The present crisis concerning Iran’s nuclear program cannot be reduced to merely the ongoing rivalry between Tehran and Washington. Rather, it reveals all the new parameters of the post-Cold War world order that American strategists want to avoid. Iran’s Machiavellian diplomatic brinkmanship has succeeded so far, not only because the Ahmadinejad administration is exploiting the differences between the members of the UN Security Council and the wider international community, but also because Iran is taking advantage of the legitimacy crisis of the United States and (the “West” in general) in West Asia and beyond.
Very few people can be manipulated into believing that Iran is a threat to world peace and that the United States continues to act on behalf of the international community. The personal letter that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sent to George W. Bush has made the scenario of Iranian threat even more difficult to sell. Moreover, it has become almost impossible for the United States to claim the moral high ground in international politics after it invaded Iraq without a UN mandate and, more importantly, in opposition to international public opinion. Matters get even more complicated for the Bush administration and their few allies when they advocate democratization whilst withholding funds from the elected HAMAS government and, by extension, the suffering civilian population of Palestine; when they castigate the elected leaders in Latin America — from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to Evo Morales in Bolivia — simply because they attempt to emancipate their countries from imperial intrusion; when they attempt to mobilize international opinion against Iran’s nuclear ambitions whilst guaranteeing India, which already possesses nuclear weapons, access to advanced nuclear technology; or when Germany colludes in the effort to isolate Iran whilst negotiating another delivery of nuclear submarines to Israel in order to diversify its nuclear strike ability.
A close investigation of contemporary trends in world politics reveals that the ephemeral unipolar moment that the neoconservatives in the United States indulged in so arrogantly is over: emboldened by immense oil and gas revenues, Russia is reasserting its influence over Central Asia and the Northern Caucasus; China has resisted US efforts to narrow the trade deficit between the two countries, continues to project its exponential economic power beyond East Asia; Moscow and Beijing have invited Iran to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan; and in Latin America, a new breed of “leftist” leaders challenges the United States, politically, ideationally, and economically manifesting itself in opposition to the neo-liberal economics underlying the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in particular and some of the intrusive policies of the IMF and the World Bank in general.
In many ways, the current diplomatic negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program represent a microcosm of that new world order: Russia and China resist being bribed or bullied into sanctioning Iran (the former likening the United States to a “wolf” who “eats without listening”), Hugo Chavez threatens that there will be “oil for no one” if Iran is attacked, the Non-Aligned Movement backs Iran’s right to develop a civilian nuclear energy program, and Muslim West Asia has signalled that it will not tolerate another military conflict in the region. The illegal invasion of Iraq and the irrational handling of the Iranian nuclear file have contracted the diplomatic power of the United States and have facilitated the emergence of a multi-polar world order, a constellation intransigently resisted by neoconservative strategists.
One problem resulting from that resistance is that international cooperation on Iraq, Dharfur, Chechnya, AIDS, global warming, and even international terrorism is hampered because the Bush administration has made it almost impossible for other governments to cooperate with it openly. I am not sure if the American political elite realize that, in the domestic contexts of most countries, being associated with the United States means almost certain political suicide and that opposition to it sustains the Hugo Chavezes, Mahmoud Ahmadinejads, and Evo Moraleses of this world on the one hand, and the Osama bin-Ladens, Ayman al-Zawahiris, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawis on the other. Hence the US inability to win “hearts and minds” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the wider Muslim worlds; hence the diplomatic success of Iran; hence the recruiting success of neo-fundamentalist, al-Qaeda-type networks to the detriment of all of us; and hence also the political demise of George W. Bush himself and his most strident international ally, Tony Blair.
What is emerging, to abstract from the empirical evidence, is a new world order where the United States is one player amongst many. After hubris, nemesis, the ancient Greeks would have said. Having succumbed to the temptations of imperial lust, the neoconservative fetish for imperial wars is now punishing neoconservatives themselves. In other words, the impact of neoconservative foreign policies has perverted the image of the United States on a global scale; the country’s place in the international hierarchy of nations is, due to those policies, amongst the lowest. It remains to be seen if, how, and when the American public react towards that loss of the country’s international legitimacy.
Arshin Adib-Moghaddam is the author of The International Politics of the Persian Gulf: A Cultural Genealogy (London: Routledge, 2006). He teaches international relations at Oxford University. MRZine has published his “The Muslim in the Mirror” (23 Feb. 2006); and “Persian Atoms: Enriching Facts, Diverting Fiction” (26 April 2006).