old CIA overthrew the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Muhammad Mussadiq in 1953. That scar on Iran's body politic has not yet healed. Half a century later, the Iranians watched the Bush administration invade neighboring Iraq and overthrow its president, Saddam Hussein, on trumped-up charges involving his supposed program to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Iran's leaders know that during his second term in office--as Seymour Hersh revealed in the New Yorker--Bush authorized a clandestine CIA program with a budget of $400 million to destabilize the Iranian regime. They are also aware that the CIA has focused on stoking disaffection among Sunni ethnic minorities in Shiite-ruled Iran. These include ethnic Arabs in the oil-rich province of Khuzistan adjoining Iraq, and ethnic Baluchis in Sistan-Baluchistan Province abutting the Pakistani province of Baluchistan.

Little wonder that Tehran pointed an accusing finger at the United States for the recent assassination of six commanders of its Revolutionary Guard Corps in Sistan-Baluchistan by two suicide bombers belonging to Jundallah (the Army of Allah), an extremist Sunni organization. As yet, there is no sign, overt or covert, that President Obama has canceled or repudiated his predecessor's program to destabilize the Iranian regime.

Insecure regimes seek security in nuclear arms. History shows that joining the nuclear club has, in fact, proven an effective strategy for survival. Israel and North Korea provide striking examples of this.

Unsure of Western military assistance in a conventional war with Arab nations, and of its ability to maintain its traditional armed superiority over its Arab adversaries, Israel's leaders embarked on a nuclear weapons program in the mid-1950s. They succeeded in their project a decade later. Since then Israel has acquired an arsenal of eighty to 200 nuclear weapons.

In the North Korean case, once the country had tested its first atomic bomb in October 2006, the Bush administration softened its stance towards it. In the bargaining that followed, North Korea got its name removed from the State Department's list of nations that support international terrorism. In the on-again-off-again bilateral negotiations that followed, the Pyongyang regime as an official nuclear state has been seeking a guarantee against attack or subversion by the United States.

Without saying so publicly, Iran's leaders want a similar guarantee. Conversely, unless Washington ends its clandestine program to destabilize the Iranian state, and caps it with an offer of diplomatic acceptance and normal relations, there is no prospect of Tehran abandoning its right to enrich uranium. On the other hand, the continuation of a policy of destabilization, coupled with ongoing threats of "crippling" sanctions and military strikes (whether by the Pentagon or Israel), can only drive the Iranians toward a nuclear breakout capability.

During George W. Bush's eight-year presidency, the US position in the world underwent a sea change. From the Clinton administration, Bush had inherited a legacy of ninety-two months of continuous economic prosperity, a budget in surplus, and the transformation of the UN Security Council into a handmaiden of the State Department. What he passed on to Barack Obama was the Great Recession in a world where America's popularity had hit rock bottom and its economic strength was visibly ebbing. All this paved the way for the economic and political rise of China, as well as the strengthening of Russia as an energy giant capable of extending its influence in Europe and challenging American dominance in the Middle East.

In this new environment expecting the leaders of Iran, backed by China and Russia, to do the bidding of Washington means placing a bet on the inconceivable.

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