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Republican Candidates Rattle Nuclear Tails Against Iran

New America Media, Commentary/Analysis, Amir Soltani Sheikholeslami and William Beeman Posted: Jul 23, 2007

Editors Note: One little-noted aspect of last month's CNN Republican presidential debate was that five out of nine candidates endorsed a pre-emptive nuclear strike to keep Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. Two other candidates offered no objections. Only one candidate, citing his Christian faith, declared himself unequivocally opposed. Amir Soltani Sheikholeslami, monitors Middle Eastern affairs and media for NAM.

Dr. Muhammad El-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and co-winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, warned on a recent BBC interview that the world risked a war with Iran because of "new crazies."

Asked who the new crazies were, El Baradei refused to point a finger. But the BBC interviewer did not have to look far.

Five of nine Republican presidential nominees - in a CNN televised debate on June 5 - underscored their readiness to authorize a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iran if that's what it would take to prevent the Islamic Republic from having a nuclear bomb.

Congressman Duncan Hunter of California, former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, declared that "I would authorize the use of tactical nuclear weapons if there was no other way to preempt those particular centrifuges."

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Guliani was quick to echo his rival: "I think it could be done with conventional weapons, but you can't rule out anything and you shouldn't take any option off the table."

Virginia Governor James Gilmore said that while he supported negotiations with Iran, "We're also going to say that having a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. They need to understand it. All options are on the table in that instance."

Asked whether he agreed "with the mayor, the governor, others here, that the use of tactical nuclear weapons, potentially, would be possible if that were the only way to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb?", current frontrunner Gov. Mitt Romney replied:

"You can't take options off the table."

Two other candidates - Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas - weren't asked for their opinion on the issue but offered no objections to their rival candidates. A third - Sen. John McCain of Arizona - had already set the tone for the debate by adapting his slogan " Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran!" to the Beach Boy's surfer anthem.

Media post-mortems on the CNN debate were eerily silent about the near-total Republican consensus. Yet the endorsement of a pre-emptive nuclear strike represented a radical break with basic doctrine and established principles of arms control, deterrence and containment.

The non-use pledge - also known as the Negative Security Assurance" issued in 1978 and recognized under UN Security Council Resolution 984 extending the Non- Proliferation Treaty - is clear and unequivocal.

"The United States reaffirms that it will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons state parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons, except in the case of invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a state towards which it has a security commitment carried out, or sustained by such a nuclear weapon state in association or alliance with a nuclear weapon state."

Under the doctrine of "strategic ambiguity" U.S. officials have qualified the non-use pledge by reserving the right to use nuclear weapons in response to specific perceived threats from chemical and biological weapons.

But even at the height of the Cold War, many traditional conservatives, including ranking generals and scientists, have consistently and repeatedly reviewed and rejected all arguments in favor of the pre-emptive use of WMD, especially tactical nuclear weapons.

In his 2003 policy paper titled "Mini-Nukes and Preemptive Policy: A Dangerous Combination," director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute Charles V. Pena warned that mini-nukes and pre-emption would undermine homeland security by increasing the chances of a first strike against the United States.

To extend Harvard professor Joseph Nye's analogy about terrorism as the privatization of warfare, the adoption of mini-nukes is a harbinger of the privatization of nuclear warfare and terrorism by non-state actors - not all of them foreign.

Far from promoting democracy, threatening the Iranian people with nuclear strikes is strengthening Tehran's claims about the satanic nature of American power. The immediate impact is on two Iranian-Americans currently held in Evin prion, Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Programs at the Woodrow Wilson Institute, and Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh of the Soros Institute.

Fortunately, the last word on nuking Iran in the CNN debate went to Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas. Asked what he saw as the most pressing moral issue facing the United States, Paul said:

"I think it is the acceptance just recently that we now promote preemptive war. I do not believe that's part of the American tradition...And now, tonight, we hear that we're not even willing to remove from the table a preemptive nuclear strike against a country that has done no harm to us directly and is no threat to our national security!"

Paul won a round of applause from the New Hampshire Republicans in the studio audience.

How To Talk The Talk With Iran by William O Beeman
Editor's Note: Face-to-face talks between Iran and the United States over Iraq's future will be fraught with pitfalls unless Washington adopts complex rules of engagement. Key will be mastering the art of "inside" as well as "outside" communication. William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota and President of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. He is author of "Language, Status and Power in Iran" and "The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs": How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.

Face-to-face talks between Iran and the United States have a good chance of success if the Bush administration knows how to handle their part of the exchange,

Some denizens of Washington are under the mistaken impression that the Americans can dictate the terms of the conversation and the Iranians will fall in line. They will not.

The first rule in Iranian negotiations is that both sides must exhibit mutual respect, even if they harbor virulent hatred for each other. Iran is a hierarchical society, and negotiations are stabilized by balanced reciprocity in terms of respect. Each party elevates the other party in status and humbles him or herself in turn. In this way hierarchy is preserved, but mutuality is maintained.

Politeness is an exquisite art in Iran; it is especially appreciated in difficult negotiations. One can see this demonstrated in public encounters between Iranian officials themselves. Many of Iran's political leaders and clerics hate each other with a vengeance. Their intense rivalry is always hidden behind a veil of outward respect. This system of encounter, replete with bowing, complimentary language and deference, is called "ta'arof". It is an essential political and social skill.

Second, Iranians will not tolerate accusations or accept blame except from those with whom they have a personal relationship that embodies respect because of their superior social or political position, morality or accomplishments. Even the most exalted individual will tolerate criticism from his or her parent, teacher, spiritual leader or acknowledged patron. The same person will bristle and remonstrate when faced with accusations from some unrelated party, or someone considered to be of equal or inferior status. The Revolution of 1978-79 hinged on this principle. When the Shah's army began firing on unarmed women and youths in public, his superior status vis-a-vis the public - anchored in his implicit pledge to protect his people - evaporated, and he fell like a rock in a matter of weeks.

Third, a resumption of relations after estrangement is especially difficult. Estrangement in Iran is institutionalized. It is called "qahr and involves a period of ritual non-interaction. The resumption of relations usually requires a neutral mediator and even then, reconciliation can be fraught with pitfalls. Either party can quickly test the sincerity of the other party with unreasonable or difficult demands. The only way forward in this situation is to continually demonstrate good will, and present scenarios that show the mutual benefit of the resumption of relations.

Finally, Iranians make a very clear distinction between "inside" and "outside" communication. An appeal to the "inside" values of spirituality, virtue and human feeling is always likely to win the Iranian heart; but such an appeal must be sincere. "Inside" expressions recall the mysticism of Sufi orders, and are redolent with spiritual meaning. Practiced Iranians are quick to detect insincerity, cynicism and overt flattery, all of which are definitely "outside" in nature. Cynical overtures are immediately rejected as a sign of bad faith, and can destroy any delicate negotiation. And no wonder, since the "inside" communication mode is so powerful, and its misuse so despised.

These principles can easily be implemented by the United States for any mutually useful purpose in talking with Iran.

If the talks are to be about stability in Iraq, the United States must not bias them by making pre-conditions about other issues - such as Iran's nuclear program. It must acknowledge that Iran has an equal and respected position in creating stability in the region. Language must be unfailingly polite and humble.

The United States must avoid making accusations against Iran. Frankly, from Iran's perspective, the United States has no standing to make such accusations. It is neither respected as a social or cultural superior, nor has it acted as an acknowledged patron of Iran or its people. If talks are productive, the accusatory matters can be handled once relations are on a more even keel.

In dealing with Iran, the United States must be prepared for the fits and starts that accompany the 28-year estrangement between the two nations. Iran will feint, pull back, charge forward with seemingly helpful suggestions, only to withdraw them. This is normal, expected and part of the process of reconciliation.

Finally, the United States must speak with sincerity about mutual desires to cooperate with the Iranian government on matters of mutual interest. Nothing could be more essential to both nations than stability in Iraq. There can be ho holding back here. The message must be from the heart, and unqualified.

Only then will the long chill between Iran and the United States begin to abate.

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