A response to Dilip Hiro’s “Iran’s Nuclear Issue”

Dilip Hiro’s December 2 piece, “Iran‘s Nuclear Issue,” is best summarized by its third section, “To each Its Own Interests”: the latest series of negotiations on Iranian nuclear capabilities is best characterized by a series of bargains in a bazaar in which each party aims to maximize its own outcome.  Unfortunately such a bazaar tells little since it can characterize, more or less, all issues in international relations.  More unfortunate is that Mr. Hiro’s article replicates many of the careless constructions and simplifications that have become clichés in American writing.  The bazaar, for instance, is neither my creation nor was it a metaphor; Mr. Hiro writes that


Enriched by millions of daily encounters in bazaars, Iranians are adept at bargaining and confident in the knowledge, acquired over centuries, that skillful bargaining and brinkmanship go hand in hand.


Not only is this Iranian cousin of Shylock silly, he follows an apparently related Iranian who begins Mr. Hiro’s article:


Imagine a pious Muslim faced with a ban on fabricating a certain kind of weapon. He is committed to obeying unquestioningly the fatwas of his religious leader and yet discovers that producing such a weapon, or threatening to do so, is a strong lever for gaining benefits from a powerful group living in the neighborhood.  Replace “a pious Muslim” with “Iran,” and “a powerful group” with the 25-member European Union (EU), and the above sentences aptly sum up the current Iranian-EU relationship.


Is this analysis? Is it information?  No, it is racialist nonsense which for Mr. Hiro doubles as both.  Much has been said of George Bush’s “axis of evil”; less has been said of the depictions of Iran and other nations that reject US designs that allow such an “axis of evil” pronouncement to ring credible, if not true.  Depictions of this sort fill Mr. Hiro’s writing:


So on October 31, amid chants of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) and “Death to America,” all 247 members present in the Iranian parliament unanimously called on the government to restart the country’s uranium enrichment program, using its already manufactured centrifuges, and to exercise its right to complete the nuclear fuel cycle enshrined in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which Iran is a signatory.


Iranian secularism has seen better days, yes.   “Death to America” is unfortunate; but is it any more so than the “War on Terrorism” — perhaps even than “terrorism” as a construction, which distinguishes our benign violence from the illegitimate violence of others?  Mr. Hiro points to something rarely discussed in the United States: that Iran‘s nuclear program is a right according to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  But although this is true, this is also understatement:  Article 4(2) of the NPT says that


all the Parties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy…with due consideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.


The United States, a signatory to the treaty, would seem to be bound to assist Iran — one such developing area of the world — in developing nuclear power as an energy source.  But for Mr. Hiro, Iran’s claim of its right — now deferred — makes it nothing less than the “Middle East’s most strategic nation.”


Noam Chomsky, following Max Weber, has written tirelessly of an “ethic of responsibility” in which citizens, like the reporters and intellectuals who inform them, account for the foreseeable results of their own (rather than the other guy’s) actions.  Accordingly, instead of speculating on machinations of foreign governments or of the cunning Iranian, I think we would do well to hold our own government accountable to the international agreements that it claims to be enforcing.



Omar Khan is writer and editor for Covering Iraq and can be reached at oik2@columbia.edu.

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