The great Prussian military strategist Carl von Clausewitz once famously remarked that “War is the continuation of Politik by other means.” We now stand at a point in our history when it might be better to consider that war is, in reality, the course of action that is pursued when diplomacy fails. War, in my opinion, should not be considered as a simple extension of policy from the realm of diplomacy into the realm of armed conflict. This view is folly. War is what happens when Politik has ended and been discarded and is not something to be taken lightly or considered in theoretical contexts.
We have seen in human history the failed Pax Romana; Pax Britannica; and, most recently, Pax Americana. Somehow, we have endlessly failed to learn the lessons so blatantly informed by these failures. A brilliant Native American leader once remarked “In order to know what lies ahead, one must simply look back.” I would urge our elected officials to take this simple step in order to insure a future for our nation.
The Roman emperor Hadrian provides an example of effective strategic national and foreign policy. Rome during his reign was far flung. The empire was beyond the ability of a central government to control. Hadrian looked at the situation and said, essentially, “This far and no further.” Hence, the construction of Hadrian’s wall which essentially ended the expansion of the Roman empire and defined its ultimate geographical limit. It is interesting to note that during his reign, the Roman empire flourished to perhaps a greater extent than at any other time in its history. In fact, the wealthiest Roman during Hadrian’s rule was, in real terms, about ten times richer than the richest person on earth today. What does this mean? It means simply that a policy of constant internecine meddling aimed at endless expansion of influence is not the smartest or best course. There is a time for marshaling resources and turning the focus inward, which, if done prudently, can easily be achieved without disengaging or abandoning international relations and diplomacy.
Since World War I, the United States has been the world’s economic powerhouse. Since World War II, the United States has been the world’s economic and military powerhouse. And yet, I’d be interested to hear someone argue that overall, we have achieved substantial policy success through armed conflict since World War II. I’d be interested to hear the Russians argue this point on their own behalf. Could the Chinese make such an argument? What about India and Pakistan? Have we learned nothing from human history at this point? Is it not at least possible that the time for the end of the Age of the Empire of Influence has finally arrived?
Which brings us to the Iranians. The majority of people in Iran are ethnic Persians. Irrespective of Hollywood’s take on the Battle of Thermopylae, for the most part, the Persian culture is one of acceptance of different cultures. Cyrus the Great (576-530 BC) is honored in the Jewish bible no less than 23 times. His reign and his policies were marked by respect for human rights, respect for the cultures of various peoples under his rule, and advanced theories of governance. This is the true cultural birthright of Iran and one that has essentially been usurped by leadership that is, in many respects, unwelcome among the ranks of its own citizens. Still, the Iranian government is the entity with which we must interact in terms of diplomacy which is obviously preferable to outright warfare. Despite the hold on power of the current Iranian theocracy via the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution, reality is that this hold on power is much more tenuous than most would believe. Why should we continue to provoke and attempt to weaken leadership whose ultimate move, if backed into a corner, could only be to lash out? Continued economic sanctions, in my opinion, will serve to achieve nothing more than to eventually back the Iranian regime into that corner.
I believe that the immediate, complete removal of all economic sanctions against Iran will hasten a move toward democracy and the eventual end of the current tyrannical Iranian regime via internal political changes leading to more moderate governmental leadership. With the end of sanctions would come a freer exchange of information, greater economic power in the hands of Iranian citizens, and, concomitantly, greater political power for Iran’s people. With economic sanctions no longer in place, a path to eventual restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran–once fast friends and allies–would be open. Historically, the most effective way to encourage a nation to engage in peaceful endeavors both internally and externally has been through trade. The most ineffective way has been through the use of threats or coercion.
Another question that is reasonable to consider is whether or not economic sanctions have had any effect on slowing down Iran’s construction of centrifuges for the refinement of uranium. The answer to this question is clearly no. The construction of centrifuges was increased during President Bush’s second term and has been rapidly accelerated during President Obama’s first term leading to some thousands of these devices scattered all over Iran. Economic sanctions have done nothing other than to increase Iran’s sense of isolation and estrangement from the rest of the world while probably doing more to drive the Iranian government to seek regional alliances and an offensive nuclear capability than any other single aspect of our policy in the Middle East. Rather than heeding Saudi warnings of an Iranian drive toward hegemony, we should at least consider the possibility that we and our European allies are at least partly to blame in causing these Iranian strategic policies to unfold. Is it not possible that Iran’s current strategic alliances with Iraq and Syria are due to the severe economic duress that pointless economic sanctions have caused? Does Iran’s leadership not consider its own security and the livelihood of its citizens when it makes decisions?
Since the end of World War II, our policy has been the condescending, culturally ignorant “carrot-and-stick” approach which can be summed up easily as simply, “we’ll give you foreign aid if you do what we tell you to…” I’d be fascinated to learn of major, unequivocal foreign policy successes based on this unenlightened approach. Our other approach can be summarized as ‘gunboat diplomacy,’ which hasn’t yielded much success either.
While Iranian ability to produce nuclear weapons is extraordinarily worrisome (the Iranians probably already possess several warheads acquired from outside of Iran), how is it the prerogative of the United States to tell Iran it can or cannot produce anything? How productive would such a position be in terms or our ability to eventually re-initiate trade and diplomatic relations with Iran? Are we ever justified in telling another sovereign nation how to manage its own internal affairs? The answer for me is quite clearly no.
The age of Pax Americana and the American Empire is past and is no longer even necessary; we have our own overwhelming set of problems right here in the United States that need serious attention. It seems that history has brought us to a moment when we can easily best serve the security considerations of everyone in the Middle East and ourselves by simply butting out and letting the parties that are directly involved sort the situation out for themselves. The results would probably be superior to anything we can achieve through unimaginative, ill-considered bullying. Diplomacy with Iran is not the most reasonable course–it is the only reasonable course. The Age of the Empire of Influence is over.
THE AGE OF THE EMPIRE OF INFLUENCE (written 12/2013, published Marietta Times 03/2014)