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.