Sunday, January 25, 2009

Obama and a World of Expectations



Obama and a World of Expectations

Ali Asghar Kazemi
January 23, 2009

We live in an age no prophet ever predicted. Our present world is under constant changes affecting the form and substance of our life. Changes usually bring expectations whose lack of fulfillment may induce desolation.

There is no doubt that leadership change in the United States affects many aspects of world affairs. Since, this country besides huge wealth and power assumes worldwide missions and generates more than 25% of the world production. Therefore, Obama as the new US President will have to face not only with a host of problems inherited from George Bush but also has to respond to huge and widespread expectations created around the world.

What are the prospects of this historic change in the Middle East? What should we anticipate from this change in Iran? How the Islamic regime should act in order to take advantage from this rare opportunity?


Indeed, Obama’s election as the President of the United States has raised the expectations of not only the American people but the whole world about prosperity, peace and security. But, as he warned in his first speech after election, “the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime, two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.” In fact, the troubles that Obama inherits from his predecessors are so profound and complex which go beyond the capacity and power of this young leader and his fellow democrats.

First of all, we should not anticipate much from this change at least in this part of world where we live in i.e. the Middle East. We should recognize that change in “agency” will not necessarily bring about change in “structure.” This means that Barack Obama is before anything the president of the United States and is duty bound to protect American national and world interests. This process may eventually work to the detriment of other rivals or opponents.

Though President Obama did not speak explicitly about Iran in his inaugural speech on January 20th 2009, in his broad observation with respect to the use of force to promote American interests, he said:

“As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals…. America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more. “Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.”

He further recognized that “…. power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause; the force of our example; the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.”

With regard to the American entanglement in Iraq and Afghanistan Obama kept his promises during the presidential campaign by emphasizing that America guided by the principles and legacy of its founding fathers “….can meet…new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We'll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan.”

Referring to the nuclear challenges ahead, he assured that the United States will work tirelessly “with old friends and former foes… to lessen the nuclear threat ….” He further warned: “those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you. For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.”

As to American relations with the Muslim world, he noted that the United States will “… seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” But, at the same time he warned:

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Indeed, these words reverberate not only fundamental American ideals but also a realistic grasp of prevalent world malaises that inhibit the establishment of a just and durable peace.

President Obama seems to be receptive to all advises coming from personalities and institutions experienced in their fields of specialties. One such institution is the “Bipartisan Policy Center” which has recently released a “Comprehensive Report on Iran.”

The report titled: Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development, considering a nuclear weapons-capable Iran "strategically untenable,” argues that it "may pose the most significant threat to the United States during the new Obama administration. It further argues "The stakes are enormous…They involve not only U.S. national security, but also regional peace and stability, energy security, the efficacy of multilateralism, and the preservation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty regime."

The Task Force sponsored by the US National Security Initiative also found that Iran's nuclear program cannot be adequately safeguarded by the international inspections regime as currently designed. Furthermore, "It would be technically possible," once Iran has developed a sufficient feedstock of low-enriched uranium, for it to "enrich 20 kilograms of highly enriched uranium--the minimum necessary for a nuclear device--in four weeks or less."

This whole development and observations bear good witness to our earlier contention that the new US democrat administration under Obama is much more serious to counter the perceived challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear undertaking. Backed by a strong support, Obama is likely to use all means at hand to stop the Islamic regime’s quest to become a nuclear actor.

Based on the above facts, Islamic hard-liners in Tehran shall act cautiously in their future moves and are advised to be prudent in dealing with the new democrat administration if they are sincerely committed to stability and security in the Middle East as well as peace and prosperity for Iran./

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Strategic Implications of the Gaza Conflict


Strategic Implications of the Gaza Conflict

Ali Asghar Kazemi

January 14, 2009


Israel’s carnage and excessive violence in Gaza and Palestinian resistance to this date is drastically changing the balance of world public opinion in favor of Hamas movement on the one hand and strategic configuration in the Middle East on the other. Even moderate Arab states and intellectuals, who implicitly endorsed the Israeli operations by keeping silent initially, are being forced to condemn the Palestinian civilians suffering in the conflict. Indeed, it is no longer possible for American allies in the region to close eyes on the ongoing slaughters and this is causing a sharp division between the radical camp in the region led by Iran, including Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas on one side and the rest of pro-western Arab states on the other.

Disregard of the outcome of the conflict, which could be only an unfortunate loss of human lives and material devastation for both sides, Islamic leaders in Iran are proving to be right in the eyes of Arab people at large in their harsh position with regard to Israel. Perhaps, never before Israel has been so much low in international public opinion, even during the 33-days war with Hezbollah in 2006. Those who used to denounce Ahmadinejad rhetoric about Israel in the past several years may now change their minds in the wake of the heart breaking events in the Gaza Strip.

This is indeed a quite favorable strategic gain for hardliners in Tehran who have been giving wide coverage in the official mass-media, depicting relentlessly the horrendous aspects of the Gaza conflict including the shocking pictures of dead and injured children and women. Moderate Arab states should now be very cautious about their unequivocal approval of US policies with respect to Israel and the Middle East at large. This will certainly make the job of the new democrat president, who conquered the White House by his two magic words “hope” and “change,” very difficult. Indeed, Obama will be facing with a real challenge and deadlock in the Palestinian affaire and US allies in the region. No longer will any of the Arab leaders dare to shake hands with the Israelis.

This whole gloomy picture could not but please hardliners in Tehran who will eventually succeed to divide the Arab world and undermine the power of Palestinian Authority in favor of Hamas and other radical movements in pursuit of their grand strategy in the Middle East. As a necessary byproduct of this shifting paradigm, the Islamic regime may feel to have a free hand to pursue its nuclear strategy without much hindrance and mistrust, at least among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. This will break the recent consensus among them against Iran’s nuclear project, reached under the patronage of the United States.

The Gaza crisis will have an unavoidable impact on Israel’s upcoming elections. It is not quite sure which faction may have upper hand, but there are vivid indications that Israelis are moving more to the right (Likud Party) because of policy failure of the incumbent government (Kadima-Labor Party) especially with respect to Gaza problem.

One should understand that Gaza conflict is different from the 33-days war with Hezbollah in summer 2006 in various aspects. Gaza has been under de facto Israeli occupation since Six-Day War in1967 and despite the fact that they have left the territory in 2005, they are still considered as occupying power. This means that Israel has a number of legal obligations according to the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949). Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gaza’s air space and sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will. Therefore, as an occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the said Convention to ensure the safety and welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

As a consequence, when Israel finally ceases military operations in Gaza through some kind of settlement at the international level, it has to be legally accountable for its breach of obligations, namely excessive use of force against undefended civilian targets and causing unnecessary suffering to Hamas resistant groups by using forbidden lethal materials. This will have a wider impact on Israel arsenal of unconventional arms and materials in the future. The Islamic government Judiciary has recently set up a criminal tribunal for that purpose and has invited Islamic states to cooperate in the proceedings of this body.

Israeli leaders had mistakenly thought that they have gained experience in their previous war with Hezbollah in South Lebanon in 2006. They wanted to use that in Gaza against Hamas’ unyielding position on the path of peace process. However, they missed one important point: that is, unlike Israel’s mental vulnerability on human losses and casualties, Hamas resistant forces, despite their obvious shortcomings from strategic point and war equipment, have an unprecedented zeal and devotion for sacrificing their lives for their sublime cause. This factor is susceptible to change the balance in favor of those poor and subjugated people who have really nothing to lose in their resistance against the occupying forces.

Though one may argue that Israel is also fighting for its very survival in a hostile environment, yet, it will have extreme difficulty to restore the negative image it has created in handling the Gaza crisis in the foreseeable future. It will probably lose the support and sympathy of world public opinion including American citizens for its cruelty in Gaza. /


Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran, Iran. For detail see:

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Iran-US Relations:From Enmity to Rivalry

Iran-US Relations: From Enmity to Rivalry
A. A. Kazemi
January 8, 2009


George Bush will soon be leaving the White House with a huge burden of failures in domestic and foreign policies. The legacy of the “new conservative hawks” however will haunt the new democrat’s administration for some time. This is not to say that democrats have had a brighter achievement in the past, at least with respect to the Middle East insurmountable problems.

So far, many presidents have been awarded the “Noble Peace Prize” for their untiring effort to settle the Middle East tribulations and ordeals. Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat, Menahem Begin, Yasser Arafat… are among those who only left a number of signed documents and photos of “hand-shaking hostiles” without much success. Perhaps George Bush should also be given a special award for his bold attempt to wipe out Iran’s two ferocious adversaries, the Baath regime in Iraq and Taliban in Afghanistan. Since undoubtedly, he has rendered the biggest service to the Islamic regime in order to claim a regional superpower status in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.

Among the many horny problems Obama’s administration will be facing, the issue of Iran will certainly be on the top of the agenda. Though it is not yet quite clear what kind of strategy the new democrat president will opt, before anything he has to decide how to look at Iran in the first place; whether it should be considered as part of the problem or part of the solution in the Middle East.

Recent development in Iran’s nuclear issue which brought a US high official to the negotiating table in Geneva and subsequent letter of congratulations to US president-elect Obama by president Ahmadinejad leaves the impression that the two countries are no longer enemies but, rather mutual rivals! Many Middle East observers believe that the unfortunate ongoing Gaza crisis and the previous 33 days war between Hezbollah and Israel are vivid indications of Iran’s power contest and rivalry with the United States in the region. Though it may look odd to consider the Islamic regime as a serious US competitor in the Middle East affairs, it appears a quite defendable hypothesis for the reasons explained here.

Is the United States really considered as an enemy or a rival party for Iran? How far the Islamic government and Iranian conservative hard-liners are prepared to re-establish normal relations with US? Who will benefit from this relation and for what purpose? Where the two rivals are headed in the weeks and months to come?


More than a quarter of a century has elapsed since Iran’s revolution driven out this country from the Western camp to what can be characterized as swinging between East and West, Islamism and nationalism, radicalism and tolerance. While many European states did not mind to deal with the Islamic regime in time of peace and war, the United States has never digested the existence of a religious ideology to run the affairs of a strategically important oil-rich country in the 21st century Middle East.

Several attempts to disperse the clouds of animosity and misperception between the two states proved to be ineffective and futile. It should not surprise anybody that the squabble over the nuclear issue is just a tiny portion of a wider and deeper range of problems overshadowing Iran-U.S. long-term relations. The already gloomy situation between Iran and the United States, which for several years has been put in the shade by the unfortunate hostage taking affaire at the very beginning of the revolution in Iran, has jumped to its critical stage after the American military interventions in Iran’s two neighboring countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, following the September 11th events.

Though these military interventions in two hostile neighbors of Iran were a heavenly gift for the Islamic regime from a strategic point of view and inadvertently promoted its position in the region, nonetheless, the United States remained as a serious contender of Iran’s new status. Now, the US is puzzled as how to put rein on Iran’s appetite for power. For Iranian leaders, still the main source of anxiety is perceived as the U.S. threat to their very existence.

As we said elsewhere, Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, have been characterized as the “axis of evil” by U.S. president, essentially for their quest of becoming a nuclear actor in international scene. Iraq’s Baath regime and Saddam Hussein were overthrown essentially on the pretext of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), although such things were never found in that country. North Korea has partially surrendered to severe international pressure to abandon its nuclear project. As to Iran, it was quite clear from the beginning that the United States would not allow a revolutionary regime flagrantly hostile to Israel to ascend to the rank of a nuclear actor.

This hypothesis is especially true after the end of the cold war, the unfortunate events of September 11, and the emergence of terrorism as a non-state phenomenon, threatening peace and order of the whole world and challenging the established rules of the game in international political arena and power structure.
Islamic leaders in Tehran seem not to be deterred by UN sanctions or various military threats, although at a point of time they are very much scared about an eventual pre-emptive strike by Israel or the US. They keep emphasizing on diplomatic talks and negotiations with all interested parties. But, at the same time they refuse to accept any precondition for that purpose and stress on equal footing in the negotiation process. In other words they want to be treated as an “important world power” and equal partner.

As a matter of fact, Iranian president did not hesitate to remind the 6+1 nations on this very contention in his last speech after the Geneva meeting. He said something along the following lines: “I advise you sincerely don’t threaten us; we are not scared since we are a superpower…! If you are polite and you accept our inalienable rights for nuclear enrichment and our supremacy in the region you can sit on the negotiating table and talk about various issues of mutual interests…”

This clearly shows the president unyielding stance that Iran should be dealt with as a rival power in the region in which no problem can be solved without its consent. In fact, so far the regime has shown that it can destabilize the whole region through its proxies. Many observers regard the unfortunate Gaza crisis is in effect the product of a power contest in which Iran has an active part. Recent missile exercises and other signals were designed to demonstrate that Iran has the power and will to become what has been termed as a “world power” by Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Iranian conservative hard-line leaders firmly believe that their security and survival could not be secured through normalization of relations with the US. Since, in such circumstances, this would expose the regime’s vulnerability to US malicious covert actions for the purpose of toppling the revolutionary regime through “soft power” in the long-rum. Thus, instead, they would prefer to remain as rival by challenging the power and presence of the United States in the region.

Iran has been using various diplomatic tactics and economic leverages to divide between the United States and its European allies with the hope of benefiting from their conflicting relations. The same means have been used with respect to Russia and China without much success. Though these latter have been giving lip service to the Islamic regime, in practice they always consented to various UN resolutions putting sanctions against Iran.

It is not quite clear how the new democrat president in the United States intends to deal with Iran. But it appears that Obama’s administration is being advised to consider Iran as a serious “part of the solution” to insurmountable problems of the Middle East without whose help neither the Arab-Israeli peace process nor the stability in Iraq and Afghanistan can be achieved. While George Bush acted with perplexity in regard to the Iranian hurdle, it seems that the new US president is determined to straighten the matter once for all. We shall wait and see how much this optimism is well founded.
Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of law and international relations in Tehran, Iran.
For detail see: Middle East Academic Forum