The United States shares an insidious and dirty history with Iran that causes deep mistrust. Throughout our history, we have used coercive diplomacy and international ambiguity, which do not help build any confidence between our two nations. Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has intense ideas of sovereignty and would view any strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities as an attack against his regime. Khamenei’s ideological evolution said to be based on a “cosmopolitan past,” is the product of deep religious studies and ardent relationships with secular intellectuals within Iran (Ganji 26). Iran is no stranger to American-led regime change and values its sovereignty with fierce conviction. From Morocco to Pakistan, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, the countries are a tinderbox waiting for an ill-flicked cigarette to set it all ablaze. There is considerable fear that any unilateral move by America would be that spark. Trust, or rather mistrust, was the catalyst that ignited these poor relations but could be the bandage that heals our festering wounds. However, “some portray any progress – More so than reaching a new level of trust – as a critical first step” (Peterson 1). A unilateral military strike undertaken by the United States of America against Iran’s nuclear facilities will have unforeseen international consequences.
AN UNFORTUNATE SERIES OF EVENTS
We have to understand the toxic history between the United States and Iran if we want to analyze the present situation. Khamenei has a deep mistrust in American relations, which could be argued as justified. In 1987 he took his only trip to America to speak as Iran’s president at the U.N. General Assembly where he opened up by stating, “the history of our nation is in a black, bitter and bloody chapter, mixed with varieties of hostility and spite from the American regime” (qtd. in Ganji). He is often critical of Western culture believing it to be highly materialistic, arrogant and dominating. He questions the sincerity of globalization and sees American trade as a way to spread American hegemony. While this seems radical, Khamenei is intelligent and intensely spiritual; he would not arrive at radicalism lightly. Truth be told, he is not nearly as anti-western as we believe him to be.
To understand where the Supreme Leader is coming from you have to go back to the 1950’s. In 1953, the Eisenhower administration thought it wise to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mosaddeq. Washington then installed, who many would argue was a puppet leader, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to power. His installation to power had a profoundly negative effect on Khamenei and those who would become the Revolutionary Guard, and set up an atmosphere ripe with paranoia. This, among other reasons, is chief in causing Khamenei to question US honesty behind negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
To compound feelings of mistrust and ill will further, the United States involvement in Libya’s civil war and Iraq is seen by Khamenei as a possible future for Iran. We know that Gadhafi gave up his nuclear program, he was not found with any nuclear deterrent possessions, and he was still overthrown. That painted the United States as unwilling to communicate its truthful intent, even after a success is gained. It is also safe to comment that Saddam did not have any nuclear weapons, yet the United States rather quickly overthrew the regime in Iraq. A unilateral strike by the United States would almost certainly confirm suspicions that a regime change is truly what the United States is after and nuclear talks are just another front. The similarities between these nations illuminate the notion that the United States uses false incremental steps to coerce a nation, yet ultimately resorts to violent means for no diplomatic reason.
The United States would not have been as effective in taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan without the assistance of Iran, yet the nation was still labeled as an “Axis of Evil” by former President Bush on numerous occasions. The assistance given to the United States was a great step with Iran showing a willingness to strengthen the region through cooperation and confidence building. The reaction from the United States should have been its own return of confidence; however, the complete opposite occurred. It is worth noting that Iran has always been introverted. President Bushes statements were a betrayal that further alienated Iran from the international community. The knowledge one might need to assess the merits of a unilateral military strike cannot be known if the United States is purposely alienating Iran. The interactions in this scenario allude to the nuclear problem being a front for something like regime change, just as Libya and Iraq appear to have been.
Those in favor of military intervention oftentimes do not raise any questions on the historical interactions between the United States and Iran and rely on nuclear proliferation as a justification. Those against intervention want people to see that history alone compels us to question the merits of a unilateral military strike. We have to look at if the United States is justified or being a menace, as we have in the past. Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would be one of the gravest blows America could take towards Iran at this current point in relations. Iran’s reactions towards the United States do not seem so radical when you take into account the juxtaposition of historical events the nation has had to endure. A unilateral strike is not a peacemaking scenario, nor is the nuclear program a moral prerogative, but rather these actions, or potential actions, amount to strong-arming.
BAD POSTURE BREAKS YOUR BACK
Threats and promises by the United States are coercive diplomatic tactics, which are an ill fit for the situation. Making ambiguous threats and promises might look good but erode the credibility of the United States. Robert expands this idea by stating: Washington has said it will punish Tehran for proceeding with its nuclear program but is willing to cut a deal with it should the program be halted. Logically, these components could reinforce each other as the former pushes and the latter pulls Iran towards an agreement. But the dreary history of coercive diplomacy shows that all too often, threats promises undercut, rather than complement, each other (Robert 106).
It seems the world is poised and ready for the United States to engage in unilateral military action. Coercive diplomacy might be to blame for this. It is unfortunate; our perceived disposition threatens any credibility we hope to maintain regarding negotiations. Furthermore, negative international developments undercut credibility and force nations into defensive postures. Idle threats directed toward North Korea did not do anything to further our credibility or stop the testing of nuclear armaments within North Korea. They make us look as though we will say anything to keep, or steal, power. Remember, we did little more than complain as North Korea tested nuclear bombs. Iran could easily view the way the United States dealt with North Korea as the very thing that will occur if they build their own.
To stretch ambiguity even more to the limit, we can analyze President Obama’s 2013 United Nations General Assembly speech. While we know much of the General Assembly is formal and actual deals happen on the sideline, most of the speech is positive and reassuring. However, there were three points that bordered on passive-aggressive and saber rattling. President Obama is not as outspoken in his approach to the use of force as former President Bush, but he still alluded to the use of force, unilateral motives and a questioning of the international framework. In one statement, he called into question the United Nations, “this body continues to be tested. The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage as members of an international community to squarely meet those challenges: whether the United Nations can meet the test of our time” (qtd. in Bajornas).
President Obama wants there to be a question and dialogue regarding the use of force in today’s turbulent times. It is worth noting that President Obama did not state the obvious response of using force only when there is no alternative and direct conflict hits you against the face. Speaking of ideology, are we as a society required to quantify the value of force? To complicate his stance to the international community, President Obama talks about being the moral compass to enforce a secure tomorrow but that America cannot stand alone in this fight. The rhetoric seems aimed at trying to convince the international community that multilateral motives are desired but in reality, it leaves us wondering when the United States is going to come out with guns blazing.
SCREAM WITHOUT YELLING
Many analysts want to know beforehand what Iran would do if America did strike at its nuclear facilities. How deep of a wound would aggression open up and where would it lead the region that already suffers from endless conflict? Iran has staked its claim in the continuation of its nuclear program. It has become a matter of principle. The regime in Iran takes the nuclear debate very personal. Any unilateral intervention could hint at potential regime change to those who control Iran, even if the United States did not have those intentions. The jury is still out in Iran on if the United States is rooting for another coup d’état. Khamenei, the nation’s leader, believes the United States has it out for Muslim nations in general. When talking to students during an anniversary of the embassy takeover he stated, “By God, America is not upset with the Iranian nation for anything more than its being Muslim, it’s standing firm with Muhammad’s pure Islam” (qtd. in Ganji). That being said, Iran might view limited military strikes as an attack on its sovereignty.
Regardless of a military strike or not, the mere question of action raises questions of American aggression and hypocrisy. We know very little about what is going on inside Iran and know even less if they are seeking an atomic bomb. Iran’s government has been staunch in claiming it is for peaceful purposes. This peaceful purpose makes complete sense. Iran is crumbling under sanctions and its people are desperate; pursuing nuclear power will create a lot of energy and could offset some of the effects caused by sanctions. To continue, it takes a considerable amount of hypocrisy to cripple a nation’s citizens for something you possess in high numbers. Are we as a nation justified in standing behind international policy and treaties aimed at stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons? Many argue we cannot dictate rules we feel we are above obeying. Arrogance is glanced over with hollow claims about regional insecurity in the Middle East and America’s role in stabilizing it. This argument becomes deflated when you take Iran at pure geography. The United States, for the majority of the new millennium, has been fighting two wars on either side of Iran’s borders. The desire to stave off nuclear proliferation stemming from Iran for the sake of security seems to strike at the fact that America caused a good majority of the instability in Persia.
The Middle East and North Africa are in such a fragile place that adding to the conflict with further violent military strikes might set off a chain reaction that affects the entire world. The United States has been involved in sovereign issues for so long that a lot of prestige has been lost. The lack of credibility undermines so much of the things we do while overseas. The fallout from the international community, if a unilateral strike were to happen, would constitute a watershed event in foreign policy. When as little as a pin drop can cause the financial markets to hemorrhage, imagine the backlash if, once again, another war were to be started in another oil producing nation. America cannot keep jockeying for power in the Middle East because it could stand to lose its ability to operate and demand respect globally. President Obama would not have to worry about American standing alone to fight injustice because we might not stand at all.
MISTRUST STARTED IT, TRUST MIGHT END IT
We must agree to wipe clean the mistrust before any demands or concessions are levied. America must come to Iran from a place of respect and humility towards the disastrous history it shares. Iran and the Supreme Leader have to entertain talks, direct talks, if they want equality in sovereignty. The negotiations should start with confidence building on America’s part. Arrogance caused America to lobby the global community for Iranian sanctions but it came from a highly hypocritical place. Sanctions and military strikes have to be stricken from the rhetoric. The Iranian people must be able to have a measured amount of livelihood. Sanctions rip security right from under their feet. Trust has to be foremost on the minds of any diplomat or official involved in relations. Trust is the most important factor that our two nations need to foster. The nuclear program is long from producing anything that can make a bomb, and most likely is not for that purpose at all. On the contrary, many feel the opposite by stating, “these security threats would require Washington to contain Tehran” (Kroeing 77). If we do not really understand Iran, how can we even know that security threats are so grave that military action is required? We owe it to each other to build respect and understanding before demanding anything, before trying to heal our wounds and before beginning to align our interests for a better relationship moving forward.
As the international community strives to integrate and globalize, there remain nations that have been burned and ignored. Iran is one example of mismanagement from a foreign nation that had no right to manage. Blunders by the Americans regarding US-Iran foreign policy throughout history instilled a passionate mistrust coming from the Supreme Leader Khamenei. However, we continue to make idle threats and posture for a spot next to unilateral initiatives. The world watches and hopes we both deflate our chest so that maybe our ears stop burning long enough to hear each other’s side. Any unilateral military strike could very easily set the Middle East and North Africa on a path towards extensive regional conflict that would upset the entire globe. There is hope, if we look at starting over and being steadfast in the desire to foster trust we could see progress. America must look at what it has done in the past and let that edit the attitude it portrays. If both countries stop arguing specifics and get to the greater point trust could be the catalyst that unifies two nations with substantial regional power.
Bajornas, Rick. “US President urges UN Member States to confront ‘profound new challenges’.” United Nations News Center 24 Sep 2013, n. pag. Web. 6 Oct. 2013. <http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45961&Cr=general debate&Cr1>
Ganji, Akbar. “Who is Ali Khamenei.” Foreign Affairs. 92.5 (2013): 24-42. Print.
Jervis, Robert. “Getting to Yes With Iran.” Foreign Affairs. 92.1 (2013): 105-115. Web. 6 Oct.2013 <http://search.ebscohost.com.leo.lib.unomaha.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=69880008&site=ehost-live>
Kahl, Colin H. “Not Time To Attack Iran.” Foreign Affairs 91.2 (2012): 166-173. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Oct. 2013.<http://search.ebscohost.com.leo.lib.unomaha.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=71912455&site=ehost-live>
Kroeing, Matthew. “Time to Attack Iran.” Foreign Affairs. 91.1 (2012): 76-89. Web. 6 Oct. 2013.<http://search.ebscohost.com.leo.lib.unomaha.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=69880008&site=ehost-live>
Peterson, Scott. “Do the US and Iran need trust to strike a nuclear deal?.”Christian Science Monitor. 08 Oct 2013: 1-5. Web. 14 Oct. 2013. <http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Security-Watch/2013/1008/Do-the-US-and-Iran-need-trust-to-strike-a-nuclear-deal>