The chauvinistic American news media have focused on evil Iran’s missile tests and the indignant Bush administration reaction, while missing some key causes of the event. As if the Iranians had started the entire dust up, the media reported Gordon Johndroe, the White House spokesman, barking, “The Iranian regime only furthers the isolation of the Iranian people from the international community when it engages in this sort of activity.” The U.S. press then reported Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as bristling that the U.S. would defend its allies and protect its interests against attack.
The media could have given equal emphasis to the recent strident rhetoric and behavior of Israel and the Bush administration towards Iran, but didn’t. Not only has the Bush administration pointedly declined to rule out military action against Iran, the United States was conducting provocative naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf near Iran before the Iranian missile tests. In addition, last month, according to U.S. intelligence officials, Israel conducted an exercise that simulated a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. In the American press, these provocations tend to get buried under sensational headlines implying Iranian aggressiveness in launching the missiles. For example, the headline for a New York Times article on the subject read, “Iran Launches 9 Missiles in War Games, One with Range Said to Include Israel.”
Via the missile firings and by bluntly saying that if attacked, a counterattack on Israel and the U.S. fleet would ensue, Iran was merely trying to deter any potential Israeli or Bush administration attack before the U.S. elections. Irannot Israel or the U.S.has the fear of being attacked.
The American public assumes that the U.S. being a democracy automatically translates into being right in disputes overseas. But statistics show that democracies are no less aggressive overseas than non-democracies. In fact, by far the most aggressive country in the post-World War II worldif measured in the numbers of military and covert interventionsis the United States. Iran may be indirectly supporting militias in Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon, but the United States, just since 2001, has invaded and occupied two countries and changed their governments using armed force.
Iran got permanently on the wrong side of U.S. policy after its fundamentalist Islamic revolution and the taking of U.S. diplomats hostage in 1979. However, the American people have always been oblivious to what caused that burst of anti-American venom. In 1953, the CIA ousted Mohammed Mossaddeq, the elected leader of Iran, because he nationalized British oil interests. The U.S. government reinstated and supported the brutal Shah, who ruled until the revolution in 1978, and grabbed 40 percent of Iran’s oil for American companies.
Thus, the Iranian missile tests and taking of American hostages show that only in Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in quantum physics and in U.S. public opinion are events uncaused. Furthermore, the U.S. public has the impression that Iran is a totalitarian state of people wearing strange Darth Vader-style black costumes. But Iran does have some democratic tendencies and many more than the despotic U.S. allies of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
In addition to being excessively belligerent, the Bush administration’s Iran policy is loaded with hypocrisy. Despite all the saber rattling and “stringent” economic sanctions against Iran, U.S. trade with Iran has increased tenfold during the Bush administrationfrom $9 million in 2001 to $146 million last year. And of the $546 million in cumulative trade during that period, $169 million, or almost a third, was in cigarettes. It would be too cynical to assume the Bush administration has an insidious plan to undermine the Iranian regime and nuclear program by giving the Iranian population lung cancer; this loophole in the sanctions clearly benefits the U.S. tobacco industry, which is very tight with the Republican Party.
Further hypocrisy is the U.S. reluctance to negotiate with those who believe in fundamentalist Islam, while negotiating with and even paying hostile secular groups not to shoot at U.S. troops. The United States has been dragging its feet on negotiating with the Iranian government and protests when the Pakistani government negotiates with Islamic militants in its country. Meanwhile, the U.S. has negotiated with and essentially paid secular Sunni guerrillas in Iraq, who had killed thousands of U.S. soldiers, to switch sides in that conflict.
Although Iran is not free of authoritarianism, has a fundamentalist Islamic government that seems strange to the West, and is probably attempting to get nuclear weapons because it lives in a rough neighborhood and fears an Israeli or U.S. attack, the U.S. needs to drop its aggressive and hypocritical stance and make a sincere attempt to negotiate away Iran’s nuclear program. If that cannot be done, the United States should deter an Iranian nuclear attack using its formidable conventional and nuclear arsenalsas it did with radical Maoist China and more recently has done with North Korea.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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