Ed Husain

The Arab Street

Husain examines politics, society, and radicalism in the greater Middle East.

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Questions We Dare Not Ask About Iran

by Ed Husain
March 13, 2012

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei departs after casting his ballot in the parliamentary election in Tehran (Caren Firouz/Courtesy Reuters). Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei departs after casting his ballot in the parliamentary election in Tehran (Caren Firouz/Courtesy Reuters).


This is conventional thinking among American foreign policy elites on Iran’s regime:

– It is an anti-Semitic regime.

– It wishes to destroy Israel.

– “Regime change” in Iran will result in the halting of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.

Am I wrong? If not, then the above assumptions illustrate how we are influenced by flawed thinking. More worryingly, it is a deeply disturbing sign of how American public discourse on Iran is leading the United States to yet another “war of choice.”

Les Gelb wrote last week about the “ignorance and arrogance of America’s foreign policy establishment” on Iran and Syria. Consider the following facts and questions:

First, if Iran’s regime was anti-Semitic by nature, then why has it not eliminated or “self-deported” the 30,000 Jews who live inside Iran? They are Iranian and Jewish, and proud of being both.

Second, Iran funds Hamas and is a self-declared champion of Palestinian peoples. How, then, can it attack Israel without harming the more than 1.5 million Arabs who live inside Israel? How can an Iranian nuclear warhead “eliminate” Israel without removing the populations of Gaza and the West Bank, too? Iran will destroy Palestine to save it?

Third, Iran’s Green Movement is not the West’s savior. Thanks to relentless threats against Iran, developing nuclear capability has become a symbol of Iranian national pride and defiance of the West. Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi is committed to maintaining the country’s nuclear program, saying “we have to have the technology.”

The ugly fact is that Iran’s nuclear weapons program is unstoppable. The consequences for regional weapons proliferation are severe, but Iran’s mullahs are not always “irrational actors,” as they’ve often been portrayed. Unlike Sunni Islam, Shia Muslims embrace ration and logic as key tenets of their creed, an inheritance from early Mutazalite thinking.

Neoconservative warmongering and further isolation of Iran will not be conducive to U.S. national interests, Israel’s security, or regional stability in the Middle East. I understand Jewish and Israeli existential angstbut bombing Iran creates more existential crises than it solves. Israel’s security depends on cutting deals with its neighbors, not AIPAC lobbying the U.S government to approve the bombing of an ancient civilization.

Israel’s hawkish prime minister was in Washington last week. Britain’s David Cameron is there this week. The British are correct to talk about diplomacy and say “there’s a lot more to be done to turn up the pressure, to turn up the dial.”

But why let facts and sense get in the way of a narrative that helps mobilize for war?


  • Posted by Ha ha Road

    It’s a bit too late to prevent another war. Even if the US tries to avoid a war, Israel is likely to drag them into one. The great fear is that it may happen under Barak Obama’s watch.

    Iran’s continuous support with arms and military training of deviant groups who turn their weapons on Israel is testament that the war is already well under way. Also the fanatical nature of the stake holders with Israel’s elite is likely to further stoke the flames.

    Folks we have a war on our hands and it will start before the impasse in Syria ends by the looks of it.

  • Posted by Chris Herz

    The USA have nothing to offer humanity but more war, more corporate imperialism.
    The best that we can hope is that Iran will offer at least as much resistance to this project as has Iraq or Afghanistan.
    Like the USSR’s leaders ours are so committed to their course that nothing but state bankruptcy can force change.

  • Posted by Joseph

    1) Much anecdotal evidence from Iranian Jewish escapees says they are NOT safe and happy in Iran.

    2)Drop the bomb on Tel Aviv where there are virtually no Arabs. Also, they don’t have to use the bomb to wield tremendous power with it. Look at the chutzpah of North Korea. Now imagine Iran having the same nuclear invulnerability.


    4)The mullahs are not “always” irrational actors. So you admit that sometimes they are? What percentage of the time are they rational?

    5)You don’t understand Jewish/Israeli angst…nobody is threatening to wipe you off the face of the earth while simultaneously trying to acquire the weapons to do it.

    6) Their nuclear weapons drive is not unstoppable. We have many tools at our disposal which will halt it dead in its tracks. We just need to use them.

  • Posted by Dmitry

    You say, “Israel’s security depends on cutting deals with its neighbors”. But many of these neighbours simply do no talk and refuse to recognize the state of Israel. For example, Lebanon, or Hamas of Gaza. Let’s take Gaza into account: I do not see how islamists recognize the jewish presence in the Holy Land.

  • Posted by Freydoon Khoie

    So what is Ed Hussein suggesting? that the free world get in bed with the tyrranical despots like saddam, Muammar Qaddafy, Assad and Ali Khamnei?? the 30,000 Jews Ed Hussein is refering to in Iran were 500,000, and 470,000 left in fear and the remaining 30,000 are living a terrified life everyday. Wakeup Hussein and get your facts straight. Being anti semite is the least of Khamnei’s sins. The horror of repressing 70 million Iranians, the draconian middle age laws in the name of Shariah that executed highest number of young people last year and only second to China, the destruction of the national image and prestige of our ancient civilization in the world view, causing the highest level of brain drain and leaving the productive industries in disarray and causing 30% unemployment and making the country dependent on oil for 90% of its revenue, and the list of crimes goes on very long. Removing the dictators like Ali Khamnei, Assad, Qaddafy, Mubarak, Ben Ali, Chavez, Kim, and on and on is the best thing for the whole world’s security and sustainable peace, even if it takes years of war. Remember Japan’s Germany’s Italy’s Russia’s dictators and the unwanted wars they imposed upon the world. Transforming dictatorships to genuine democracy is the wisest thing the free world can do.

  • Posted by Camellia

    A good piece.

    Even if the Iranian regime is anti-semitic (which I dont think it is) , the Iranian people is definitly not, actually U.S. Arab allies are more anti -semitic than Iranians will ever be. As for Iran arming and supporting Hamas and others, Israel is doing the same with terrorist groups inside Iran.
    I agree with the first comment , Israel is likely to drag the U.S. into war against Iran , because the whole thing is about what Israel wants and what Israel fears .
    I really dont know why my comments are not being posted , they are not offensive or anything lol

  • Posted by Robin Cramp

    Now there’s an interesting comment from our previous blogger “(The) best thing for the whole world’s security and sustainable peace, even if it takes years of war”. Can a whole phrase be an oxymoron?” Similar phrases were uttered before WW I and the Iraq war, and is Iraq more peacefull than it was before? Ask the 4 million refugees from Iraq if they are more at peace? Besides, attacking Iran will do more to strengthen the current regime than any other single action – “Unite against a common foe”.

  • Posted by Professor Smartass

    I’m glad to see this common sense analysis, which is so sorely lacking in our public discourse on Iran, which is dominated by cartoonish fear-mongering on the level of a Steven Segal movie.

    The debate here in the US is so embarrassing, that THE ONION made a more intelligent comment in “Iran Worried U.S. Might Be Building 8,500th Nuclear Weapon” than most of the “experts” who appear on TV and in the press.

    With the advent of the internet, and the ability of the public to fact check for themselves, and more importantly, read the press in other countries where they actually do their job and report underlying economic motives for struggles between nations means the days are numbered for the kind of vapid commentary that even the CFR spits out on a regular basis.

    For example, most who follow international politics at all don’t believe that the US is primarily worried about Iran’s religious fundamentalism and support for terrorists since we ignore both in our ally Saudi Arabia.

    It is more likely that Iran’s independence and negotiating in their own self-interest with international finance and the oil industry are what are aggravating elites in the US and Europe.

    And as you correctly pointed out about this nuke issue, overthrowing the government and installing another won’t help if enough of the people in Iran see this as a matter of national pride.

    Something similar happened in Iraq: Saddam would not deal with oil companies on the terms they dictated, but when we overthrew him and installed a parliament, they would not vote for a Hydrocarbon Law we tried to force on them that would have given 88% of their oil income to oil companies.

    Even corrupt, puppet governments know there is a limit to how much they can screw their own people before they will storm the palace and hang their carcasses from the walls like Mussolini and his mistress.

    Our financial elite seem to think that everyone in the world is eager to serve or cower before them because they have been surrounded their whole lives by those paid to do just that.

    Those of you in place like CFR who have contact with the very wealthy, but also have jobs and some contact with the real world outside the gated compounds of the rich need to give them a reality check.

    Most of the world does not begrudge them their wealth, we just want them to stop using it as a weapon to hunt the rest of us.

    NOTE: I originally posted this with a link, which is why I suspected it got delayed for moderation. If the original is posted, please delete this.

  • Posted by Olijaan

    I thought this article displayed a lot of good common sense, although I have to say I was taken aback towards the end when Ed Husain airily referred to the unstoppability of Iran’s *nuclear weapons program*. Hang on – do you know something that the rest of us, including the IAEA, aren’t party to? Rather ironic, then, that your conclusion was “But why let facts and sense get in the way of a narrative that helps mobilize for war?” Other than that, er, good piece.

  • Posted by OH

    The US Military should be used only where it makes sense, where it will not backfire, where it will not hurt US interests, where it will not be another Iraq, where it will not be even worse than Iraq, where it wont be a total disaster for the USA.

    What is one round of bombing going to do? Nothing. And if you are talking occupation, guess what, that isnt going to do anything either. Just look at Iraq.

    For America to start a war against our own interests, for us to be threatening to bomb or invade a country, where it makes no sense, is irrational.

    I stand with Israelis, Americans, and Iranians, against another stupid war, that wouldnt do anything but enrich the already wealthy war profiteers.

    Iran is the Grover Nordquist bathtub.