posted 2012-10-24 12:28:55

American Exceptionalism is a Myth

A call for caution towards Iran  

Mike Stivers

Contributing Writer

As the 2012 election nears, there is one area of concern that is virtually absent from the national discourse. Aside from global climate change, the terrifying notion of possible nuclear conflict between Iran, Israel and the United States is the most significant issue that the international community faces.

The once taboo concept seems more possible with each passing day. The inflammatory language between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has received a strong response in the United States, but little scrutiny from the government. It is simply implied that the United States will continue to support its “greatest ally” in the Middle East, Israel.

This conflict as a whole merits a critical review. At the very least, the question needs to be asked: Does Iran pose an unavoidable and imminent threat? A thorough review of this “Iranian Threat” can be found in the Defense Department’s periodic reports to Congress (a simple Google search will do the trick), which give a clear and succinct answer to this question.

“Iran’s military strategy is designed to defend against external or hard threats from the United States and Israel,” a

2010 report states—a clear break from the “aggression” that is typically used to characterize the Islamic state. “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.” Note the use of the word “deterrent.”
The latest report, filed in April 2012, echoes much of the same language, noting that “Iran’s grand strategy remains challenging U.S. influence while developing its domestic capabilities to become the dominant power in the Middle East.” Its “military doctrine remains designed to slow an invasion; target its adversaries’ economic, political, and military interests; and force a diplomatic solution to hostilities while avoiding any concessions that challenge its core interests” (emphasis is my own). This language depicts a clear aggressor in the situation and makes clear that “Iran’s security strategy remains focused on deterring an attack, and it continues to support governments and groups that oppose U.S. interests.”

Despite the sensationalized rhetoric in the national discourse, this “deterrent strategy” is a perfectly logical approach, bearing in mind the political and economic realities of the region, notably the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Writer and activist Noam Chomsky offers some insightful logic to this end. “It is [useful] to ask how Washington would act if Iran had invaded and occupied Canada and Mexico, overthrown the governments there, slaughtered scores of thousands of people, deployed major naval forces in the Caribbean and issued credible threats to destroy the United States if it did not immediately terminate its nuclear energy programs (and weapons). Would we watch quietly?” He then quotes Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld, who notes that after the United States invaded Iraq, “had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy.”
It goes without saying that a nuclear armed Iran is of course an enormous threat to international peace. But is a nuclear-armed United States any less of a threat? According to the Federation of American Scientists, the United States has more active nuclear weapons than any other nation on the planet, 1,950 to be exact. The governments of India and Pakistan have both amassed nuclear arsenals with the blessing of the United States, and though Israel has never acknowledged its possession of nuclear weapons, the fact that it has them is “the public secret,” in the words of the FAS. The message here is clear. Countries that are compliant with US interests are allowed to have nuclear weapons. All others are denied that privilege. In the words of Chomsky, “What We Say Goes.”

A recent letter to The Envoy expressed concern that Iran’s “Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, has said that it is natural and unavoidable for Iran to be in conflict with the United States.” Though it may appear aggressive, Khomeini’s argument is in fact more of a reactionary analysis than a lucid provocation. As long as the United States continues its pattern of military dominance in the Middle East, conflict is in fact “unavoidable.” Notice the implication that only Iran engages in conflict. When the U.S. kills innocent civilians via drone strike in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, that’s not conflict. When Iran sends troops into Afghanistan or supports “terrorist groups” such as democratically elected Hamas in Palestine, that’s conflict.
In the midst of the rhetoric peddled by both of this years’ presidential candidates, to keep “all options on the table,” there is one option that is being consistently ignored. That is for the United States to end its aggressive policies in the region, policies that pose a far greater threat to global security than Iran does or ever has. President Ahmadinejad is a vile leader and surely a threat to the population of Iran, but the international threat his government poses pales in comparison to that of the United States.

It is easy to condemn “the other” as dangerous, violent and antagonistic while we as American citizens applaud our own greatness, courage and strength. It is common, though nonetheless absurd, to assume that the United States has a unique right to invade, occupy and control other territories. Objectivity is difficult and humility rare. It is only these traits, though, that will deescalate the perceived conflict with Iran, a conflict that could very well spell nuclear war if it is allowed to materialize. American citizens must reject the brazen notions of exceptionalism and absolute power. As individuals, we must take up the flame of solidarity and compassion. If we do not, Iranian, Israeli and American citizens will once again be forced to confront the horrifying personal, societal and environmental destruction that is war.