William O. Beeman: Sanctions against Iran will cure nothing
12:30 PM EST on Friday, November 16, 2007 WILLIAM O. BEEMAN MINNEAPOLIS
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION declared new economic sanctions against Iran on Oct. 25. These new sanctions, announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, like those already in place, will accomplish nothing except to increase international tensions.
The new sanctions are an extension of a longstanding failed policy first begun under the Reagan administration, and extended under the Clinton administration. The United States is acting utterly alone; it is not supported by any other nation.
American dealings with Iran have failed in large part because the United States has never articulated any goals in its dealings with Iran that make any sense either to Iranians or to Americans. They mostly consist of calls for Iran to cease actions that Iran asserts are not being carried out in the first place. The principal accusations against Iran include: developing nuclear weaponry, supporting terrorist groups and providing arms to Iraqi insurgents. The United States then tries to prove that Iran is indeed carrying out the things it is accused of.
The Iranians counter with further proof that the accusations are baseless, and so it goes, ad infinitum. There has never been any proof that Iran’s domestic nuclear-energy program is directed at developing nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), charged with inspecting nuclear facilities under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory, has repeatedly asserted that no evidence of Iranian nuclear-weapons development exists. Iran’s leaders also maintain that they are not developing nuclear weapons; Iran’s spiritual leader, Ali Khamenei, has declared that nuclear-weapons development is illegal in the Islamic Republic.
The Bush administration obscures these inconvenient facts with statements like those made recently by President Bush, who said on Oct 17, “if you’re interested in avoiding World War III . . . you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,”
implying that the weapons are actually under development.
Iran’s support for terrorist groups is also far less than it seems. Iran provided humanitarian support for the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority after Israel and the United States established an international embargo of funds for that government. Although Iran was instrumental in the founding of Lebanese Hezbollah, Tehran no longer has any effective influence or control of this group, which has evolved into an active political party with a large number of parliamentary representatives and government officials in Lebanon today.
Neo-conservative Michael Ledeen, of the American Enterprise Institute, in a new book maintains that Iran supports al-Qaida, and that Iran was instrumental in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States, but this assertion and similar claims that Iran supports the Taliban make no logical sense. Both conservative Sunni al-Qaida and the Taliban reject Shiism, the state religion of Iran, as a heresy, and sanction the killing of Shiites.
Finally, there is no proof that Iran is supporting attacks against Americans in Iraq. As analysts Seymour Hersh, Gareth Porter and others have pointed out, the Bush administration, having failed to establish that Iran is actually developing nuclear weapons, turned in desperation to the claim that Iran is supplying explosive devices to militias in Iraq through the offices of the Revolutionary Guard and its specialized Quds force. Gen. David Petraeus, who directs American military forces in Iraq, himself has admitted that no Iranian Quds force member has ever been captured in Iraq, and evidence of Iranian-supplied weapons in Iraq is nebulous.
The U.S. sanctions will also fail because Iran still has many friends. Europeans still have extensive trade with Iran. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently warned the United States not to think of attacking Iran. On Oct. 16 the nations bordering the Caspian Sea, including Iran, issued a declaration, in which the countries agreed that none would let their territories be used as a base for military strikes against any of the others. India has renewed talks with Iran to establish a pipeline between the two nations. Iran has a positive balance of trade with China (as well as India). China’s leadership has repeatedly declared that Iran’s nuclear energy program is not an international threat. Japan continues to be an important Iranian trade and diplomatic partner.
Thus the new sanctions are being greeted with skepticism by the international community of nations. They are so insubstantial that it seems they are actually designed to fail. Increasingly, it seems that the United States itself does not believe in them, but has only imposed the sanctions as a prelude to military action. As in the build-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the world awaits the announcement from the White House that, “having tried everything,” nothing was left except to bomb Iran.
William O. Beeman, an occasional contributor, is an anthropology professor and chairman of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He was a professor of anthropology and the director of Middle East Studies at Brown University.