The Cold War may have officially ended when the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, but conflict defined by the US’s obsession with thwarting communism and the USSR’s responding measures throughout the post-WWII world have proven to be a glacial force – a reservoir of brooding anger that has carved out valleys of hostility and strife in the global geopolitical landscape. With Iran holding the dubious honor of being the CIA’s first adventure in the overthrow of a foreign government in 1953, the blowback for that and every other insidious incident of the Cold War has been so forceful that the deal reached in Geneva in the early hours of Sunday, November 24, 2013, matches the scale of the cracking off of the Singapore-sized iceberg (and that’s just the tip of it!) from Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier on November 13, 2013.
Cold War Blowback
War is hell, and modern wars apply technology to horrific effect. But the scars left by the Cold War are of a different caliber entirely, due to the use of covert and indirect tactics – from proxy wars and client states to psychological warfare, espionage, political and economic pressure, and mutually assured destruction. Like the burn of ice on the skin, the insidiousness of these nontraditional devices of war have wreaked havoc upon the social fabric of the societies that were used as pawns in the Great Game of hegemony played for decades by the United States against the Soviet Union. Many in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America who had soul-crushing wars and brutal dictatorships imposed upon them are still struggling to rebuild their communities and find ways to address the staggering inequity that had been the source of the troublesome social movements that were squelched in the first place.
In the Muslim world, the ice burns have been even more severe, since religious sympathies, sectarianism, and fanaticism were callously manipulated in a complex matrix of shifting alliances built according to the maxim, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Thus, Mujahadin “freedom fighters” from around the Muslim world were recruited, indoctrinated into radically puritanical Wahhabism, and trained in asymmetrical warfare by William Casey’s CIA, the Saudis via Osama bin Laden, and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency in order to drive the godless communists out of Afghanistan. Of course, after the Soviets ended the occupation, these holy warriors were abandoned by the United States and left to morph into the Taliban in Afghanistan and spread as al-Qaeda back in their home countries.
In addition to the geopolitics of oil resources in the region, the Arab-Israeli conflict was also an important part of the Cold War, as Israel’s alignment with the West drove its Islamic opponents, even as they strove to remain neutral in the Cold War with the Nonaligned Movement, into the arms of the Soviets for military support.
The Islamic Reformation
As the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan, states in his fascinating account of the history and philosophy of Islam No god but God (2005):
“For more than twenty years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been struggling to reconcile popular and divine sovereignty in an attempt to construct a genuinely Islamic democracy dedicated to pluralism, liberalism, and human rights. It has been a difficult, violent, and hitherto unsuccessful endeavor. But not since the Articles of Confederation set in motion the drafting of the American Constitution has a more important political experiment been attempted.”
The 1979 revolution that ushered in Khomeinism, Aslan explains, was not just a reaction to the incompetence and corruption of the US-backed government of Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, but “the inevitable conclusion” of two previous revolutions that had been suppressed by foreign governments – the Soviets, the British, and the United States. Nor was the 1979 uprising against the monarchy initiated with the intent of establishing an Islamic theocracy, as the charismatic Ayatollah Khomeini had couched his radical theology in the rhetoric of a nationalistic, popular uprising of the oppressed. Aslan writes:
“Under Khomeini’s guidance, the constitution was a combination of third-world anti-imperialism mixed with the socioeconomic theories of legendary Iranian ideologues like Jalal Al-e Ahmad and Ali Shariati, the religio-political philosophies of Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb, and traditional Shi’ite populism assembly—all the lofty principles the revolution had fought to attain—while simultaneously affirming the Islamic character of the new republic.” However, in their rush to finally establish their democratic liberty, the Iranian people allowed Khomeini to institutionalize absolute clerical control.
Then, in 1980, Saddam Hussein, furnished with chemical weapons and prodded by the United States as a means of thwarting the Iranian revolution, attacked Iran. But instead of limiting the revolution, the vicious war only cemented the theocratic powers of the clerical oligarchy and it’s Supreme Leader.
What has followed, Aslan submits, is equivalent to nothing less than the Protestant Reformation; and the counterrevolution in Iran must not be quelled, as “the fight for Islamic democracy in Iran is merely one front in a worldwide battle taking place in the Muslim world—a jihad, if you will—to strip the Traditionalist Ulama of their monopoly over the meaning and message of Islam and pave the way for the realization of the long-awaited and hard-fought Islamic Reformation.”
The Widening Crack in the Ice
The election in June 2013 of Hassan Rouhani, a moderate former diplomat, signaled that the Iranian people are anxious to move forward in their longtime quest for social reform by reaching out to the West. This crack in the ice is important to the West far beyond the obvious implications for nuclear security. The deal struck in Geneva sets a six-month framework for hashing out a broader nuclear agreement, providing a chance for trust to be built. And if trust can, indeed, be built between a nation that is officially designated a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” by the nation that recently confirmed the CIA’s role in that nation’s 1953 coup, it opens up the possibility that the two nations could work together with an international coalition to help resolve the Syrian Civil War – and even the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
During his visit to the United Nations in September, Rouhani stressed his goal of becoming a stabilizing force in the region. He has taken to Twitter to showcase his moderate nature, reaching out to Jews and all other citizens of the world to counter the hard-right Israeli narrative that Iran is inherently fanatical and intent upon the destruction of Israel. To the contrary, his actions, including the completion of the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program proves him, to use Reza Aslan’s terminology, a jihadist in the Islamic Reformation whose success at cleansing Islam in Iran of its “false idols—bigotry and fanaticism—worshipped by those who have replaced Muhammad’s original vision of tolerance and unity with their own ideals of hatred and discord” could represent the geopolitical global warming that would finally wash away much of the discord left behind by the Cold War throughout the world.