A friendly relationship can better serve American interests
The contradiction couldn’t be more striking.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when the USA was planning its Afghanistan invasion against the Taliban government, it chose Pakistan’s military establishment as its ally. The fact that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the premier intelligence agency of Pakistan, was the Taliban’s chief patron right from its birth was conveniently ignored.
Similarly, during its invasion into Iraq in March 2003, Saudi Arabia became America’s closest ally, a country that had been pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars to promote terrorism, puritanical Islam and a global Jihad against the West, not to mention that Osama bin Laden and most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
In both cases, Iran — being opposed to the Taliban’s Sunni version of Islam and Iraq’s Saddam regime — offered useful intelligence and other assistance to the USA, a gesture never reciprocated. On the contrary, in January 2002, US President George W. Bush made his ‘Axis of Evil’ State of the Union Address blaming Iran of sponsoring terrorism. Iran became America’s enemy number one.
History shows that while Iran considered the USA as an ally right from the start, successive American governments increasingly adopted hostile attitudes towards it, and aligned with the historical colonial interests of Britain and other Western countries, contradicting the popular sentiment in Iran. This became obvious in 1953 when the CIA orchestrated a coup d’état and deposed the popular government of Mohammad Mosaddegh (Iranian Prime Minister from 1951 to 1953) as he was trying to nationalize Iran’s oil industry and installed Mohammad Reza Shah, a loyal American client.
From 1979 to 1981, a number of events changed the course of USA-Iran relations forever. First, in January 1979, an Islamic Revolution took place under the leadership of the late Ayatollah Khomeini forcing Mohammad Reza Shah to flee. This was followed by proclamation of the Islamic Republic of Iran in April of that year. Then the US Embassy in Tehran was taken over by protesters in November with 52 hostages inside, to be released only after a long 444 days in January 1981, but not before the disastrous failure of a US rescue mission, Operation Eagle Claw. This led USA to impose sanctions on Iran, followed by the UN and EU.
In July 1988, USA shot down an Iranian passenger aircraft in the Gulf killing all 290 persons on board.
In 2015, after a flurry of diplomatic activity, Iran signed a long-term deal on its nuclear program with a group of world powers known as the P5+1 — the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany — and agreed to limit its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
In May 2018 President Trump abandoned the deal and re-imposed even tighter sanctions on Iran, leading to increased tensions in the region, culminating in the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s overseas proxy wars.
Iran’s security concerns
Iran’s security concerns are rooted in its history. In 1747 Ahmed Shah Durrani founded an independent Afghanistan, breaking away from its Persian masters. In the 19th century, the Russian Czar scooped up Dagestan, Azerbaijan and parts of Armenia from Persian control. During the Second World War, Iran was only lucky to have escaped breaking up by the world powers. Its current security concerns are by no means unfounded, as David Dunn discusses in his “‘Real men want to go to Tehran’: Bush, Pre-emption and the Iranian Nuclear Challenge” in the January 2007 issue of the “International Affairs”.
After the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the subsequent sanctions by the USA, EU and UN, Iran was practically isolated. Iran of that time might have had an ideology for exporting the Islamic revolution, but it soon evaporated when it was attacked by Iraq. The eight-year-long brutal war brought Iran’s security concerns to ground realities as it realized that protecting the territorial integrity and economic and security interests are much more important than an Islamic revolution, despite what its ani-USA rhetoric might suggest.
Just then Bush Jr. made his ‘Axis of Evil Speech’.
Tehran responded by creating hostile environments for foreign forces opposed to it by building political alliances with various state and non-state actors and actively supporting them with funds, arms, training and intelligence. Details of this is given by IISS in ‘Iran’s networks of influence in the Middle East’). In Iraq, it sent Quds personnel and supported the militia groups that carried out sustained attacks on US troops and their allies until US withdrawal in 2011. In Lebanon, Iran formed a key alliance with Hezbollah against Israel. In Syria, it salvaged the regime of Bashar Al Assad so that the supply line to Hezbollah is not cut off. In Yemen, Iran supported the Houthi rebels against the government that was backed by Saudi Arabia. In response to Bush’s rhetoric, Iran has created an ‘Axis of Resistance’, an elaborate network of defense across the region, stretching from the Western borders of Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, against its historical rivals Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and other powers opposing it.
The success of this strategy is clearly evident in Iraq. As USA created a power vacuum by eliminating Saddam Hossain, Iran was quick to fill it up through its network of allies. It was again Iran that called in Russian Air Force in Syria to its own benefit and saved Assad’s regime from imminent collapse. With the assassination of Soleimani, Iran is likely to become even more determined, making any war in the region impossible to end.
Can a war serve American interests in Iran?
America’s choice of allies is guided by its long-term interests and goals, especially those of the defense and oil industries. As it appears in the Middle East, the preference is the continuation of the conflicts rather than diffusion. Arguably, a non-hostile American relationship with Iran might actually serve this purpose better. Mega contracts for modernizing Iran’s oil and defense industries will be the much-coveted prize for winning a war against Tehran. But as this is less likely to happen in the foreseeable future, a friendly Iran may be a better option for Washington.
Originally published on the https://www.thedailystar.net/.
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