Thursday, June 22, 2017

U.S. Foreign Policy and Iran

An interview on U.S. foreign policy and Iran.

Abdullah Mohammadi: American authorities accuse Iran of the destabilization of the region; do you approve the idea?

Ben Schreiner: It’s necessary to understand that American authorities adhere to a rather peculiar definition of stability. The term as used by Washington has nothing to do with what one might normally think when one thinks of stability in the context of foreign relations. In the official U.S. parlance, “stability” has nothing to do with peace and security. Quite the opposite. The term is instead used to connote whether Washington is able to impose its will and project power in any particular nation or region. So, for example, after the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, American leaders were fond of speaking about how they were “stabilizing” the country. The presence of over 100,000 occupying U.S. forces was championed as a harbinger of stability. Iraqis, no doubt, had a differing view of the American military presence in their country. But in any regard, we see in this instance how for American officials even a sectarian civil war can be held to be an example of “stability.”

Conversely, “destabilizing” in the official U.S. lexicon is held to be any threat to the unrestrained power projection of Washington. In this sense, any nation with an independent foreign policy that remains steadfast when confronted by U.S. threats of aggression is held to be a destabilizing power. Iran obviously fits this bill. That, at least, is how it is seen in the corridors of power in Washington. Hence the denunciations of Iran for destabilizing the region.

AM: Why the US finds itself entitled to intervene in internal affairs of other countries?

BS: The United States is the world’s most powerful imperialist nation. It has a military budget greater than the next seven largest military budgets combined. Over half of all public expenditures by the U.S. government are allocated to the military. In the fiscal year 2015 alone, the U.S. spent just shy of $600 billion on defense. It’s really quite staggering. The behemoth created by such a vast expenditure on militarism, what President Dwight Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex, necessitates constant foreign interventions. As former President George W. Bush was reported to have once said privately, "All of the economic growth of the United States has been encouraged by wars."

But the U.S. is also a representative democracy, and thus its leaders must at least pay lip service to public opinion. And so, to justify the grossly disproportionate expenditures on defense, U.S. leaders construct the myth of so-called American Exceptionalism. They peddle the notion that the U.S. is a uniquely benign power needed around the world to protect order. Enemies are then created—whether they be rogue states, bad actors, etc.—which must be defeated by, as a U.S. Navy recruiting line states, “the global force for good.” This belief in America’s divine right to rule the world, a belief fostered in both education and popular culture, creates a general sense among Americans that they as a nation are not only entitled to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, but obligated to do so.

This is not an indication of any widespread support for imperialism per se, but rather indicative of the level of acceptance of the American Exceptionalism myth and all that it entails. As for U.S. elites, the myth of America as a benign power policing the world is obviously a rather convenient and useful cover for a deadly reliance on a system of globalized militarism.

AM: Ayatollah Khamenei said recently “the U.S. is against an ‘unrestrained ISIS’, however, if anyone truly seeks to eradicate ISIS, they will have to fight against it." What’s your take on that?

BS: I think that is essentially correct. The U.S., of course, has a sordid history of seeking to use Islamic groups to further its own geopolitical aims. We saw this most famously back in 1979, when the CIA first began, with the cooperation of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to arm Islamic fighters in Afghanistan opposed to the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. These fighters then went on to form the core of the Taliban and eventually al-Qaeda. Such an episode proves the ultimate folly of such policies, as such proxies are prone to turn on their patrons. It’s what the CIA deems blowback. But for Washington, such blowback is an acceptable price to pay. As President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, noted when asked to reflect back on his role in arming the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan: “What was more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

Such sentiments continue to this day, as evidenced by Washington’s rather schizophrenic war against ISIS. In U.S. policy, there appears to be a “good” ISIS and a “bad” ISIS. In Syria, for instance, ISIS is seen by the U.S. at minimum as useful foot soldiers in the drive to topple Assad. That’s the “good” ISIS. It’s an extremely dangerous and fraught game to play, however, as blowback is inevitable. But it’s not all that hard to imagine a U.S. planner thirty years hence reflecting back on the present by offering a defense similar to Brzezinski’s. The planner would likely ask, what is more important to the history of the world? ISIS or regime change in Syria? Some stirred-up Muslims or a crippling blow to the resistance axis of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah?

AM: What does dancing with Saudi tribal leaders on one hand, and condemning Iran for human rights violations suggest about the reality of US policies?

BS: U.S. foreign policy is rife with hypocrisy. In reality, U.S. planners strictly abide by imperial imperatives and realpolitik principles. But for domestic public consumption, Washington officials and the mainstream American press work to shroud such reality in the lofty rhetoric of human rights and democracy. Again, it’s part of the American Exceptionalism mythos. Such rhetoric, though, is meaningless. And there’s no better example of this than the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

The House of Saud is an absolute monarch and bastion of the worst sort of reaction. This is well known. And yet, the Kingdom’s greatest benefactors in the international arena are none other than the so-called democracy promoters in Washington. How do we explain this seeming contradiction? Well, there is a long history to the U.S.-Saudi relationship, but it essentially comes down to this: The Saudis agree to supply the U.S.-dominated global economy with cheap oil sold in American dollars, the profits from which can then be recycled back into the U.S. economy through various financial securities and arms purchases. In return, the U.S. agrees to help ensure the continued security and rule of the royal family in Riyadh, while turning a blind eye to its funding of terrorism and gross human rights abuses.

The U.S. condemnation of Iran for human rights abuses in the context of such a U.S.-Saudi relationship exposes all such talk of human rights as a guiding principle of U.S. policy to be a fraud. And it’s a fraud U.S. officials can at times be at a loss of words to explain.

Consider a late May 2017 U.S. State Department briefing. At the close of the briefing, a reporter asked the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Stuart Jones, how U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could criticize the conduct of the Iranian elections and record on democracy while he was in Saudi Arabia standing next to Saudi officials. Jones awkwardly paused for a full 18 seconds before he managed to spit out a rather trite explanation of such a blatant contradiction.

The truth is, once reality strips the self-righteous veneer of American policy bare, all that ever seems to be left is utter hypocrisy.

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