Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday Book Review: "Lipstick Jihad"

Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran
By Azadeh Moaveni


This week's book review takes us away from Robert Baer's realpolitik in The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower and into more personable territory. Lipstick Jihad is an autobiographical piece about a woman whose family fled Iran after the 1979 revolution and found itself among other members of the Iranian diaspora in Palo Alto, California. Ms. Moaveni discusses the difficulty of growing up in two seemingly irreconcilable cultures, which provides an interesting perspective on how the actions of a person's home country can affect how they are treated internationally (she discusses blatant racism toward Iranians after the 1979 Hostage Crisis and again after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001).

The most interesting part of the book, however, occurs after the author graduates college with a degree in journalism and moves to Tehran as a foreign correspondent. She confronts the reality of modern-day Iran and realizes that it is not the idyllic nation that her parents spoke lovingly of. In gripping narrative, she describes her struggles with the local morality police, widespread sexism, and political stagnation. She once again finds herself between cultures and suffers the inevitable identity crisis.

Lipstick Jihad is an easy book to read and is not academic in the traditional sense. If you are looking for a history of the Islamic regime, this is not the book to read. If you want a glimpse into daily Iranian life from an American who spent extensive time in the country, this is the perfect book. Again, it looks at life from a limited perspective--an American from California will inherently have a different mindset than someone who grew up in the heart of Tehran or Isfahan.

The biggest downside to this memoir is its age. Ms. Moaveni lived in Tehran from 2000-2001, which makes her analysis of Iranian culture interesting, but somewhat obsolete. Fortunately for fans of the author, she published a second book this year about her return to Tehran in 2005: Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran. I haven't read it yet, unfortunately, but it's on my ever-growing reading list.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why the World Hates America (Part 5)

See the other articles in this series:

  1. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  2. Operation Ajax: The 1953 Iranian Coup d'état
  3. Support for rebellions throughout the Cold War
  4. Shifting alliances in the Middle East
  5. Unflinching support of Israel
  6. The War in Iraq
  7. American Exceptionalism and its two-faced foreign policy
The Story of U.S.-Israeli Relations

Without a doubt, Israel is one of the largest causes of social and political conflict in the modern era. Since its creation in 1948, Israel has been in a constant state of war. Neighboring countries did not recognize its legitimacy as a country, causes several bloody wars throughout the initial decades (Israel is well known for being literally surrounded by enemies). The Arab-Israel Conflict has become so entrenched in Middle East culture that the two sides disagree on how it began. An Arab will tell you that the conflict started with the influx of Jews into Palestine in the early 20th century and the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which established Britain's pro-Zionist policy -- the declaration was met negatively by Palestinians and other opponents of a Zionist state. The Muslim-Christian Association was particularly vocal in their opposition.

Israelis, on the other hand, claim that tensions began to flare after the Hebron massacre on the 23rd and 24th of August, 1929, in which 67 Jews were murdered by the local Arab population. The Arab assailents, operating under false rumors that fellow Arabs were being killed by Jewish forces, forced the surviving Jews out of Hebron. The city (one of the holiest in Judaism) remained under Arab control until 1967.

U.S. Support for Israeli State

United States support for Israel has been a proverbial snowball of foreign policy, progressing from a distant alliance to its present condition today of unconditional support. President Truman recognized the Israeli government within eleven minutes of its Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. This was heavily disputed within the United States, however, particularly by Secretary of State John Marshall, who was concerned about U.S. interests and alliances in the Arab world. Marshall argued that the establishment of an Israeli state would destabilize the Middle East -- he even threatened to vote against Truman in the next election if the United States recognized Israeli legitimacy.

At first, the United States maintained a lukewarm relationship with Israel. It provided the small nation with monetary loans but little else. During the Suez Crisis of 1956 (in which Israel, Britain, and France attacked Egypt), the United States used its political capital to force a withdrawal from the invading nations. Eisenhower even threatened to bankrupt Britain and devalue the British pound. This was the last instance of the United States putting serious public pressure on Israel.

Distance to Friendship: Johnson, the USS Liberty, and the Six-Day War

When President Johnson took over the White House, the United States maintained a distant relationship with Israel. It wanted to avoid looking overtly friendly with the Jewish state while trying to maintain friendly ties to Arab states who were actively being courted by the Soviet Union. This policy shifted during the Six-Day War -- the victory of the tiny democracy over its surrounding enemies inspired the United States to revamp its perspective on Middle East nations. The Johnson administration decided that the Arab nations had entered the Soviet Union's camp and began the thus far unbroken policy of selling advanced weapons to Israel to give it an advantage over other nations in the area.

It is notable that this shift in support to Israel occurred so soon after the disastrous Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, stationed off of Egypt. Israeli officials claimed that the American vessel was mistakenly identified as an enemy craft and that the United States failed to dislose its location beforehand. Several high level U.S. bureaucrats said that it would have been impossible for Israel to mistake the ship's identity and that the attack was not accidental.

The heavily damaged USS Liberty the day after the attack.
The USS Liberty after the Israeli attack.

Continued U.S. Support

In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel in what would become the twenty-day Yom Kippur War. Six days into the conflict, the United States launched Operation Nickel Grass, a strategic airlift operation that delivered over 20,000 tons of military equipment to Israel. This equipment was instrumental in Israel's victory but devastating to the United States' relationships with Arab nations. When the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries found out about Operation Nickel Grass, the organization instituted an oil embargo and raised the posted price of oil by 70%. This led to the 1973 oil crisis and its notorious price controls and rationing.

During Jimmy Carter's term as President, he strongly pushed Israel to give rights and land to Palestinians and successfully helped negotiate the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. The pressure that he put on Israel, however, soon gave way to outright support during the Reagan years. The Israel supporters in the United States were initially hesitant about Ronald Reagan after some of his appointees had personal ties with Arab nations, but Reagan proved to be a powerful ally for Israel.

In 1987, Reagan promoted Israel to a "major non-NATO ally," which gave them further access to U.S. weapons systems. Reagan also initiated a free trade agreement with Israel and is widely considered one of the most pro-Israel Presidents in modern history. During President Bush's term, U.S.-Israel relations were soured when the administration told Israel to halt its expantionist activities, but soon rebounded after the Gulf War. Israel was one of the countries under threat from Saddam Hussein and the United States' destruction of the Iraqi army strengthened the political bonds between the two nations.

President Clinton focused a large amount of energy on Middle East relations, presiding over the Oslo Accords, the Jordan-Israeli Peace Treaty, and the Interim Agreement between Israel and Palestinians. While there was subdued animosity between Clinton and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the United States never backed down from whole-hearted support for its ally.

The Oslo Accords, 1993

President Bush had a solid relationship with Israel, hinting that he was not opposed to Israel's settlement activities and providing military equipment during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon Conflict. Barack Obama, despite reiterating the United States' support for Israel, has thus far been accused of being anti-Israel -- according to Voice of America News, a poll on June 19th, 2009, found that only 6 percent of Israeli citizens think that Obama is pro-Israel. Demonstrating the dychotimous nature of Middle East politics, 50 percent of Israelies see Obama as pro-Palestinian.

Why is support for Israel such a huge deal?

Israel is one of the most contested political issues in the world -- most Arab nations don't even recognize its right to exist. Border guards in twelve Arab countries (Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) check for Israeli visas and will refuse access to anyone who they suspect has visited Israel at any time. By America so unconditionally supporting a country whose existence they consider illegal, these countries see the United States as inherently anti-Arab. To some extent, this has been true: in any conflict between Israel and the Arab world, the United States will invariably and automatically side with Israel. The "Israel issue" is constantly brought up by Arab governments, terrorist spokesmen, and Arab columnists and religious leaders (not that the three fall within the same genre of people at all).

Why does the United States support Israel?

There are obvious reasons for U.S. support for Israel: it is the most stable democracy in the Middle East and a long-term ally of the West. The unconditional, absolute support of Israel comes not from rationality, however, but from the strong pro-Israel lobby in the United States. This "lobby" has two unofficial parts -- constituent support and actual lobbying groups. The strength of the former (the American voters' strong support for Israel) was evidenced in the 2008 Presidential election, when rumors of Obama anti-Israel beliefs threatened to hurt his campaign and his constituent support. The official lobby is primarily composed of to groups: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Because of the intense Jewish lobby, it is extremely difficult for American politicians to criticize Israel in any way. Barack Obama noted this landmine of an issue when he said that "there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says, 'unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel,' and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel."

For more information

The Case for Israel,by Alan Dershowitz
A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time,by Howard M. Sachar


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why the World Hates America (Part 4)

See the other articles in this series:

  1. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  2. Operation Ajax: The 1953 Iranian Coup d'état
  3. Support for rebellions throughout the Cold War
  4. Shifting alliances in the Middle East
  5. Unflinching support of Israel
  6. The War in Iraq
  7. American Exceptionalism and its two-faced foreign policy
Shifting Alliances in the Middle East

All students of political science inevitably find themselves in the quagmire of American foreign policy toward the Middle East. Since the 1940s and early 1950s (with FDR’s oil deal with Saudi Arabia, the establishment of Israel, and the overthrow of Iran), the United States has had a vested interest in the affairs of this region.

Unfortunately, the Middle East is a confusing place. As the birthplace of civilization and the three major monotheistic religions, the region has an incredible history and its people are rooted in ancient grievances and centuries-old traditions. The United States, as a strappingly young nation of 200 years, has been unable to fully comprehend the culture of the Middle East and has repeatedly found itself in an undesirable position as a colonialist, a meddler, and “the Great Satan.”

So how has the United States found itself in this position? The biggest contention in the Middle East is the status of Israel and the Palestinian people. I will devote an entire post on this issue tomorrow -- today, we are specifically looking at America's alliances in the Middle East and how our support has shifted throughout various regimes and revolutions in a bizarre sequence of arms deals and army training. Rather than give you a comprehensive history of American foreign policy in the region, we will focus on one relationship as an example of America's vacillating policies in the Middle East: Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Saddam Hussein: U.S. Operative to Regional Tyrant

A few years after its 1953 intervention in Iran, the United States shifted its focus to Iraq. In 1959, the CIA began a series of operations to remove Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qassim from power. The newly empowered Qassim had just withdrawn Iraq from the Baghdad Pact, which obligated his country to defend the Middle East from the Soviet Union. The U.S. was obviously concerned with the sudden decision and the CIA partnered with Egyptian intelligence to overthrow the new Republic of Iraq. After a failed assassination attempt in October 1959 (in which a young Saddam Hussein was a member of the six-man team), the CIA began to support the Baath Party’s efforts to take over the country.

They succeeded in February 1963, when the Baath Party staged a coup d’état that killed Qassim and established a new regime in Iraq. In 1968, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr led a bloodless coup and was named as the new president—he named Saddam as his deputy. The United States provided weapons and intelligence support to the new government in exchange for technical information on Soviet aircraft and tanks. By 1979 the ambitious Saddam Hussein had grappled power away from President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr and took over as the fifth (and last) president of Iraq.

For the next twelve years, Saddam was a loyal ally of the United States—this was notably demonstrated when he requested and received permission before invading neighboring Iran in 1980. By 1982, Iraq was in dire straits in the war and the White House was concerned about losing an important anti-Soviet ally. To bolster the Iraqi war effort, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited Saddam and the United States doubled its financial aid to Iraq. This continued until the war’s anticlimactic end in 1988.

Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein

This chummy relationship took a turn for the worse in 1990. Tensions were rising between Iraq and Kuwait, its tiny neighbor to the southeast. Saddam claimed that Kuwait was stealing oil from Iraqi oil fields through a process known as slant drilling, in addition to hurting Iraq’s economy by increasing its own oil production (saturating the market and lowering global prices, which cost Iraq billions of dollars).

On July 25th, Saddam met with the April Glaspie, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq—in a notorious statement, Glaspie told Saddam that the United States has “no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” This has widely been seen as tacit American approval of invasion. Sure enough, Saddam invaded Kuwait a week later, infuriating the global community and forcing the United States to change its policy toward Iraq.

The United States (with the 34-member Coalition of the Gulf War) responded with economic sanctions and, ultimately, one of the most dominating military assaults in the history of modern warfare. They easily drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and Saddam quickly became one of the most notorious dictators in the world.

So what were the consequences?

  • After the Gulf War, United States troops were stationed in Saudi Arabia to help deter any future attacks. While the U.S. has been responsible to protect Saudi Arabia since FDR’s presidency, this was the first time its military had a permanent presence on Saudi Arabian soil. This proved disastrous as the blossoming al-Qaeda listed infidel soldiers in the holy land as one of its primary grievances against the United States
  • The United States’ support of Iraq during the Iraq-Iran War has been widely reported, which has had consequences with U.S. allies and enemies. From the perspective of its allies, the United States proved its willingness to work with dictators if it might help U.S. strategic goals (particularly after Saddam used chemical weapons on his own citizens, killing 5,000 people in Halabja). Unfortunately, Iraq is currently a faux government while neighboring Iran is stronger then ever (with the exception of the current election protests). The support for Iraq was not lost on the Iranian regime, who see it as one more example of the United States’ animosity toward Iran.

For more information

Explaining Foreign Policy: U.S. Decision-Making and the Persian Gulf War,by Steve Yetiv
Saddam: His Rise and Fall,by Con Coughlin
I Was Saddam's Son,by Latif Yahia

*The Saddam Saga continues with the War in Iraq! Stay tuned for Article #6!