Stop Rattling Sabers at Iran

America's hostile attitude undercuts Iranian moderates and bolstered the hardliners

Not everyone wants the United States to improve relations with Iran. Some prefer war instead. Not because Iran is a threat to the American people, or the Israelis, but because a friendly Iran would no longer furnish the convenient enemy the hawks in the United States and Israel need.

So, despite the overtures from the new Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s regime must still be demonized as a group of religious fanatics—mad mullahs—who cannot be reasoned with and who want nothing more than to lob nuclear warheads at the United States and Israel.

Nonsense. Over a decade ago, Iran’s leaders made credible offers of cooperation with the United States that included peace with Israel. In fact, after the 9/11 attacks, the Iranian government tried to cooperate with the Bush administration on a number of fronts. The two sides actually began working together at the end of 2001, until hawkish American officials put a stop to it, as reporter Gareth Porter explained in 2006.

Thus, Rouhani’s current efforts are not a “charm offensive”—as they are prejudicially labeled even by the media—but rather a renewal of Iran’s wish for détente.

We rarely hear about the previous offers, perhaps because they conflict with the mainstream media’s dominant narrative of Iran as an implacable threat. Apparently those who want war with Iran—the neoconservatives, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the members of Congress beholden to AIPAC, and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—make better news copy than would-be peacemakers. Too bad. War would be catastrophic.

Let’s remember that the Islamic Republic of Iran arose only after a U.S.-backed despotism was overthrown in 1979. Rather than seeking to make amends for what had been inflicted on the Iranians, successive U.S. administrations worked to isolate and subvert Iran until a more pliant regime could be installed. Diplomats who favored rapprochement were ignored or marginalized—which suited the leaders of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni Arab regimes allied with the United States. (Iran is dominated by Shi’ite Muslims, the sectarian rivals of the Sunnis.)

Nevertheless, moderate Iranian officials continued to hope for détente. Faltering first steps were taken after the 9/11 attacks—Iran opposes al-Qaeda—but neoconservatives in the Bush administration, led by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and foreign-policy officers allied with Israel’s hawks, blocked progress. President Bush’s embrace of the neocons was signaled by his 2002 state of the union address, in which he included Iran in the “Axis of Evil” along with North Korean and Iraq.

That hostile American response undercut Iranian moderates and bolstered the hardliners. Yet the moderates persevered, partly out of fear that Bush would attack Iran when he was finished with Iraq. They made a new offer. “The proposal, a copy of which is in the author’s possession, offered a dramatic set of specific policy concessions Tehran was prepared to make in the framework of an overall bargain on its nuclear program, its policy toward Israel, and al-Qaeda,” Gareth Porter wrote. “To meet the U.S. concern about an Iranian nuclear weapons program, the document offered to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for ‘full access to peaceful nuclear technology.’” “Full transparency” and “full cooperation” were offered.

The Iranian proposal also endorsed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which the Arab League offered to recognize Israel’s 1967 borders and accept a two-state solution with the Palestinians. “The [Iranian] document,” Porter added, “also offered a ‘stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad, etc.) from Iranian territory’ and ‘pressure on these organizations to stop violent actions against civilians within borders of 1967.’ Finally it proposed ‘action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon.’”

In return, Iran asked for American help against anti-Iranian terrorists, an end to U.S. “hostile behavior,” and the termination of sanctions.

The Bush administration rejected the proposal and reprimanded Swiss diplomats for delivering it.

According to Muhammad Sahimi, an Iran expert at the University of Southern California, President Rouhani and his foreign minister, Muhammad Javad Zarif, “played key roles in the ‘grand bargain’ proposal.”

All that stands between America and Iran are those who are bent on war.

This article originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  • Paul.||

    But if we don't rattle sabres at Iran, who can we rattle sabres at?

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    How about we throw a good ol' fashioned civil war? Then we can rattle sabers at each other! And since the saber-rattling on BOTH sides will be done by Americans, it will create more JERBS!

  • bassjoe||

    What a ridiculous suggestion! There are ALWAYS Others to rattle sabres at!

  • Hugh Akston||

    Look, how is America supposed to prove to the world that it is the shining beacon of freedom if we don't swing our dicks around and bully a shitty third world theocracy?

  • Paul.||

    As long as one shitty, third world theocracy exists, there can be no shining beacon of freedom...

    /progressive

  • Paul.||

    Oh, and snark aside, my snark made me realize how progressives have set themselves up for perpetual intervention and war. With their saying, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere", they must intervene "anywhere" is (by that logic) a clear and present danger.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    I think it was Republicans who gave us the last idiotic war based on this logic.

    * Not to exempt Progressives from idealistically putzing about in foreign wars. The original ones owned American involvment in WWI, which managed to be far bloodier and far more destabilizing.

  • Paul.||

    Absolutely. Old-world conservatives who hated the commies absolutely drove us through the cold war on this domino theory. It just suddenly struck me that the proggies absolutely embraced this logic hard, but for the children instead of apple pie.

  • Steve G||

    "Stop Rattling Sabers at China"

    Bam, two articles for the price of one. You're welcome Sheldon.

  • Paul.||

    Korea...bam, three.

  • Steve G||

    +1 new axis of evil

  • Pro Libertate||

    One does wonder how much our problems in the Middle East would be mitigated by more cordial relations with Iran. We don't have to be all buddy-buddy, nor do I think we really could with their posture and our relationship with other nations in the region, but we don't have to have this mini cold war, either.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Nonsense. Over a decade ago, Iran’s leaders made credible offers of cooperation with the United States that included peace with Israel.

    More fantasy and lies from Sheldon. In reality, Iran allowed the Taliban to operate from its soil and killed US soldiers in Iran. Then there was the time they tried to blow up a Saudi ambassador in the US.

    Why does Reason continue to indulge in Sheldon's lies? Why can't we have a more reality-based commentator in his place?

  • gaoxiaen||

    The Taliban killed Iran's diplomatic representatives in Afghaistan. They were a little upset by that. Do you think that Iran is capable of controlling everything within its borders? Did you ever hear of PJAK?

  • RyanXXX||

    You really are something else. It's hard to tell your typos (Iran killed US soldiers in Iran? This only happened in your head, and even if it was true it would be eminently justified) from your lies

  • Cytotoxic||

    It's also hilarious that these evil no good war-loving neocons had all the power to bomb Iran and all they did was appease the regime. The Bush and Obama regimes have been an endless revolving door of appeasement. Thank God Israel is assassinating members of Iran's nuclear program and getting computer viruses into their system.

  • Les||

    Thank God Israel is assassinating members of Iran's nuclear program and getting computer viruses into their system.

    Of course, if any country did that to the U.S. it would be truly evil.

    Thanks for reminding me to ignore your comments!

  • Cytotoxic||

    Iran =/= US

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    You're right. Iran has never nuked anyone's cities.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Irrelevant.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    You're right, a demonstrated history of actual nuclear weapons use against civilian centers is in no way relevant to the question of whether a country should or should not be considered trustworthy with nuclear weapons.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Exactly-especially when the nuking of those civilian centers was a moral pinnacle.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Ha, the nuking of a civilian center is a "moral pinnacle"? Not just a necessary evil, but the very apex of moral development?

    Also, I should point out that if Iran's leaders actually are as theocratic as they proclaim, they would probably consider nuking Israel a "moral pinnacle". Clearly, they should nukes too, under the "American Rule" that you can nuke away if you think that doing so is just amazing.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Ending WW2 with minimal loss of American life was a great moral victory we might not be capable of today thanks to people like you.

    Also, I should point out that if Iran's leaders actually are as theocratic as they proclaim, they would probably consider nuking Israel a "moral pinnacle".

    And why would I care what they think?

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    I'm certainly in favor of being less belligerent with Iran and I'm tired of being the big brother protecting Israel every time it picks a fight, but this comparison is BS. Putting aside the fact that the Dresden and Tokyo fire bombings killed far more people than either of the nuclear attacks you do understand the difference between using a weapon in wartime and peacetime, don't you? The fact that the US declined to use battlefield nukes in Korea less than a decade later in wartime also has relevance, doesn't it?

    On the other hand Iran has shown a willingness to fund radicals that engage in intentionally killing civilians outside of wartime. Good thing that is irrelevant to the question of whether a country should or should not be considered trustworthy with nuclear weapons.

    Go ahead. Bring up drone strikes. I can't completely argue against it but we both know that Iran has been OK with intentionally targeting innocent civilians through their proxies.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Thanks for reminding me to ignore your comments!

    Your loss.

  • sarcasmic||

    No. Not really.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Oooh sorry to break up your bullshit peacenazi circlejerk and pwn you with facts and logic. Like I do everytime.

  • sarcasmic||

    You truly are a legend in your own mind.

  • RyanXXX||

    "peacenazi" Gotta give you props for original wordplay. Even if it results from a lack of meds

  • bassjoe||

    Yes, because implementing stronger and more strict sanctions is "appeasement".

    I understand war mongerers love to thrown around "appeasement" as a way of making every regime that's not following America's world order to the letter another Nazi regime (forgetting that the UK was fundamentally incapable of protecting the Czechs when the prime minister "appeased" Hitler).

    But what America is doing with Iran is NOT appeasement. It is a (rather successful if slow) crushing of the Iranian economy.

    Yes, America likely (I repeat, LIKELY) has the military might to take out the mullahs. But WHY? It will be considerably more difficult than Afghanistan and Iraq (Iran is more populous than both Iraq and Afghanistan combined and, despite the sanctions, considerably more advanced). America simply does not have the appetite for yet another war. And the sanctions are slowly doing the trick instead.

  • Cytotoxic||

    The sanctions have truck sized holes in them. Iran would not be difficult to invade at all. Its homogeneity would make post-invasion regime setting easy too.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    I don't know why you had to stress the word likely except to imply some significant doubt. There's no doubt that the US would win in a military conflict with Iran if it chose to do so. As to Iran being more advanced, well, that's laughable. Iraq with a fraction of the population fought Iran to a standstill because of their (Iraq's) technical advantages. Iran had to resort to human wave attacks because they couldn't match Iraq's capabilities (along with a little intelligence help from us...).

    Look at what we did to Iraq less than 5 years after that war ended. And now realize that our capabilities are significantly more advanced than what we had 20 years ago, while Iran gets Chinese clones of dated Russian hardware.

    Now if you want to question our resolve to fight yet another desert war of counterinsurgency, THEN you have a point.

  • A Frayed Knot||

    You know, one can make the case against war with Iran without relying on bullshit. The "grand bargain" was nothing of the sort. The Swiss diplomat, Tim Guldimann, didn't merely convey the offer, he created it with the Iranian UN ambassador. However, the actual powers that be in Iran, i.e. Khamenei, the Revolutionary guards, etc, never signed on to it... in other words, it was complete bullshit.

    Of course, one only has to look at the author of this piece to realize that it's not worth pixels it's printed on but. One also wonders why Reason keeps publishing this clown, or at the very least why they don't conduct at least a modicum of fact checking.

  • Cytotoxic||

    it was complete bullshit.

    That's vintage Sheldon.

  • MoMark||

    Although I agree “our” government is filled with war mongers and bad actors, is Sheldon putting forth the notion that anything this group (Iran) promulgates can be believed?

  • Libertarius||

    You are a bunch of spineless jellyfish. The West has been appeasing the Iranians for 60 years; we watch them nationalize our property, kidnap and murder our citizens, and sponsor Islamic terrorism while doing NOTHING about it, and you want to set up America as the bad guy? More like the weak guy.

    The way you deal with bullies or thugs is by speaking the only language they understand--you destroy them. The world would be a much better place if America was not afraid to stand up for itself, and had destroyed the Iranian government a long time ago. We are where we are today as a result of appeasement, not from impotent "sabre rattling". What a bunch of pathetic moral cowards you are.

  • Cytotoxic||

    THIS. If America had done the right thing and invaded with 80,000 soldiers in 1980, Islamic terrorism would probably not be a problem. America would be freer the security state smaller.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    The security state will exist in spite of the existence of an enemy du jour. That many jobs and that much pork will go on through sheer political inertia, not because people are making rational cost/benefit analysis.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    The security state will exist in spite of the existence of an enemy du jour. That many jobs and that much pork will go on through sheer political inertia, not because people are making rational cost/benefit analysis.

  • Calidissident||

    Yeah, Islamic terrorism didn't exist before 1980, and the Shiite theocracy of Iran is the only reason for the existence of Sunni extremist groups like Al Qaeda.

  • Cytotoxic||

    There really wasn't much of an Islamist movement before. Iran's revolution was at least a huge booster for them.

  • Calidissident||

    "There really wasn't much of an Islamist movement before."

    Tell that to all the people who died in Islamic terrorist attacks. It might not have been as big as it was today, but it was around, and it didn't suddenly skyrocket after 1979.

    "Iran's revolution was at least a huge booster for them."

    Not for Sunni groups. This is textbook post hoc ergo propter hoc. Might as well say Ronald Reagan getting elected caused it. Al Qaeda's formation had nothing to do with Iran.

  • bassjoe||

    You just keep on believing: 1) we had the capability or the will to invade in 1980 with 80K troops; 2) that the Iranian regime would have collapsed from the invasion; and 3) assuming it collapsed, whatever filled the power vacuum would be "friendly" to American interests.

    Do you know WHY the revolution happened to begin with? Because Iranians were sick of American meddling -- through the incredibly corrupt shah -- in their country. I'm SURE Iranians would have welcomed an American invasion and thrown flowers and at the GIs and handed them freshly-cooked kebabs on golden plates.

    I wish I could live in such a deluded state of mind.

  • Cytotoxic||

    1 and 2 simply go without saying. What would they do to stop us from imposing a regime? LOL we'd just kill them some more.

    I'm more than aware of why the revolution happened. The Ayatollahs then stole the revolution. There was no reason American force couldn't hand it back.

  • mtrueman||

    "There was no reason American force couldn't hand it back."

    You ignore the obvious. America lacked the resolve to hand it back. This hasn't changed.

  • sarcasmic||

    Knocking down governments has worked so well in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. What could possibly go wrong in Iran?

  • Floridian||

    This time would be different Sarc. Trust me. Also, can I hold 50 bucks? I'll pay you back next time I see you.

  • Cytotoxic||

    In Afghanistan and Iraq it went great. There were no problems until America got involved in nation-building and created a problem.

  • sarcasmic||

    mumble mumble the devil you know mumble mumble

  • Cytotoxic||

    I don't believe in that. Certainly doesn't apply to a superpower.

  • sarcasmic||

    Yeah. I can tell you don't believe in common sense.

  • Ketogenic Paleo||

    Iranians were on the verge of overthrowing the theocratic government themselves years earlier, and of all middle-eastern states the Persians/Iranians are the most likely to overthrow the oppressive yoke of Islam once they reach power. They used to be secular, they're quite educated and they've been living in a full-on dystopian Sharia theocracy for decades; they know how absurd Islam is.

  • Steve G||

    Who put them on that path 60 yrs ago genius?

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Don't you know that it's a fundamental American principle that the British have a right to fuck around in any part of the world?

  • Paul.||

    They have a flag!

  • wwhorton||

    +1 rule that I've just made up

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    The world would be a much better place if America was not afraid to stand up for itself

    Considering that U.S. conventional forces grossly outweigh the Iranian military, AND the U.S. possesses a gargantuan store of nuclear weapons, America doesn't have to "Stand up for itself". It could try not fucking around in Iran's backyard so much.

    had destroyed the Iranian government a long time ago.

    Oh, yeah! Considering how successful Iraq was, I'm sure an Iran escapade would be just as much fun!

  • Cytotoxic||

    Considering that U.S. conventional forces grossly outweigh the Iranian military, AND the U.S. possesses a gargantuan store of nuclear weapons, America doesn't have to "Stand up for itself".

    Irrelevant. You can have a big gun and still be a pussy.

    It could try not fucking around in Iran's backyard so much.

    Iran can stop murdering American's first. WTF makes the ME 'Iran's backyard'?

    Oh, yeah! Considering how successful Iraq was, I'm sure an Iran escapade would be just as much fun!

    It was highly successful until the US got involved in nation-building.

  • sarcasmic||

    No nation building in Libya. mumble mumble Bengazi mumble mumble

  • Cytotoxic||

    1) Notice how I didn't include that in the 'successes' list.

    2) Salafists were active in Benghazi before Q's overthrow. Just goes to show the need to kill The Bad Guys.

  • sarcasmic||

    So you admit to cherry picking. That's good to know.

  • Cytotoxic||

    You can't fucking read and have comprehension problems.

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    WTF makes the ME 'Iran's backyard'?

    It is LOCATED in it. What happens in the countries bordering it is probably of interest. You know, like the U.S. has frequently considered South America to be its backyard (See, for example, the Monroe Doctrine).

    Irrelevant. You can have a big gun and still be a pussy.

    How about a rational cost-benefit analysis of what invading Iran would cost? You know, like if you went to a corporation and tried to sell it on the idea that invading Iran would produce more tangible economic benefits than it would cost? Do you have a foreign policy that goes beyond angry locker room posturing?

  • ||

    No need to invade. Ask rather, "What's the cost-benefit of knocking out their government and military?" I'm not taking a side on this, just pointing out that there's more than two choices, do nothing or invade/occupy.

  • sarcasmic||

    Look at Egypt or Libya and ask yourself if we're better off with the devil we know.

  • ||

    In both cases, we'd be better off doing what China does- selling weapons to anyone who wants to pay us and otherwise staying out of it.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Exactly. I favor overthrowing Iran's regime without invasion.

    Look at Egypt or Libya and ask yourself if we're better off with the devil we know.

    Neither are more threatening to American interests than before. Yemen's current administration is much better for America than the previous one. Your own examples work against and that's no surprise.

  • Calidissident||

    Yeah, the US government has totally been afraid to meddle in the affairs of other countries.

    Jesus, what alternate universe do you inhabit?

    Pick up a gun and go fight the Iranian government yourself. Don't be a fucking pussy armchair general demanding other people to go do (and pay for) your dirty work

  • Cytotoxic||

    The USG has a moral duty to defend its citizens. That means overthrowing the Iranian regime. Sorry, this isn't Anarchotopia.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    "The USG has a moral duty to defend its citizens."

    Roughly 35 years after the fact?

  • Calidissident||

    "The USG has a moral duty to defend its citizens."

    What you're proposing does not in anyway do that. Want to protect Americans from Iran? Stop sending them to fight useless wars in neighboring countries so they can get blown up by Iranian IEDs.

  • Calidissident||

    Oh, and the only thing worse than a chickenhawk is a Canadian chickenhawk. Lobby your government to do something if you want it so badly.

  • Ketogenic Paleo||

    Do you know who else accused hawks of being addicted to war and only beholden to military contractors?
    Chamberlain.
    Do you know who else believed war was the inevitable path towards peace and several centuries of prosperity?

  • MoMark||

    The notion that those of us who would like to refrain from being the world’s policeman are not for kicking the ass of anyone who would direct harm to us is ridiculous. The question is: Are all of these illegal wars, military adventures and expenditures contributing to the spiraling debt and the economic doomsday machine we are building? And how does it affect the very idea of sovereignty?

  • RyanXXX||

    What are you trying to say here?

  • RyanXXX||

    What's interesting is that despite the constant slur of "appeasement" and the historical view of Chamberlain as a complete doofus/coward, he actually did the right thing and acted pretty damn responsibly for a world leader. At that point, avoiding another World War SHOULD have been the ultimate priority for all European statesmen. It's only with hindsight and our knowledge of the Holocaust (which was a result of the WAR HE TRIED TO PREVENT), etc. that people condemn him

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