The US Attack on Iran: Prospects and Challenges
A Talk by Rostam Pourzal in Vancouver
Transcribed, edited and arranged by Sarah Alwell
Introduction by Sarah Alwell
With the looming threat of a US invasion continuing to menace Iran, on Saturday January 19th 2008, over 170 people participated in a public forum against war and to say that they will join in the call for no war on Iran. The forum, held in a packed room of Vancouverís SFU Harbour Centre, was organized by Canadians Against War with the support and endorsement of Mobilizations Against War and Occupation (MAWO) and the Iranian Community Against War (ICAW).
The reality of this threat towards Iran and the devastation an invasion would cause became very apparent and comprehensible as participants watched a slideshow entitled ďDonít Iraq IranĒ, showing Afghanistan and Iraq before and after the US and Canadian-led occupations. With the US currently stepping up their propaganda against Iran, their military buildup in the Persian Gulf, and their search for allies in preparation for an attack on Iran, this forum in opposing any attack on Iran was very important. Organizing a continued campaign against war on Iran is also very necessary.
The event featured special guest speaker Rostam Pourzal (below), who was introduced by Fred Muzin, the president of the Hospital Employeesí Union. The introduction by Fred and the speech by Rostam Pourzal are both below.
As conversations continued after the end of the event, the mood of the participants was definitely that of people resolved to carry on from this forum to establish a campaign against the US drive for war against Iran. Please note that this is an excerpt version. The complete talk is 5313 words was reduced to 3171 words. Fire This Time takes the responsibility for any potential unclarity.
Introduction by Fred Muzin, MC of the Event
Welcome everybody, itís great to see such a turn out, this is a very important event. Iíd like to start off by thanking the Coast Salish people, just acknowledging that we are on their territory. Also there is a number of endorsers of this event and theyíre listed on the back of you program. Thereís MAWO Mobilization Against War and Occupation, Stopwar.ca, CASMI Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran, the Iranian Community Against War, and Sharvand. Usually we gather here to hear about all of the labour problems and the lack of human rights in Iran Ö and thatís what we usually do because thereís lots of problems in that country and those are problems that really have to be dealt within Iran. What we are being faced with now is an American agenda that is threatening to expand their intervention in the Middle East beyond Afghanistan and Iraq. George Bushís tour this past week they were looking for incidences, so for instance the media has miss portrayed the Iranian speedboats, as though thatís some sort of threat, and theyíre trying to say that Iran has nuclear armaments capability despite the fact that sixteen investigations, sixteen times the Americans and other organizations said that they have not had nuclear arms for four years but that doesnít stop the Americans. And Americans quite frankly donít have the solutions to other peoples problems, itís been very clear that war is not the answer to the problems. We look at the situation in Guantanamo. We look at how they treat migrant workers. The renditions of people to Syria. The whole excuse for moving into Iraq, the weapons of mass destruction that theyíre still busy looking for. Itís more of a political power agenda and it has nothing to do with the peopleís agenda and thatís why this forum is extremely timely tonight. Because as a world community we have to stand up and say war is simply not acceptable, not in Iran, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan and when we speak as one we can be effective; the people of the world have done that before. Now, weíre very privileged tonight to have a speaker from Washington, the US chair of the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran, Rostam Pourzal. Pourzal is a writer, researcher, social scientist, long time social justice campaigner and heís worked full time in Washington as an independent researcher and organizer for human rights. He holds a graduate degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania where he focused on modernization and social upheaval. He advocates for dialogue without preconditions between Iran and the United States.
Talk by Rostam Pourzal
I will address myself to three questions tonight mainly. One is whether Iran is dangerous, a threat to peace. My conviction is that itís not. But then, because as I said I hope there are people among you who will dispute that, I will address the question of, if Iran is dangerous and a threat to world peace, what are the best ways to reduce the danger of Iran? Lastly I will ask the question that, if there are ways other than war and the present course that the American administration is taking to make Iran less of a threat to the world, why isnít the US administration taking advantage of those means, of those ways to ďstabilizeĒ the Middle East?
None of the people who attacked the United States in 2001 were from Iran or have been linked personally or in terms of a money trail to Iran. So why not? Why arenít the American administration and media, why arenít they focusing on making Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia pay more attention to the - really they are breeding grounds for terror for extremists - why arenít they focusing there? Yes, Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and supports Hamas in Palestine and those are organizations that, depending on your point of view, are either resistance movements or terrorist organizations but in either case Iran does not have to support those organizations, but it is forced to because the Iranian government has felt hostility from the West, mainly from the United States for almost two decades now and so therefore these are defensive measures in my view. Then there is the other question of Iran meddling in Iraq and destabilizing Iraq, sending arms there and so on. There is some truth to that in that I believe Iran does fund various organizations in Iraq. But then if we are focused on foreign powers meddling in Iraq, the first question should be what the hell are the United States and Britain doing there?! At least Iran shares historic and religious ties to Iraq, and by the way, Iranís intervention in Iraq is very much welcomed by a government in Baghdad thatís handpicked by the United States. So whatís the problem? Not to mention that according to many sources Saudi Arabia is also funding groups in Iraq that are at least as extremist as are the Shiite groups and militias in Iraq. So my point is that this is an excuse to Iraq Iran and to beat-up on Iran.
With the issue of this nuclear dispute with Iran, Iíll spend a little bit more time on that because the American administration does. That is their main argument for saying that Iran is dangerous. Well, Iranís nuclear program started during the Shahís administration in the 1970ís, which was an administration that was backed by the United States very tightly. But you know what? Washington wasnít worried about it. Back then there were some arguments from Iran saying that Iran had so much oil and gas, Iran said what do we need nuclear power for? And the Americans wanted these billions of dollars for their reactors. They said, well save your oil and gas for future generations. Itís too precious to burn, hereís nuclear power. Now that Iranís population has more than tripled and because of vast industrialization and rural development, Iranís need for energy has more than, much more than tripled. The same folks in Washington, the same folks who we know now are neo-conservatives are saying you have so much gas and oil, what do you need nuclear energy for? Now I want to make clear I am not an expert of nuclear weapons or nuclear power generation but my position and my groupís position is that itís up to the Iranians to decide that, the way other nations decided to have nuclear power or nuclear bombs. They didnít ask anybody for permission, they didnít consult us. World security is a shared security, we need common security. And if every nation was to decide for itself, then Iran has the same right. Another reason why this issue of the nuclear dispute is such a suspicious one - to me itís a lot of fuss about nothing - is because the American administrations have for almost three decades have made clear that they really find it difficult to live with the Iranian government. They miss the good old days when they had their puppet government in Iran in power, and they want to get that back. Why? Because we have a lot of oil and gas, and they want Iran to become as defenseless as Iraq is, so that they can dictate to it. If in fact this nuclear issue were a major proliferation issue, then the United States, what the United States would be doing would be to strengthen the International Atomic Energy Commission which conducts inspections in Iran. The United States would be strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran was one of the earliest signatories to the NPT and has so far, I argue, Iran has not violated the NPT, in fact the United States and its allies have. As I said before, Iím not getting into the question of whether Iran needs nuclear reactors or not, thatís not the question Iím posing. Letís say that just like the NPT stipulates, that Iran has a right, just as any other country, to make its own decision about having nuclear reactors. So Iran shopped for this, and remember the NPT obligates the countries that have the technology to help Iran. But under pressure, mainly from the United States, none of those countries, though some came close to cooperating with Iran regarding nuclear technology, others under pressure from the United States, they stopped. Only Russia agreed, as you probably know, to build one single nuclear reactor in Iran which is now nearing completion after years of delay, again because of US pressure.
Ok, well letís look at the record of Iranís foreign policy over the past decades, since the revolution. Has Iran attacked another country? In fact, if you go back 200 years, you would have to go back 250 years before you would find an attack by Iran on another country. Do your own research, donít take my word for it. The only two instances in my lifetime that Iran has intervened, meddled, in its neighboursí affairs came during the time of the Shah, when Iran was basically a US client. One was in Northern Iraq where, at the suggestion of the CIA, Iran armed Iraqi Kurds to make trouble for Saddam Hussein. That was it. So, contrast Iranís record of war and peace with that of the United States and its allies. They are what I call serial bombers and invaders. So who is a greater danger to world peace?
In fact, a new book is out recently, actually a very excellent book called ĎThe Treacherous Allianceí. Itís about the relations of power games that are played between Israel, the United States and Iran. It is very well researched. And the author, who is in Washington and a friend of mine, argues very convincingly that Iranís foreign policy is actually not driven by ideology, it is driven by the same rational principles which drive the foreign policy of most other nations. Now I donít want to cost too many sales of his book so I wonít go into very much detail of his book, but Iíll give you one example of how Iranís foreign policy is not driven by Islamism or ideology. There are two countries, two small nations, bordering Iran in the northwest. One is Azerbaijan which is formerly part of the Soviet Union. Next to it is Armenia which, as you can tell by its name, is a country that, like Israel, Iran and Pakistan, is defined by its religion. They are Armenian Christians. You would think that if Iranís foreign policy was driven by Islamic ideology that they would be allies with Azerbaijan and they would have very at least poor relations, if not hostility, with Armenia, because Armenia and Azerbaijan have had wars and their relations remain very hostile. But itís quite actually the opposite. Iran has tense relations with Azerbaijan and very very friendly relations, in fact militarily and economically near alliance with Armenia. Why? Because Azerbaijan has close military ties with Israel and the Unites States. So this is about colonialism, not about ideology and about Islam with Iranís foreign policy. If in fact the Unites States wanted to make Iran less dangerous - letís assume that Iran is dangerous - then it would have dialogue, direct dialogue with Iran without conditions, something that they refuse to do now.
The issue is that the United States wants a uniformed world. Theyíve made it clear, Iím not making this up, since 2001, since the attacks of 2001 on the United States there have been two national security documents that have come out of the White House and they clearly say that we are not going to tolerate a rival power to rise in the world. Iran is one of the countries that will not tolerate this, that will not have it like that, and I admire it for that. Venezuela is another country that will not go along with that, China is another one, Russia is another one. I think a multi-polar world is a more peaceful world, a more democratic world. But the US is determined to exclude Iran from having a role, a say, in how the emerging world order will take shape. What do I mean by that? We have an existing world order, an awful one, but nevertheless a world order, the rules of which were relatively clear during the Cold War. After WWII it didnít take that many years for the United States and its Western allies and the Soviet Union and its allies to work out a kind of gentlemanís agreement, a bloody one, but nevertheless a kind of settlement where they agreed to the rules of the game where they would fight out their wars through proxies and not have direct confrontation and so on and so forth and most of the time it worked fairly decently. Since the fall of the Soviet Union there is no new world order yet. Thatís partly what the first and second Iraq wars were about. Yes, they were and are about oil, but so is the new world order thatís still waiting to be born. So the new world order can be one where the US is the sole power, sole super power, or it may become one in which the United States has rivals and I argue that that is what all this fuss is about, that Iran is dangerous because with the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the fall of the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq, Iranís influence is growing in the region. And its not about Shiite versus Sunni and so on, if you ask me about that I will explain why I said that. It is really about influence, about limiting American influence in the region. Iran, yes, is reaching for more power.
But few people pay attention to the fact that Iran has no air force at all. In 30 years, no Western nation, or Russia, or China has sold Iran fighter jets. So basically to say that Iran should forego defense missile technology is to say that we want Iran to be defenseless in terms of air power and I wouldnít go for that. They would be crazy to do that. So, to get back to the question of why doesnít the United States take advantage of making peace with Iran? Well, there is a superpower rising in the world, on the horizon. Its name is China, and China has, if you have been reading press reports lately, has an incredible appetite for raw material, especially energy, coal and gas and oil. Now, American neoconservatives know that they cannot control the rise of China, and you can see it. In fact, the US is the biggest borrower from China. Most of what we buy is from there but they have figured that if the US can control the world energy market it can have a choke hold on China and prevent it from being a full scale superpower. Ok, what does that have to do with Iran? Well, Iran is not only itself sitting on so much oil and gas underground, but itís also situated very nicely between the worldís two biggest known reserves of oil and gas. One in the Persian Gulf, the other in Central Asia. So it is the last standing domino, so to speak. This is Cold War terminology, dominoes. Iran is the last standing domino in the Middle East. Yes, there is Syria and Hezbollah, but if Iran goes they go. In addition to the fact that Iran is itself becoming a regional power. Now I canít tell what the future will hold. The United States can decide that, just like it made peace with China, it lived with the Soviet Union, it may just settle for a ďcontainment policyĒ with Iran and just try to hit Iran on the margins and surround it with military bases and Navy, pretty much like what it is doing now. Right now, itís hard to know which way itís going to go. I think the chances are just like a toss of a coin.
So lastly, I want to talk about, well, what can the peace movement do then? What can you do? The first thing I suggest is that we remain skeptical, we arm ourselves with information, we debate, we go to alternative websites, we have speakers like me come and we will debate them and try to learn something new. Fortunately there are a lot of alternative sources of information and Iím proud to say that I think in my own opinion I know quite a bit more now than I did, letís say, when 9/11 happened about how the world operates, what these guys in Washington are up to - because I have invested literally thousands of hours researching, trying to learn with an open mind. I have debated all kinds of people, now I have narrowed it down because Iím fairly confident I know the answers to quite a few of the questions I had. But I urge you that when you see media reports about, for example, Iíll give you an example because I do a lot of interviews, every time there is a flare up in the news about Iran I get a lot of calls from radio stations and what not in the US and overseas. And you know what? Always they want to focus on the news of the day. Itís irritating after a while because they say, well these British sailors, were they in international waters or were they in Iranian territorial waters? And I say, thatís not the most relevant question, thatís not the most illuminating thing for your listeners to know.
The question is, what the hell are the US and Britain doing in the Persian Gulf. They donít belong there, thatís not their neighborhood. You would have a right to say Iran is dangerous if Iran had two aircraft carrier groups with thousands of soldiers and hundreds of missiles and airplanes aimed at the United States anchored off the East Coast or the West Coast of the United States. Then Iran would be a danger. Or if it had 200,000 troops in Canada or Mexico right next to US borders. Then, yes it would be a threat to the United States. But thatís not going to happen. So what I ask of you, my message to you is be skeptical. Donít be drawn into these petty debates about the news of the day, about little issues, and letís ask the big questions. What are these guys even doing over there? What are their intentions? Secondly, I ask of you to support dialogue between the Unites States and Iran because the alternative to dialogue is war.
American intelligence agencies, 16 of them no less, recently just in December, they said that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. So why is Bush still going around calling Iran a threat? Itís like these people are resistant to facts, it doesnít matter. Itís sort of like, you know when during the first Bush administration, when the Gulf war was still raging between Iran and Iraq - and I love this quote from Bushes father, he was the vice president at the time under Ronald Regan - when an Iranian civilian airliner was shot down over the Gulf by mistake and almost 300 people perished in that, they dispatched Bush Senior to the UN to try to patch it up and to say that it wasnít our fault, it was the Iranians fault. But the main thing that irritated me was that when he said well yeah you know there was some Iranian Airliner that was making funny moves and it wasnít responding to our Navyís warnings and so on. Anyway, when the reporters raised some questions about what he was saying, they were raising doubts and they were saying well it didnít have to happen. You know what his answer was? George Bush Senior said ďI donít care about the factsĒ. So these guys, the gang, they donít care about the facts. We need to lean on the US government and in Canada on the Conservative government in Ottawa to enter a dialogue with Iran. I mean, it would be one thing if Afghanistan, for example, had improved, but opium cultivation has skyrocketed, theyíre supplying 90% of the worldís opium, and women are no freer - in fact theyíre less secure - and I donít have to tell you about Iraq.
So why not try something different with Iran? So, I would urge you to support US dialogue with Iran. Itís a myth that diplomacy has been tried with Iran. They have not tried diplomacy with Iran for one single day. Threats and imposing sanctions are different from diplomacy. Outsourcing negotiations with Iran to the trio, to the European Union Bureau, Britain, Germany and France, thatís not diplomacy. For two years, Iran suspended its nuclear uranium enrichment, which is supposed to be the issue now that is precluding preventing the US from negotiating with Iran supposedly. But for two years Iran did suspend uranium enrichment while it negotiated with the EU trio and you know what, after those negotiations failed, the European official said that without American involvement, without direct US participation in those negotiations they could not have offered Iran anything that would be a worthy incentive that would influence Iran, persuade Iran. So it really takes the United States sitting at the table and negotiating and we need to fight for that.
Back to Article Listing