Three Questions & a Short Tirade

2009-04-17-primer1

A red herring?

The danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to the region and the world is directly related to these weapons. Iran may never actually deploy these weapons or even threaten to deploy them against her perceived enemies, but having them might make her feel freer to embark on a more aggressive and expansionist foreign policy, including providing support to a growing assortment of rogue regimes, sectarian militias, death squads and terrorist networks under the belief that her nuclear arsenal would shield her from any serious repercussions.

Considering that, just by having a developed nuclear program and a strong traditional military, Iran seems to have greatly complicated all calculations related to potential military strikes against her, and considering her current regional adventurism, there is ample justification for worry in this regard. Indeed, this is not a red herring situation, and should not be treated as such by policymakers and analysts.

Is military intervention in other countries always wrong?

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]upporters of the Iran Deal keep reminding us, by way of explaining away that country’s long-standing hostility towards the United States, of what the latter did to incur that hostility, especially the CIA (and MI5) backing of the military coup of August 19, 1953. Paradoxically enough, however, the same set of people have constantly defended Iranian’s military adventurism in the region, including setting up and sponsoring the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon, establishing and arming Shia militias and death squads in Iraq and Yemen, and the ongoing support for the Assad regime of Syria in its 4-year drive to quash its opponents – a development that, according to the UN, paved the way for the worst humanitarian crisis since the Cold War.

The gist of the argument presented in this connection is that Iran has the right to defend herself and advance her particular geopolitical agenda, one that is commensurate with her potential. But then, hasn’t this been the usual rationale behind U.S. military interventions including the one in Iran in 1953? (Iran may not have posed a military threat to the U.S. at the time, but a Soviet Block strengthened with the rise of Socialist Iran did).

So, is military intervention in the affairs of other countries wrong in principle, or only when America in particular or Western powers in general do it?

If such an intervention is wrong in principle, then, Iran’s own adventurism in this regard should be as strongly condemned by the very people and groups who condemn the U.S. If ambitious regional powers like Iran, are given a pass on their use of the same rules used by America, rules which they often condemned as “unfair,” “immoral” and “wrong,” then, we should expect more bloodshed, more mayhem and more chaos in the coming decades.

To make matters worse, most of these rising powers are not democratic or committed to undertaking democratic reforms, meaning that they lack any serious internal self-review mechanisms that could make them accountable for their external misadventures. Moreover, their authoritarian tendencies will often make them embark on external adventures in order to avoid popular accountability for their corruption, abuses and misrule. If even democratic sates, for all the public accountability involved, can still manage to “wag the dog,” authoritarian regimes can wag a whole pack often without having to worry in the slightest about any domestic naysaying.

“Indeed, flawed diplomacy is no less dangerous to global security than military adventurism.”

But if the argument against military intervention is seen as valid only in the case of America and other Western powers, then, one cannot help but wonder about the ideological motivations of the protagonists involved, and what interests they represent. One argument advanced to support such a bias against Western countries claims that the goal here is to “level the playing-field” between developed and underdeveloped nations.

But what if the ruling elites in these underdeveloped nations are more concerned with strengthening their hold on power countries and exploiting the resources of their countries more than they are interested in developing them? What would be the benefit of levelling the playing field in this situation, which happens to be the case not only with Iran but most underdeveloped nations as well? What would support to the rise and empowerment of authoritarian regimes achieve? How can such a development make the world a better and more just peaceful place (because, ultimately, this is what opposing “Western imperialism” is meant to achieve)?

I am not trying to advocate military action against Iran here, my point is to showcase the double standards adopted by engagement advocates on certain issues, their deeply flawed rationale, and the fact that they really don’t have the moral high ground as they often claim, considering that their policies can lead to results no less disastrous, if not even more so, than certain military actions.

Indeed, flawed diplomacy is no less dangerous to global security than military adventurism, and, as the situation in Syria showed, the costs of nonintervention can be far greater, in material and humanitarian terms, than those associated with limited military actions. The imposition of protect zones in Syria could have prevented genocide; today this is still needed to manage its consequences. The right and necessary thing to do then is still the right and necessary thing to do now, and, at its heart, it is called military intervention. Indeed, there are occasions when engagement cannot succeed without them. 

In short, in our attempt to agree on the right, necessary and moral thing to do we should avoid equating interventionism with warmongering, and anti-war drives with wise humanitarian diplomacy. The Assad regime owes an immense debt of gratitude to the anti-war movement that played a major role in saving it from British and American strikes back in August and September of 2013.  I am not sure this is something the anti-war movements should be proud of. The fact that its leaders seem to be proud tells much about their naivety, and their ideological blinders.

The more than 170 world leaders who attended the World Summit at UN Headquarters in New York in September 2005. UN Photo/ Eskinder Debebe
The more than 170 world leaders who attended the World Summit at UN Headquarters in New York in September 2005. UN Photo/ Eskinder Debebe

At two important junctures in our last 17 years, human rights activists around the world celebrated what they considered major historic breakthrough in their push to make this world a safer and more accepting world for all: the establishment of the International Criminal Court on July 17, 1998, and the adoption by the UN of the Responsibility to Protect on September 16, 2005 at the conclusion of World Summit. At their very core, both the ICC and, more clearly, R2P allow and even call for military intervention under specific conditions. While authoritarian regimes continue to refer to human rights activists as “stooges and pawns of the West,” the truth is much less polemic: we still live in a world where certain tragic developments, such as mass slaughter, cannot be prevented or stopped without recourse to military action, or, at least, serious threats of military action. Nonviolence, dialogue and civil disobedience are the preferred approaches to resolving crises and will continue to be so, of that there should no doubt. But we should also acknowledge the limitations of such approaches and be willing to see that there are indeed occasions where violent action is still needed in order to prevent an even worse transformation.

An Iranian R2P?

“We still live in a world where certain tragic developments, such as mass slaughter, cannot be prevented or stopped without recourse to military action…”

The leaders of Iran seem to justify their current intervention in Syria and elsewhere in the region on the basis of defending religious minorities and shrines, and safeguarding the resistance against Zionism and imperialism. This seems to be their particularistic version of R2P.

But again, if principle is what at stake here, why then support ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in both raq and Syria, and the destruction of Sunni mosques? Clearly, Iran’s actions are motivated by ideological and geopolitical considerations. But R2P calls for intervention in specific cases only and always on ethnical, moral and humanitarian grounds, not ideological or geopolitical ones.

Those who have been ignoring this doctrine over the last few years bear a moral and ethical responsibility for the genocide in Syria, and mass slaughter elsewhere. Those who continue to put their geopolitical interests and ideological dictates above their ethical and humanitarian responsibilities are not going to build a more just and peaceful world, but one based on hegemony and the subjugation of the weak.

The Necessary Good 

“Just as we are not expected to accommodate and coexist with serial killers and rapists, we simply cannot and should not be expected to do so in the case of mass murderers and autocratic rulers.”

I am tired of world leaders seeking out the lesser evil in every crisis they encounter rather than trying to do what is right and good. Continuing to settle for the lesser evil perpetuates evil and is no way to make this world a better place. What we need today is a set of visionary leaders who would seek to stand by the necessary good, the good that rejects mass slaughter, mass oppression and corruption, and systematic violations of basic human rights; the good that reflects our sense of common decency not our growing sense of cynicism. Of course this will not be easy, but, easy or not, this is the challenge we have to face; this is what realism dictates. Settling for the lesser evil is what cynicism preaches, and cynicism has never resolved a crisis or improved our lot in this world.

On a related note, there are those who hate to use the terms good and evil on account of their metaphysical connotation and their reductionist nature. Normally, I would agree with this view. But labelling a certain set of reprehensible actions as evil leaves little room for justification, which is indeed the point here. There should be no justification for such actions as mass slaughter, ethnic cleansing, genocide, torture, and other violations of human rights. Even though the perpetrators involved are often “ordinary” people who may not have exhibited any sociopathic, psychopathic or criminal tendencies before embarking on these actions, the actions themselves cry out for absolute rejection. These actions might indeed reflect a different aspect of our humanity, and as such, and from an objective point of view, they can be considered equally as “normal” and “natural” as acts of generosity and charity. But, and for the sake of our moral and ethical advancement, if not our survival as a species, they still have to be considered not simply illegitimate but especially illegitimate, that is, evil. This is how we can prepare the ground more effectively for taking action against their perpetrators whenever and wherever the need arises. Just as we are not expected to accommodate and coexist with serial killers and rapists, we simply cannot and should not be expected to do so in the case of mass murderers and autocratic rulers.