Standoff-ending precedents: The ‘USSR’ and Iran

I was just reading the generally sensible ‘Talk of the Town’ piece on Iran and WikiLeaks that Rick Hertzberg had in the Dec. 13 issue of the New Yorker, that landed on our stoop this afternoon. (Sorry, can’t easily find a link for it.)
The piece is interesting because– though Hertzberg seems to take for granted that Iran is actively toward possession of a nuclear weapon, which has yet to be proven– still, he argues that,

    the supposed remedy of a ‘military solution’ would be more unacceptable [than the things that might predictably happen if Iran does get a nuclear weapon.] A bombing attack on Iran’s far-flung, fortified nuclear facilities… would be the start of a war of unknown duration and immense human, material, and political cost… In the past decade, we have been drawn [he does not say by whom] into two wars on Muslim soil. Both began with promises of quick and nearly bloodless (for us) ‘victory.’ Neither has ended. We cannot afford a third.

Bravo.
However, Hertzberg then goes on to argue for a repeat of the containment policy that the U.S. pursued toward the Soviet Union from the late 1940s until the largely peaceful (well, peaceful for the U.S.) collapse of the Soviet Union from the late 1980s on.
However, if (as Hertzberg advocates) the people of Iran are to be successfully persuaded that following the path of the peoples of the former Soviet Union and bringing about the end of their current political system would be a wonderful thing for them (as well as for Americans), then this would have been a much more persuasive argument had the U.S. actually been a more generous and visionary ideological “victor” in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War.
In this regard, Pres. George H.W. Bush looks to have been a lot more skillful, smart, and persuasive than Pres. Clinton. It was Bush Senior who famously noted to Pres. Gorbachev in 1990 that he “wasn’t dancing on the ruins of the old Berlin Wall,” and who also reassured Gorbachev and the Russians that he had no intention of extending NATO further to the west. But after Bill Clinton became president in 1993 he did just that. He also worked through the IMF and other international financial institutions to force on the Russian people a humiliating dismantling of their social safety net that pushed millions of formerly middle-class former-Soviet families into poverty.
If Clinton had not acted in that triumphalist way, then the idea of an American “victory” in the kind of containment-based mini-Cold War that Hertzberg advocates against Iran might be more acceptable to Iran’s people. But how many people, anywhere in the world, would like to follow the kind of path that the Russian and other former-Soviet people were forced to tread throughout the 1990s? I suspect, not many…
Actually, the idea that in the 21st century the U.S. even has the global clout to mount and maintain– even against a decidedly second-class country like Iran– a replay of the Cold War it maintained for for more than 40 years against the USSR is already a chimera. Washington just doesn’t have that kind of global clout or that ability to assemble and maintain world-circling coalitions that it had throughout the second half of the 20th century.
Instead of advocating for a replay of that lengthy post-1948 Cold War, Hertzberg would do far better to concern himself with what it would take to get an actual, human-equality-based and tension-reducing negotiation underway between our government and Tehran. Now there’s a revolutionary idea…

5 thoughts on “Standoff-ending precedents: The ‘USSR’ and Iran

  1. bevin

    Your point about the vandalism that took place after the dissolution of the USSR is a very important one.
    One is constantly being afflictted by mantra like assertions that “Stalin killed x million people” or that “Mao was a mass murderer.”
    In point of fact the millions said to have died in famines in both countries, under “Communism” were the victims of economic policies, and not just those of the “communists” either, since both the Soviet Union and Mao’s China were subjected to draconian economic boycotts by the “west”.
    We know that there were many who blamed Saddam for the deaths in Iraq, resulting from sanctions, but the imposition of sanctions was clearly designed to cause suffering. That it led to the deaths of children was accepted, not to say welcomed, by the Clinton regime.
    The statistics from post Soviet Russia and the other federated republics will show that significant population declines have taken place in many of them. Millions have died prematurely from the side effects of “shock therapy” many thousands have been killed in civil warfare as a result of the breaking down of order and the transfer ofd power and property to criminal elements. In short Clinton, Yeltsin and their many enthusiastic assistants in creating chaos are just as responsible for the results of forced de-collectivisation as those who, in Soviet Union and China attempted to break the power of the property holders in the countryside.
    The point is not just that Bill Clinton et al,(many of whom have personally benefitted from trade deals with the successor regimes, as in eg Kazakhstan) ought to be viewed as having been responsible for crimes caused by a cynical disregard for human welfare and a thoroughly immoral view of vast populations as so many millions of insects taking part in a socio-economic experiment. That this experiment was conducted by the same ‘invisible hand’ which presided over the Irish Potato famine and several Bengal famines, deliberately retrieved from the dustbin of history into which a wiser generation had cast it, just adds to the irresponsibility of those involved in the cruel vengeance wrought upon a nation which had dared to defy capitalism.
    Much of the rapid growth and prosperity of the 90s directly resulted from the looting of the collective property of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. It was the sudden realisation that vast profits were to be had by privatising collective property administered by governments (installed by the ‘west) ready to give away what belonged to others which played a crucial part in fuelling the excplosion of debt and the expansion of the financial system, which has, in turn, not only made capitalism unsustainable but transformed liberal democracy and the rule of law into incipient authoritarianism, characterised by governmental contempt for the law and corruption of the justice system.

  2. Scott

    Helena, I think the link is now here: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/12/13/101213taco_talk_hertzberg
    I’m struck that the author repeats the standard mantra inside the beltway that Obama’s two-track approach (e.g. Ross’s) towards Iran is likely to work…(variations on a theme, from economic to military pressures)…. if only we press hard and long enough….
    Problem is, those familiar with Iran’s diplomatic culture (across factions, regimes, personalities) will realize that policies of “pressure” of any sort are antithetical to “true engagement” — and thus the growing sense among many of us that Obama’s entire Iran engagement policy was either a.) never serious to begin with (a ruse – for various reasons) and/or b.) that Obama was outflanked from within…. by advisers who never wanted engagement to work in the first place.
    Huge argument here to be sure….

  3. Erik

    I read that article in the New Yorker last night and found it depressingly familiar. In this instance,Hertzberg reveals himself as another Zionist tool, repeating the same mantras about containment, you know how that goes…putting them back in “their box” where they belong….
    There was no original thinking in his article, just the same rewarmed exceptionalist, neo-colonialist,
    pap we’ve been hearing in main-stream media since forever.
    I was very disappointed by this article.

  4. brian

    FYI
    ‘In an excusive interview with Al Jazeera, Assange said only a meagre number of files related to Israel had been published so far, because the newspapers in the West that were given exclusive rights to publish the secret documents were reluctant to publish many sensitive information about Israel.
    “There are 3,700 files related to Israel and the source of 2,700 files is Israel. In the next six months we intend to publish more files depending on our sources,” said Assange in the nearly one-hour interview telecast live from the UK.
    Asked if Israel had tried to contact him though mediators, Assange said, “No, no contacts with Israel but I am sure Mossad is following our activities closely like Australia, Sweden and the CIA.
    “The Guardian, El-Pais and Le Monde have published only two percent of the files related to Israel due to the sensitive relations between Germany, France and Israel. Even New York Times could not publish more due to the sensitivities related to the Jewish community in the US,” he added.
    http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/qatar/136564-wikileaks-to-release-israel-documents-in-six-months.html

  5. rosemerry

    thanks Helena and others; I have just discovered this site. Beven you just wrote eloquently what I would like to say. I agree with Scott- in fact I do not think pressure causes a good reaction from anyone, especially when applied in a hypocritical way eg by the USA here, and by obvious partisan interlocutors like the “expert” Dennis Ross.

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