Recently published in the US, the book “Peace Not Terror: Leaders of the Antiwar Movement Speak out against US Foreign Policy Post 9/11” by Mary Susannah Robbins includes studies written by experts and specialists about the region.
One of the contributing writers is Mansour Farhang, Iranian author, university professor and former diplomat who served as revolutionary Iran’s first ambassador to the United Nations. However, Farhang soon resigned his post in protest after Khomeini’s regime rejected the UN Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation to release American hostages in Tehran.
Farhang returned to Iran to join the Mehdi Bazargan (the first prime minister following the Islamic revolution in 1979) and Abolhassan Banisadr’s (first president of the Islamic republic) group. Later Bazargan died, Banisadr was granted political asylum in France and Farhang went into hiding then fled to Turkey. Since then, Farhang has settled in the US where he has published various books and teaches diplomatic history and international relations at Bennington College, Vermont.
The former diplomat recalls Ayatollah Khomeini’s regional aspirations, which were based on the leader’s experience in Iran and his belief that the Iranian revolution could be exported to Iraq’s Shia. Khomeini believed that “his ambitions did not depend on military operations, rather he believed that he could succeed in disseminating Iranian influence in Iraq through propaganda because he know the country well and had several colleagues there. Then the Arab and Islamic worlds would follow.”
Farhang maintains that Khomeini did not have a strategy, he wrote, “With the outbreak of the Iraqi-Iranian war in September 1980 and after the Iraq forces invaded Iran, Khomeini issued a fatwa to the Iraqi people; however it was believed that the fatwa was addressed to the Shia in Iraq. He believed that they would revolt against the war – but that did not happen. Khomeini issued another fatwa in which he likened Saddam Hussein to Yazid [Yazid Ibn Muawiyah Ibn Abu Sufyan] calling him a traitor even using the same expressions he had employed against the Shah [Reza Pahlavi] – but it was to no avail.”
According to Farhang, Khomeini wanted to issue a third fatwa but then-Iranian President Abolhassan Banisadr said to him, “You have issued two fatwas and no one has moved; this will diminish your credibility and prestige in the region – so why issue a third one, to which Khomeini replied: ‘”They are from Kufa in any case!”
This incident was related to Farhang by Banisadr himself and the former also recalls Khomeini’s meeting with German correspondent in Neauphle-le-Château. The correspondent had asked, “The Iranians say Persian Gulf and the Arabs call it the Arabian Gulf – how do you solve this problem? Khomeini answered: ‘You could call it the Islamic Gulf.’ However after he assumed power, someone reminded him of what he has said to which Khomeini replied: ” the Arabs can go to Hell!”
Farhang added, “It may be said that Khomeini had the most hatred for the Arabs over the past five centuries.”
I recounted to Farhang that when I interviewed Khomeini in Neauphle-le-Château, he refused to speak to me in Arabic and that his grandson Mustapha, who later died of mysterious causes, had assumed the task of translation.
Farhang’s response was, “He [Khomeini] was a fanatic. A number of Arab leaders, including Colonel Qaddafi, wanted to go to Neauphle-le-Château but he refused to receive them. The only Arab leader who met him was Yasser Arafat, because he had no authority.”
He also disclosed: “When the Iraqi-Iranian war first erupted, 12 Arab heads of state came to Tehran to mediate and try to stop the war but Khomeini refused to meet with any of them.”
In response to the question as to whether Iranian President Ahmadinejad had a strategic plan, Farhang said, “He addresses his words to the Arab people and has gained wide popularity in the Middle East – but not for anything he has achieved inasmuch as the fact that he answered to the people’s despair, which is likely to lead to nothing.”
“Ahmadinejad is armed with the Iranian nuclear program,” he continued, “and he considers it to be a potential force that can be exploited. Any state capable of enriching uranium to fuel reactors can later on enrich it to develop a nuclear bomb. Ahmadinejad is aware of this potential force that can be exploited. In this sense his policy is no different from the Shah’s. He [the Shah] told his advisors in the nuclear field: ‘We do not want an atomic bomb in the near future but we should had have the ability to develop one, should the need arise. And this is all what the Iranian politicians think of.”
This is why Farhang rules out the possibility of US President George W. Bush launching a war against Iran since Iran is still not capable of making an atomic bomb. It needs a period of five to eight years and therefore, there is no pressing need.
The Iranian professor said, “The US naval and air force may strike Iran, however America knows fully well that Iran can retaliate by attacking US targets in the region and it can strike countries that maintain good relations with the US, such as Bahrain and Qatar.”
As for the next US president and the likelihood of he/she forgoing Bush’s commitments and adopting a milder discourse with Iran, Farghang said, “If John McCain comes into office then we will witness an escalation of Bush’s policy but the situation will be different if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton came to power.”
Farhang disclosed: “I will tell you about the attempts made by former US president Bill Clinton – and that is where the tragedy of US-Iranian relations lies. In 1999, ex-secretary of state Madeleine Albright issued a public apology for the 1953 coup which had toppled [Mohammed] Mossadegh’s regime and called for open dialogue between the US and Iran. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was very keen to respond to the US invitation; however Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused to allow Khatami to reap the gain of starting up dialogue with the US while he was preparing for his election campaign to run for second term. Blinded by envy, they prevented him from negotiating with the US at the time when then-president Clinton had listened very closely to Khatami’s UN speech [General Assembly Hall]. The US administration was prepared to discuss Iran’s nuclear program, in addition to other pending issues between the two states. However, when Khatami’s term ended in 2003 Iran brought forward Clinton’s proposition but President Bush was embroiled in the aftermath of overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq and thus turned down the proposal for negotiation. In fact, he said: ‘Iran is our next target.'”
“Which is why,” Farhang continued, “if Obama or Clinton came to power and offered Iran a proposal; it will respond this time because it is in the regime’s interest.” He revealed that the Iranian regime is unified in its position regarding this matter and added that Khamenei said: “Our disagreement with the United States is not eternal – but the time has yet to come.”
Farhang’s view is that: “Iran and America are like a couple that has had a bad marriage for the past 25 years that ended in a disastrous divorce and we are still awaiting the reconciliation.”
According to Farhang, Iran wants to normalize its relations with the US so long as the latter recognizes it as a chief player in the Gulf’s security – it does not want to normalize relations on the basis of yielding to American demands.
He elaborated, “Iran relishes the fact that it is the only state that challenges America’s hegemony in the Middle East. If Washington is ready to deal with it as a player rather than just a ‘client’ state, as was the case with the Shah’s Iran, then it will accept that position,” and added, “regardless of our position towards the incumbent regime, Iran is concerned over its security and believes that the US wants to change the regime so that it may be headed by someone who is more suitable in its eyes. If we look at a map today we will see that Iran is surrounded by US military presence.”
Speaking of Iran’s domestic affairs, Farhang disclosed that a new political-economic class had emerged and that it was comprised of the elite class of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Basij forces. Furthermore, he believes that the role of religious clerics will be marginalized by this class in approximately five to 10 years. “In the Islamic Republic’s first parliament, there were 150 MPs who were clerics whereas presently, there are only six clerics.”
As for Syria, Farhang believes that it is benefiting from the situation; with knowledge that Iran supports Hamas and Hezbollah via Damascus. He reminded me that former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had said that he liked the political process to a point that he wanted it “to last for a thousand years”.
“This sentiment applies to Iran,” Farhang revealed, “since resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would deny Iran its foremost pretext for meddling in the region,” he said.
But why does Iran continue to back Hezbollah when it means that Lebanon could be subjected to a war waged by Israel? The Iranian academic said, “Destroying Lebanon would only augment the severity of Arab wrath and this kind of tension can be exploited by Iran to mobilize the Arab world against the US pressure that is exerted upon it. The Iranian regime is not concerned with the interests of the Lebanese society; I do not think that Lebanon’s fate is taken into consideration during the decision-making process in Tehran.”
Farhang believes that Iran’s adventures in the region are doomed to fail. In the long run, it is impossible for Iran to seize control of Iraq, he said. This kind of expansion was achieved by ex-Egyptian president Jamal Abdel Nassar when he reached Yemen after which his influence began to dwindle.
“Iran’s actions and the conflicts that it stirs up do not contribute to the security and interest of other states; in fact it tarnishes Iran’s good image. If we want to know the future of the Iranian regime we should examine the state’s internal affairs. As for its external affairs; what is going on is transient and tactical and it does not contribute anything to the state’s supreme interest.”