Lesson: The Bush Administration Iranian Policy (Teachable Moment)
Issues that Divide
Major issues now divide Iran and the U.S. The U.S. charges that Iran is:
- Creating through uranium enrichment the possibility of restarting a nuclear weapons program, which is the major reason for U.S. sanctions.
- Interfering in Iraq by supporting Shiite militia, attempting to destabilize the Iraqi government and supplying Iraqi insurgents with "explosively formed projectiles" (EFPs), powerful roadside bombs that kill American troops. (In November 2007 military officials said that EFPs were much less in evidence and that Iran appeared to be responding to U.S. complaints.)
- Supporting forces the U.S. views as terrorists with money and weapons-specifically, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Critics' Views of Bush Administration Policy toward Iran
Why would Iran attempt to destabilize a friendly Shiite Iraqi government led by Nuri al-Maliki? Bush administration critics ask. Al-Maliki and Iranian leaders have reached economic, political, and military agreements, including one that will link by pipeline the two countries' oil reserves. "The crux of the Bush Administration's strategic dilemma is that its decision to back a Shiite-led government after the fall of Saddam has empowered Iran, and made it impossible to exclude Iran from the Iraqi political scene." (Seymour Hersh, "Shifting Targets," The New Yorker, 10/8/07)
Another link between the two countries, writes Peter Galbraith in New York Review, is the Badr Organization, "a militia founded, trained, armed, and financed by Iran. When U.S. forces ousted Saddam's regime from the south in early April 2003, the Badr Organization infiltrated from Iran to fill the void left by the Bush administration's failure to plan for security and governance in post-invasion Iraq."
In the following months, says Galbraith, U.S. officials "appointed Badr Organization leaders to key positions in Iraq's American-created army and police." They also "appointed party officials from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq to be governors and serve on [their] councils throughout southern Iraq. This Council was recently renamed the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, and the Badr Organization is the militia associated with it. (Peter Galbraith, "The Victor?" New York Review,
The accuracy of the charge that Iran supports terrorists depends upon who is defining "terrorists." From the Iranian point of view, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories are freedom fighters resisting Israeli invaders and occupiers of Lebanese and Palestinian land. The Taliban are fundamentalist Sunnis who are unlikely to be receiving support from Iran's Shiite clerical leaders. The U.S. supports Afghan President Karzai, who is also supported by ethnic groups like the Hazara that have close ties with Iran. 10/11/07)
Critics argue that the U.S. did not object to what Iranian leaders would regard as terrorism during the summer of 2006 when the Israeli army and air force devastated Lebanon in their pursuit of Hezbollah fighters who had captured Israeli soldiers. Israeli bombs killed many civilians, destroyed Lebanese homes, apartment houses, roads, bridges and dumped tons of oil into the Mediterranean Sea. Israel also dropped a million cluster bomblets into Lebanon that are still capable of killing people.
Critics also say the Bush Administration is hypocritical. It has ties to two Muslim Kurdish groups in northern Iraq listed by the State Department as terrorists. Juan Cole writes in the Nation: "The U.S. military, beholden to Iraqi Kurds for support, permits several thousand fighters of the PKK terrorist organization, which bombs people in Turkey, to make safe harbor in Iraqi Kurdistan." The PKK recently killed a number of Turkish soldiers. The Bush Administration has also tolerated "the expatriate Iranian Mjahedeen-e-Khalq, which works to foment violence in Iran." (Juan Cole, "Combating Muslim Extremism, The Nation, 11/19/07)
"We will never know if we can succeed in negotiating with Iran until we try," wrote Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, in The Nation. "Only Washington can offer Tehran what it really seeks: decontainment and reintegration into the Middle East. Iran wants a seat at the table and a say as a legitimate player in all regional decision-making. Iran can make it costly for the United States not to recognize it as a regional power….
"Creating a new regional order, in which the carrot of Iranian inclusion is used to secure radically different behavior from Tehran, is neither a concession to Iran nor a capitulation of American…interests. Rather, it is a recognition that stability in the region cannot be achieved and sustained though the current strategy of pursuing an order based on the exclusion of one of the region's most powerful nations. To change Iran's behavior, we must change our own." (Trita Parsi, "The Iranian Challenge," The Nation, 11/19/07)
- What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?
- Why did the U.S. recently impose additional economic sanctions on Iran? What do you think the Bush Administration hopes to gain by them?
- What is the relationship between the governments of Iran and Iraq and how do you explain it? How does this relationship complicate U.S.-Iraq relations?
- Another complicated matter is terrorism and the U.S.-Iran relationship. Do you view Iran as a supporter of terrorism? The U.S.? Explain.
- Do you agree with Trita Parsi's final sentence? Why or why not?
Source: Written by Alan Shapiro; http://www.teachablemoment.org/high/iran.html