U.S. Military Encirclement of Iran
Iran is, and has been for many years, surrounded by US Military installations. We talk about the U.S. strategy to encircle China, but you rarely hear about the way in which Iran is, and has been encircled by U.S. military bases for many years. When they you hear that Iran is a threat to the United States, you picture a us, here in the U.S. as potential victims. When you hear the term ‘containment’ in relation to Iran, you think, perhaps, that something needs to be done. After all, we have bases and military trainers and other military representatives in dangerous countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. But wait, if those countries have bases, isn’t Iran pretty well contained?
Here is a map of Iran, showing the surrounding U,S. bases around 2008. Click on the image below to open a dynamic version of the map, where you can zoom in for a better look, and a key to the various symbols and the names of the bases. Base names and locations from GlobalSecurity.org. If you zoom in really close on most of the air bases, you can see the runway.
Now, a new military initiative is rapidly being deployed across the Middle East, Southwest Asia and Africa, around the world, and even here on the U.S. mainland. New bases are being built and old ones converted to host Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAV); recently re-designated as Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA); commonly referred to as Drones. The largest and most used in the region at this time are named Predator and Reaper. The MQ9 Reaper can carry several Hellfire Missiles and laser guided 500 lb. bombs. These Drones fly so high that they can virtually hover over a target for hours, piloted by a computer operator from his office or home here in the U.S,. Unfortunately, misinterpretation of evidence based on cultural discrepancies, pilot impatience, inaccurate target identification before the Drone is called and other similar issues make civilian casualties in the context of Drone strikes a regular occurrence. The image below shows some of the sites known to be used for drone bases.
Click on the image, and you will open a dynamic map.
When I introduce people to the use of these vehicles (I’m going to call them Drones) in Afghanistan, I often point out that “The Taliban Have no drones. They have no airplanes. They have no helicopters. They have few, if any, tanks. The enemy are riding in the back of pickup trucks, armed with kalashnikovs, and an occasional shoulder mounted antiaircraft gun. That’s the enemy in Afghanistan, and so far, in Pakistan as well. But, if we were to go to war with Iran, though it’s true they aren’t well armed by our standards, they would have some resources to fight back. Drones could hurt them, but killing people 1, 2, 3 ….. even 10 at a time would be slow going there. But, what difference does it make? None of the ‘enemies’ of the so called ‘War on Terror’ are intimidated by Drones. Bottom line, only the civilian population is ‘terrorized’ by these weapons. Women and children are killed while sleeping in their beds, walking or driving down the road, maybe in the company of a selected target, maybe not.
Drones are already keeping Iran and the surrounding region under surveillance. Iran clearly isn’t the only country under threat. The social and physical infrastructures of Iraq and Libya have been destroyed. American Drones were used in both wars, but were especially lethal in Libya. Lebanon has only recently come out of civil war, and even now the international executioner’s axe is raised over the Hezbollah leadership, leaders of the strongest and most popular party of the majority Shia population in Lebanon. Iran is criticized in the U.S. for their support of Hezbollah, but Hezbollah, oft accused of heinous acts of terrorism, is a product of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, and has not had a military operation unrelated to a war. Clearly they are a good friend to have, given today’s news from Ha’aretz, which said that Hezbollah had identified and broken a major CIA spy ring with operatives in both Lebanon and Iran.
The countryside of Afghanistan is no longer safe for civilian residents, and Pakistan is in chaos, with military and civilian forces continually pitted against one another and against the people who brought them to power. Iran has a substantial narcotics problem, with most of the drugs coming from Afghanistan or through Pakistan. Iran’s ally, Syria, is collapsing into civil war as a peaceful protest movement was seeded with insurgent gunmen, armed by international forces to lure the government into an unwinnable battle. Meanwhile those same international forces insist that the protestors should not negotiate with the government, still supported by the overwhelming majority of the military and more than half the population. Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama tell Asad to step down or end the violence immediately, knowing full well that their allies are maintaining the armed insurgency in his country.
The people of the Middle East are right to be dissatisfied with the status quo. However, ‘democracy’ is more than making demands and expecting them to be instantly fulfilled. It is more than just casting a vote, as we in the U.S. should know. Democracy is about taking responsibility for your government and finding a way to engage with it to make a better society for everyone. This is not a task that can be accomplished by civil war. Nor can it be achieved by the intervention of the international power clique, or self serving meddling by one’s neighbors. War does not equal peace.
What is Iran’s role here? Iran has been in the bullseye for many years. They stand up for Palestinians, the Shia underclasses and they are central players in what I used to call in high school, ‘the out crowd’. But, Iran has not intervened militarily in it’s neighbor’s affairs. Iran’s cardinal crime is independence. Whatever their failings, the post revolutionary Islamic regime has taken back their resources, and managed them responsibly. They have made education, public services like potable water and sanitation, and most recently, local elections of local representatives a reality. They brought these services to the masses, and to remote villages. They have made both popular and unpopular decisions and, they have actively suppressed dissent, like most of the governments in the region.
As a peacemaker, I am very disturbed by the United States’ proliferation of military bases and high tech weaponry in a fragile and largely underdeveloped part of the world. Most of the bases in Iraq have been, or are being turned over to the Iraqi government. However, many were left over from Saddam Hussein’s time when we took them over in the first place. Many bases in the surrounding countries were used during the first Gulf War. We don’t own the bases we use in Pakistan. We just use them. So, don’t be fooled by the fact that we are taking troops out of Iraq into thinking they would have nowhere to go should we decide to return them. And, we have the drones in place. The drones create an electronic occupation. We can operate them off of other countries bases as we do in Pakistan.
We accuse Iran of inciting proliferation, while we are selling surveillance drones, armed drones and F-16 Jets (or something similar) and Apache helicopters to Israel, Qatar, The Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and who knows who else. We are flying our own drones out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. With U.S. assistance and approval, Israel was the original lab for drone research. China and Russia, India and Pakistan, and many others are building their own fleets of drones. The NATO crowd appears to be planning on buying ours. Even Iran has built some small surveillance drones. Drones don’t win wars, they perpetuate them. If you look at the picture, it is evident that the bases that support drones encircle Iran as surely as the bases associated with recent U.S. interventions in the name of the War on Terror.
Iran is, and has been encircled with U.S. forces for at least 20 years. We and our ally, Israel, have spies and provocateurs inside Iran. What is the point? There is talk about encircling Russia and China. Whether or not one agrees with the strategy, it is clear that China and Russia together are powerful adversaries, and, if I may be so bold, might be powerful friends. They have the capacity to seriously threaten our interests. Iran, on the other hand, has the resources to be a good friend, the ability to withstand a physical or economic siege indefinitely, but not the capacity to be more than a persistent irritant.
The U.S. vendetta against Iran is a reflection of the true nature of U.S. aggression and drive for hegemony. An ancient country, recently much beleaguered by Western colonial projects, the people of Iran are sophisticated, experienced for better or worse, with Western culture, and tired of being manipulated and ripped off. Iran’s current leadership is the result of a revolution against 100 years of colonial ‘occupation’. Iran has been the center of more than one empire. It’s current leadership is ready to defend the integrity of their country, and to form close alliances with compatible regional entities. We say they are meddling. Iran’s nuclear program, popular with all constituencies within the country, is a defiant statement that they are a player, and their chips are in the game.
There are those who see Iran as a defiant upstart, but it would be equally true to say that Iran is an ancient entity, with a level of internal social integration, of integrity, that is unique in the region. Iran’s determination to regain her lost dignity has blossomed from the ashes of a chattel nation ruled by an impotent potentate whose best effort to regain the glory of the past involved building a gaudy, Hollywood style replica of ancient structures in a country where the real artificacts of that culture stand proudly among the modern cities and oil refineries. However one may feel about the theological bent of the Islamic regime, they have made a serious effort to form a uniquely Iranian government, with many of the principles of a progressive society embedded in the construct, if not fully materialized.
From the day this regime took power, Iran has been under attack. How it would have developed in a more benevolent context, we will never know. The colonial masters have determined that the Islamic regime should fall from the day it emerged. I don’t want to defend any of the violations of human rights or violent suppressions of free speech that we have all heard about, or even to say that they didn’t occur. It remains that, in Iran, a lively intellectual discussion about what an Islamic Republic might look like, and whether it could exist at all has taken place over the last 30 years. Governments and leaders who supported the values of freedom of speech and democratic processes that the United States professes so vigorously, have been routinely, rigorously, coldly undermined by the United States.
So now, today, we are talking about bombing Iran. Iran is the greatest threat on earth, we are told. This is clearly absurd. We have sold Iranian neighbor states Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, tiny Kuwait and smaller Qatar a level of armaments that Iran can only, in today’s market, dream of. Israel, a country that has held the entire Arab world hostage for 60 years through the occupation of Palestine has more Nukes than the France. We give Israel three billion dollars a year in aid to make sure that arsenal continues to grow. China and India have huge populations, and divergent interests from those of the United States, yet we regularly train and employ their scientists. Both have nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Pakistan, a third world country that acquired nukes on the sly, ever locked in political standoffs both internally and externally, receives a steady flow of weapons and military aid from the U.S. And of course, our old adversary, Russia, still has as much nuclear capability than we do. China as a few nukes and owns a big wad of our economy.
Iran has the capability to reintegrate a large swathe of the Middle East through trade, mutual assistance and cooperation. This would be devastating for the United States. We would no long have control, and our allies would no longer be dominant in the region. It might, however, be a great boon to the people of the region. Perhaps the Islamic regime would overplay its hand. But maybe they would, as so many nations on the brink of democracy have done, moderate and liberalize, just as, while under threat, they become more rigid and conservative every day. And, there are counterbalancing forces in play. Perhaps, instead of arming our allies to the teeth, we might consider encouraging them with more productive kinds of projects. Or maybe we should leave them alone to work out their differences. Unfortunately, we have already sold them more arms than they know what to do with.
As a peace activist, and a believer in the power of reconciliation and diplomacy, I am dismayed by the current policies of the United States towards Iran. As an individual who believes that love and peace are mutually reinforcing, I believe that we all have to reject the manufactured threats and magnified accusations directed at Iran, and look at the country and it’s people with an open mind. We have to balance our vision of the failures of the Islamic government with an awareness of their not insignificant successes. We have to look at the people and the culture that produced it, to see that they are capable of managing their own affairs. No, we can’t fix all their problems. But we can begin to know one another. In that knowing is the end of war.