Monday 2 December 2013

After Iran’s triumphal moment in Geneva

Scenes from the Vietnam War
Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of pan-Arab al-Hayat, today penned this think piece in Arabic
People of the Middle East are generally emotional and gung-ho.
They love victories, not compromises. They prefer winning by knockout rather than on points.
But regional and international conditions are very tricky. They leave little room for sweeping victories and for building on them swiftly. So proceed with caution in drawing conclusions. We’re still at the beginning of the road.
We were young when America’s adventure in Vietnam ended in America’s overwhelming defeat. The United States lowered its Stars and Stripes and pulled out.
Much was said at the time of the humiliating rout and of the empire that turned inwards to lick its wounds in isolation.
Today, it’s been years since we started reading about the rising level of bilateral trade between the two countries; about Vietnam’s eagerness to attract U.S. investments and tourists; and Vietnam’s delight at welcoming visiting U.S. naval units to remind China she needs to curb her appetite to rule the roost in her neighborhood.
Iran did not achieve Vietnam’s landslide in Geneva.
She targeted Americans in Beirut. She also targeted them in Iraq and probably elsewhere. But Iran did not enter into a face-to-face confrontation with the U.S. military machine, which unintentionally gifted her Iraq and Afghanistan on a silver platter.
Iran was able to collect other cards in the region. She always reminded others of her ability to influence the region’s two political hot potatoes: oil security and the security of Israel.
She brought in Hassan Rouhani from the cold to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Barack Obama’s new priorities.
The Geneva deal followed and it was called a “victory.”
Even if what took place in Geneva were described as a triumph, it is premature to liken the agreement results to the upshot of Richard Nixon’s visit to Mao Zedong.
We are today in a different world than Mao’s – dissimilar in its checks and balances and power criteria.
Assuming Iran’s nuclear deal with the 5+1 powers was a triumph, we have to take into account the agreement is provisional. The November 24 deal has a six-month clock and future negotiations will be more difficult and call for taking more painful decisions.
The Obama Administration’s reluctance to fight new wars in the region and her leaning to prioritize another part of the world does not mean turning over the headship of the Middle East, or the task of drawing its features, to Iran.
We also have to take into account the Russian and European players and such regional heavyweights as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
It is essential as well to be aware of the objective hurdles that preclude Iran from leading the Islamic world, particularly that -- unlike most Arabs – she does not belong to its [Sunni] majority.
Moreover, assuming a role of such magnitude requires means that go beyond the current Iranian economy, which have been drained by Western sanctions and “Soviet” commitments from Afghanistan to Lebanon.
Iran cannot be the region’s star player unless she changed.
Star roles depend on a propensity to promote and uphold stability. They hinge on creating compromises instead of establishing beachheads.
Bringing stability to Iraq necessitates the involvement of her Sunni component in the decision-making process. However, co-opting this component in earnest undermines Iran’s aptitude to manage Iraq.
Any viable compromise in Syria calls for drawing in her Sunni majority. That would ipso facto mean a Syria that is less glued to Tehran.
The same can be said of Lebanon, where the systematic undermining of the position of the [Sunni] prime minister has already galvanized militants in the Sunni community.
These are post-victory matters.
Generations were raised to the slogan, “Death to America.” What will Iran now do with the slogan?
How can relations with “Great Satan” be normalized if talk of beachheads and strikes continues?  
And what of “exporting the [Islamic Republic] revolution,” which perturbed the region before it was agitated by fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions?
Iran realizes fully well the slogan of “eradicating the cancerous tumor” [i.e. Israel] does not only raise America’s hackles but those of Russia’s Putin as well.
In addition, opening the door to investors assumes a transformed political and legal environment that would encourage young Iranians to aspire to a normal and prosperous state earmarking her resources for development and education rather than for perpetual dogfighting with her neighbors and the world powers.
Iran is a major country in the region.
To be acceptable and durable, her role must break up from the ambers of the revolution.
It is premature to compare Hassan Rouhani to Mikhail Gorbachev. Perhaps Iran needs someone who takes after China’s Deng Xiaoping.
She probably has to remember Vietnam defeated the United States, but referred her triumph to the history books.
And Vietnam is busy today inviting investors and tourists to improve the living conditions of the people behind the epic victory and their descendants.