Iran Still Isn't the Soviet Union

by Tony Romm*
Special to iVoryTowerz

Control yourselves: Iran is not going to destroy Israel this week. Or any week, for that matter. And to believe otherwise is to give credence to an argument comprised wholly of speculation and hyperbole. For a state that has apparently struggled with the intricacies of Photoshop, a credible nuclear arsenal is something almost absurd. Of course, Iran is not benign. Tehran threatens the region's precarious power balance and makes difficult the processes of building peace and democratization, the United States' best hopes to combat terrorism worldwide. But a monolith, eerily similar to the legendary Soviet bulwark, Iran most definitely is not. To report it that way is to ignore three crucial facts.

Iran does not have nuclear weapons. The December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that analyzed Iran’s missile capabilities reported a crucial fact many Americans (and the two presidential candidates) overlooked: “[We] assess with moderate confidence that Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007… [and] does not currently have a nuclear weapon.” Combined with reports that Iran won’t have the technology to produce a weapon until at least 2010, the evidence indicting Tehran for plotting a nuclear attack in 2008 is shoddy, at best.

If anything, American and Israeli posturing has allowed the myth to metastasize. Be it Israel’s constant retaliation threats or the unwarranted rationale for Eastern European missile defense by the U.S., the world community has treated Iran as a pariah. That kind of strategy would have ended the Cold War (and, frankly, almost did) in the most devastating way.

Iran still enjoys the benefits of American trade. This should come as a surprise to most Americans, who probably don’t realize American firms still do business with Tehran. According to the Associated Press:

“U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold during President Bush’s years in office even as he accused it of nuclear ambitions and sponsoring terrorists. America sent more cigarettes to Iran, at least $158 million worth under Bush, than any other product.”
But that’s not to suggest everything U.S. firms ship to Iran is harmless. The AP continues:
“Sanctions are intended in part to frustrate Iran’s efforts to build its military, but the U.S. government’s own figures showed at least $148,000 worth of unspecified weapons and other military gear were exported from the United States to Iran during Bush’s time in office. That included $106,635 in military rifles and $8,760 in rifle parts and accessories shipped in 2004.”
Although the United States maintains a hypocritical stance on the issue, Iran clearly stands to benefit from American ambivalence. Tehran certainly doesn’t want to lose what little trade it receives — the Soviet Union, despite the media’s incorrect historical parallel, would balk at that — because it gains very little from its devout allies, most of whom are non-state actors with little opportunity for investment. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may make some illogical strategic decisions, but slowly expunging all sources of trade, especially after this week, isn’t going to be one of them.

Iran and the United States have common regional interests. It’s to no one’s surprise that a stable Iraq, a centralized Lebanon and a less volatile Pakistan would greatly help the region. And as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns noted in a recent Senate hearing on the matter, Iran stands to gain from all of these things. Problematically, Iran holds the Bush administration in the lowest regard, which has relegated the U.S. to bilateral engagement purely on a civilian level (the State Department asked Iran’s Olympic athletes, for example, to visit the U.S., according to Burns’ testimony). And while hearts and minds are always a helpful thing to captivate, second-track diplomacy has its limits. Iranian-American relations are much less volatile than Soviet-American relations during the Cold War — probably because assured destruction is not mutual — and the Bush administration can’t forget that. Even so, it is obvious that a new American regime will have more luck in this regard than the current government ever will.

True, it’s hard to avoid these parallels on the fly. The media have tried to make sense of non-proliferation pacts and complex sanction proceedings in a way far different than they treated Iraq's (non-existent) WMDs, and for good reason. But comparing Iran to the Soviet Union largely ignores reality. Worse, it propels the U.S. and Iran farther apart. For ignorant voters make for ignorant leaders, who implement equally ignorant foreign policies — perhaps the one vestige of the Cold War that truly applies in 2008.

*Tony Romm is currently an intern at The World Politics Review.

(Political graphic by AZRainman, via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. To see more of AZRainman's work, please check out his blog.)

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John Maszka said...

Nous Tenons Á Notre Avis

It is in our nature to believe that our opinion is the right opinion. But everyone, be they liberal or conservative, understands that another war will break the back of the American economy.

Add to this the fact that Iran has over ten million men of military age, and it becomes an issue of blood and treasure. The only way that America can stand against such opposition is through a prolonged campaign of lethal air strikes, which will involve the slaughter of innocent civilians and bring the rightful outrage of the entire world upon our heads.

Not only would an attack against the sovereign state of Iran be wrong, it would be extremely foolish.

President Bush-
Il ne desire pas paix
Il ne desire rien mais guerre.
Il tient un livre de douleur et larmes
Il tient á ouvrir.
Il ne parait pas que il comprend
Il ne s’agit pas de legs…
Il ne faut pas ouvrir ce livre
Il ne contiennent que mort.

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