Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute and brother of the well-known pollster, John Zogby, recently published an article on "Dealing with Iran" in the Huffington Post that is problematic on a number of grounds.
To begin with, Dr. Zogby claims that Iran harbors "aspirations for regional hegemony," and it is, therefore, a "threat" to its neighbors: "Make no mistake, the regime in Tehran is a meddlesome menace and their aspirations for regional hegemony do pose a threat, not to Israel . . . but to the Arab Gulf States." Dr. Zogby goes even one step further, arguing that Iran is more than just a threat; it is "the real danger to its neighbors."
Israel's Education Minister, Gideon Sa'ar, recently admitted (boastfully) that the Israeli government had succeeded in distracting the attention of the entire world away from the Palestinians to the Iranians. Dr. Zogby's argument that Iran is "the real danger to its neighbors" shows that, indeed, Mr. Sa'ar is justified in boasting about the fantastic success of Israel's policy of distraction. Instead of blaming the US-Israeli axis of aggression for the never-ending and escalating turbulence in the Middle East, Dr. Zogby blames Iran!
But let us examine Dr. Zogby's allegation in light of reality: (1) Iran has not invaded (or threatened invasion of) any country for over 250 years. (2) Iran was invaded in 1980 by Saddam Hussein, which culminated in the devastating 8-year war--a war that was instigated, supported and sustained by Western powers and their proxy regimes in the Persian Gulf region. (3) The "Arab Gulf States," headed by the Saudi kingdom, are collaborating with the US-Israeli axis of aggression in their efforts to destabilize and overthrow the Iranian government. (4) The "Arab Gulf States," not Iran, serve (literally) as military bases for Western powers that support Israel and its policies of settlements and occupation.
Against this background, Dr. Zogby's claim that Iran is a "meddlesome menace" is obviously counterfactual and preposterous.
Ironically, Dr. Zogby's claim that Iran poses "the real danger to its neighbors" is flatly rejected by the Arab people. Public opinion polls have consistently shown that the overwhelming majority of the Arab neighbors of Iran view the U.S. and Israel as the real threats, not Iran. For example, the most recent (2011) and most comprehensive public opinion survey to date, which covered 12 Arab/Muslim countries and 16,731 face-to-face interviews, and which was conducted by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS), found that "by a 15-1 ratio, Israel and the US are seen as more threatening than Iran."
Iran may be a real danger to some of its neighbors, but not in the manner Dr. Zogby dangerously mantains. The real threat Iran poses is not a military threat. Nor is it a threat to the Arab people or their territory--Iran has no territorial ambitions. It is, rather, a threat to the autocratic Arab rulers; a threat that results from Iran's example or model of national sovereignty, not its "aspirations for regional hegemony," as Dr. Zogby claims. As Iran's policies of national independence and resistance to external pressure make the Arab client regimes pale in the eyes of the Arab people, those policies tend to threaten the legitimacy of their dictatorial rulers. And as those policies earn respect from the Arab people, they also earn the wrath of the Arab leaders. This means that Dr. Zogby's arguments against the Iranian government reflect the views of the dictatorial Arab leaders and their imperialist backers, not those of the Arab people.
One salutary point in Dr. Zogby's article seems to be his advice against military threats toward Iran. Unfortunately, he offers that advice for the wrong reasons; he opposes military action against Iran not because such action would be unlawful and immoral, but because (a) military threats "only serve to embolden Iran," (it is not clear why or how); and (b) "continued targeted sanctions...are having a real impact."
Dr. Zogby is either uniformed about the sanctions on Iran, or uses a peculiar definition of targeted sanctions. The brutal sanctions imposed on Iran are way beyond targeted sanctions; they are comprehensive sanctions, designed to be "crippling," as they include Iran's oil exports and its banks, which, in effect, mean its international trade. Targeted sanctions are almost always expanded to broader, comprehensive sanctions, as is the case with Iran. Furthermore, sanctions are essentially a disguised and an insidious form of war whose primary victims are the poor, the children, the elderly, and the infirm. And when sanctions fail to bring about "regime change," military action logically follows.
In his article, Dr. Zogby also writes (with a dash of sarcasm): "What, one might ask the leaders of Iran, will they do with their nuclear program and their provocation? Can it feed their people, rebuild their neglected and decayed infrastructure, give hope to their unemployed young, or secure their role in the community of nations? . . . As the Gulf States make significant progress, providing a model for development and growth, Iran remains trapped in an archaic system which feeds off of fear and anger, and goes nowhere."
It is only fair to ask Dr. Zogby: how can "Arab Gulf States provide a model of development for Iran" when they are essentially consumer markets for foreign products? What product line, manufacturing process or technological know-how can Iran learn from these states? Dr. Zogby seems to confuse financial services, extravagant consumerism (made possible by abundant oil and smaller populations), the unrestricted import of luxury goods from abroad, glossy shopping malls, ballooning skyscrapers, and man-made islands with such fundamental nation building economic activities as manufacturing, industrialization, labor productivity and real development. With the exception of oil, which is produced, processed and managed largely with the help of foreign experts, Persian Gulf kingdoms do not produce much of what they consume.
By contrast, Iran does produce much of what it needs or consumes. It has made considerable progress in scientific research and technological know-how. It has taken advantage of the imperialist sanctions and boycotts to become self-reliant in many technological areas. For example, Iran is now self-sufficient in producing many of its industrial products, such as electric home appliances (television sets, washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, and the like), textiles, leather products, pharmaceuticals, agricultural products, processed food, and beverage products. The country has also made considerable progress in manufacturing steel, copper products, paper, rubber products, telecommunications equipment, cement, and industrial machinery. Iran has the largest operational stock of industrial robots in West Asia.
Iran's progress in automobile and other motor vehicle production has been especially impressive. Motor vehicles, including farming equipment, now count among Iran's exports . The most remarkable industrial progress, however, can be seen in the manufacture of various types of Iran's own armaments needs. Its defense industry has taken great strides in the past few decades and now manufactures many types of arms and equipment. Iran's Defense Industries Organization (DIO) produces its own tanks, armored personnel carriers, guided missiles, radar systems, military vessels, submarines, fighter planes, and more. Despite these achievements, Iran's military spending is relatively modest. For example, while Iran's military spending is currently about $7 billion, or nearly 2% of its GDP, that of Saudi Arabia is about $43 billion, or nearly 11.2% of its GDP, and that of Israel is about $13 billion, or 6.3% of its GDP. And while Iran produces most of its military equipment at home, Saudi Arabia imports its military hardware ( source ).
Contrary to Dr. Zogby's claims, Iran's military preparedness and its nuclear program have not meant neglect of its infrastructure. Iran has invested considerably in both physical infrastructure (such as transportation and communication) and soft/social infrastructure (such as education and healthcare services). Health care is free for those who can't pay . All public education, including university, is free.
Although women are required to comply with the official dress code, they are encouraged (both by their families and the government) to excel in educational and professional pursuits. The results have been quite impressive. Women now constitute the majority of university students. Despite the very high level of unemployment, which is largely due to the economic sanctions and military threats from abroad, more and more women are joining the workforce. They are doctors, engineers, teachers, scientists, writers, artists, business owners, salespersons, firefighters and taxi drivers. Working women in Iran are entitled to 90 days of maternity leave at two-thirds pay, with the right to return to their previous jobs. Women in the US do not have these benefits. Sex change operations and abortion under certain circumstances (and before the ensoulment, i.e. during the first four months of pregnancy) are legal.
In a number of the "Arab Gulf States," by contrast, women cannot hold public office, are denied the right to vote, cannot get a university education, drive a car, or even leave home without a chaperone. How Dr. Zogby thinks these states can "provide a model of development and progress for Iran" is unfathomable.