Facts And Talks Are Better Than Threats And Wars

The accusations against Iran, like those against Iraq over a decade ago, are based largely on highly dubious evidence that is exaggerated by a parallel streak of Israeli or neo-conservative American ideological extremism.

A fascinating juxtaposition of recent and current tensions between a major Gulf power and the Western powers highlights yet again one of the most significant recurring themes that have defined many aspects of the war-filled modern history of the Middle East. The current issue is the continuing series of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers (five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) on Iran’s nuclear capabilities and sanctions on Iran. The issue from the past is the 2003 Anglo-American war on Iraq, which is in the news again because likely U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in her just published book of memoirs, mildly apologizes for her vote to authorize that war when she was a U.S. senator.

The common thread here is the total lack of accountability or restraint in how global, mostly Western, powers focus on an issue related to a powerful Middle Eastern country and then take action, from sanctions to warfare and regime change, to achieve the goals they set.

Clinton says that she thought she had acted “in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had. And I wasn’t alone in getting it wrong. But I still got it wrong.”

And with that mild public admission of her mistake, we are asked to wipe clean the slate of moral accountability and open the way for Clinton to seek the American presidency. The immense and continuing dark consequences of the 2003 war on Iraq are not relevant, according to this approach. We are supposed to forget the trillions of wasted dollars, the hundreds of thousands who have died, the millions displaced, and the continuing aftershocks of the war in the form of lawless zones that have given rise to a flourishing expansion of Salafist-takfiri Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria.

That American intelligence agencies largely missed the truth about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction capabilities and its links with Al-Qaeda, and American and British politicians rode that wave of misinformation right into the savage war of 2003 is all supposed to be a matter for historians now. Nobody is to be held accountable for their actions or their mistakes, because the rules of power in London and Washington assume that these Western powers can act as they wish in the Middle East, regardless of facts or consequences. This is the lingering colonial way of centuries past, but it persists to this day.

Middle Eastern leaders, however, are subjected to different rules of accountability. If Western powers deem them to misbehave — or just suspect them of misbehaving, or get the cue from pro-Israel zealots in Washington that Arabs or Iranians have the potential to consider misbehaving in the future, then these local leaders or countries are immediately sanctioned, threatened, considered for war crimes indictments, or attacked.

The Iran situation today continues this bitter legacy. The accusations against Iran, like those against Iraq over a decade ago, are based largely on highly dubious evidence that is exaggerated by a parallel streak of Israeli or neo-conservative American ideological extremism. The factual basis and credibility of evidence in the case of the accusations that Iran is planning to develop nuclear weapons both remain consistently thin.

Recent advances in the Iranian negotiations reflect a newfound desire by all concerned to explore if a negotiated agreement could be reached that satisfies all concerns. The evidence to date suggests that this is likely, and direct talks in Geneva this week wisely aim to hasten this eventuality. The lesson I draw from the past year is that direct talks to implement existing international principles and rules equitably for all sides can succeed; but if the aim is to impose Western preconceptions and fears on Middle Eastern powers based on unproven evidence and use military force to impose such dynamics, we should expect failure and likely violence.

The important element in the current case of Iran that was missing in the Iraq situation a decade ago is the parallel political and technical tracks. Experts in the United States, Europe and Iran have consistently offered proposals that can bridge the gaps in the quantities, treatment, storage and use of uranium and plutonium to fuel Iran’s nuclear reactors. Every legitimate concern expressed by the P5+1 is being addressed, yet Iran and others fear that the real issue is not technical, but political — about the ability of Western powers and Israel to define who uses nuclear technology in the Middle East, and who does not.

Just this week we have learned of a new proposal by Princeton University researchers (published in the journal Arms Control Today) that suggests ways to solve the contested issue of Iran’s uranium-enrichment capacity. Conclusion: Better to deal with facts and negotiate honestly, than to bang the drums of war on the basis of predominantly American-Israeli lies and fears.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.

Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global