Friday, October 10, 2008

Robert Baer on NPR's Fresh Air, Part 2.

Note: Please read Part 1 of this series before proceeding.

It may sound strange to hear Robert Baer's characterization of the Iranian government as "maturing", especially given the inflammatory statements by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but he correctly points out the limited role the President actually plays in setting foreign policy. While the McCain/Palin ticket seems disproportionately obsessed with Ahmadinejad's rhetoric regarding the future of Isreal, they seem to be missing the point that it is cleric Ali Khamenei that is the actual Supreme Leader of Iran. Not only has Khamanei contradicted Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli stance, but he has actually issued a fatwa against the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.

This seems to support Baer's argument that Iran could represent a rational partner in forming a security accord in the Middle East. A major complication for cooperative action between Iran and the West involves the Palestinan question. Hezbollah takes its marching orders from Tehran, and this has been a constant source of enmity between Israel and Iran. Still, Baer says that Ali Khamenei has implied that he wants no more than the Palestinians want- self-rule in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He further insists that the Iranians see Saudi Arabia as their main rival in the Midde East. The Emirates of that country represent the 1400-year legacy of Sunni repression of the Shi'ites. The Wahabi form of Islam is a particular anathema to the Iranian clerics.

Robert Baer agrees that the Sunni fundamentalists are manifestly more anarchic and unreliable than their Shia counterparts. He raises the question of Saudi involvement in the 9-11 attacks, and rightfully points out that the Saudis have never been held to account for the participation of more than 15 of their citizens. In calling for formal negotiations between the US and Iranian governments, Baer realizes that he risks alienating Saudi Arabia- a longtime ally of the Bush family and the neo-con wing of the Republican Party. But if we are truly interested in combating "Islamofascism" in the region, it is appropriate to trace its sources. The reality is that the hardline fudamentalist madrasas throughout the Muslim world are financed by Saudi oil profits.

So why should we continue our irrational stance of loyalty to the Saudi Royal Family? As Robert Baer asks, "Do we really care who pumps the oil?" Certainly we need a Middle Eastern supply of crude, but must we buy it from Saudi Arabia? Baer insists that Iran wants the United States as a partner in stabilizing the Middle East. While he admits that this is an awfully tough sell for the majority of America (especially in light of the vilification that has been heaped on that country during the last eight years), he is clear that the alternative is a 30-year war with the most significant military power in the region. Yet the development of nuclear weapons in Iran presents a serious obstacle to negotiations.

There is no doubt in Robert Baer's mind that a nuclear arms race in the Middle East should be avoided. But he doesn't think that the current US approach of threatening preemptive military action is pragamatic or wise. It's useful to speculate on what consequences such an aggresive policy could bring. VP candidate Sarah Palin was recently asked how a McCain Administration would react to Israel if that nation made air attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. She responded by saying that “We are friends with Israel, and I don’t think that we should second-guess the measures that Israel has to take to defend themselves and for their security.” This was almost undoubtedly a tacit approval of a prospective attack, and an eminently foolish position.


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Anonymous Lauren Cleaver said...

I love this guy. I hope he gets a job with Obama. I hope he visits our hotel in Costa Rica and hangs out, and we can talk. I believe it is people like this that should be listened to! I would like to buy this guy a beer, seriously. I read a lot down here on the Osa, and Baer's world view seems logical and based on real world politics. Am I missing something, or is this guy like the next head of the CIA?

7:26 PM  

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