27 September 2001

The Shape of Peace to Come

Make no mistake, four US carrier battle groups are moving into position as America gets ready to strike back against the terrorist organizations who attacked us, and against the governments who provide them with safe haven. We are going to wage our part of the ugly war they have thrust upon us.

But after every war there comes peace. If we are to wage war sucessfully, we must contemplate the peace we are trying to shape before we strike our first blow. For we must hew that peace out of the war as a sculptor carves a beautiful statue out of a granite block.

Part of that peace must include the most powerful concentration of Islamic Fundamentalists in the world — the Islamic Republic of Iran. The news media protray Iran as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and as a sponsor of terrorism. Iran appears to have come a long way from the nation that declared chemical weapons to be "un-Islamic" and that did not kill a single American hostage taken during its founding revolution.

Iran took those hostages from the American Embassy in Tehran, because America had helped Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi stay in power far longer than the Iranian people wished, because we tolerated his use of a repressive secret police to maintain his power, and because the US provided him safe haven after he was finally overthrown by a popular revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini. That the Shah was staying only temporarily in the US to receive treatment for cancer (which was ultimately unsuccessful) carried no weight with Khomeini — he saw the Shah as a criminal (the way we might view Slobodan Milosevic), and wanted to subject him to Islamic Law. For our part, we saw the Shah as an ally, and while we were not going to defend him against the revolution, we were equally unwilling to hand over an ally to his enemies. There had to be some small benefit for supporting the US.

I believe protecting the deposed Shah was unjust, but less so than giving him to his enemies, and therefore we cannot apologize for making what we considered to be best choice. But we did a great injustice, according to the philosophy behind our own Declaration of Independence and our Constitution by helping to maintain his regime in power against overwhelming popular will. We have an opportunity to begin making peace with the Iranian people by officially apologizing for that act.

We have a further opportunity to begin making peace with the Iranian people by apologizing for standing by while Iraq began using chemical weapons against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. Iran was originally reluctant to employ such weapons, but eventually began using them to deter their unlimited use by the Iraqis. This was shortly after the hostages were finally returned to America by Iran upon the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. Henry Kissinger spoke for most Americans when he said that it was a pity that both sides couldn't lose. But we would have changed the world's perception of us (and the balance of power in the Middle East) if we had told Iraq that we would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons even against our enemies, and that we would intervene on the side of Iran if they did not stop using them. Once again, we failed to do the right thing, and we have an opportunity to apologize for it now.

The world has much to gain if the dominant Islamic Fundamentalist power in the Middle East can bring itself to perceive the US as anything other than "the Great Satan." With the help of Iran we might be able to more quickly and effectively suppress international terrorism. With the help, or at least the non-hindrance, of Iran we might eventually be able to broker a peace with justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel. And, quite frankly, Iran is the only country that has come close to blending Islamic Fundamentalism with representative democracy — we might do well to consult Iran on how to set up a government to replace the Taliban in Afganistan, or even Saddam Hussein in Iraq (should that become necessary).

I think United States would do well to apologize to Iran for our past shortcomings in order to give Iran its moment of historical opportunity to help shape the coming peace, instead of helping to prolong the current war.

Note added in 2008: On the other hand, Iran has never apologized to the West for its fatwa against Salman Rushdie, which was in effect, a declaration of war against the West in general, and Freedom of Expression in particular.

No comments: