Friday, April 5, 2013

Antagonizing America: Our Enemies Depend Upon us

This article originally appeared on The Truman Doctrine on 28 March 2013.

There’s a theory that says when you’re the new kid in a rough neighborhood the first thing you should do is find the biggest, toughest kid on the block and punch him in the face. The sheer audacity of the act will make anyone else think twice about tangling with you, especially if you manage to go toe-to-toe for a few rounds before losing. Power perceived is power achieved–until the contrary is proven. America is the biggest, toughest kid on the block. There is value in antagonizing America.

“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders … tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” –Hermann Goering

This is very much the idea that states such as Iran follow. The regime gains its power by focusing the minds of the population on a common enemy—America. The weekly anti-American demonstrations in Tehran, complete with flag burning, occur with such clockwork regularity that they have to come up with new gimmicks just to keep people interested.

It’s been said they pay people from the countryside to come into the city for a day to hold up signs and chant. Who wouldn't like to hop on a bus for a day in the city on the government’s dime? What university student would turn down a few bucks for burning a flag?

There’s nothing like an enemy to focus the mind of the people on external factors. The benefit is that while they’re worried about the enemy outside their borders they won’t give too much thought to life and problems within their own. Keeping the country safe from the enemy is a good justification for all kinds of internal security measures that would be questionable in other circumstances. A perpetual state of wariness exists on a pseudo-wartime footing.

Ironically, the Iranian regime and other dictatorships and theocracies like it throughout the world depend upon the United States. Their continued grip on power depends upon having America as an enemy to rattle their saber against. They derive their power from a manufactured need to bravely resist American imperialism that would destroy their culture and way of life. Every time commodity prices go up and put strain on peoples’ wallets, it can be blamed upon the enemy and their embargo, not on the regime and its actions or policies.

North Korea under the Kim dynasty has made an art of cycling between alternately opposing and folding to America and its allies. They develop nuclear weapons and elicit all manner of inducements from the West to get rid of them. The U.S. has delivered hundreds of thousands of tons of food aid, almost none of which made to ordinary Koreans.

After the Obama administration structured the aid to ensure it reached the people directly, the North called it off, going ahead with missile tests, beginning to rebuild its dismantled nuclear facilities and has recently threatened nuclear war against South Korea and the United States. There are signs the North is preparing for another underground nuclear test.

However, two or three years from now America and its P+5 allies will likely find themselves on the verge of another diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea. But once again, the North will snatch final victory from our mouths and the cycle will begin again. Iran follows a similar pattern in its own nuclear talks with America. Every time a breakthrough is reported through public or back channels and there seems to be progress, it runs off the rails almost like clockwork.

If Iran were really determined to build a nuclear arsenal, they could certainly have done so by now. Pakistan did so as a hedge against India and we couldn't or didn't do a lot to stop it. Some have been predicting a nuclear-armed Iran since the 1990’s. In reality, it isn't the nuclear weapons Iran is seeking; it is the confrontation and antimony with America that it wants and depends upon. Iran has had an open door to developing nuclear weapons for many years now and will likely sit on the fence for years to come.

None of this makes Iran or North Korea stuffed tigers. The Iranian regime has done actual damage to America going back to 1979 and the Cold War. Anywhere America becomes involved in the Middle East, Iran backs the other horse. It funds international terrorist groups, targeting Israel in particular. In Iraq, Iranian intelligence operatives were caught on the ground by U.S. forces and their footprint was easily seen in the training, weapons and explosives training funneled to the insurgency there. Iranian operations have likely killed thousands of Americans directly and indirectly.

The deep cult-of-personality that exists around Kim Jong-un and his father before him is grounds to wonder if North Korea will one day stop being a rational actor. Right now, Kim has decided that he is going to punch tough-kid America in the face to show the world and his people that he is made of sterner stuff. However, if he begins to believe his own propaganda and it turns to mania, he has his fingers on a lot of buttons.

Understanding this behavior is important. Unfortunately our response often seems to be to adopt the same model of these states in our own national political discourse on the topic. The war drums come out and red lines are drawn. Accusations are hurled back and forth and there’s a scramble to take up the patriotic mantle.

The Global War on Terror has been used to excuse many security measures in America wholly unacceptable in other circumstances. If we have learned anything in the last decade of conflict, it is that we should never sleepwalk towards war as inevitability without a full consideration of its necessity and aftermath and a wholehearted commitment to seeing it through to the end if we do.