Click here to listen to one of Beshara Doumani’s recent interviews (January 17, 2007) with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti on KPFA 94.1 FM in Berkley. Dr. Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative.
Professor Beshara Doumani of UC Berkley describes some of the unknown history and impact of the Palestinian crisis on U.S. Military policy towards Iraq and Iran. And according to Beshara Doumani a bit of information can lead to a positive improvement in the way Americans view the people of the Middle East. “The level of ignorance is such that any time you can reach people with some information it tends to have drastic sort of transformative power.”
Try AFSC the service organization of the Quaker’s (American Friends Service Committee) for information on how to hold educational workshops and forums on issues relating to Israel/Palestine.
Dr. Harold Smith is Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Professor with the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley (UCB) where he focuses on the impact of technology on foreign and defense policy. He looks at U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, specifically Iran, and considers some of the recent comments of the leaders of Iran, the U.S., and Russia. Harold Smith described Start II (see Cooperative Threat Reduction Program) for members of Congress in 1996 when he was Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs with responsibilities for reduction and maintenance of the American and NATO arsenals of unconventional weapons.
Dori Smith: Beshara Doumani welcome to Talk Nation Radio.
Beshara Doumani: Thank you for having me.
Dori Smith: Let me ask you first to just discuss how Israel and Palestine issues fit, or should fit, into the larger discussion about U.S. policy in the Middle East in general and specifically toward Iran. We donâ€™t hear much mention of the way Israel and Palestinian questions in general should come up in this discussion about Iran.
Beshara Doumani: First of all any discussion of what U.S. policy is is driven by concerns about what are the actual goals or intentions behind this policy. Itâ€™s very important for people to know that the credibility of the United States is on the line and has been because of itâ€™s completely one side support of Israel in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Whatever the United States says about the Middle East, about Iraq or about Iran, is colored in peopleâ€™s minds by the double standards when it comes to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
The general lack of trust in the United States is one issue that has to be dealt with and it can only be dealt with through a different policy on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, a policy that supports fairness, justice, for all.
Itâ€™s no secret that Israel not only has very close ties to the United States but also it has been pushing very strongly, including its allies here in this country, for a much more aggressive stance towards Iran. Many ask is the United Statesâ€™ problem with Iran a result of purely U.S. domestic considerations or does it have to do with some larger U.S. strategy.
Personally I think itâ€™s a combination of both but the role of Israel and its supporters in pushing for a tougher line with Iran cannot be discounted as an important element here. There are other ways in which this issue is related. One is that the United States pours in billions of dollars of support to Israel, which is seen as its main ally in the region, its enforcer so to speak. Iran, under the Shah, use to be in that position, but the 1978 Islamic revolution in Iran sort of locked down that second pillar of U.S. strength in the area and created a huge vacuum which has sucked in an enormous number of U.S. troops and military equipment to try to fill in that vacuum that Iran use to play under the Shah as the policeman of the Gulf.
So now that the United States is there and in a very big way militarily with bases all over it needs very much the support of the people of the region or at least the regimes that rule the people in the region. These regimes, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries, Egypt, Jordan, etcetera, their credibility is also tied to what happens on the Palestinian/Israeli front because that conflict has become entirely symbolic of all that is wrong with the Middle East and all that needs to be fixed in the Middle East and where people stand on that issue affects very much their position on where they stand in terms of their opinion about the United States.
Dori Smith: Professor Doumani what about the rhetoric here? There have been several times when language seemed to be heading in the direction of precipitating a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran; could rhetoric lead us into a war?
Beshara Doumani: I donâ€™t see it that way. I see the rhetoric as part of a calculated propaganda effort very much the way that the Iraq war was sold to the U.S. people by an administration that had no clear case to make but they sort of did a big commercial on Iraq and kept it up day after day. And I think they are doing the same thing deliberately again in the case of Iran.
Itâ€™s not a question of people sort of mouthing off about Iran and then finding themselves slipping, sliding into that war. The level of rhetoric is being raised deliberately, strategically, conscientiously in a way that fits into a larger goal.
It may or may not lead into a war but it keeps in the mind of every American this sense of being almost at war. That plays very much into whole policies built on the politics of fear. That is designed really to allow this administration to get its way on a number of other things in terms of not just international and foreign policy but also domestic policy issues. And in that sense whether or not there is an actual attack on Iran, the denomination of that country, the raising of the level of rhetoric to a sort of near war hysteria serves a variety of purposes and its almost like war has already broken out in peopleâ€™s minds.
I just canâ€™t imagine anybody launching a war against Iran at this time. It just would be devastating, not just for the region but for world peace in general. The United States is already in two hot wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq, itâ€™s in several other minor wars including Somalia and other places; they are stretched thin. Iran is no push over. It has three or four times as many people as Iraq and it hasnâ€™t been under twelve years of devastating sanctions like Iraq was. Itâ€™s not a little picnic.
On the other hand everything that the President seems to be doing points to the possibility of war. So my mind and reasoning say one thing but my eyes are telling me another. There has been a big change in the leadership of the intelligence community and in the Pentagon; taking out people who were opposed to war in Iran, putting in people who were for it. The change of command in the Central Command to somebody in the Navy who specialized in strategic air strikes, I would say itâ€™s about a 60 to 40 percent chance that there might actually be a military invasion of Iran using air power; of course I canâ€™t imagine the possibility of a ground war.
The consequences of that I think will make what happened in Iraq look like a picnic.
Dori Smith: George Bush has said recently that the President of Iran isolated himself. But canâ€™t we also say that Bush is terribly isolated right now with his support waning? Under these circumstances is it possible that the Neocons would see some sort of an engagement with Iran as potentially regenerating support for their militant policies?
Beshara Doumani: What you are describing is what I call a sort of a doubling down scenario where somebody is losing at a game of poker and they just have whatever money left, they are all alone, and instead of accepting the fact that they lost, get out and try to work up for another day, they instead just shove all of their money in the middle of the table and say, â€˜all or nothingâ€™.
What you are describing is an â€˜all or nothingâ€™ scenario. A beleaguered president completely isolated from public opinion in his own country, from the vast majority of the military leadership, from the vast majority of the intelligence community, from their allies in Europe and elsewhere. So going in to see if another war would somehow rally the people around them and letâ€™s not forget that the leader of Israel, Ehud Olmert, is in exactly the same situation, his popularity also plummeted to record lows, his government is beset with scandals of one sort or another, and again, Iran is seen as the savior in the sense of it would unite all Israelis around Olmert.
There are people who have made this argument. That this is what is going on. I donâ€™t know. I think in many ways the war or possibility of war against Iran has been building up since the late 1970s, ever since the Islamic revolution took place and created that power vacuum. Everything weâ€™ve seen since then, the first Gulf War, the second Gulf War, the invasion of Kuwait, itâ€™s all tied to this one central fact, that Iran is a big vacuum and it happens to sit between the two biggest pots of oil and gas resources in the world in the Caspian Sea and in the Persian Gulf. And control over Iran is really critical to controlling the most strategic piece of real estate in the world.
In that sense itâ€™s not just about Bush. Itâ€™s not just about a beleaguered president. Itâ€™s about a kind of a trajectory in U.S. policy beginning with the rapid deployment forces under Carter to the establishment of the Central Command of 300,000 soldiers under Reagan, to again, a series of wars in the region in which the United States has become more and more involved.
Now with the collapse of the Soviet Union we also see the reshuffling of U.S. Military bases and a very big concentration now around the Caspian region and in the Gulf away from the traditional theaters of North Korea, South Korea, or Germany, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. There are large structural forces at work here and Bush is only really just one page in a longer story in that sense.
So he may or may not lead this country into a disastrous war again. I donâ€™t know. Itâ€™s very possible. But at the same time, even if Bush is voted out of office in 2008 before there is a war in Iran it may still happen under another president. The Democrats arenâ€™t much better than the Republicans when it comes to the issue of Iran or the issue of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. They are not happy with the Iraq War but a lot of them support a unilateral pro Israel policy just as much, and they also raise the level of rhetoric against Iran saying just as much. So weâ€™re looking at a long term problem.
Dori Smith: Americans donâ€™t know much about Iraqis or Palestinians. There are various untold histories here. I know thatâ€™s something of a specialty of yours. How does that work against our prospects as a society to work for peace that we donâ€™t know much about the people that we are dealing with and who have the most at stake.
Beshara Doumani: This is a question that concerns me a great deal as an educator. I know for a fact that the United States is almost alone in the world in having a public discourse on whatâ€™s going on in the Middle East thatâ€™s almost completely removed from reality. Certainly there is a huge gap between academic knowledge, professionally gathered knowledge about the Middle East, that you see on most campuses and in most books that are published, would be completely different from the way that the Middle East is portrayed in television news and newspapers and Hollywood, etcetera.
The fact is that most Americans donâ€™t read printed news like in newspapers. Only 15 or 20 percent do. The rest get it from television news which doesnâ€™t give them much time or much context to understand whatâ€™s really going on. This is a very big problem because the Palestinians or the Iraqis are seen as less than human people donâ€™t understand; they canâ€™t even feel the consequences of the policies of their own government and how it really affects their lives. And I know for a fact that as soon as someone gets some basic information about what the Middle East is like, the histories of these conflicts and so on, they immediately become appalled at the position that their government has taken all of these years.
So there is a very important and very difficult educational mission we have to be on all the time and thanks to radio shows like yours where people get exposed to more than just the sound bites. But itâ€™s very difficult as you know because the media in this country has become concentrated in a few hands and the corporate media in this country continues to represent that region as one that is home to sort of eternal conflicts. â€˜They will always be in conflict, itâ€™s a naturally violent place, theyâ€™re not like us, and there is only this sort of western-like democratic country of Israel struggling valiantly for survival against this sea of Muslims. And as long as they see it that way then any war and any imperial sort of conquest in this region is justified. How many Iraqis die or what does it feel like to be part of an entire population like the Palestinians, where over three million to four million people are living largely in public air prisons surrounded by walls and barbed wire and so on. They just donâ€™t even know that that exists. Or if they hear about it they sort of dismiss it because itâ€™s not about â€˜usâ€™ itâ€™s about â€˜themâ€™.
This is a very big problem but it also means that the level of ignorance is such that any time you can reach people with some information it tends to have drastic transformative power on these people. And Iâ€™ve traveled a lot and talked a lot and most of the people Iâ€™ve met on the East Coast, the Midwest, in the South, or the West Coast, who take the time to listen; I find that they are fair minded and they can grasp the situation much better and they teach themselves more details later on.
Dori Smith: The corporate media in America has not tended to discuss the possibility of Israeli forces operating in Iraq. What about Middle Eastern news services that you turn to. Do stories about that come up?
Beshara Doumani: I think is it’s more accurate to say that there are persistent reports of several thousand Israelis who are operating mostly in Northern Iraq in the Kurdish regions. These reports have not been confirmed to my mind persuasively but of course it doesn’t take much to imagine that what goes on in Iraq is extremely important to Israel and therefore they would be very much invested in trying to have a say in what happens there as much as possible. And we do know that they are certainly welcomed by many of the Kurdish factions for help in terms of their ties to the United States in terms of military equipment in terms of their intelligence and so on and so forth. So in the Arabic press and in the European press there have been reports like this all of the time and I think most people are aware of it but that story has not been heard much here in this country.
Dori Smith: Beshara Doumani thank you so much for speaking with us.
Beshara Doumani: You are absolutely welcome.
We turn next to Dr. Harold Smith, Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkley. Under the Clinton Administration Harold Smith served as Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs. He continues to serve as an advisor to contractors, think tanks, and defense industry laboratories. Harold Smith welcome to Talk Nation Radio.
Harold Smith: Itâ€™s a pleasure to be here Dori.
Dori Smith: There is a high level of concern about possible wider war and conflict with Iran. What is the general thrust of what you have been saying as you have traveled and discussed this topic?
Harold Smith: First of all letâ€™s take Iran as it is today; Mr. Ahmadinejad the President, is not the first to mask domestic difficulties behind international intrigue and ambition. We all know he pretends to foresee the rebirth of Persia, Darius, and etcetera. He also is I think truly on the way towards trying to get a nuclear weapon and he has effectively masked that behind a need for nuclear power. That sells well but he cannot overlook the problems that he has at home. The recent elections have been going against him. He has failed to deliver on the domestic promises he made when he was elected. That is oil revenue sharing. Improved infrastructure, roads, hospitals etcetera, and he has failed to crack down on corruption.
Rafsanjani, (Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani,) the former President won an overwhelming victory in the assembly of experts which will pick the next religious leader so that cannot be overlooked. The mayor of Tehran who succeeded Ahmadinejad has been hinting that there is corruption in the Ahmadinejad tenure as Mayor. And finally Khatami, the former President, has been speaking at Harvard and he has presented, as he put it, the bruising of Iranâ€™s reputation.
Another way of looking at it is that polls in Iran as I understand it can best be described as finding Ahmadinejad to be tiresome. So I would say that he may not be a power center for too many more years that patience might be the best policy for the United States to follow. But I have summarized my opinions this way. I think the regime in Iran will change unless we try to change the regime. So you can see why Iâ€™m so strongly in favor of patience.
Now youâ€™ve asked, â€˜will there be war in Iran?â€™ I think that is highly unlikely. We are stretched far too thinly in Afghanistan and Iraq to do much more than posture which seems to me what we are doing. And I donâ€™t think that benefits us very much either. We are doing, we the United States, are doing a good job along with the European allies in imposing sanctions so that I donâ€™t think stronger action than that would be in any way useful. In fact I would even go so far as to say we would be better off opening an embassy in Tehran and opening discussions with them. That would be very hard for the Present administration to do given what they have said, â€˜axis of evilâ€™ and all that, but letâ€™s say the next administration, Democratic or Republican, I think would be well advised to open an embassy and start talking. We had a breakthrough in Korea. Maybe we can have a breakthrough in Iran.
Dori Smith: In the background of all of this we are hearing more and more about a new arms race in the Middle East. And with the President of Russia now saying that the Bush administration may be sparking another arms race, more of a focus is now on that possibility. What would your advice be to the present administration in terms of their present policy toward Iran, toward the North, what would you tell them about what they are doing in terms of how it could have repercussions of other countries trying to get the bomb?
Harold Smith: Iâ€™m very pleased with the results in Korea which I think are a direct result of Mr. Bush deciding that he has to compromise his unilateral instincts to some extent. Obviously, what Iâ€™ve recommended in Iran would be another step in that direction.
I think we need to do much more in the sense of America as a leader but a leader of a coalition of powerful nations, which we can do and which I think this administration is starting to do. There has been a recent article in the Wall Street Journal by George Shultz, Bill Parry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, all of these gentlemen are noteworthy and all of them are respected, and they are strongly calling for a world of no nuclear weapons. That will be very hard to achieve but there are steps that can be taken in that direction and I think the administration would be well advised to do that.
Among those are some of the obvious ones such as sending the Comprehensive Test Ban (treaty) to the Senate for ratification. Another would be trying to revise the Non Proliferation Treaty so that it is not as unbalanced as it has become thanks to the U.S./India deal in which the acknowledged nuclear powers would hopefully agree to specify reductions in their arsenals and at the same time we should revise that treaty to allow any nation to have nuclear power provided they accept international fuel and give back the spent fuel. This has been sometimes called the â€˜front end back endâ€™ technology and there is a fairly strong movement led by the Nuclear Technology Initiative thatâ€™s a not for profit that Warren Buffet has given 50 million dollars to and which is trying to implement this idea that nations can have nuclear power without having to build enrichment facilities or separation facilities which of course is the real concern in Iran.
Anyone who can enrich fuel for nuclear power can continue the enrichment process and make fuel for a nuclear bomb. If we could internationalize that under say the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been doing a very good job in my opinion, I think we would be taking a long step down the road where the Irans and North Koreas would have an even more difficult position to defend if they tried to manufacture or create nuclear weapons. So I think there is much that can be done here.
Dori Smith: Do you think we stand on a fragile precipice right now with this administration in terms of the construction perhaps of new bases, the expansion of others, the move into other parts of Europe and the East? Are we heading in the direction that might be dangerous as President Putin has suggested it could be dangerous that U.S. Forces, the militarization if you will of U.S. policy, is potentially going to lead us down a path that we canâ€™t retreat from at some point?
Harold Smith: Unfortunately Dori your question is well placed. If the United States were governed by parliamentary constitution Mr. Bushâ€™s popularity is so low that there would be a vote of no confidence and we would have a new Prime Minister so to speak. But we donâ€™t we have a constitution which will keep this administration in office until early 2009. So there is some concern that the Bush Administration will continue down this road of unilateral military action which I think is dangerous and I think Mr. Putin was on point in a number of suggestions and criticisms that he made. But whereas I said patience is necessary in dealing with Iran, the American people are going to have to be patient with the Bush Administration.
I would like to see a strong debate in the country on just the question that you asked and I think that debate is coming and I doubt that the administration can take too many unilateral steps that will as you put it lead us down an irreversible path simply because we are stretched military and economically; we are running deficits both in the administration of our government and in our trade balance which severely ties the hands of those who would like to take extensive military action. And I doubt very much that this Congress will provide the funds to take on even new tasks. They are already beginning to debate the power of the purse in cutting back on our actions in Iraq. So I think we will have to be willing to debate and willing to be patient but these are dangerous years. I canâ€™t deny the fundamental premise of your question.
Dori Smith: In the sense that the Bush Administration has recently been discussing weapons; what weapons Iran might be trying to obtain; what weapons Iran might be sending across the border into Iraq; this is a tension producing discussion. Yet, we did hear Robert Gates try to diffuse the potentially inflammatory discussion that was raised after Putinâ€™s speech having to do with weapons parts that were provided to Iran. We are now talking about much different weapons; we are talking along the lines of missile parts right?
Harold Smith: Yes, they are modern conventional weapons.
Dori Smith: So he did say that we wouldnâ€™t want them to feel that they canâ€™t obtain these items. (NPR)
Harold Smith: It was a mark of Mr. Gateâ€™s smooth diplomacy in trying to diffuse that issue. After all itâ€™s perplexing that the Administration has known about these kinds of parts, according to the Press since 2004. Why they would choose to raise it now, Iâ€™m a bit concerned. But I donâ€™t want to say thatâ€™s a tempest in a teapot, but itâ€™s only the modern shaped charges or so called explosively formed fragments. Thatâ€™s not going to stem the tide one way or another in Iraq and I think Gates was absolutely correct in going soto voce on what he thought was the importance of that subject.
We have serious serious problems in Iraq but I donâ€™t think they are tied to these explosive devices or arms from Iran they are tied to the enormous Shiite/Sunni hatred; the Kurds in the North would not be accepted as a separate state by the Turks. The situation is grim in the MidEast, no question, but I donâ€™t think the flow of these conventional weapons across the border is an important consideration given the magnitude of the problem.
Dori Smith: Professor Harold Smith thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.
Harold Smith: It was my pleasure Dori thank you for asking me.
Dori Smith: Harold Smith is Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Professor with the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkley. He served as Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs, and in 1996 he described Clinton doctrine on the Start II nuclear talks with Russia before U.S. Congress. For Talk Nation Radio, Iâ€™m Dori Smith. Talk Nation Radio is produced in the studios of WHUS at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. WHUS.org to listen live Wed. at 5 PM. Talknation.org and Talknationradio.org for transcripts and discussions.
George W. Bush delivers his “Axis of Evil” speech, January 2002; this link is from the White House site.
Beshara Doumani on Lebanon, 2006.
Russian gen. warns on missile defense VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press
MOSCOW – In a statement reflecting the growing distrust between Moscow and the West, a top Russian general on Monday warned that Poland and the Czech Republic risk being targeted by Russian missiles if they agree to host U.S. missile defense bases.