A Potential Ally?

In conversation with Iran

By Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute.

National Review Online, October 3, 2001 1:00 p.m. More by Kopel on Iran.

Author's note: If you could read Persian, lived in Iran, and thought a lot about politics, you'd probably be a regular reader of Siasat Roos, a daily newspaper from Tehran whose name means "Politics of the Day." Siasat Roos frequently runs interviews with foreign political specialists. Below is a recent Siasat Roos interview, conducted by e-mail, with me. It marks my second appearance in Siasat Roos.

Q. What do you think about world coalition against terrorism and who must lead this phenomenon?

A. First of all, I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak with your readers. I hope that relations between Iran and the United States will improve, as the people in each nation learn to understand each other better. Right now there is a special opportunity for the United States and Iran to overcome the mistakes that each nation made in the past, and to build a better relationship. Many Americans have been pleased to learn of the remarks of Majlis Speaker Mahdi Karrubi and other Iranian leaders who have spoken out against the terrorist attacks on the United States. In the current struggle against bin Laden, the United States will be the leader, because the United States has suffered the greatest injury from bin Laden, and because the United States has the greatest determination to eliminate bin Laden. Over the coming years, there will be many different struggles against different terrorists, and each country will find its own ways to lead and to participate.

Q. "You are either with us or with the terrorism" — is it logical or rational as President Bush confirmed and if it is not correct what should be the correct one?

A. Some countries work very hard to make sure that their territory is not used by terrorists. These countries will ensure that terrorists cannot train in their country, cannot make plans in their country, and cannot store money in their country. If different countries allow terrorists to operate with the national borders, or provide financial support to terrorists, then the countries are helping terrorists. Terrorism is like a contagious disease in a big city; every household must work to destroy the infection, and the households which do not try to stop disease in their own houses become a danger to everyone else.

Q. What do think about possibility of conflict between civilizations due to terrorism attacks and U.S. action against it?

A. The world of Islam has created some of the great achievements of human civilization. The Western world has also created great achievements of civilization. Civilized Islam and the civilized West are both threatened by terrorism. Terrorism is not a form of Islam; it is merely barbarism. Both the Islamic world and the West need to recognize their common interest in crushing terrorism.

Opponents of terrorism should not worry about terrorist reprisals. When Japan and Germany attacked the United States, in World War II, the United States did not worry that fighting back against the Japanese and Germans would cause more violence. Instead, the United States determined to destroy the evil governments which had started the war. Today, the United States, Japan, and Germany are good friends. Similarly, after terrorism is crushed, and people are not so afraid, it will be easier for people to be friends.

Q. Do you accept Bush's foreign policy to campaign against terrorism? If it is wrong what should be the new one?

A. Not since the beginning of World War II has there been so much popular support in America for a President's foreign policy. Americans recognize that terrorism is an attempt to destroy the American way of life. Most Americans do not believe that the main reason for the attack was American foreign policy — such as support for Israel, or military bases in Saudi Arabia. Rather, they believe that the reason for the attack was the American way of life: religious tolerance, freedom for women, free speech. As in the years after Pearl Harbor, the majority of the American people will stay united for as long as it takes to win the war. The new war is not like the Vietnam War, which many Americans thought was not related to America's most important interests. Today, Americans recognize that destroying terrorism everywhere is necessary for the ability of Americans to live in peace in
their own homes.

Q. Iran's leading cleric confirmed Iranian conditions for fighting terrorism; according to this condition, Iran does not accept U.S leadership for fighting terrorism and also he rejects Bush policy — i.e. "You are either with us or with terrorism." What is your idea about the Iranian leading cleric's policy and does it has any effect for the other countries to chose their own policy against terrorism?

A. The statement is disappointing, but it is not surprising, because there have been so many problems in relations between Iran and America for so long. I think that the United States will respect Iran's wishes that American planes not use Iranian airspace on their way to Afghanistan. But it would have be better if Iran did allow such overflights, because the Iran and the United States have some important common interests. By helping the United States fight the Taliban, Iran would be helping itself. Both Iran and the United States support the Northern Alliance. Of course the Taliban want to destroy every form of religion that is not exactly like their own religion. The Taliban viciously persecute the Shi'a in Afghanistan, and the Taliban would persecute the Shi'a of Iran just as viciously, if the Taliban had the opportunity. That means that the Taliban are hostile to the United States and to Iran for the same reason: both nations have religions which are not exactly like the Taliban's sect. If the Taliban are not stopped, they will attempt to destroy everyone else; both American and Iran would become victims of the Taliban.

The war against terrorism will be a very long war. In some aspects — such as the war against bin Laden — the United States will have support from many countries. In other parts of the war, the United States will have less support from other countries. Every country must decide what is necessary for itself. I hope that every country realizes that terrorism is harmful. Even though a country might find short-term benefits from allowing terrorists to use its territory, countries should realize that in the long run, allowing terrorist operations will destroy the host country. This is what is happening to Afghanistan, and this is what will happen to every other country that provides terrorist bases.

Just as Iran must pursue its own best interests, so must the United States. Therefore, it is almost certain that the United States will not limit its actions to whatever the United Nations approves, or to whatever Egypt, Iran, or other nations approve. Simply put, the United Nations has been a failure, and there is little reason to believe that a UN-led effort would actually stop terrorism. The United Nations has completely failed to stop Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations completely failed to stop the genocide in Rwanda. I am sure that if Iran were attacked by terrorists tomorrow, Iran's leaders would start fighting back against the terrorists on the very same day. Iran's leaders would not endanger the people of Iran by waiting for the United Nations to pass an empty resolution consisting merely of words.

If poisonous snakes came in your house and killed one of your children, you would destroy all the poisonous snakes as soon as possible. You would not worry about what your neighbors or anyone else thought you should do. Nor would you wait until the people of the whole world formed a consensus about snakes.

The essential self-interest of the United States is to eradicate every terrorist group which threatens the American people. Americans will be happy to have support from other nations, including Iran, but Americans will have no hesitation about acting unilaterally, if necessary.

Q. Do you accept that one person such a bin Laden or his group can do the attack? If not, who can do that?

A. It would not be surprising if bin Laden had assistance from a national government. Many Americans think that Iraq might have assisted. Several weeks before the September 11 acts of war, one of the terrorists met with an Iraqi official, in Germany. If Iraq did participate, Saddam Hussein will share the same doom as the Taliban. Almost no one in America believes the absurd claims, with no evidence, that have been made in some Egyptian newspapers, which pretend that the attacks were the work of Japanese, Israelis, or Americans.

 

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