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Iran Irate

2/14/02

The week’s headlines have whipped the War Party into full shriek. Confident that Operation Invade Iraq has moved from if to when, they’re already looking past Baghdad to new incarnations of “evil.” Privilege of announcing public enemy next predictably belonged to the Weekly Standard which broke the news with a catchy “On to Iran!” cover. “President George W. Bush’s stunningly forceful State of the Union address has probably forever altered U.S.-Iranian relations,” runs the top story. Indeed - and unfortunately.

On Monday, millions turned out in Tehran’s Azadi Square to mark the anniversary of the 1979 revolution that toppled the shah. But in addition to the traditional Iranian flags and portraits of the nation’s leaders, they brought American flags and effigies to burn. Chants of “Death to America” drowned out the speakers, and thousands wore white shrouds to signify their readiness to die martyrs’ deaths in defiance of the Great Satan.

Said President Mohammed Khatami of the nation whose leader had just situated his on an “axis of evil.” “[They] see themselves as masters of the world….Since they have power, they want to force the world to obey them…”

So our rhetoric would suggest, though bending Iran to our will - if democracy remains America’s aim - is a posture to which it was far more inclined prior to the President’s speech. Reformist President Khatami, thrice democratically elected but politically weak, is hemmed in by hard-line clerics led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rather than affirming Khatami’s painstaking progress, the New York Times reported that, “Bush’s remarks delighted the old guard, which gleefully presented them as evidence the American attitude against Tehran remained unchanged, no matter that Iran had aided in toppling the Taliban.” Thus the aged mullahs stall democratic reform at a time it enjoys majority support.

In addition to coalescing internal factions around the hard-liners, President Bush’s applause line also threatens to tip the regional balance. Axis generally implies alliance, and our odd trifecta is creating one that should never exist. An 8-year, million-casualty war - the bloodiest of the 1980s - sent Iran and Iraq to opposite corners, but a common enemy has them back on speaking terms. “Iran is a neighborly country, and whatever affects it in terms of instability, aggression or harm would have inevitable repercussions on us,” said Saddam Hussein who suddenly found it necessary to wish his former enemies “progress and prosperity” on their revolution’s anniversary.

It’s true that Iran supports terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. It’s also true that its weapons development program has thus far been aimed at Iraq, not America. More to the point, any missile technology acquired by Iran has come from North Korea, a connection that will only be strengthened by shared pariah status. Exported arms, as in the recent case of the Karine A shipment intercepted en route to the Gaza Strip, will only increase if the Iranians feel pressure and look to the Palestinians for support. As for charges that Iran earned its place on our blacklist by sheltering escaping Taliban, this is the same Shia nation that has aided the Northern Alliance for the past eight years against its bitter Sunni enemy, persuaded Burhanuddin Rabbani to step aside in favor of the interim government, and was first to re-establish an embassy in Kabul after the Taliban’s fall.

While Iran isn’t an absolute ally, neither is it an unqualified enemy. Its stability is key to the regional balance of power and to American security as it still controls the Strait of Hormuz, that critical pass point for our Mideast oil supply. Rather than giving this nation of 70 million cause to rage against America, we would have done far better to let indigenous democracy’s roots grow deeper while the natural current of popular will continues to flow against the mullahs. We have neither strategy, national interest, nor cause for going “On to Iran!” -- and President Bush might have considered as much before allowing his war-bent speechwriters to dip their quills in blood.

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