A Bit Of Context For The Pacific Pivot

It is perfectly understandable that some would be frustrated at the lack of progress in the P5+1 talks but there’s little reason to despair. In the wake of the latest round in Moscow, Kremlin adviser Sergei Markov captured the sense of pessimism in the Russian delegation, which felt uniquely suited to bridge the gap between Washington and Tehran. “For Russia the result is moderately positive,” but Markov cautions that “quicker developments” are required in order to foreclose the “quite high” chance of an Israeli strike in the summer months. As if in response comes Aaron David Miller reminding us that we needn’t be “nervous Nellies” because “The fact is that nobody-not the Israelis, the Iranians, nor the Americans-wants a war or a deal right now.” Miller is correct that it won’t materialize immediately but a deal is indeed in development–albeit at a glacial pace–and will be reached next year. Iran will at last be granted the right to civilian nuclear enrichment but, alas, will not receive the overarching rapprochement with America that it craves most.

It has become a commonplace that Iran is implacably against the West, its regime too irrational for compromise. Contradicting this popular perception is the forgotten Iranian proposal offered in 2003 which would have been the preliminary for a “grand bargain” where, as Glenn Kessler describes, “everything was on the table–including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.” In the estimation of Flynt Leverett, it was “a serious effort, a respectable effort to lay out a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement.” Incredibly, the Bush administration not only sniffily dismissed this initiative but was furious at the Swiss ambassador for having the effrontery to send it along. Moreover, according to Richard N. Haass, the unprecedented offer was peremptorily rejected by the administration because “the bias was toward a policy of regime change.” Consider the myth of Iranian intransigence exploded.

Iran obviously wants a d├ętente but then why, a skeptic might inquire, does Iran delight in vexing the West over its own version of nuclear ambiguity (will they build a bomb?) and its ongoing progress in uranium enrichment? Look no further than the Kessler piece where one finds Trita Parsi penetrating to the heart of the addled matter. “Parsi said that based on his conversations with the Iranian officials, he believes the failure of the US to even respond to the offer had an impact on the government,” which came to realize that “the US cared not about Iranian policies but about Iranian power.” Parsi explains that the uncouth refusal “strengthened the hands of those in Iran who believe the only way to compel the United States to talk or deal with Iran is not by sending peace offers but by being a nuisance.” Iran’s sole recourse is to be pesky and puckish, getting the West to blunder into making wild claims about Iran’s atomic ambitions only to eventually be made ridiculous on the international stage by chasing after nuclear hallucinations.

Not to be outdone in purposely causing provocation, Washington is relying on the option of regime change to instigate the Iranians to nationalist indignation. Overthrowing the Iranian government is a delusion but a useful one that forces Iranians to conform to the aforementioned stereotype of irrationality when they’re faced with potential Western intervention again. This tactic is also being used against China to similar splendid effect. A recent Center for Strategic International Studies report details how our Pacific Pivot serves to antagonize China: “The U.S. Asia pivot has triggered an outpouring of anti-American sentiment in China that will increase pressure on China’s incoming leadership to stand up to the United States. Nationalistic voices are calling for military countermeasures.” This reaction plays right into the hands of the Pentagon which will demand that any increase in China’s military budget be met with commensurate spending here. A China incited by our policies will keep the axe from slashing the overblown $1 trillion defense budget.

The centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy henceforth will be a grand Cold War directed at China. The Pacific Pivot is in fact a re-pivot, for China was set a decade ago to be Washington’s Public Enemy Number One as recommended by a defense strategy review composed in the earliest days of the Bush administration. China was to be targeted, according to Martin Kettle’s summary, on account of that nation being “now perceived as the principal threat to American global dominance.” With the Global War on Terror winding down, this contest can be prosecuted in earnest and it is to be waged by militant meddling in the Middle East. To secure this “American global dominance”-otherwise euphemized as “benevolent global hegemony”-Uncle Sam must have his hands on the spigots and be able to choke off the flow of oil. And this is where the concurrent mini Cold War against Iran comes into play.

There is much uproar in our media when Iran threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz but the nation most likely to execute that threat is our own. Conn Hallinan informs us that “It is estimated that, sometime between 2030 and 2050, China will surpass the U.S. and become the world’s number one economy-provided that it can secure enough energy for its growing industrial needs.” Fearing China becoming a peer competitor, Washington has to harass Iran-China’s number two supplier of oil and gas-through sanctions and power projection in the Persian Gulf.

The policymakers don’t want a shooting war but low-simmering tension and occasional escalation-a suitable excuse to, as the BBC’s Jonathan Beale asserts while reporting aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, “send a clear message to Iran as to who really controls these waters.” Controlling those waters is crucial for subduing an ornery and rising China in future and this imperial scheme is why the Iranian people are made to suffer and why average Americans must pay the price of empire instead of earning the wages of peace with Iran.