Yes, there's a problem with Iran going nuclear. Yes, it's serious enough that it warrants concern, should be dealt with, etc., etc., etc.
But, here in the reality-based community, we still hold to the quaint notion that it's important to look at how we got to this point, hold people accountable for their actions, look back at recent history and try to see who's credible moving forward. I know this attitude is hopelessly counter to what today's cable-news environment is like, but hey, that's why there are blogs (and, very occasionally, decent articles in the NYTimes).
And when you look back at the last 5 years, you can really come to only one conclusion: George W. Bush is an Iranian agent working for the betterment of his masters. Well, either that or he's the Ayatollah's biggest Stooge ...
We'll end the story with a couple of recent NYTimes articles that show just how far we've fallen vis a vis Iran, but let's start back in 2001. In fact, let's just start at The Day That Changed EverythingTM
: September 11th.
September 11th dawned over an Iranian nation that seemed to be in transition. Years of strict rule by the mullahs were cracking just a bit. The reformer Mohammed Khatami was President, and there were open calls for a liberalization of much of Iranian society. Yes, the Ayatollah was still the most powerful political figure in the nation, and yes, the most powerful factions in the country were still ultra-conservative. But this was a country feeling internal pressure to change, with an extremely young population. And Iran's foreign policy situation with its neighbors was extremely tenuous.
Then, the planes hit the World Trade Center.
The first reactions showed the tensions in Iraqi society. The Ayatollah's newspaper stated that "the super-terrorist had a taste of its own bitter medicine on Tuesday, when the pride of its financial and military power came crashing down in New York and Washington." However ...
[N]umerous writers and politicians alike condemned the attack, and especially the civilian casualties. In the reformist daily Mellat in Tehran, for instance, Abdolhoseyn Herati denounced: "The shocking explosions in America... hurt the alert conscience of all of humanity; and one can dare say that this rapacious act was a crime against humanity." [...]
In Iran there were even a few examples of public displays condemning the attacks and sympathizing with the victims. The first such demonstration reported occurred when around 200 young Tehranis, supporters of the Iranian reform movement and many wearing black in a sign of mourning, held a silent candle-lit gathering only two days after the attack. A few days later in Tehran's Azadi Stadium, Iranian and Bahraini soccer players observed a minute of silence in honor of the attacks' victims before starting their match.
Then, Special Agent Bush got to work.
Before we move forward, let's step back a moment and look at the Iranian relations with the Taliban. They sucked. Iran and the Taliban were openly hostile. Here's a Time Magazine primer to Afghanistan from fall 2001:
Iran is implacably hostile to the Taliban over that movement's extremist theology and over its killing of Afghan Shiite Muslims. In 1999, Iran almost went to war against the Taliban after its militia killed eight Iranian diplomats and a journalist after capturing a predominantly Shiite town, and has worked together with Russia to support anti-Taliban opposition forces.
So, here was Bush's first act in response to the attacks of September 11th: take out the Taliban. Now, let's not step too far out into the joke here; there were LOTS of good reasons to take out the Taliban that had nothing to do with Iran. But the fact remains that the Taliban were a source of great frustration and some danger on Iran's eastern border, and now they were gone. Iranian-allied warlords extended their influence in the western part of Afghanistan and now Iran exerts far more power in the country than they did before.
But, of course, Iran's big problem was to the west ...
We all know the recent history of Iranian/Iraqi relations. The brutal 1980s war between the countries killed large numbers of people in both countries, and the two were still strongly antagonistic.
The problem for Special Agent Bush, however, was a lot trickier here. Taking out the Taliban was easy, politically speaking. But Iraq? They had nothing to do with September 11th, and the military infrastructure of the country had decayed through years of sanctions to the point where it wasn't much of a threat to the region. But, undeterred, Bush pushed ahead with the attacks. Because taking out Saddam was just that important. The fact that the only people it really seemed this important to were the Iranian mullahs ... well, that's a fact that was conveniently ignored.
The results, frankly, couldn't have been better for the Ayatollah. As long ago as last year, Juan Cole wrote The Iraq war is over, and the winner is... Iran.
Iraq's new government has been trumpeted by the Bush administration as a close friend and a model for democracy in the region. In contrast, Bush calls Iran part of an axis of evil and dismisses its elections and government as illegitimate. So the Bush administration cannot have been filled with joy when Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and eight high-powered cabinet ministers paid an extremely friendly visit to Tehran this week.
The two governments went into a tizzy of wheeling and dealing of a sort not seen since Texas oil millionaires found out about Saudi Arabia. Oil pipelines, port access, pilgrimage, trade, security, military assistance, were all on the table in Tehran. All the sorts of contracts and deals that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney had imagined for Halliburton, and that the Pentagon neoconservatives had hoped for Israel, were heading instead due east.
Jaafari's visit was a blow to the Bush administration's strategic vision, but a sweet triumph for political Shiism. In the dark days of 1982, Tehran was swarming with Iraqi Shiite expatriates who had been forced to flee Saddam Hussein's death decree against them. They had been forced abroad, to a country with which Iraq was then at war. Ayatollah Khomeini, the newly installed theocrat of Iran, pressured the expatriates to form an umbrella organization, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which he hoped would eventually take over Iraq. Among its members were Jaafari and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. On Jan. 30, 2005, Khomeini's dream finally came true, courtesy of the Bush administration, when the Supreme Council and the Dawa Party won the Iraqi elections.
Meanwhile, the Iraq invasion dealt a huge blow to the reform movement in Iran. The reform movement had long called for improved relations with the West, including the United States. An explicit part of President Khatamei's platform and an implicit part of the pro-democracy student rallies in 1999 which led to his election was an attitude that can at the least be described as non-hostile to the United States. And the Iraq invasion completely discredited the US. When students, fed up with Khatamei and still rejecting the fundamentalist ruling Ayatollah, protested in 2003, the US was a major political drag on their efforts:
The approach of the Bush administration towards these developments has raised questions about its objectives. Against a background of two years of anti-Iranian propaganda and a few months of talks of a regime change in Iran, Washington's clear expression of support for the Iranian students has only provided grounds for Tehran's suppression of their protests under the pretext of neutralizing an American plan to destabilize Iran.
Last Thursday, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reacted to the Tehran demonstrations to say Washington "fully support [ed] their aspirations to live in freedom". He added, "We applaud the Iranian people for calling attention to the destructive policies of the Iranian government, that do such a disservice to its population. It's our hope that the voice of the Iranian people and their call for democracy and the rule of law will be heard." While the Iranian regime denies any domestic ground for the ongoing student protests and attributes them to the American government's provocations, such American statements will only serve to confirm that attribution and to dissuade people from joining the protests for fear of being labelled as foreign agents.
So, just to recap: Bush took out the rivals for Iran on both it's eastern and western borders, and it undercut the major source of internal pressure to reform. This dynamic contributed to the election last year of a new ultra-conservative President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ayatollah: "Agent Bush ... you are doing your job very, very well." Or maybe: "Hey, guys, that Bush ... what a freakin' Stooge, huh?"
And things have only gotten worse. Moqtada al-Sadr, a rival of SCIRI in the bid for Shiite support in Iraqi politics, used to tout that group's Iranian ties in a bid to gain some advantage over them. Well, now he travels to Iran and pledges to support Iran if the US attacks that country.
And the Bush Administration's spectacularly successful efforts to undermine US credibility on proliferation issues, as well as its equally successful endeavors to isolate the US diplomatically, have created an atmosphere where Iran felt it could rattle the international scene with its nuclear program. Here's the NYTimes:
While the top leadership had decided to take a more confrontational approach with the West even before Mr. Ahmadinejad was elected, the new president began with such a harsh style that many officials were initially unnerved. But when the West failed to stop Iran from defiantly restarting its nuclear program, or to punish it, some opponents reluctantly accepted that Mr. Ahmadinejad was right and they were wrong.
"First we thought he is not right," said a senior government official who consults frequently with the ruling clergy. "Now we understand he is right. You need us more than we need you," he said of the West.
The nuclear issue has provided fertile ground for the president to try to cultivate a new political class, one that is ideologically driven to provide a new, and at the same time reactionary, face to Iran.
After years of reformers controlling the government, Mr. Ahmadinejad is doing exactly what he promised, resurrecting the priorities of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, chastising the West at every turn and striving to forge a distinctly anti-Western national identity while re-establishing Iran's revolutionary influence across the Muslim world.
Oh, boy. And, it's gotten so bad for the US that the Iranian government is openly gloating about how powerless the US is to do anything about it. Again, the Times:
Iranians know that American forces, now stretched thin, are unlikely to invade Iran. And if the United States or Europe were to try a small-scale, targeted attack, the proximity of American forces makes them potential targets for retaliation. Iranians also know the fighting in Iraq has helped raise oil prices, and any attempt to impose sanctions could push prices higher.
In addition, the Iranians have longstanding ties to influential Shiite religious leaders in Iraq, and at least one recently promised that his militia would make real trouble for the Americans if they moved militarily against Iran.
All of those calculations have reduced Iranian fears of going ahead with their nuclear program -- a prospect that frightens not just the United States, Europe and Israel, but many of the Sunni Muslim-dominated nations in the region, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt
It's one thing to not be respected by your friends (and the US isn't), but now the US isn't even respected by its rivals.
Here's one thing wingnuts should really chew on ... all jokes about Bush's Iranian employment aside, he's done more to weaken the US than anyone could've thought possible. It's gotten so bad that the Iranians are openly mocking the United States in word and deed, and all the US can do is ignore it, pressing hands to ears and muttering "we can't hear you ... we're not listening," while hoping the Europeans can do something about it. The entire US army is bogged down in a situation that Iran controls, giving the Iranians nearly complete freedom of action, without them having to lift a finger militarily themselves. It's a nearly impossibly bad result, one that the Iranians themselves couldn't have designed better.
Yes, Agent Bush has done very, very well ...