Imperfect as Iran is, engage it with diplomacy, not war

| July 11, 2019

Another war in the Middle East seems to be on the cards. Tensions over Iran in the Middle East have been ratcheted up and there is a lot of misinformation going around from some sections of the mainstream media and individual observers. So what are the facts?

The fact is the US nearly a year ago unilaterally withdrew from a multilateral international agreement the JCPOA ( Iran Nuclear deal ) for invalid reasons. The US has violated international law by imposing crippling sanctions on Iran and its people and is forcing other nations to violate the Nuclear agreement too.

The reaction from the rest of the world to these coercive acts has been some murmurs of protest from US allies. Some in the mainstream media have been complicit in misleading people. Public intellectuals have been feckless with none of the intellectual skepticism for such a serious act as sanctioning a nation and making the case for an illegal war.

What is one to make of this. From the foreign policy behavior of the regime in the USA spearheaded by John Bolton whose a known warmonger, and Mike Pompeo an evangelical zealot it would seem they want regime change at the least.

However, my guess is that Trump does not want a war because for him that is bad economics and would be unpopular with his base. Meanwhile, the establishment in the US has steadily been making the case for an attack on Iran after what seems like unproved claims of tanker attacks and the downing of a drone by Iran.

The case for diplomatically engaging Iran

With a population of approximately 80 million people, a land mass three times the size of France and greater freedoms than most middle eastern nations, Iran by at least these standards be considered a serious regional player and be treated like one. However, Iran has more to offer the World.

Iran has a non – aggressive foreign policy that is demonstrated by the fact it has not invaded a foreign country for the past 200 years. In the early days of the revolution, it aimed to export its revolution however in the current times the evidence shows that it has chosen not to do that.

Secondly, the movements it supports are generally popular peoples movements and not wars except for Syria. In the case of Syria, they chose to prop up the Syrian regime against murderous forces like ISIS.

I believe we in the liberal democracies like Australia need to support peoples movements in countries with despotic regimes in the Middle East and I am happy to outline a strategy that countries like Australia should use in dealing with countries in the Middle East in another article.

The evidence shows that Iran has displayed strategic patience and political maturity in dealing with crises in its region and internationally as opposed to other players in its region. For example, Its adversaries like Saudi Arabia have been reactionary and continuously made the wrong choices like supporting ISIS, Saddam Hussein and the war in Yemen.

On the Scientific and intellectual front, Iran has shown phenomenal progress. As of 2018, it is at number 22 in worldwide rankings for the number of scientific papers produced according to the reputed Scientific journal Rankings ( SJR ). It is ahead of countries like Singapore and Israel.

Iran not only has a vibrant scientific community it is also an inheritor of a rich literary tradition that had poets like Hafez and Rumi. Rumi is a best selling poet in the USA according to the BBC.

Well, what about all the accusations against Iran about it being a repressive regime?

According to Freedom House, Saudi Arabia has a freedom score of 7/100, China has a freedom score of 11/100 while Iran has a freedom score of 18/100. Saudi Arabia and China both have a worse freedom score and one is a close ally and the other a major trading partner while Iran is punished with its economy strangled and threatened by war. Using the argument that Iran is a repressive regime and so we must isolate it is at best weak and at worst inconsistent.

Iran is accused of being a malign actor and a destabilizing influence along with being a state sponsor of terrorism

Well, this is an argument lacks consistency. Iran is a serious player which seeks to gain influence and not hegemony in its part of the world. So like any normal nation, it makes non-belligerent alliances and supports legitimate movements against oppression. It has engaged in peacemaking in Syria and Afghanistan.

Iran was at the forefront of fighting the scourge of ISIS that has wreaked havoc in the Middle East and the world. ISIS was initially supported and funded by Saudi Arabia and it is the ideological fountainhead of ISIS ideology however Saudi Arabia remains the West’s thickest ally in the Middle East after Israel. This kind of irrational behavior displayed by the Anglosphere countries and Western countries that lay claim to a rational tradition of thought is incomprehensible.

As for a destabilising influence to any objective observer of History it would be clear that when it comes to Iran – West relations the greatest destabilizing influence has been the US starting with its actions of overthrowing a democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 to unilaterally pulling out of the JCPOA and imposing unilateral sanctions even though Iran was complying with the agreement.

Is Iran developing ballistic missiles that threaten the security of its neighbors?

Iran is a nation which receives minimal support from the international community to defend itself and again it helps to look at the facts. According to SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as of 2018 Iran’s adversaries like Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel have a defence budget of around 70 billion, 18 billion and 22 billion dollars respectively with advanced weaponry like missiles and attack aircraft in their arsenal while Iran has a defence budget of 19 billion dollars.

Any sovereign nation is entitled to develop means of self-defence against technologically advanced belligerents in its region. Add to that none of Iran’s weaponry has been used to attack any nation preemptively. Iran only used its precision-guided missiles successfully against ISIS in operation ‘Laylat Al Qadr’ as retaliation for the terrorist attacks in Tehran in 2017.

Is Iran is an unreliable regime?

This accusation is one of the usual talking points with no basis in fact.

When it was meeting its commitments as certified by The very credible IAEA (International atomic energy agency) under a historic multilateral agreement like the Iran nuclear deal, it was the US that unilaterally pulled out of the agreement and imposed unilateral sanctions and threatened other nations to withdraw from the agreement.

If anything its the US that is showing itself to be an unreliable state actor. It’s ironic, the Supreme Leader of Iran had stated that the US was not reliable and his words have proven true.

How can Australia play a constructive role?

As the evidence and facts on the ground show, Iran is a real nation that on many levels of Political, Scientific, Literary, Diplomatic, Peacemaking, etc has stood head and shoulders above regional players in the Middle East. In fact, its foreign minister Javad Zarif has outlined a progressive future for the Middle East.

In his speech this year at a regional conference Raisina he talks about building a Democratic Middle East, encouraging mutual security and Economic cooperation with all players in the region by building regional multilateral institutions and signing economic pacts.

His vision is similar to that of a Modern Europe that was once ravaged by war and dictators but then overcame its differences to build a prosperous progressive continent. Australia is an influential international player and through its academic and government institutions should promote rational debate around the West’s relations with Iran.

Any rational debate devoid of earlier assumptions and caricaturing of the Iranian institutions should lead to a more balanced and nuanced approach in Australia’s relations with Iran. Australia can then use its international stature to promote normalisation of relations between Iran and Liberal Democracies.

Iran falls short on many of the standards we set in the West and Australia. However, If Saudi Arabia a despotic regime can be a close ally of Liberal nations then Iran should not only be engaged with diplomatically but can also be our friend. The West and Australia have a lot to gain from a future friendship with Iran.