September 19, 2004

Their National Interest

American governments have long prided themselves on being able to act in their national interests, unilaterally, for a very long time. The current administration, and most of the unimaginative press, are drunk on the idea that as the only superpower, the U.S. can reach out and touch anyone it likes. If it interests us.

China is becoming of a similar mindset. No longer reclusive, or willing to stay content with exerting influence in nearby Asian countries, China has economic interests abroad now. Specifically, their robustly expanding economy needs a steady supply of energy. They need fuel to power the engines that allow them to export the U.S. economy to its knees. If there was ever an argument that conservatives might buy for alternative energy, besides the instability of the Middle East, it might be that current energy technology will force China to behave exactly as we do now.

Regarding genocide in Sudan:

...China, whose veto threat forced a watering down of the original draft resolution, cited ongoing cooperation from the Sudanese government as a reason for its abstention and said it continued to oppose sanctions on Sudan.

China has major oil interests in Sudan.

Wang Guangya, China's ambassador to the U.N., told the Security Council meeting China did not want to "send wrong signals" to the Sudanese government and "make negotiations more difficult." ...

China is a major trading partner with Iran. Guess what they buy from them?

A Chinese senior official said Saturday it is in the interest of all parties to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through talks within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Zhang Yan, China's permanent representative to the United Nations and other international organizations in Vienna, made the remarks after the UN nuclear watchdog adopted a resolution setting a Nov. 25 deadline for Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment program.

The resolution, adopted at a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors, does not call on the board to report Iran's nuclear issue to the UN Security Council, as the United States had strongly demanded. But the document says the agency will decide inNovember on whether Iran has fully met its demands and see if any further actions are needed.

Non-aligned countries have been bitterly opposed to the resolution, submitted by Britain, France and Germany, as they believe imposing a deadline on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment program would go beyond the IAEA's mandate of monitoring compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). ...

(In fairness to Iran, there is currently no evidence that they're developing anything besides a civilian energy program. They have agreed to the NPT, even signing additional protocols, and arranged that Russia remove all spent fuel rods. This is quite a concession considering that if Iran mined uranium itself, it would cost them approximately fifty times less than what it costs to pay for Russia to extract it and ship it back and forth. But I digress.)

Like all the other major powers, China has every reason to protect its energy trading partners from third party interference. In spite of evidence of human rights violations.

I could make some crack about their internal human rights record, but I live in a country that vetoed sanctions against Hussein's Iraq in the 80's when the U.S. government knew for a fact that Iraq was using the nerve gas they bought from America against Iran and the Kurds. In short, don't worry about justice and idealism, because they were never really on the table anyway. We can probably all trust that China will be approximately as scrupulous in their exercise of power as any other major player, a bar so low that you couldn't fit a printed copy of the Geneva Conventions under it.

Like all good players of the game that never ends, China holds a threat over the head of its predecessor. In the rich irony of our modern era, where we're being undone in Iraq by the very type of warfare this country invented 200 years ago, China is grabbing the reins of our economy like we've done to imperial predecessor Britain. Britain's economy depends on that of the U.S., as the American economy is nearly in hock up to its eyebrows to China and other Asian countries, of which China is the most powerful.

None of this bodes well for America long term. Most frustratingly, the money pit that is the war in Iraq is preventing us from preparing for the coming economic battle with Asia. Sure the Asian economies have had their problems, but they're also growing their own consumer base. A third of the world's population lives in India and China, and their economies are dependent currently on the same African, South American, and Middle Eastern oil that ours are. Their path to modernization is now inexorable, cutting a swathe right through the middle of 'our' declared turf.

A smart government would prepare its country for this by better educating its workforce. By massive upgrades to its transportation infrastructure. By research and development spending on every technological frontier it had the expertise to pursue. By paying down its debt so that it wouldn't be beholden to foreign creditors, nor easily buffeted by short term fluctuations in the economy. It would be working to foster the growth of small businesses that generate robust diversity in an economy, and promoting internal trade. In short, it would be preparing itself some future wiggle room.

We clearly do not have a smart government. Instead, we're setting ourselves up for a game of rope-a-dope. Of America's own volition, it decided to use its energy swatting flies in Iraq, as future opponents watch and wait for when their national interest can be advanced over our objections.

A few days ago, Max Sawicky posted about things that can't go on. I can't think of a better ending for this post than what he said, (though admittedly, I'd like to go to sleep now, and would rather not sit and think of one), so I'll quote most of it here. If you want to read his references you'll have to click over:

* Foreign debt as a share of GDP is now nearly 30 percent, up from 10 percent at the end of the 90s;

* Federal debt is projected to grow faster than GDP.

If the house prices reflect a bubble and pop, and when foreigners decide to taper off their purchases of U.S. government debt, we're in a whole new world.

That these are not the topics of the current presidential campaign certifies that we are a nation of pinheads.

My advice to readers? Make the kids learn Mandarin and invest in the Asian commodities market. That is, if you have anything left to invest after the layoffs, paycuts, wage stagnation, inflation, rising fuel prices, and local tax increases.

Posted by natasha at September 19, 2004 12:00 AM | International | Technorati links |


Not to be a spoilsport, but there is an issue of the New York Review of Books that shows that, at the very least, the Iranian government was doing the very things you would want to do to ensure no one can easily ascertain that you intend to weaponize your commercial nuclear capability if necessary, such as admitting to certain key elements of the nuclear program but not admitting to duplicate or near-duplicate operations within the country (which were later found out about by IAEA).

And nuclear weapons in Iran's hands would be dangerous, for two simple reasons. First, one of the primary goals of Iranian foreign policy has been to protect the Shia community where ever it lives, as best it can. Second, within its consrvative leadership, there has been an implacible hatred of Israel and wariness verging on hatred or deep mistrust (take your pick) of the United States, which has helped maintained unity within that faction of the nation's existing power structure, and at least grudging agreetment outside of it.

Some of the results of that policy have been perfectly logical in that context. Hezbollah came into being in Lebanon more because the Shia community in Lebanon was being denied its share of power in the government, which was based on representative population, among other things, with the result being periodically dead Shia leadership and civilians, typically by the Marionite Christians. Add rebellious Palestinians to the mix, and later the Israeli invasion of 1982 (thank you, Ariel Sharon...), and you have all sorts of fun. Likewise, Iran's budding alliance with India is as much to protect Shia communities in Afghanistan as it is to keep an eye on a majority Sunni nation threatening to fragment into many messy elements, some of which take great pleasure in, again, killing Shias.

(The $50K question to me, in this regard, is the Shia community in Saudi Arabia. They live mostly where the oil is there, often do much of the work, and have been what many old hands have worried about in the past once Iran lost the Shah. And yet things appear quiet there. Why? Or better yet, by what means is it so?)

If the conservative leadership of Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it will only be a question of whether Israel knows they have them, or whether Iran decides they should use them before Israel somehow destroys them or decides on a pre-emptive first strike. The deteriorating situation in Iraq and the Palestinian territories (thank you, Ariel Sharon, possibly for both, if the rumors ring true) will only provide an excuse for the extremists within Israel to be more aggressive, more threatening. And the conservatives in Iran will see this as possibly their only chance to deal Israel a mortal blow before they themselves suffer Israel's wrath.

Posted by: palamedes at September 19, 2004 11:58 PM

I didn't mean to say that Iran wasn't necessarily weaponizing this technology. I said that there wasn't any evidence. Considering the massive intelligence failures of the last few years, that's inconclusive in either direction, and non-actionable by any reasonable standard of proof.

There's also this: Iran/Persia hasn't been the instigator of a single war this past century. Not when the British were there pre-1950s, not during the Shah's reign, and not during the rule of the Ayatollahs. They haven't even attacked Afghanistan, a country whose drug-dealing warlords have been responsible for the murder of numerous Iranian security forces and even some diplomatic personnel. They didn't even start the Iran-Iraq war. However dangerous we may consider them, the Arab and Muslim communities won't buy any bill of goods that includes Iran as a nation that deserves to be invaded. The question 'what did they ever do to you' is even harder to answer for them than for Iraq, especially since the U.S. has done a lot to them.

Israel would indeed go ballistic, but hopefully only in a figurative sense. They'd probably be sensible enough just to use the situation as a way to pry more defense subsidies than usual out of the next U.S. appropriations budget.

Posted by: natasha at September 20, 2004 09:49 AM

Iran didn't even do do much to defend itself between World War I and World War II, with various interventions taking place (and various others attempting but failing to take place).

Iran did, however, turn a war of defense against it by Iraq in the 1980s into a war of aggression with the strategic goal of controlling the headwaters to the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The cost was so high, however, that I suspect, given its failure, the desire for standard military offensive operations in the future is probably very minimal.

I don't think, besides defending whatever far-flung Shia communities exist, Iran really has a desire to use war as a means of typically achieving foreign policy goals. Their geographic position, plus their potential as an aggressor, be it economic or military in nature, actually provides them with most of what they need to both protect themselves and project their influence beyond their immediate borders.

Israel is the wild card in all of this. I suspect their minimal effort will be to destroy any relevent facilities that can contribute to the immediate or short-term weaponization of Iran's nuclear program, as they did to Iraq in the 1980s. Iran's leadership isn't so foolish as to not realize this possibility.

So then, the question one is left with is how Iran reacts to that possibility.

Posted by: palamedes at September 20, 2004 06:00 PM