Monday, October 23, 2006

Security Council Iran Politics and the New World Order After 9/11, Part II

On Saturday, I wrote:
U.S. media sources generally report on the politics of Iran's nuclear program at the Security Council as if the definition of the problem were uncontroversial -- U.S. press accounts generally assume that the issue before the Security Council is how the world ought to respond to the prospect of nukes in the hands of a menacing Iranian regime.

In reality, China, Russia and France (i.e. the permanent members of the Security Council other than the U.S. and the U.K.) may well perceive the central problem facing the Security Council in the following way: How to keep the United States engaged in the Security Council process and prevent it from operating as a rogue superpower outside of the institutional framework of the United Nations, while at the same time being careful to avoid any Security Council action that could be used by the United States as a justification or pretext for executing its fundamentally unilateral plans (especially military plans).
An editorial in today's USA Today, titled "As China pressures N. Korea, will Putin face down Iran?" illustrates the point I was making. According to the USA Today editorial board, if Putin isn't gung-ho to enlist in American efforts to "face down" Iran, it's because he's too focused on regaining superpower status for Russia to pay attention to other issues, no matter how important:

On Saturday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Moscow hoping to turn the "momentum" of sanctions against North Korea into similar action against Iran. Russia was having none of it. "We won't be able to support and will oppose any attempts to use the Security Council to punish Iran" to promote regime change, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

What's happening is that Russian President Vladimir Putin's agenda is driven by a single obsession: to regain as much of the former Soviet Union's superpower status (and territory) as possible. Iran holds a key to restoring Russia's once-considerable influence in the Middle East. The two have strong trade ties, and Moscow is helping Iran build a nuclear power plant. So other priorities have shrunk to invisibility, including Russia's once-intense interest in deterring the spread of nuclear weapons.
The USA Today editorial goes on to assert that Putin's conduct is "unconscionable," in view of the dire consequences of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons:
His actions with regard to Iran are particularly unconscionable because Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons could easily set off a regional arms race that would threaten everyone. Israel, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad routinely threatens with annihilation, already has a nuclear stockpile. Other nations in the region, most of them Sunni Arab states distrustful of Iran's Shia version of Islam, would feel the pressure to build their own weapons in what is already the most unstable region on earth. The potential for terrorists to get nukes would rise dramatically.
Conspicuously absent from the editorial is any mention of the Bush Administration's central role in creating this mess. Simply put, the U.S.-led Iraq war did more to aggravate the instability of the "most unstable region on earth" than any other action in recent history. The Iraq war, combined with the Bush Administration's decision to publish an official enemies list (in the form of its "Axis of Evil") created an incentive for Axis of Evil states to develop a nuclear deterrent capability on an urgent basis. Pre-invasion, Iraq was a secular dictatorship without any nuclear weapons capability whatsoever, whose ability threaten its neighbors through conventional military means had been eliminated in the first Gulf War. In the wake of the Bush Administration's Iraq war, Iraq is or is on the way to becoming a failed state, a training ground and recruiting opportunity for terrorists determined to strike at the U.S. and its allies.

Also conspicuously absent from the USA Today editorial is any acknowledgment or discussion of Russia's concern -- explicitly cited by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and quoted in the USA Today editorial itself-- that the United States might use a Security Council resolution as a pretext or justification for embarking on yet another regime change adventure, this time with Iran. In addition to any concern it may have about Iranian nukes, Russia is also worried that the U.S. could be gearing up for another wild man act in the Middle East. Incredibly, the USA Today editorial board misses that concern -- or ignores it -- completely.

With this in mind, consider the sanctimonious obliviousness and unintended irony of the editorial's conclusion:
Either way, the world is likely to get a lot more dangerous unless Putin can be persuaded to act in the way that the leader of a responsible world power should.
Today's USA Today editorial needs to go into the October 2006 time capsule, to give historians a few hundred years from now a sense of what public discourse about international relations was like in the United States in the George W. Bush era.

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