a Threat

Southasia - - 51 - Reza Khan­zadeh is a Master’s Can­di­date at NYU School of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence.

of U.S. for­eign pol­icy dis­cus­sions?

Be­fore dis­cussing th­ese is­sues, it is im­por­tant to point out two cave-caveats. First, at­tempt­ing to pre­dict any for­eign pol­icy is­sue, let alone fu­ture Washington–Tehran re­la­tions, is a fickle and im­pos­si­ble task given the un­sta­ble na­ture of the re­gion and specif­i­cally this re­la­tion­ship. The con­stant un­cer­tainty of to­mor­row’s in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions leads many politi­cians and ex­perts to back­track their claims.

Sec­ond, it is vi­tal to ap­ply cau­tion when assess­ing the rhetoric of Ira­nian and Amer­i­can politi­cians. Most im­por­tantly, one must un­der­stand the con­text within which a com­ment was made. For ex­am­ple, dur­ing the third U.S. pres­i­den­tial de­bate many of the com­ments on Iran by both can­di­dates must not be taken solely at face value but should be seen more as a tool to sway vot­ers and re­as­sure in­ter­na­tional al­lies. An­other ex­am­ple comes dur­ing the 1992 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, where Bill Clin­ton’s com­ments on China were harsher than that of Pres­i­dent Bush. The former crit­i­cized the lat­ter for not tak­ing a harder stance. How­ever, once Clin­ton be­came pres­i­dent his poli­cies to­wards China were al­most iden­ti­cal to that of his pre­de­ces­sor. Sim­i­larly, this elec­tion sea­son, Rom­ney crit­i­cized Obama’s poli­cies to­wards Iran and called for a much tougher stance; how­ever, if Rom­ney were to win the pres­i­dency his poli­cies would have been iden­ti­cal to that of Obama’s.

For starters, Rom­ney’s po­si­tion on Iran has evolved over the past five years. At first, he ar­gued that a mil­i­tary strike was im­mi­nent and a regime change should be pur­sued. Fast for­ward to the third pres­i­den­tial de­bate and no com­ments were made on regime change. Rather, Rom­ney de­clared, “of course a mil­i­tary ac­tion is the last re­sort. It is some­thing one would only con­sider if all the other av­enues have been tried to their full ex­tent.” One ex­pla­na­tion as of why Rom­ney’s po­si­tion changed is that he ac­quired more for­eign in­tel­li­gence on U.S.-Iran re­la­tions and re­al­ized the com­plex­ity of this sit­u­a­tion vis-a-vis Washington’s end goal for Iran – which is regime change. Con­se­quently, although Obama and Rom­ney pro­vided their poli­cies, this is­sue is much larger than any one pres­i­dent is. Washington’s ob­jec­tive for Iran will only be re­al­ized if the U.S. con­tin­ues the cur­rent course and avoids any ac­tions that can lead to the re-uni­fi­ca­tion of the Is­lamic Repub­lic and its peo­ple.

The Is­lamic Repub­lic pride prides it­self as a na­tion that is not sub sub­or­di­nate to the U.S.; while main­tain­ing a con­spir­a­to­rial at­ti­tude and blam­ing all their short­com­ings on the West. On the other side, Ira­nian ci­ti­zens are torn be­tween con­fronting their government, want­ing U.S. as­sis­tance, and need­ing the au­ton­omy to de­cide their own fu­ture. There­fore, U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers’ ap­proach to­wards Iran is very del­i­cate. Although the end goal is regime change, Washington does not want to be seen as ac­tively push­ing for

it. If the Ira­nian peo­ple see regime change be­cause of for­eign in­ter­ven­tion, there is a high prob­a­bil­ity that they will switch sides, rally around the flag, and sup­port their regime solely out of pa­tri­o­tism and pride. That is why the path taken by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is an op­por­tune ap­proach. This is ev­i­dent when look­ing at the grow­ing num­ber of sanc­tions, Amer­ica’s of­fen­sive rhetoric, talks of mil­i­tary at­tacks, mil­i­tary ex­er­cises, and not to men­tion a crip­pling Ira­nian econ­omy. De­spite this, Ira­nian ci­ti­zens are blam­ing their government – which is a pos­i­tive sign for Washington.

That is why the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been clear that a mil­i­tary at­tack on Iran is the last op­tion. Washington un­der­stands that its progress will be in vain if Iran is at­tacked. In other words, Washington’s re­lies heav­ily on its abil­ity to weaken the regime, in­crease in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal dis­sen­sion and cre­ate a rift be­tween the government and its peo­ple. The weaker and more di­vided Iran be­comes, the more likely it will want to ne­go­ti­ate. Re­cently it has been re­ported that Tehran is will­ing to tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend its twenty per­cent ura­nium en­rich­ment if sanc­tions are lifted. Even with lit­tle con­fi­dence in this state­ment, it does show signs that the Is­lamic Repub­lic is re­think­ing its strat­egy. There is also the pos­si­bil­ity of an upris­ing against the government. With Iran’s cur­rency fall­ing by 40 per­cent, the coun­try’s oil ex­ports drop­ping at its low­est in two decades, the bazaar es­tab­lish­ment protest­ing and boy­cotting, and po­lit­i­cal dis­sen­sion in­creas­ing within the government, an upris­ing is pos­si­ble. Th­ese events point to the fact that Washington’s cur­rent course is play­ing a toll on Iran. Fi­nally, there are con­ver­sa­tions in­side Iran as to how the Is­lamic Repub­lic will look at the post-Khamenei era. This un­cer­tainty will be an­other com­pli­ca­tion added to the regimes in­creas­ing in­sta­bil­ity – a se­ri­ous fac­tor worth con­sid­er­ing from a U.S. pol­icy stand­point.

Although Amer­ica’s con­cerns about Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram are for the most part valid, Washington’s main ob­jec­tive of weak­en­ing this regime has pre­dated this threat. How­ever, Amer­ica’s ap­proach to such an ob­jec­tive has been sub­tle. There­fore, when Iran is dis­cussed and viewed as a threat it is not so much that th­ese is­sues are im­por­tant for Washington more than they are a means to an end in try­ing to change the government. Take for ex­am­ple how in the past Washington was con­cerned with Iran’s hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions but now they are squarely fo­cused on Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram. The rea­son is not be­cause Iran’s hu­man rights record has im­proved but rather Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram pro­vides the best op­tions for Washington to weaken this regime. If the nu­clear is­sue is re­solved and the Is­lamic Repub­lic is still in­tact, Washington will move on to the next is­sue it can uti­lize to weaken the government. Whether that may be Iran’s sup­port of ter­ror­ists or­ga­ni­za­tions, its proxy wars against Is­rael, its in­ter­fer­ence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, and Syria; and so on. Thus, for Amer­ica’s in­ter­ests to suc­ceed, Obama’s strat­egy for Iran is the best ap­proach. That means a mil­i­tary strike will be the last re­sort. Washington will care­fully choose its words when re­spond­ing to Iran’s domestic prob­lems (like dur­ing the 2009 protests) as well as its nu­clear pro­gram, and Washington will pur­sue this cur­rent course in or­der to weaken and even­tu­ally top­ple the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Iran.

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