You will develop newfound sympathy for your predecessors in the Bush administration. There are a hundred things they could have done differently, but the primary fault for the failure to contain Iran does not lie in Washington.
It lies first with the feckless international community. The United Nations has passed resolutions demanding an end to Iranian nuclear enrichment. Iran ignores them. The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 forbids the rearmament of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran rearmed them without consequence. Fault also lies with the terrified but nearly immobile Sunni world. It lies, too, with the axis of the avaricious.
The U.S. and Europe try to organize economic sanctions against Iran, but the oil-rich Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was welcomed in Indonesia, and Iran signed a pipeline deal with India. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security group headed by Russia and China, granted Iran observer status, while denying the U.S. the same status in 2005.
This is the problem with multipolarity. When everybody is responsible, nobody is responsible. A rich rogue nation can flout the will of a disparate majority.
“The Reality Situation in Facing Iran,” David Brooks, The New York Times, 30 May, 2008.
Quick, unedited, uncut thoughts, not wholly or even directly related to the passage above:
1. On the “terrified but nearly immobile Sunni world”: The Sunni world, at least those portions which are allied with the United States and receive armaments and other assistance from her, is immobile mainly because it is the policy of the United States to assure that Arab states cannot be more powerful than Israel (this is called maintaining the quantitative advantage). Countries that ought to be military powers in a real sense, by virtue of geography or their natural resources and cultural importance, are not. There is no Arab piece in the Middle Eastern balance of power, only Israeli, Iranian, American, and perhaps Turkish ones. That policy reassures Israel and Turkey, and makes Americans comfortable; but it makes it easier for Iran to intimidate and interfere with allied countries in the region.
2. On the fact that Iran has been allowed to engage in economic schemes with its neighbors and given a place in various international fora, especially those being constructed by southern powers and by Russia and China: This is perhaps an illustration of the fact that the extent to which Iran is seen as a “threat” is not shared across the international community. Clearly India sees Iran as less of a threat than Israel, the United States and the EU do; China and Russia while obviously concerned with the problems around proliferation seem less worried about Iran’s ideological leanings and support for terrorism than their Western counterparts (it should also be mentioned that the SIO, in which Brooks seems dissapointed for allowing Iran and observer seat over the US, is meant as a means of checking American influence in Central Asia; offering Iran observer status, though, is an attempt at offering it a place within the international system in hopes that such inclusion will moderate its foreign policy, a strategy, while different from Washington’s, is working towards the same ultimate goal as US/EU efforts). And countries that share a similar world view with Iran, in the post-colonial sense (not the Islamist or Shia one), seem to be skeptical of Western intentions. This seems to point in the direction of two possibilities: (1) the Iranian threat is being exaggerated by Western powers and (2) that the other powers who take the opposite view for reasons of national interest and politics are misconceiving the situation and along with it their own national interests in regard to the region and Iran. The latter is clearly preferred by Mr. Brooks.
3. On the multi polar problem: The problem is not so much that a “rogue nation” (this is not a concept favored by most of the world, it should be remembered; it is used only by the United States, and signifies uncooperative behavior in regards to international norms especially when these norms are being used as instruments of US policy) can “flout the will” of the majority. While a multi polar system, by nature of its more diffuse nature of its power arrangements, allows fewer opportunities for the consolidation of the will of a single actor (by means of its own behavior or by proxy), it also allows for a different mode of calculating the national interest. In a unipolar system, those states who allowed their policy to stray from the one advocated by the Hegemon on issues that are given priority would be rogue states (at least as far as the United States would be concerned), and would risk being treated as such by the Hegemon. A binary options set arises, and the more beneficial one is to move along with the Unipower. It is easier for states to weigh the pros and cons of various policy options, especially when it comes to material gain. This is why it is looked on so favorably by poorer countries and more powerful states who feel that their national interest is left out of American calculations. If take the first possibility mentioned at the end of “2,” — that the US has exaggeration the Iranian threat in the world perspective — we would reckon that multi polarity also leads to a greater degree of prioritization of world affairs, especially as less liberal regimes, more concerned with sovereignty than the triumph of the individual and unbridled markets, press their agenda more forcefully, because it is these regimes that make up the majority of the world’s states. There are more such states, by sheer numbers, by population, and by representation in international fora, than those seeking to actively and constantly press the American and EU line on Iran. There are, in their estimation, more important matters around development, respect for sovereignty, and furthering cooperation amongst themselves. While the UN’s verdicts on Iran’s conduct are very clear, the fact that most countries agree on them does not mean that most countries prioritize them in the same manner. This is becoming more consequential as the world does become more multi polar. Indian, South African, Chinese, Russian, Brazilian, or Indonesian interests do not all include the Iranian nuclear issue at the top of the international agenda, no matter how dear a matter it may be in Tel Aviv or Brussels. This is further to say, that in a multi polar world, what is the geo-strategic importance of Lebanon, a puny country of but 3 million people that exports or produces little of value to the outside world, will fall much lower on the totem pole than it does in a unipolar system in which Euro-American interests define much of the agenda. The same might be said of the Palestinian issue, or any variety of small regional conflicts that do not especially affect the world outside of those countries that are or who have made themselves directly or indirectly involved. The perception in a multi polar system, especially as the world’s emerging illiberal powers (though not undemocratic ones, think India, South Africa, or certain Latin American states) become more equivalent at the regional and global levels, will end up being that cooperation should be most emphatic on issues global in nature as opposed to more narrow ones that interest only the historically super wealthy. The continuity of what are generally Western values, particularly things such as the high value of the idea of humanitarian intervention or forcing compliance with international norms, depends on whether those Western states (on the Security Council and in the various world financial fora) who enjoy the monopoly of global influence are willing to allow the emerging democratic and not so democratic states, whose global strategies are not entirely formulated yet, to participate in the current international outlets more actively and with greater purpose. This is why Security Council reform and the modification of the agency procedures in the global financial and aid architecture is so important now.