Iran: The Unrecognized Superpower?

iranian flagJust perused The Devil We Know: Dealing With The New Iranian Superpower by Robert Baer.  I knew I was reading a book with an unstated bias and/or agenda when the author called Ayatollah Khomeini’s overthrow of the Shah of Iran in the late 1970s a “failed” revolution.

Baer’s main point is that Iran, not Iraq, is the country the United States should be partnering with in the Mideast.  He calls our re-making of Iraq the worst foreign policy blunder in American history.  Baer also seems to think that the U.S. should acknowledge that the Mideast is under Iran’s sphere of influence and that we should be content to give it a freer hand in the region.  You see, Baer’s premise is that Iran is an unrecognized superpower whose time has come to be recognized.

Baer envisions a U.S.-Iran rapprochement along the lines of Nixon’s overtures to China in the 1970s—which eventually led to today’s U.S.-China coziness.

Many people do not realize that for decades after the 1949 communist revolution in China, the U.S. tried to pretend that the “true” Chinese government was located, not on mainland China, but on the Chinese island of Taiwan, where the anti-communist Chinese (led by Chiang Kai-shek) fled after losing the mainland to Mao Zedong and his communists.  Still today, though we have shoved Taiwan aside for better relations with China (it was the winning play, speaking in terms of realpolitick), we offer U.S. protection to Taiwan against any invasion from China.  Nevertheless, China does not now recognize, nor has it ever recognized, Taiwan as anything other than part of one China.  Happily for us all, China has not opted to take military action to prove its point.  Heaven help us the day they decide to put theory into practice and invade Taiwan or, more likely, support a pro-China coup there.

But back to Iran (sorry, wandered a few thousand miles off course there…)

It is easy for Americans to forget the most important thing to remember about Iran:  Iran is not Arab.  Not at all.  It is Muslim, yes.  Very much so.  Though, it is the Shiite sect of Islam, not the majority Sunni sect to which most Arabs belong.  Iran, which occupies, more or less, the lands of ancient Persia, has a population that is still about 65% Persian.  Another 18% or so are Azeri and other Turkic peoples.  About 7% are Kurds, and only 2% (yes, two percent) are Arabs.  That surprises many Americans who equate Islam with Arabs.  [Bonus points if you knew that the country that is home to the most Muslims is… Indonesia! — with over 200 million Muslims).

The United States has been oscillating between tweaking Iran’s nose and kicking it in the groin ever since Britain began speeding up its retreat from the area after World War II.

For a hundred years, Britain and Russia had been playing what has come to be called the “Great Game” for control of the Middle East.  Britain’s foreign policy in that part of the world was dominated by its attempt to keep a secure hold on India, the “jewel in the crown” of the British Empire.  The British feared that if they lost control of the Mideast, some other power would fill the vacuum and use the area as a base for wresting India away from them.

As the British bowed out of the Middle East, the U.S. jumped in with both feet.  In 1953, the year the U.S. was ending its fighting in the Korean War –and less than ten years from the end of World War II– the Eisenhower administration orchestrated the overthrow of Iran’s Prime Minister, Mohammed Mosaddeq— an event for which even Baer admits the Iranians have never forgiven us (he does try to downplay its modern day significance, however).  Then, for the next twenty-five years after the coup, the U.S. kept the Shah propped-up in power until the Khomeini revolution of 1979.  But we were dissin’ Iran again within a few years, heavily supporting Saddam’s Iraq in its eight year war against its big Persian neighbor.

Suffice it to say, Iran and the United States… we have whatchu might call, a “history.”  Baer thinks we can overcome it.  That we should overcome it.

Just think if he is right… What if Muslims the world over began to feel that the U.S. was on their side?  And what if we really were?  What a hard right turn in global politics that would be!  Perhaps that’s just what we’ll have to do when the War Of No Winners starts with China.


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