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Obama’s olive branch to Iran 31 août 2009

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, USA / Etats-Unis.
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The Guardian (UK), Monday 31 August 2009

Joschka Fischer *

Oppressive isolationism is a dead end. Tehran would be foolish to squander a chance for constructive engagement with the world

Iran is in the process of wasting the biggest historical opportunity the country has had since the revolution of 1979, and perhaps even in the past hundred years. That opportunity is called Barack Obama.

It is President Obama’s policy of reaching out to Iran that offers the country this unique opportunity if, and it’s a big if, the Iranian leadership takes it up. At the moment, however, little if anything suggests that this will happen, because, for Iran’s leaders, Obama’s offer also represents a grave danger. There is nothing they fear as much as opening up and reducing tension with America. Indeed, the regime welcomed George Bush and his neocon administration, because it allowed Iran’s leaders to close ranks, and at the same time delivered free access to influence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like all partial modernisers in authoritarian regimes, Iran’s rulers want an advanced economy, technology, and infrastructure, but not freedom, democracy or the rule of law. This explains their great fear of, indeed an obsession with, « colour revolutions », although they are de facto working hard to bring one about.

The ongoing drama of mass demonstrations, violence, torture and repression that followed June’s fraudulent election has exposed a fundamental conflict within the Iranian power elite about the basic course of the Islamic republic. Does the country seek increased openness or isolation? Integration or destabilisation? The decisions are anything but final, even though the isolationists now prevail.

Although Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution of 1979 defined itself as Islamic, at its core it was and remains a national revolution, its most important aim being the nation’s independence from the influence of foreign powers. Thirty years later, Obama’s offer would enable Iran not just to consolidate its independence through reconciliation with the United States, but also to live up to its increased significance within the region and in world politics. The dream of Iran’s resurgence as a great power and civilisation could be realised in unison with the major regional and global powers, rather than ending in the nightmare of confrontation. Iran’s current leadership, however, has obviously bet on the nightmare option.

What is visible in the current crisis is that the Iranian revolution against the Shah was not the first Islamic revolution, but one of the last anti-colonial revolts – the end rather than the beginning of an historical era. One of the first successful revolutions of this kind, and certainly the most important, took place in China in 1949. Numerous successful national liberation movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America followed. They were usually anti-western in orientation, and for good reason.

Many of these revolutions opted for the Soviet economic model, which combined a state-controlled economy with a minimal degree of integration into the world market. For this, many countries involved paid a high price.

Iran’s leadership would do well to study these cases carefully. Indeed, the Soviet Union itself eventually collapsed because of its shortage economy, not a lack of missiles and nuclear warheads. Its demise could not be averted by the country’s abundance of oil and natural gas.

But Iran’s rulers apparently don’t want to learn from history. Instead, they are valiantly pinning their hopes on the old decolonisation/nationalist strategy, nowadays even resorting to such Stalinist tools as staged show trials. In the long run, though, rule by bayonet rarely works.

Of course, all the partial modernisers in China, Russia, Vietnam, and other countries share a fear of a colour revolution, the nonviolent upheavals that brought democracy to Georgia, Ukraine, and Lebanon in recent years. But to avoid this type of political modernisation, these countries have all opted for economic and social liberalisation and integration into the world market.

There are still a few unreformed « socialist » states left: North Korea and Cuba, for example, even a couple new acolytes: Venezuela and Bolivia. But these countries are unable to develop independently and lack a global power alternative. All they will leave behind for their people is another wasted chance, with shattered hopes and unpaid bills. And it is more to the pitiful remains of the anti-colonial revolutions in Latin America than to the community of Islamic states that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is drawn.

The outcome of this stance looks even gloomier if Iranians compare themselves with India, Brazil, and Turkey. The impressive success of these countries has showcased the economic, social, and technological preconditions for becoming a regional or even global power in the twenty-first century.

In the medium term, Iran’s main competitor in the region will be neither Israel nor its Arab neighbours, but Turkey. While Iran suppresses internal freedom, relies on a foreign policy of regional destabilisation, and concentrates on developing nuclear weapons, which will reduce rather than enhance its security, Turkey is undergoing a process of successful and comprehensive modernisation. As a result, Turkey, not Iran, is on track to become this century’s key Middle Eastern power.

This autumn, important decisions must be made, because the uranium enrichment process continues unabated in Iran. Indeed, Iran is getting very close to the red line of being able to produce nuclear weapons. Its leadership must therefore decide whether to take the hand offered by Obama or lead the region into a new phase of confrontation. A look at history books could help them make the decision.

* Joschka Fischer was Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005.


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