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No moral high ground in handling Iran

Though some of the saber-rattling has subsided, Iran continues to trouble the international community. This week, the United Nations Security Council imposed even tougher sanctions on the country’s Islamic regime, which continues to pursue nuclear technology.

From the recent crackdown and killing of protesters, to the seizure of British hostages and the murder of a Canadian journalist, Iran’s militant rulers have won themselves few friends in the world.

The sanctions have done little to date, mainly because they haven’t blocked oil exports, worth $100 billion a year. Therein lies the issue that arises in any discussion about the region: oil. We might not care for the people we get it from, but we want it nonetheless.

So far, concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions play second fiddle to the flow of oil, particularly to China and Russia, both of which have veto power at the Security Council.

The U.S., too, has much at stake in the region. More hawkish in their approach, although less so since Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush, the Americans are proceeding warily nonetheless. While chastising Tehran, their hold on the moral high ground is precarious.

Having invaded Iraq under dubious pretexts, the U.S. position was steadily undermined by revelations that the reasons for war were unfounded.

Throw in the U.S. treatment of those it captures, and the West has some trouble with finger pointing.
Now, with Iran seemingly involved in the Iraq conflict, and its fundamentalist leaders attempting to expand the country’s nuclear capacity, the U.S. and Britain – the willingest of the coalition – have little chance of gaining support for military action.

Iran may indeed be a major threat to the region – there are plenty of experts who make a case for that stance. But the Americans and British, having been exposed as liars in Iraq, cannot now count on support for action against Iran, if only increased sanctions led by the United Nations.

Ironically, the case against Iran is much stronger than it was in Iraq. Iran’s nuclear posturing and fundamentalist bent are far larger threats. Still, that country is only of interest because of its natural gas and oil reserves, and for its strategic location. If Iraq is any model, those factors will play the largest role in whether the war expands to Iran.

There are many real reasons for the actions we see today, but none of them have to do with protecting human rights and ridding the world of an evil dictator. All of the countries making noises about Iraq are guilty to some degree for supporting dozens of vile regimes led by dictators who terrorized their own people. The United States, which supported Saddam Hussein for years, has a long record of backing, arming and aiding those who practiced atrocities. The list of repressive, often genocidal regimes is long (see Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Chile, Kosovo, Rwanda …); examples of righteous indignation leading to action and justice are much harder to find.

Right or wrong, the current war must be judged against this larger picture. The same applies to action against Iran. No one can rightly claim moral superiority.

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