The current brinkmanship between the US (and to a lesser degree its Western allies) and the Iranian regime represents the greatest current threat to the world since the fall of the Soviet Empire. It is the first time two militarily powerful states have looked down the barrel of the gun at one another—and it could within time be a standoff between two nuclear powers.
In the wake of the post-Cold War World, we have witnessed the eruption of many localized “hot” wars—civil wars, sectarian strife, genocides, and tribal conflicts from places like the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and currently Sudan. As well as the continued existence of numerous authoritarian and despotic oppressive regimes which initiate violence upon their own citizens (e.g. Burma, Zimbabwe). There have also been two wars aimed at the regime of the former dictator of Iraq Saddam Hussein, in addition to the asymmetric pitting of the United States and its allies versus al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Not to mention the rise of trans-national terrorist attacks against the England, Spain, the United States, and Indonesia to name just a few.
All of which remind us the world sadly continues to be a dangerous and deadly place. But in the 15+ years since the Berlin Wall crumbled, we have seen no prolonged state versus state wars a la the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s nor proxy wars (Vietnam, Korea) fought through intermediaries as backdrop to a worldwide battle between two superpowers.
The Iran-US standoff represents a much more serious threat than any other faced since the fall of communism. A US-Iran War has the potential to bring in many other regional actors: Turkey, Syria, Iraq, The Gulf States, Egypt, and even Israel. Iran through its ties to terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad could instigate an upsurge in guerilla warfare against the US, Europe, and/or Israel—particularly any American military personnel in say neighboring Iraq. Worse still would be the catastrophic igniting of a wider Shi’ite-Sunni conflict, with dissident Shi’ite populations in Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia theoretically rising up against their Sunni overlords. Worst of all is the possibility that a US-Iranian War would bring the US and China to a military standoff (more on that in a sec.)
The United States and its Western Allies are united in their opposition to an Iranian nuclear weapon. Iran claims that its nuclear research and development is purely for peaceful, civilian purposes and that their government is simply exercising their right to natively developed civilian nuclear power under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaties. Iran correctly points out that the Western powers have no legal standing to prevent them from the development of civilian nuclear technologies. The Western powers are right to question this civilian-only nuclear power talk as nothing other than propaganda. There exist numerous pieces of evidence to support the claim that Iran is indeed seeking to gain nuclear weapons capabilities.
In the United States the two political parties, Republican and Democratic, though they differ in certain respects as to how best to deal with this situation, are united in their opposition to an Iranian nuke.
The Democratic Party generally favors (see: Sen. Hillary Clinton), a serious of economic and political sanctions to isolate Iran. Certain Republican elements favor a pre-emptive strike against Iranian facilities (as advocated by among others Sen. John McCain—both current frontrunners for their respective parties Presidential Nominations in 2008).
It is this common assumption that I question—the assumption that the whole of our energies should be focused on stopping Iranian nuclear weapons. In contrast, I argue that the Western powers should embrace the concept of Iranian nuclear ambitions. By no longer viewing this situation as a problem that must be fixed, we see it as an opportunity that can be utilized to great gain.
My thoughts on the matter are due in large measure to the work of Dr. Thomas Barnett (see his two great works, The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action and his site complete with blog, www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog).
First some basic points to keep in mind.
1. Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons within 5-10 years according to current intelligence estimates. Though such intelligence estimates from the US and Western powers (e.g. nuclear issue vis a vis Iraq) may be deeply flawed, we will take them as giving a decent approximation to the time in which it will take Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
2. Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and will eventually perfect the weaponization of nuclear technologies.
3. By military’s own admission, pre-emptive strikes (even nuclear ones) by the United States or Israel will only delay Iran’s entry into the nuclear club, not prevent it. Moreover, the United States at the current time certainly can not afford a full scale invasion of Iran with its current deployment in Iraq.
4. Economic sanctions will be even less effect as a nuclear deterrent, particularly if the price of extracting crude oil from the ground remains high.
Therefore, #5 there is nothing that can be done to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. I want to make that clear: THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT A NUCLEAR IRAN. If we listen behind the words of Western politicians and military brass, we will actually see them in one sentence essentially admitting this fact and yet in the next breath advocating strikes, sanctions, UN censure, and so on. As evidence that countries can and do gain nuclear weapons against pressure from without see the cases of Israel, India, North Korea, and Pakistan which all gained nuclear weapons in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Accords.
Iran will have a nuclear weapon. The only question is how best to deal with this new reality and what can be profited from a Nuclear Iran? But before that, I want to delve into the history a bit to understand the context.
Traditional Shi’ite Theology and the Modern Rise of Shi’a Power
Islam is generally divided into two camps: Sunni and Shi’a.
The Shi’a traditionally have been the more downtrodden. They hold in their theology and spirituality a much stronger affinity for the redemptive practice of suffering and martyrdom.
The Shi’a believe that the leadership of the ummah (the Muslim community) should be passed on through the descendents of the Prophet’s Family. They follow in particular the cousin, son-in-law, and best friend of the Prophet, Ali. In Shi’a thought Ali was not just Muhammad’s closest friend; The Shia believe The Prophet shared with Ali esoteric wisdom. Ali was an Iman, an enlightened one.
Ali was murdered by Kharijite (a heretical puritanical early Islamic sect) forces in the 1st Islamic Civil War. Ali’s son, Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet himself, was murdered by the forces of the Syrian Sunni despot Muawyia (founder of a dynastic Imperial Caliphate) at the battle of Kerbala (in modern day southern Iraq). Shia recall the great heroism and unjust martyrdom of Husayn every year at the festival of Ashura—where (mostly) men cut themselves while shouting and marching through the streets.
With the death of both Ali and Husayn traditional Shi’ite theology came to espouse an extremely pessimistic view of the world, particularly in its political form. The prophets of God are killed by the cruel and oppressive of this world. This world brings no perfection. Shi’a theology typically advocated a more reclusive, esoteric, and mystical sense to Islam. Perfection would not be found in the outer world of human action but in the inner world of union with God.
Shi’a theology is also well known for its apocalypticism. The current order (which persecutes the true representatives of God) is to pass away in a violent upheaval. At the end of time, the hidden Iman, the Mahdi (The Messiah), will descend from heaven to bring justice to this world. He alone can rule rightly and perfectly. Until the Mahdi returns to bring cosmic justice, the world stands condemned in unrighteousness and pious believers must do their best to navigate through this broken, sinful world.
As a result Shi’a historical pessimism usually allowed them to live more or less in peace with their rulers. For if all of them were inherently unjust, why attempt to overthrow them? It would only replace one set of unjust rulers with another? And the chaos and bloodshed from war would be worse than the current miasma. Or so thought the mainline Shi’ite moderate tradition, making this pessimistic realism essentially was the dominant theological view from the classical period until the later 20th century.
Enter Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini radically transformed Shi’ite theology. Khomeini stood opposed to the authoritarian (and US backed) Iranian Shah, Reza Pelahvi. Pelahvi employed the methods of modern surveillance, secret police, and despotic rule to prevent any form of critical political expression/organization in the country. Khomeini from exile formulated his theory of “Vilayat al Faqih” (VF, leadership of Islamic jurists over society), thereby revolutizing Shi’a theology. VF states that in the absence of the Mahdi, the Ayatollahs should rule. They alone are the proper guardians in the absence of the Mahdi, for they alone can be trusted to rule.
Khomeini in his lifetime was opposed by other Iranian Ayatollahs who criticized him from the traditional Shi’ite viewpoint. Politics is corrupt; if the Ayatollahs assume power, they too will become corrupted leaving none to guide the simple and pious in their worship of the Lord. To this day many Shi’a still do not accept Khomeini’s radical vision. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Supreme Ayatollah of Southern Shi’ite Iraqis does not believe in Vilayat al Faqih.
Khomeini represented a fundamentalist, modernist turn in Shi’a thought. He sought the total Islamicization of society. Traditional Shi’ite theology, if not formally, practically recognized de facto spheres of influence: politics, religion, and society. VF brooks no such compromise. It is a totalizing ideology which employs modernist tools of communication, coercion, and enforcement to promote an idealized pre-modern worldview (or what the ideologues believe the premodern world to have looked like, which in fact it never did).
Khomeini famously stated that Islam is nothing but politics. That is a completely modernist point of view—religion has nothing to do with the cosmic, otherworldly, mystical, or even traditional conversion of the heart and the ethics of just action. It is politics, pure and simple. It is a flatland, horizontal totalizing methodology and worldview.
More importantly this fundamental re-thinking of Shi’a theology sheds light on the growing Shia-Sunni tensions/violence from Iraq to Pakistan. King Abdullah of Jordan has recently spoken of the fear of a rising Shi’a Crescent from Southern Lebanon through Southern Iraq to Iran, with restive and possibly emoboldened Shia minorities in Jordan, Syria and the oil-fields of Saudi Arabia.
As I mentioned the Shia historically identified themselves as the outsiders. The Sunni carried the identity of the victors, the strong, the powerful. Suicide bombing was “invented” (if that is the right word) not surprisingly by Shia (Iran) in its horrific war with Iraq. Suicide bombing has deep theological roots in the martyrdom tradition of Shi’ite Islam. A Shia suicide bomber physically and spiritually identifies, as it were, with Iman Husayn and is therefore considered redemptive. That Sunni militants groups (first the Palestinians and then later al-Qaeda) have employed this tactic speaks to their sense of total brokenness, despair, rage, and humiliation. The Shia in Iraq are not currently employing suicide bombings, Sunni jihadists are. Like it or not, the US military activities since the attacks of 9/11 have helped bring about this radical overturning of the traditional Shia/Sunni relationship. Iran is the Shi’a powerhouse—theologically, militarily, politically—and the US must now learn to co-exist with this power and the new situation that is has, in part, created in the Near East and larger Muslim world.
Khomeini died in 1989. He left in place the current political format of the Islamic Republic of Iran—A Supreme Leader elected only by the Council of Guardians (themselves either directly or indirectly selected by the Supreme Leader) who is the true head of state. An elected president who functions with certain delegated executive authorities and a federal parliament and judicial branch. The Supreme Leader and Council can reject any laws passed by the parliament.
In 1997 a Reformist President Mohamed Khatami was elected (and in 2001 re-elected) on a platform of economic openness and opportunity. He was widely viewed both in and out of the country as ineffective and unable to bring reform.
In 2001 members of al-Qaeda then based in Afghanistan attacked the United States. The United States subsequently declared war on al-Qaeda and their Taliban hosts. Little circulated in Western press was that the Reformist President of Iran, Khatami sent a letter to President Bush offering him a military alliance with Iran to defeat the Taliban. The Taliban, recall, being puritanical Sunnis viewed the Shi’a of Iran as unbelievers (takfir).
Bush declined and then (in)famously labeled Iran a member of the Axis of Evil. The Bush Administration proceeded to prosecute a war against Saddam Hussein, quickly toppling his Baathist government, leaving a vacuum of power then filled by local militas, clerics, and rocked by insurgency.
By these two wars under the umbrella of GWOT (Global War on Terrorism), the United States inadvertently (I assume) has made Iran the most dominant political force in the Near East. The US has almost single handedly destroyed the two greatest regional threats to the Iranian regime—The Taliban and Hussein. Flush with oil profits, the Iranian regime stands stronger than ever.
In 2005 partly it seems in response to American vilification, Iran elected a hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad was connected to the youth elements that participated in the Revolution and Hostage Crisis with the United States during the Carter Regime. Ahmadinejad ran on a populist platform—nationalist power, justice for the poor and oppressed against the corrupt government and elite, disconnected, rich. He gains his strongest support from the poor and the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.
He is also the first president in the history of the Islamic Republic to not have his list of ministers approved by the parliament. The parliament has rejected his nomination for the all-important petroleum minister post twice. Ahmadinejad was the only candidate in the Presidential Election who spoke out against future normalization of relations with the United States. Word is that his grandstanding has angered some within the Clerical Establishment and without much press, Grand Ayatollah Khamenei has taken certain powers away from the President and given them to Ali Akbhar Rafsanjani—the man Ahmadinejad beat in the election, himself an ex-president!!
Ahmadinejad’s government ran on a platform of anti-corruption and like many populists figures before, has been filled with a new brand of cronies (and possibly incompetent cronies at that). There has been a revivification of traditional pre-Islamic Persian rituals (e.g. The Nourouz Spring Festival), continued organization, detention, and disappearances of student groups, and almost complete rejection of this government from upper and secular elements within Iranian society.
When Khatami was president, the US press said that he was powerless to do anything because Iran was obviously run by the clerics. Now a hardline President is in office and immediately compromise with Iran is beyond the pale because the President is a messiah-seeking, nuke-wanting, nut out to destroy Israel. So which is it? Is the President in charge or the Supreme Leader? Or Rafsanjani? Or the Parliament? Are all elements of the Guardian Council in accord with Ahmadinejad’s actions? Could some Ayatollahs be co-opted into a normalized stance with the West?
Not to mention the fact that Iran is probably the only country in the Islamic Near East where the population actually loves the United States through its government officially despises the US. The rest of the Islamic Near East is mostly the opposite, with its governments formerly aligned to the US and its populations despising America.
All of which is never addressed. The clear answer is we simply don’t know. We don’t know all the intricacies and backroom dealings of the contemporary Iranian political scene. The Press, particularly in the US, and the politicians whom they grovel over, simply state that Iran is a country run by irrational, theocratic madman.
But is that necessarily the case? Look at the situation this way: President Bush announces that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea constitute an Axis of Evil. One of the members on that list has nuclear weapons and is left completely alone—North Korea. Iraq does not have any such weapons and is invaded, its government overthrown, and a civil war ensues (excuse me: sectarian strife).
Iran looks at this turn of events and correctly makes the following conclusion: No Nukes=Invasion, Have Nukes=No Invasion….Therefore, Let’s Get Some Nukes.
So the Iranian regime seeks nuclear weapons technologies to ensure its survival and seeks to be recognized as what it now is—the dominant power in that part of the world. Irrational? Seems like a regime that is seeking the aggregation of power unto itself, its own survival, and influence in the region. Sounds like just about every other government in the world.
I imagine a different scenario. I imagine a scenario in which Bush accepts Khatami’s offer of Iranian support in an Afghan invasion. I envision a military alliance that opens the door to economic influx and foreign capital to Iran and its further opening into the globalized economic infrastructure.
The world discovers the Iranian nuclear program. In this scenario Bush goes to Iran (like Nixon to China), making the following list of demands to be met:
1.The recognition of the State of Israel
2.Discontinued support for terrorist groups like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad
3.Discontinued financing of all sides in the Iraqi Civil War and Iranian assistance (with Syria) of stabilizing Iraq. Possibly the creation of a Bosnia-like Peace Accords, with Iraq devolved into smaller states and/or autonomous regions—southern Shia Iraq buttressed by Iran; Sunni Iraq aided by Syria and the Gulf States; and the recognition of the independent state of Kurdistan having to be formally recognized by Turkey as prerequisite for its (Turkey’s) admission into the EU.
4.Market reforms and the opening of Iranian modern economic pursuits.
In return, the US accepts an Iranian bomb and recognition of its status as the dominant regional force. The US promises not to seek to overthrow the Iranian government.
Absent the agreement to all four mentioned above and evidence of the continued Iranian nuclear buildup, a war, I fear is bound to occur.
This vision has no political force currently in the United States. Elements of the Left criticize this vision because of their absolutist and near deification of nuclear non-proliferation treaties (which as we have seen have not actually stopped countries so inclined to get such weapons). Liberals elements also decry an allegiance with a gross violator of human rights. Conservative right-wing opponents view the deal as bargaining with the devil (an evil empire), as a cop-out and will never believe the Iranians capable of not using such an alliance to still seek to destroy the United States and its allies. Iran is the number one state-sponsor of terrorism on the globe. Worse they argue, Iran will use such a weapon to destroy Israel—their president has on record stated his desire to wipe Israel off the map. And conservatives also balk at an alliance with a gross violator of human rights.
So let me respond to the criticisms in turn
1. The Destruction of the State of Israel.
I find it interesting that the Bush administration filled with Cold Warriors has seemed to forget the one great lesson learned during the Cold War: MAD. The Theory of Mutually Assured Destruction. The United States and the West destroyed The Soviet system of Totalitarian Governance without firing a single shot directly upon the USSR.
The US and NATO created a military blanket over Western Europe and flooded aid to rebuild former WWII enemies like Japan and Germany. The Truman policy of Containment led to treaties like SALT II (again Nixon). The United States by the 70s correctly perceived the increasing disconnection between the ruling Politburo of Brezhnev and the masses. Brezhnev instituted a re-entrechment of Soviet state power after cautious reforms under Khruschev. Brezhnev continued to spout Party-line Propaganda about the destruction of the West and capitalism, the coming communist world-order, and so forth. He also drew the USSR into the bloodshed and quagmire of Afghanistan. By strategic nuclear arrangements and the immediate reception of early remarks of reform from Gorbachev, the US co-opted the Soviet satellite system and allowed its own flaws to eat itself from within.
The Iranian Regime is essentially in the same position as Brezhnev USSR. Khomenei’s vision of a Shia fundamentalist state has failed to gain the minds of many of the young. Even if they do not openly oppose the regime, they challenge the religious-political nexus in other ways—e.g. young people using cells phones to rendezvous for non-marital romantic interludes in direct violation of the stringent conservative moral code espoused by the regime.
Every Muslim ruler of the Middle East talks of destroying Israel. But what if such statements are nothing more than the tired spouting of ideologies like late era-Soviet platitudes about the People’s Party?
The United States would act for Israel as it did for Western Europe with a nuclear Iran. It would create a shield of Mutually Assured Destruction. If Iranian Ayatollahs are not shrewd enough to see that an alliance maintains their existence, then they likely would be more persuaded by annihilation staring them in the face.
I also realize as an American the delicate position with which I am in advocating such a position given that my country is the only one to have ever deployed nuclear weapons on a civilian population. Minus that scenario, MAD, however crazy from a moral point of view, has been remarkably effective in deterring the use of nuclear weapons.
And as far as the recent statements of the President of Iran concerning his desire to wipe Israel off the map, he would not have his finger on the button. The Supreme Leader and The Council of Guardian do and it is to them (and not a political sideshow like Ahmadinejad) that the US/West must wisely speak.
2. Human Rights
Iran is an authoritarian regime that brutally suppresses free speech. Individuals disappear, are systematically tortured, spied upon by secret police, appear before rigged and partisan judiciaries. It is a police state. [Which is unfortunately no different than when the Shah backed by the CIA was in power]. Iran perpetuates gross human rights violations on its citizens. There is no getting around that or sugarcoating it.
What is open to debate though is the degree to which an alliance with Iran would actually undermine the very ground the Ayatollahs stand on?
In The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad, Fareed Zakaria traces the formation of secular, constitutional, liberal democratic forms of government in the Western tradition. The West, as admitted by all those for and against, is the “inventor” of classical liberal tradition. Liberal in this context meaning classical liberal (e.g. The Federalist Papers) politics—rule of law, constitutional safeguards against democratic/state interference, inalienable rights like free speech & private property, and separation of legislative and judiciary functions.
Zakaria points to the Medieval battle between the Holy Roman Emperors and the Papacy. The Papacy, Zakaria rightly points out, is the world’s first “NGO”. It is the first power base outside the authority of the state. Religion throughout antiquity served the interests of the monarch from the Egyptian pharaohs to Confucian Chinese courts to the Eastern Roman Emperors. With the advent of mass agriculture excess grain allowed certain individuals to specialize and devote their entire lives to pursuits other than farming, e.g. religious functionaries doubling as scribes. A pattern formed—the seers and priests of the day would give religious prophecies buttressing the Kings who in turn gave them generous stores of produce and wealth.
The Papacy is the first religious institution to become itself the State. The Medieval Papacy united the Sword and the Staff and sought a Papal Europe-wide Empire. When the Papacy defeated the Holy Roman Emperors (e.g. Henry IV submission to Pope Gregory VII at Canossa), the other rulers of Europe realized that the traditional rules of engagement could no longer apply. In response European rulers began the process of secularization that evolved into the modern nation-state.
So we notice a pattern:
First general merger of religion/state, sometimes the Emperor dominant, sometimes the religious party. Then a clerical establishment assumes power and creates an attempted utopian religious state. This fails and leads to its complete antithesis—secular politics.
With all the talk recently of an Islamic Reformation or the need for the Islamic world to modernize, Iran alone has the potential to truly lead a secularist process. Do we really think with a military alliance in toe, dominance regionally, a strong nationalist (pre-Islamic Persian) tradition, as well as a great history of literature and intellectual discovery, plus economic connectivity to the rest of the world that in 25 years Iran will still be run by the Ayatollahs?
And as it relates to President Bush’s doctrine of support of democracy the worldwide, it is sadly apparent that any overt US support of Iranian dissident groups would play into the hands of the hardliners. Any such democratic, human rights groups would instantaneously be branded as a Fifth Column for the Great Satan US. Any military strike or invasion completely erases support for the US among large sectors of the Iranian populace. They must come to a worldcentric government from within.
The Soviet Satellite System collapse is again instructive. The Western tradition of liberalism and democratic thought awakened the minds of individuals like Lech Walsea and Vaclaw Havel, visionaries of the Revolutions of 1989. Boris Yelstin standing on a tank at the Kremlin, though a great photo-op, was not very instrumental in the collapsing of the Hardline Soviet coup against Gorbachev; it was a series of underground notes passed earlier that day through fax machines that created the upswell of people to the streets. Fax machines, which not coincidentally came from Western technological innovations and firms.
The US could foster these same general conditions as it did against the Soviets with Iran:
1. A military alliance (or strategic arms deals as with the Soviets)
2. Further dissemination of human rights, democratic, and liberal political materials
3. An economic opening to allow modern technological-monetary infrastructure and foreign capital to penetrate the very state-ist, high unemployment Iranian economy.
And to Americans who would respond that the US should never recognize Iran for the Hostage Crisis, humiliating the US, and Khomenei’s labeling of America as the Great Satan, a point to recall. Khomeni’s criticism of the West—with the US symbol of that order—was always social-moral-religious. The US was the Great Satan because of its secularism; the US was the home of Madonna, abortion, widespread divorce, sex on television, gay subcultures, anomie, rampant individualism, de-humanizing consumerism, and pervasive loneliness. Khomenei issued a death-sentence fatwa against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses for (it was claimed) defaming The Prophet’s image.
His criticisms were not political. Khomeni’s opposite then is Osama bin Laden, whose attack on the US is solely political—support for: Israel against the Palestine, the Russia against the Chechnya, and authoritarian despotic regimes in the Gulf States, etc. Bin Laden does not denounce the West because of novels or what’s on Western television. Bin Laden is seeking to gain control, to overthrow governments, and to re-institute an Sunni Medieval Islamic Caliphate. Iran already has political control and is only seeking to ensure its stability and maximize its opportunities.
Consequently, there is plenty of room, I argue, to foster a political (if not religious-ethical-cultural) détente with Iran. Such a compromise is not possible with an al-Qaeda.
Two courses of actions could thwart the evolution of Iran towards a liberal modern order that I have outlined above.
1. Economic sanctions. The economy stays locked into petrolism—the merger of authoritarian governments with unmodernized economies built around extractive natural resources (Nigeria, Russia, Venezeula, Iran). Iran becomes more and more isolated allowing its government to further quash dissident elements (especially democratic ones) within its borders.
Result: A Cuba with Oil and a Nuke.
2. War/Pre-emptive strikes. A rise in nationalism and hatred of the United States. The government plays off such angry and humiliation, allowing angry otherwise correctly aimed at the government towards the foreign Western horde.
Result: Mass causalties and political destabilization.
Worst of all a War with Iran opens the possibility for a War with China. The United States does not receive a significant percentage of its oil from Iran. Some Western European nations do, in part. China gets a bulk of their oil imported from Iran. India is also a rising market for Iranian oil.
In Globalization 1.0, the phase of European colonialism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries there was discussion of the coming end of war between states. Britain ruled the seas, much as the United States does now, and a dominant worldwide navy opened up freer global trade, the economic interconnection it was believed to have been stronger than the forces of disconnection.
Of course those theories did not hold up. The early phase of a Global Economy led to the brutality of Two World Wars, the rise of Totalitarianism, The Cold War, and the near demise of liberal-democratic forms of governance.
Again we hear talk among political theorists of the End of History, a coming age without nation-state warfare, due to 1.An unparalleled US Navy 2.Worldwide freer trade 3.Economic interconnectivity the world over.
In Ken Wilber’s AQAL there is the distinction between the Left and Right Hand Quadrants. Economic and technological connectivity, political alliances, naval dominance, and global trade all exist in the Right Hand, exterior quadrants. We see the failure of all such political theorists proclaiming that such factors automatically build an era of irenic global peace and prosperity. Such theorists have neglected the interior, Left Hand Quadrants and forget that things like religions, cultures, worldviews, political ideologies, leaders, and nationalisms can destroy any exterior reality safety nets. The globalized economic order of the Right-Hand Quadrants only creates the exterior possibility for interior worldwide co-existence. Economic and technological connectivity is therefore a necessary but not sufficient condition for such a worldcentric global order.
Consequently, this phase of Globalization (3.0, if we count 2.0 as between the end of WWII and the Fall of Communism) could also end as the first—in revived nationalisms, brutal world conflict and economic disintegration.
There are only two political tripwires currently that could lead to such a nightmare scenario and they are (if indirectly) related:
2.The Straits of Taiwan
Iran I have covered.
As Thomas Friedman has written China’s current foreign policy is Get Oil and Keep Taiwan.
A US invasion of Iran disturbs the first and could inflame the second.
A US-Iranian War likely leads to a neo bi-polar world. On one side China, Russia (possibly India), supporting Shi’ite regimes like Iran and Southern Iraq as oil partners.
On the other side, The US having to re-bolster Sunni Arab autocracies (for oil and marginal stability). By so doing, the US would be further creating the conditions for more blowback both to Sunni regimes (including nuclear Pakistan) and to the US/West from Salafi Sunni jihadism.
And minus a US-Chinese, US-Iranian alliances, we would likely see a massive uptick in nuclear proliferation—-Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia likely seeking a bomb as protection against Shi’a Iran. In Asia Japan and South Korea going nuclear looking to defend themselves against China.
In this new bi-polar world, we would see a return to economic blocks and obstructions, increased isolation, military buildup, and likely proxy wars (ala Cold War) in border regions for increased influence, and rising powers like Brazil as X Factors.
With intelligent policy, I believe that terrifying scenario could be averted and in the medium term bring much greater stability to the global economic-political matrix (on a nation-state level). Minus those horrific potentials, the world would certainly not be full of peace, but its governments could I think focus on the central issue of our time (not nuclear non-proliferation/oil) but the bringing of the mass of economically, politically, informationally deprived-disconnected of our world into a worldcentric economic-political configuration, thereby bringing about an increase in women’s rights, decreased population, starvation, ethnic conflict, and the potential for worldwide ecological recovery.
This, to my mind, should be the great political vision of the Integral Age. Sadly, as of yet, it exists in the wilderness waiting for a leader and a vehicle for implementation.
BTW: In terms of the 2008 Presidential Election the man who could actually I believe have the vision to pull some of these grand chess moves off is Wesley Clark. Unfortunately he does not have the name recognition and financial-money making machine behind him of say a Hillary Clinton or John McCain.