It has been almost a week since President Bush fired the first salvos at the ‘axis of evil’ during his state of the union address. I was not astonished to see Iran included in this disparate group of non-allied nations. And yet I was disappointed. Bush’s remarks against Iran came as the two nations had appeared to be moving closer to each other in recent weeks. As a person involved in the democratic reform movement within Iran I feel it necessary to express that it is difficult for me to come to advocate on behalf of a government I hope to one day see removed. Yet I am moved to do so when the Bush administration places Iran within some pitifully contrived ‘axis of evil’ and augments existing legitimate complaints of nuclear proliferation and political oppression with self-serving and unsubstantiated claims of Iranian collusion with the Taliban and Al Queda. President Bush’s myopic strategy is unwittingly aiding Iran’s clerical establishment at the expense of pro-democracy forces led by President Mohammad Khatami.
I question the logic behind President Bush’s decision to lump together Iran and two other disparate and non-allied nations that had nothing to do with the September 11th attacks? Upon a closer examination there seems to be more that divides these three than that brings them together. For example, Iran, a non-Arab nation of Shiite Muslims, and Iraq an Arab nation of Sunni Muslims are bitter enemies. And while Iran has been received North Korean in developing its long-range missiles, this partnership seems to have diminished recently as Iran has turned to Russian scientists and surpassed North Korean abilities. Neither has the United States found anything that links Iran to Osama bin Laden or the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Indeed, it is extremely difficult to use September 11th to justify expanding the war to Iran.
The closest the Bush administration can come is to accuse Iran of harboring fleeing Taliban and Al Queda fighters. Last year Iran almost went to war with the Taliban over the massacres of several hundred Shiite Hasaras in Afghanistan coupled with the assassination of several Iranian diplomats. Additionally, for the past six years, Iran was a lone supporter of the Northern Alliance. Without Iran’s long time support and military assistance to the anti-Taliban forces, there may not have been much of a Northern Alliance left to aid the U.S. in its recent routing of the Taliban. Such an accusation bears no resemblance to reality and is not even rational.
The President would have the American public believe that Iran had somehow decided it would be beneficial to amend its acrimonious relationship with the Taliban and Al Queda and offer them sanctuary only after they had become global pariahs. The U.S. has offered no evidence to substantiate this claim. And yet, in an unprecedented and conciliatory move, Iran’s reformist Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi has offered an olive branch and asked for U.S. assistance in tracking down any Taliban or Al Queda that may have furtively entered Iran across its long and mountainous border with Afghanistan. A negative response would be very informative and betray a desire on the part of the U.S. to unilaterally maintain the tension it already created through its baseless accusations. If the ultimate goal of the U.S. military actions in Afghanistan has been to capture terrorists, it behooves the Bush administration to not reject this offer by Iran that would accomplish just that?
Continued tension between the U.S. and Iran will benefit the Bush administration in the short term. Lumping Iran and the other two non-allied nations of Iraq and North Korea together as an ‘axis of evil’ will fuel and prolong the ongoing war on terrorism with its concomitant flow of needed funds from federal coffers into an economy weakened by a recession through the mechanism of a increased homeland security and a military buildup. Admittedly, there could be some short-term gains from this strategy. However, in the balance, the long-term interests of the U.S. in the region will suffer.
With a population of almost sixty seven million and a high rate of literacy and education, Iran is a large nation located in the middle of a strategic part of the world. It covers part of the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf and lies between the potential oil reserves of central Asia and the ports of the Persian Gulf. It is also a nation in flux. A post revolution baby boom has created an entire generation with no memory of the Shah. About 60 percent of Iran is younger than 25. This generation is coming of age and demanding more control over their own lives. Reformers now hold a majority of seats in Iran’s parliament. The grip of the mullahs is slowly loosening.
The Bush administration stands at a crucial cross roads in its relationship with Iran. It can accept the olive branch offered by the reformers thus boosting their power while furthering the rapprochement between the two nations that could signal a death knoll for the hard-line clerics. Or it can choose an aggressive campaign of baseless accusations that blemish its legitimacy in the region while breathing new life into the slowly crumbling tyranny of the mullahs.
Short of an armed invasion by the U.S., Iran will, in all likelihood, develop long-range missiles and nuclear weapons. A recent announcement by the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, predicts that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon by 2005. Other predictions place the event at closer to 2010. Short of the continued threat of interference or an armed invasion Iran will steadily evolve into a more democratic society during the same time frame. The U.S. is helping to decide now who will be running Iran when it arrives as a nuclear power. Will it be the reformers backed by the younger generation? Or will President Bush’s unfounded accusations temporarily breath new life into the rhetoric of the hard-line clerics?
Ross Peters is a human rights attorney based in Santa Fe New Mexico, USA.