Some months ago, I planned to blog something about Todd’s book which I had just finished reading: After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order. Emmanuel Todd is the French demographer/economist who, 25 years before the fall of the USSR, analysed that country’s demographic and economic trends and declared (in La chute final: Essais sur la décomposition de la sphére Soviétique) that, far from being an evil empire that threatened to engulf the world, the Soviet Union was actually approaching collapse and would not see the beginning of the 21st century. After The Empire is a similar analysis, but this time of the state of health of the sole remaining superpower. (In short, it finds our situation similar to the Soviets, concluding that the American Empire is already declining, to be replaced by a multipolar world of the US, China, Europe, Japan and a resurgent Russia. Though, on the bright side, we should be in for a much softer economic landing than the Russians suffered in the 1990’s, due to the greater size of our economy as we enter our period of decline compared to that of the Soviets as they entered theirs).
In this interview, Todd revisits some of the themes of After The Empire, but concentrates specifically on the issue of Iran. I think the article is worth translating because his perspective is so unusual if you have grown used to the “for us or against us”, “my way or the highway” kind of foreign policy approach that we have been hearing from Washington for the last six years. His point is that there is a radically different way of looking at the world, that doesn’t involve demonizing or attacking other countries when their national interests don’t correspond to America’s, but instead recognises that even our opponents have legitimate interests, and that it is usually possible to create with them a relationship that safeguards the vital interests of both sides. The Bush Administration would no doubt disparage this as Surrender-Monkeyism, but Todd’s comments are a useful reminder that elsewhere in the world this is known as diplomacy, and it’s the default approach to foreign policy.
Interview with Emmanuel Todd: "The United States is more Dangerous than Iran for Peace".
Marianne: Do you approve of the more conciliatory approach of Jacques Chirac towards Iran?
Emmanuel Todd: Moving from confrontation to negotiation is a good thing. But we should first of all approach the Iranian issue from the point of view of the balance of power between Europe and the U.S.
America is a declining and aggressive country, which tends to seek conflict for conflict’s sake. For its part, Europe is certainly confused, but its strategic interest is in maintaining peace, trade and cooperation with its neighbors. America's Middle East policy is aimed at controlling the petroleum resources that Europe and Japan rely upon, in order to maintain its hegemony over these two power. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder refused to be associated with the destruction of Iraq, keeping even their financial interests out of the American war. The next target was Iran, a country situated on Europe’s security perimeter. It is in the interest of the Europeans to actively guard against this American aggression inasmuch as Iran represents an alternative source of petroleum supplies that would allow them to become more independent vis-à-vis Russia. Universal values are one thing. But a good international policy must strive to reconcile them with the defence of national interests (or continental interests in the case of Europe).
M: What then would be the Iranians’ interest?
ET: From having spoken with Iranian diplomats at the highest level, the compatibility of Iranian and European interests is apparent. On the economic plane of course, but also on a diplomatic level: when you put aside the demonization of Iran or the images of women in black, you realize that the Iranians are following the logic of non-alignment, close to Gaullism. Gaullism is moreover an ideology of second-tier powers, as Iran is today.
M: But is it possible to trust a leader who says he wants to wipe Israel off the map?
ET: When I met Iranian diplomats, I told them how unacceptable the remarks of President Ahmadinejad were, especially for Europeans. But can we consider the Iranian reality separately from these sensationalist declarations? Ideology counts, words are important, but reality matters even more. Iran doesn’t have the means to annihilate Israel which, for its own part, has just destroyed part of Lebanon. The Israelis have legitimate security concerns. But the Europeans must avoid a judeo-centric [sic] vision of world politics. The attack on Lebanon revealed the persistence of an aggressive America seeking to lead its allies into war. This represents a turning point because, from here on, the United States is more dangerous than Iran to the peace of the world.
M: Why aren’t you more worried about the Iranian President?
ET: Iran is on a trajectory of modernisation that prohibits it from lapsing into an “islamist regression”. The French and Russian revolutions would be good comparisons with Iran. As in those two cases, the rise of literacy produced an ideological and political crisis, leading to the overthrow of the monarchy, followed by a period of great violence, then a fall in tension and an exit from the ideologically pure phase. The political crisis peaks when half the male population learns to read and write; then the literization of women leads to a fall in fertility, which is an indicator of mental and cultural modernization. The Islamic revolution was followed by a very rapid fall in the birth rate, which fell to 2.1 (a rate comparable to that of the U.S., and much less than that of Turkey: 2.4). To the demographer, Iran is already more modern than Turkey. If Iran is not a perfect democracy, its revolution, its internal political debates and its repeated elections bear witness to an outlook that is clearly more democratic than Turkey, which remains a democracy under military control. My bet is that Iran will experience, as the United States did some time ago, the birth of a democracy with a religious matrix in which Shi'ism, a religious current that includes the values of revolt and debate, will be an equivalent to Protestantism, which is the source of American democracy. Tocqueville wrote: “When any religion has put down deep roots in the heart of a democracy, beware that you do not weaken it”. Like him, we must not set religion and democracy in opposition to each other.
M: Ahmadinejad has also spoken of “fairy tales” about the Shoah…
ET: Europeans feel guilty, and rightly so, of a great crime. But this guilt must not lead them into other moral failures. It is not acceptable that Europe should denounce Ahmadinejad but fail to use its economic power to constrain Israel to accept the creation of a Palestinian state. Anyone who cares about the fate of Israel has to ask himself about its loss of autonomy with regard to the United States. The classic anti-semitic model overestimated the influence of Jews on history. The anti-semites of today imagine that a country of six million people manipulates a nation of 300 million. So Israel is much more threatened by its “satellization” vis-à-vis the United States than by the anti-zionist statements of the Iranian president.
M: To the point of letting Iran acquire nuclear weapons?
ET: Iran’s line of argument in denying that its leaders want the atomic bomb is very logical: if we are [already] capable, they say, of saying no to all the great powers who want us to stop our civil nuclear programme, then why would we need the atomic bomb?
But, in any case, wouldn’t it be better if Iran, and Japan for that matter, possessed nuclear weapons? If history has one lesson to teach us about nuclear weapons it is that the fundamental danger is imbalance. Such was the situation in 1945 when America alone possessed the bomb, and used it. In contrast, the Cold War never became “hot”, and Pakistan and India talk to each other now that they are both nuclear-armed. In short, the two current areas of international tension are East Asia, where China has the bomb but Japan does not, and the Middle East, where Israel alone has nuclear weapons.
M: Yes, but Israel is a democracy while Iran…
ET: The idea that, under the pretext that a country is democratic, its citizens, after deliberating among themselves, have the right to bomb the citizens of another country, is an idea that is going to end up killing democracy.
M: Won’t Iranian nationalism, supported by Islamic fanaticism, lead to catastrophe?
ET: Let’s make the hypothesis that the issue of our age is the weakening of the American empire and the emergence of a multipolar world. It is good that there should emerge a great Muslim power in which original and promising democratic structures are developing. Because of Lebanon, the French find themselves in the frontline in defining Europe’s relations with this emerging power. Now France, a second-tier power, can perfectly well accept that another second-tier power, Iran, should protect the Shiite community of Lebanon as France protects its Christian community. I am not privy to the secrets of the gods, but I find it hard to imagine the presence of French troops in Lebanon without prior consultation with Iran. This de facto Franco-Iranian partnership might give Lebanon some protection from Syrian and Israeli threats to the country. In the same way, a positive European-Iranian partnership, using the deterrent aspect of nuclear weapons for peace, should replace an ambiguous laissez-faire approach.
[Translation and all errors therein by Lawrence of Cyberia]
Update, 09:59pm: I corrected Todd's first paragraph from "America’s Middle East policy is aimed at controlling the petroleum resources that Europe and Japan rely upon to maintain their own hegemony" to "America's Middle East policy is aimed at controlling the petroleum resources that Europe and Japan rely upon, in order to maintain its hegemony over these two powers". Thank you Giuseppe!