The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

By Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi and Elio Bonazzi

The Council on Foreign Relations, prominent political think-tank and publisher of the prestigious magazine Foreign Affairs, has recently established a task force to assess the status of US-Iran relations. The task force, co-chaired by Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security advisor to the Carter administration, and Robert Gates, former CIA director, have produced a report which states that “the U.S. government’s lack of sustained engagement with Iran harms our national interests in this critical region of the world.” The task force also concludes that “external efforts to change the current regime are not likely to succeed, and urges the United States to pursue direct dialogue with Tehran on specific areas of mutual concern.”  

The fact that Dr. Brzezinski is a proponent of dialogue and engagement with Iran does not come as a surprise. In the course of his long career he has consistently underestimated the long-term negative effects of myopic geo-strategic policies that he himself has contributed to elaborate and implement. A key player in the Carter Administration, Dr. Brzezinski instituted a plan to train fundamentalist Afghan Islamic mujahidin fighters in Pakistan under CIA supervision, and sent those fighters to attack the People's Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, or PDPA, which was a Communist puppet regime of the Soviet Union. The goal was not the overthrowing of the PDPA, but to make the Soviet Union sufficiently insecure about the stability of its proxy regime as to invade Afghanistan and protect it. The plan worked, the Soviet Union fell into the trap and found its Vietnam--that being the beginning of the end for the “Evil Empire.”  

The situation, however, escalated and the massive military help provided by the US to the Afghani mujahidin in order to fight the Red Army contributed to the formation of an entrenched and solid fundamentalist Islamic stronghold, the seed that created the Taliban, Bin Laden and Islamist terrorism.  The other major Islamist terrorist force active today is also the product of misguided policies of the Carter administration, which deliberately destroyed the Shah of Iran and allowed the Islamic Revolution to take place. Hamas and Hizbollah are direct emanations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, responsible for killing hundreds of Americans (recall the 1984 attacks on the US embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut) and Israelis.  

As recently as 1998, Dr. Brzezinski was still downplaying the threat of Islamic terrorism. In an interview in the French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur, upon being asked whether he regretted having given arms and advice to future terrorists, Dr. Brzezinski dismissed the concern saying, “What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”  

Unfortunately, those “stirred-up Moslems” are now the major worry of Western societies on both sides of the Atlantic, as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and Madrid have demonstrated.

When at the beginning of the 1990s, the oil reserves found in the Caspian region suddenly became of strategic importance to the West, it was determined that the most convenient location to build the crucial pipeline carrying crude oil between Turkmenistan and Pakistan was Afghanistan. The goal was to prevent Iran from making significant inroads in the region and from becoming a transit route for Central Asia's energy exports and its link to the outside world. At the same time, the policy of marginalizing Russia dictated that no pipeline should have been built in geographical areas under Russian control. The only problem with Afghanistan was its chronic instability due to the infighting of warlords. Prominent policy makers of the Clinton administration welcomed the appearance of the Taliban on the Afghan scene as a blessing; finally they had a force capable of stabilizing and unifying Afghanistan, and a powerful interlocutor able to negotiate the creation of the pipeline.  

In 1997, State Department officials and American oil companies invited a Taliban delegation to Washington and Houston; in a private briefing a State Department bureaucrat told journalists that it was hoped Afghanistan would become an oil protectorate, like Saudi Arabia, which had no democracy and persecuted women, but was nevertheless a commercial partner of America. The dream of a long-lasting deal with the Taliban was shattered, however, when al-Qaida bombed two US embassies in East Africa and the connection between Afghanistan and al-Qaida was exposed. The Taliban had become an embarrassment for the administration, the pipeline project was frozen and Unocal, the major oil company behind the pipeline, decided to abandon the project entirely.  

To achieve short-term economic benefits, the US was prepared to support one of the ugliest regimes of contemporary history. The final result of that disgraceful chapter of US foreign policy was the 9/11 attacks. Dr. Brzezinski and his task force are now proposing the make the same mistake—again. Engagement with Tehran would undoubtedly bring short-term economic gains for those oil interests that Dr. Brzezinski represents so well (he is a paid consultant to Amoco). In the long-term, however, dialogue and appeasement towards Iran will only give the mullahs enough time to build their nuclear arsenal while mitigating the international pressure on Tehran to abandon its nuclear quest.  

Dr. Brzezinski and the legion of “realist” appeasers seem unable to understand that business is not the main concern of the mullahs. By projecting their Western mentality based on rationality and economic utility onto their Islamist counterpart, Dr. Brzezinski and Associates continuously fail to realize that those values are not only disregarded, but despised by the Islamists, who live for jihad and revenge, eager to see the destruction of the Western civilization, even if this means Armageddon and sure death for millions of fellow Muslims who would be killed in retaliatory attacks.  

Dr. Brzezinski is thus the typical example of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, who creates monsters that he is unable to control. But the stakes for monster-creation are now higher than they were the last time around. Afghanistan was a poor and rural country ravaged by 20 years of war, lacking industry and access to scientific research; Al-Qaida had to count on limited resources to conduct its campaign of terror. Yet it was still capable of bombing embassies, killing sailors on the USS Cole, and carrying out the first attack on the continental United States since the War of 1812.  

Unlike Afghanistan, Iran has industry, scientific research, scientists who studied overseas and world-standard universities; it also has access to Western currencies, thanks to its economic cooperation mainly with EU countries. The economic, scientific and military means at the disposal of the ruling mullahs are an order of magnitude more devastating than the ones available to Afghanistan under the Taliban. That makes appeasement a race against time.  

Dialogue and engagement only allow Iran to buy time and develop a nuclear arsenal. France, Great Britain and Germany have tried that policy already, signing a deal with the mullahs in October 2003, and granting Iran nuclear cooperation for civilian purposes in exchange for the abandonment of the uranium enrichment program. The EU countries publicized the event, claiming it was a victory of diplomacy and dialogue. Unfortunately, that “victory” was short-lived, and is now harshly ridiculed among high-ranking members of the European Parliament. It also has not become apparent to any of these people—since they really do not understand the mentality and have no clue as to whom they’re dealing with—that appeasement and dialogue is, to the mullahs, nothing less than an admission of weakness.  

Recent intelligence reports, supported by satellite reconnaissance, have shown that Iran has all but halted its uranium enrichment program. By pretending to obey by the rules of the non-proliferation treaty, the mullahs have managed to avoid the inevitable sanctions that would have followed a UN Security Council Resolution. Time is running out, and the West cannot tolerate another round of appeasement, deception, illusion. Nor can it afford an abrupt awakening to the reality of the true intentions of the mullahs. By the time this new round of appeasement ends, the mullahs will have nuclear weapons. And the tragedy of 9/11 would pale in comparison to what nuclear-armed Islamist terrorists are planning for us.  


Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi and Elio Bonazzi are New York-based political analysts.