Tag Archives: United States

The Paradox of Iranian and Western Paranoia

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

15 December 2011

Turkey Shooting?

Things are going badly for the Middle East these days.

Last month, a high-ranking general in Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) warned that, if the United States and and/or Israel attack Iran, they would retaliate against NATO’s missile defense radar in Turkey. General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who is in charge of the IRGC’s ballistic missiles, said the following: “If any [attack] is staged against Iran, we will target NATO’s missile shield in Turkey and will then attack other targets.”

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, calmly urged Turkey to refrain from deploying the missile shield. But Member of Parliament (MP) Hossein Ebrahimi, who is Mr. Boroujerdi’s deputy in the commission, followed General Hajizadeh’s line by arguing that Iran has a “natural right” to hit targets in Turkey.

Although Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi tried to downplay the hostile remarks yesterday, it is doubtful whether Iran can put the genie back in the bottle.

Putting Oneself in Iran’s Shoes

In order to make sense of Iran’s foreign policy behavior, we need to understand the psychological trauma of three invasions in the twentieth century – the most recent and bloodiest at the hands of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The Iran-Iraq War, which started in 1980 and ended 8 years and nearly 800,000 dead Iranians later, is a constant reminder to Iranians that they cannot take their security for granted. When Saddam attacked in 1980, the United Nations did not condemn the aggression. When Saddam used chemical weapons against the Iranian military throughout the war, the world simply watched.

Today, as far as the Iranians are concerned, there is nothing to protect them from a similar fate. That is the primary reason why Tehran may develop nuclear weapons at some point. That is also the reason why Iranians do not want Turkey to station a missile defense that could neutralize their still-conventional missiles.

But whatever gains that Iranian leaders are trying to achieve, threatening Turkey only worsens their already fragile position. Just as international threats and sanctions have only intensified Iranian resolve to continue with the nuclear program, threats against Turkey will have a similar effect. While Turkish people and their leaders have repudiated claims that NATO’s missile shield would help to protect Israel, Iranian threats might force them to reconsider their position and keep the missile defense.

Iran, Israel, Turkey, United States: The Four-Way Mexican Standoff

If threatening Turkey is so foolish, then why are Iranian leaders doing it? Much of it has to do with Syria, Iran’s erstwhile ally. While Ankara supports the uprisings against Bashar al-Assad, Tehran is throwing its weight behind the Syrian President. Geopolitics is the pure and simple reason: Without Syria, Iran would have significant logistical difficulties in supporting Hezbollah and HAMAS, its most effective deterrents against Israel. But with the NATO shield in Turkey keeping watch over its missiles, a weakened Hezbollah and HAMAS would diminish Iran’s leverage against Israel. And such a development may make an American and/or Israeli attack against Iran more feasible.

The scene resembles a Western movie with Israel, the United States, and Iran pointing guns at each other’s heads. Turkey, for its part, looks like the semi-puzzled cowboy that would rather walk away from this mess. With millions of lives in danger, that is really the only smart option.

But how can the standoff be defused? The first thing to do is to understand the respective parties’ insecurities. With nearly 150 thousand U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, and NATO bases in Turkey, it would be hard to convince Iran that it is not surrounded by hostile countries. Nevertheless, and despite the negative effects of recent allegations that Iranian agents tried to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, the Obama administration needs to signal to the Iranian government that it has no interest in escalating the current situation (assuming, of course, that cooler heads still prevail in Washington).

Iran should also understand the other side’s concerns and refrain from brinksmanship. Although the recent IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program is not the damning document that spells doom-and-gloom (as some media outlets purport it to be), the parts on the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program is worrisome. For the sake of peace, Iran has to come clean with its nuclear program sooner rather than later.

Most important, Iranian leaders should stop jeopardizing their country by forcing Turkey to the Western side. Attacking Turkey would only give the United States and/or Israel the pretext that they need to strike at Iran. While a unilateral Israeli attack would not have the desired effect, a sustained U.S.-led NATO action would be extremely hurtful to Iran. And although Iranian threats to shut down oil shipments from the Persian Gulf would also be extremely destructive for the world economy, Iran would emerge from such a scenario in the worst possible way.

To paraphrase an old saying about paranoia, just because Iran, the United States, Israel, and Turkey are paranoid does not mean they should start shooting at each other. In fact, it would be best if they could all slowly holster their guns and step away from each other before they cause irreparable damage to the world.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

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The Crazy (and Naïve) Oracle: Some Wishful Thinking for 2011

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

January 7, 2011

A favorite story that I like to tell my students goes as follows:

One day in 1928, friends of the smartest man in Munich asked him to predict the city’s future. “In 1933,” the man starts, “the city, like the rest of the country, is run by the thugs who had tried to carry out a coup five years ago.” His friends are not impressed. “But ten years later,” the man continues optimistically, “Munich will be the leading cultural and commercial center of the German Empire stretching from the North Pole to North Africa.” Joyful, his friends ask him to say more. “Five years later, however, Munich, together with the rest of Germany, will lie in ruins.” The comment displeases his audience.

“Oh, don’t look so depressed,” the man goes on, “by 1953, we would have rebuilt Munich with American aid, and, by 1963, more than half of Munich residents will be so well-off that they’ll own boxes that show movies and pictures like in the cinemas.” His friends, bewildered, then hear the most shocking bit: “Look, we’ll end up having so many jobs in Munich by 1963 that we’ll have to bring in hundreds of thousands of workers from other countries to maintain our prosperity.”

The man’s friends, of course, lock him up in a lunatic asylum, even though events would prove him correct.

In the same spirit as the crazy wise man, here are my predictions for 2011:

–          The international community finally understands the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shifts its attention to rebuilding the two countries’ socioeconomic infrastructure with long-term project and not “quick impact” ideasthat are of little use. Building schools, hospitals, dams and roads seems to cost a lot less than guns and bullets.

–          Realizing that its own well-being can only go hand-in-hand with its neighbors’ security, the Pakistani government shows greater resolve to curtail insurgent activity on the Afghan border. The security situation in both countries shows marked improvement.

–          The Iranian government and the P5+1 group start making real progress on the nuclear question. Iran grants the IAEA full access to all of its nuclear facilities; the UN Security Council begins lifting the sanctions. American and Iranian diplomats lay the groundwork for a direct meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Re-establishing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran seems on the horizon.

–          Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally ends the coalition with the far-right Avigdor Lieberman and forms a new coalition with the centrist Kadima. Netanyahu’s move convinces Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to restart direct talks. Both parties show unprecedented flexibility with respect to sensitive issues: Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and the return of Palestinian refugees. Progress with the Palestinians encourages the Israeli government to renew peace talks with Syria.

–          The last U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq as scheduled. With American forces out, the Obama administration can allocate more resources for economic recovery and reduces the federal deficit. The U.S. economy finally starts to improve, followed by the rest of the world. Republicans and Democrats in Congress begin to address some of America’s most pressing problems, much to everyone’s surprise.

–          In Turkey, the PKK declares a permanent ceasefire against Turkey and agrees to turn over its arms to the United Nations. In turn, the AKP government, with support from CHP, passes a law giving full amnesty to the organization’s rank-and-file and conditional amnesty to high-ranking officials in Northern Iraq. With the violence coming to an end in Southeast Turkey, democratic standards improve and the region’s economy begins to boom.

–          North and South Korea tone down their rhetoric and mutually suspend all military exercises. The North Korean leadership, aware of their country’s despondent situation, begins talks with its southern brothers to end the country’s now-58-year-old division.

(Other actual and potential conflict zones can be added to this list with similar “predictions”: Bosnia-Herzegovina; China-Taiwan; Congo; the Ivory Coast; Kosovo; Northern Mexico; Sudan.)

Do such predictions make me sound crazy? Of course they do.

But if you’re going to lock me up like the man from Munich, bear in mind that if a good deal of these prophecies do not work out, not many of us will survive to tell me that I was wrong.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com). 

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