Zarif: Iran’s mil­i­tary pro­gram serves to pre­vent an­other Sad­dam

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In an ar­ti­cle pub­lished in the At­lantic on Mon­day, Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif said that Tehran’s in­sis­tence on a ro­bust mil­i­tary pro­gram is to pre­vent an­other re­gional bully like Sad­dam Hus­sein from emerg­ing.

The fol­low­ing is a sum­mary of

Zarif’s ar­ti­cle:

Ira­ni­ans live in a trou­bled and un­sta­ble re­gion. We can­not change ge­og­ra­phy, but our neigh­bor­hood was not al­ways so stormy. With­out delv­ing too far back into his­tory—although as an an­cient peo­ples our mem­o­ries are mea­sured in mil­len­nia, not decades or even cen­turies—it’s safe to say that our re­gion be­gan to ex­pe­ri­ence

in­se­cu­rity and in­sta­bil­ity when for­eign, in­deed com­pletely alien pow­ers, ar­rived and be­gan in­ter­fer­ing.

To­day, what that med­dling has wrought is a frac­tured Mid­dle East. Stead­fast al­lies of the West, rather than con­sid­er­ing the plight or as­pi­ra­tions of their own peo­ples, spend their wealth arm­ing them­selves, send­ing to the West the riches their nat­u­ral re­sources pro­vide.

Al­lies of the West—through­out their brief his­tory as na­tions hos­tile to my coun­try—pounced on Iran in the af­ter­math of our Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion, which freed us from a dic­ta­tor­ship not un­like theirs and al­lowed us to set our own course in his­tory, in­de­pen­dent and peace­ful but al­lied to nei­ther East nor West. While we vol­un­tar­ily set aside a dom­i­neer­ing role in the re­gion, they funded, armed, and sup­ported Sad­dam Hus­sein’s in­va­sion of Iran.

We Ira­ni­ans, pun­ished for hav­ing the gall to de­clare our­selves free of do­mes­tic tyranny and for­eign dom­i­nance, were de­nied even the most ba­sic de­fen­sive weapons, even while mis­siles rained down on our cities to the cheers of our Arab neigh­bors. One of those neigh­bors, Kuwait, a ma­jor fun­der of Iraq’s war on us and the fa­cil­i­ta­tor of its oil sales, shortly af­ter­ward be­came the vic­tim of Sad­dam’s am­bi­tions it­self. Yet in the in­ter­est of re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity, we chose to sup­port Kuwait’s sovereignty in the face of Iraqi in­va­sion, de­spite Sad­dam’s of­fer to share the spoils with us; he even sent his fighter jets to Iran, os­ten­si­bly for safe-keep­ing, but re­ally in an at­tempt to lure us to his side. Our lead­er­ship firmly re­jected this of­fer de­spite the hos­til­ity, both overt and covert, some Per­sian Gulf states had shown us since the rev­o­lu­tion. We pre­ferred for our Per­sian Gulf neigh­bors to re­main sta­ble, func­tion­ing, in­de­pen­dent coun­tries, rather than en­joy­ing the cer­tain but brief sat­is­fac­tion of see­ing them re­ceive their just deserts.

Our in­ter­est in our re­gion’s af­fairs, though, is not malev­o­lent. On the con­trary, it is in the in­ter­est of sta­bil­ity. We do not de­sire the down­fall of any regimes in the coun­tries that sur­round us. Our de­sire—in prin­ci­ple and prac­tice—is that all the na­tions of the re­gion en­joy se­cu­rity, peace, and sta­bil­ity. Un­for­tu­nately, this is not the de­sire of some of some of our neigh­bors, whose un­tried lead­ers cher­ish the delu­sion of regime change in Iran, and sup­port ter­ror­ist groups that seek to over­throw our gov­ern­ment or cre­ate fear for the sake of wound­ing the na­tion. Our neigh­bors do this even while say­ing that Iran’s in­flu­ence is spread­ing— es­pe­cially since the con­clu­sion of the nu­clear agree­ment of 2015.

Iran’s in­flu­ence, though, has spread not at the pur­pose­ful ex­pense of oth­ers, but as a re­sult of their and their Western al­lies’ ac­tions, mis­takes, and wrong choices.

It is be­cause of the hos­til­ity shown to us since the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion, from within our own re­gion and from the West, and be­cause of the West’s re­fusal to sell us any de­fen­sive weaponry that might de­ter a fu­ture Sad­dam, that we have de­vel­oped an in­dige­nous ca­pa­bil­ity. It in­cludes mis­siles, which re­quire test­ing to en­sure that they per­form as de­signed, and which are now ac­cu­rate to within seven me­ters.

We pur­pose­fully ex­cluded our de­fen­sive mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity from ne­go­ti­a­tions for the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion (JCPOA), as the nu­clear deal is for­mally known, pre­cisely be­cause Iran will never ab­ro­gate its right to de­fend its cit­i­zens or del­e­gate that right to an out­side party. It is not in­tended as lever­age or a bar­gain­ing chip in fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions. No party or coun­try need fear our mis­siles, or in­deed any Ira­nian mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity, un­less it in­tends to at­tack our ter­ri­tory or fo­ment trou­ble through ter­ror­ist at­tacks on our soil.

Saudi Ara­bia spends over $63 bil­lion on de­fense an­nu­ally, rank­ing 4th in the world be­hind only the U.S., China, and Rus­sia. The UAE, a coun­try with less than 1.5 mil­lion cit­i­zens, ranks 14th, with over $22 bil­lion in an­nual de­fense spend­ing. Iran doesn’t even make the list of the top 20 spenders: Its $12 bil­lion puts it in 33rd place. It is hardly ramp­ing up to be the new hege­monic bully in the neigh­bor­hood. Our goal is not to have the big­gest or best-equipped mil­i­tary, or to pos­sess tril­lions of dol­lars worth of weapons, but to have the min­i­mum ma­teriel re­quired to de­ter and to counter threats and armed at­tack. Our big­gest as­set for sta­bil­ity, se­cu­rity, and in­de­pen­dence is our peo­ple, who—un­like the cit­i­zens of some U.S. al­lies in the re­gion—choose their gov­ern­ment ev­ery four years.

The Iran-pho­bia per­pet­u­ated by some of our neigh­bors—which in the age of rule by po­lit­i­cal neo­phytes has be­come a kind of hys­te­ria—is now in­flu­enc­ing the out­look of the U.S. This is true of the nu­clear agree­ment and is ev­i­dent more gen­er­ally in the kind of open hos­til­ity to­ward Iran Pres­i­dent Trump ex­pressed in his 2017 UN speech. But the ev­i­dence for “bad be­hav­ior” by Iran is nonex­is­tent. Ira­nian “ag­gres­sion” is a myth, eas­ily per­pet­u­ated by those will­ing to spend their dol­lars on American mil­i­tary equip­ment and public-re­la­tions firms, and by those promis­ing to pro­tect American in­ter­ests rather than those of their own peo­ple. In the end, they serve nei­ther.

The suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of the nu­clear deal—by Iran, at least—is proof of Iran’s good will and peace­ful in­ten­tions. If we had hege­monic am­bi­tions, an agree­ment would never have been reached. The JCPOA can in fact be a model for the di­plo­matic res­o­lu­tion of crises, and for peace­ful out­comes in re­gional dis­putes. Rather than look at its short­com­ings—for in any deal or bar­gain, there are short­com­ings from the per­spec­tive of ei­ther side—it would be­hoove other coun­tries be­yond to look at its ben­e­fits. For there are also ben­e­fits for all sides, in­clud­ing for our im­me­di­ate neigh­bors.

Ira­nian “ag­gres­sion” is a myth, eas­ily per­pet­u­ated by those will­ing to spend their dol­lars on American mil­i­tary equip­ment and pub­li­cre­la­tions firms, and by those promis­ing to pro­tect American in­ter­ests rather than those of their own peo­ple. In the end, they serve nei­ther.

It is be­cause of the hos­til­ity shown to us since the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion, from within our own re­gion and from the West, and be­cause of the West’s re­fusal to sell us any de­fen­sive weaponry that might de­ter a fu­ture Sad­dam, that we have de­vel­oped an in­dige­nous ca­pa­bil­ity.

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