Theater of Cruelty

Think, wait and see

The United States is loosening on Iran, and we should hold them back.


By Noreena Hertz

[iran] The hawks are roaring again with the shore in Washington. Now they have turned their attention to Iran. Condoleezza Rice has talked about "keeping all possibilities open" – the code for "we are thinking of military action". Prominent neo-conservatives such as Bolton and Cheney have spoken of "real" and "painful" consequences if Iran continues its nuclear armament. Rumsfeld has considered surgical bombing. It is a new round of the axis rhetoric of evil.

It is important that the threat of an Iran with nuclear weapons be taken seriously, President Ahmadinejad is clearly a deed. It shows his Holocaust denials. Nobody can take Iran's assurances that they will only be allowed to enrich their uranium to boost their energy supply. It is by no means clear yet whether Iran is actually trying to grill its enemies, or whether the leaders of the country are hesitating to discipline their own people. Atomic rhetoric may be the kind of talk that is needed to keep support at home.

What would be the most appropriate response from the rest of the world? The war on Iraq must be a lesson here. If we are not to make the same mistakes again, we must not act in an equally arrogant and overbearing way.

This means that we must begin to think about what will be the consequences of what we do. Take Rumsfeld's suggestion, surgical bombing. The Iranian government would probably respond. Probably we would have a mobilization of the military, and the Iranian state would provide financial support for terrorist acts. They wanted to hoard oil – something that would severely destabilize the world economy and affect us all. Withdrawing from Iraq would be even more difficult, given Iran's ability to put sticks in the wheels there. In addition, there is little chance that all factories that can make nuclear weapons will be identified and destroyed.

The United States will have to put a proper offer on Iran's table. With the offer of whipping, but without the prospect of carrots, the Iranian government concludes quite rightly that they have nothing to gain.

This means adopting an internationalist stance, so that softer strategies – such as sanctions – will work. For sanctions to work, they must have the support not only of Iran's allies in the Middle East, but also of China and India, which are dependent on Iranian oil. It also means thinking through the best way to strengthen pro-democracy activists within Iran. The opposition and independent media in Iran must be supported. It is a strategy the United States has already begun, but with better intelligence data than it had when it came to Iraq. This time, they will not back opposition politicians of the same type as the controversial, US-friendly Chalabi, now Iraq's deputy prime minister.

This means, most importantly, acknowledging that what we must avoid at all costs is that extremists on both sides are allowed to decide what the future holds. This means that Tony Blair and other US allies must not stand shoulder to shoulder with the US hawks, but take an active role in curbing them.

Although this bundle of political strategies is not going to sound good to the ears of the neoconservative cowboy machos, we cannot make the same mistake as with Iraq again. Moreover, with these strategies we can buy ourselves time. Experts estimate that although Iran could start producing nuclear weapons without being hindered by the international community, it will be a couple of years before they want such weapons ready.

A lot can happen over the next two years. We will probably have withdrawn from Iraq, the Iranian opposition is probably stronger, considering how much money is being pumped into it. Ayatollah Khamenei's stranglehold on power may have weakened, and Ahmadinejad himself may have already burned out – Parliament does not approve of his proposals for ministers, so it may seem that his days are already numbered.

Thinking, waiting and seeing is better than providing a "shock effect". It doesn 't sound that tough, I'm gonna agree. It can still give a far better aftertaste.

Economist Noreena Hertz is a researcher at

Cambridge and critic of globalization.

She writes exclusively for Ny Tid.

Translated by Gro Stueland Skorpen

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