Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Iran, the US, and China

Some interesting reporting from the NYT today on China's strong relations with Iran, and how China sees Iran as a useful counter-balance to US would-be hegemony over Middle Eastern oil, as well as a source of the oil China needs for its own development.  Therefore, China has no interest in backing the US in any move to impose sanctions on Iran, much less attack it militarily.

“Their threat perception on this issue is different from ours,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, who as the American ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush helped persuade China to approve limited sanctions against Iran. “They don’t see Iran in the same way as we do.”

Fran├žois Godement, a prominent China scholar and the president of the Paris-based Asia Center, put it more bluntly. “Basically,” he said, “the rise of Iran is not bad news for China.”
And China and Iran (formerly Persia) have a long and distinguished history of trade and cultural relations, and are drawing upon that now to sustain their modern ties. 

Funny.  Anybody else remember when the US and Iran had a history of good relations?  We did, of course, although it was with a repressive regimer.  That lasted right up to 1979's Revolution and the hostage crisis, which the US's previous policies helped catalyze, and which people in our foreign-policy establishment seem never to have gotten over and still seem to feel entitled to some payback.  Yet as recently as 2002, the "mad Mullahs" of the Iranian leadership were reaching out to the US, especially in the hunt for al-Qaeda and the Taliban right after the 9-11 attacks.  Iran also actually proposed around that time a deal with the US to give up its support for Hamas and Hezbollah and become more transparent about its nuclear program, in exchange for a security agreement with the US that would also recognize Iran's legitimate status in the region.

What happened?  Mr. Bush's 2002 "axis of evil" speech, for one, which smacked down Iran's outreach and helped bring to power the provocative Mr. Ahmadinejad.  That in turn unleashed the "new Hitler and Holocaust" trope among the Likudnik leadership in Israel.  AIPAC and the evangelicals took it from there in the halls of Congress.

So here we are, still demonizing Iran, an emerging power that has a young, mostly well-educated, computer-savvy population; burgeoning ties with another emerging military and economic power (China); strong ties with two other re-emerging nations (Russia and Turkey), as well as a nation in which the US is heavily invested (Iraq); and some of the planet's largest resources in oil and natural gas.

Maybe it's time for our leaders to consider partnership, rather than paranoia?


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