Risks In Inviting Iran’s Ire
Some powerfully rich nations don’t learn even after having burnt their fingers too often and wreaking havoc in other countries whose way of life and culture are sharply different from those of intervening nations. The end of the so-called Cold War in the early 1990s might have benefitted the West and its closest allies elsewhere but it also saw the West monopolise global agendas, i.e., until the emergence of China as an economic superpower set to overtake the United States and the re-emergence of Russia as a key global player for more than a decade now.
And now comes Washington’s warning against Iran. It is either floating a trial balloon or laying a ground work for a more aggressive stand against Iran’s alleged sponsorship of terrorism and human rights violations. The Donald Trump administration wants the deal made with Teheran during the previous administration to be at least partially scrapped.
For all one can tell, such might turn out to be the case in the eventual run. Trump has, in less than six months after being sworn into office, tried to undo the 2014 gear-shift the Barack Obama team introduced in relations with Raul Castro’s communist Cuba less than 200 km south of the American state of Florida. Many in the American media hailed the new policy of restoring diplomatic ties with that country after 54 years of constant war of propaganda.
Terming the Obama pact with Castro a “completely one-sided deal”, Trump in June declared it cancelled. Havana dubbed the charges “loaded with hostile rhetoric that recalls the times of open confrontation” and hence a “setback”. Addressing the Cuban parliament a month later, Castro asserted: “Any strategy that seeks to destroy the revolution either through coercion or pressure or through more subtle methods will fail.” But he gave indication that Havana was open to talks for issues affecting the two countries. In effect, Castro sounded firm and yet conciliatory.
Now the world is fed with messages that Washington could strike off the 2015 pact with Iran, which led Iran rolling back its nuclear programme in return for Washington lifting sanctions on Iran. The New York Times, in reaction, pleaded for “Avoiding war with Iran”.
Iranians recall the 1970s when Washington backed the Shah of Iran without any criticism of the latter’s excesses in use of state coffers and suppressing movements demanding fundamental rights. Iran’s oil was what Washington eyed on for lucrative contracts for American companies dealing with oil and weapons.
Many Iranians thought the Shah regime in the 1970s took an out and out pro-West even at the risk of their own national interests. On the other hand, Washington and American media saw the Shah as “modern in outlook” with a desire “for rapid development” in various sectors. Gross human rights violation in Iran were generally under reported or ignored altogether.
Iranians are rankled by the 1953 coup pulled off at the behest by the American intelligence agency, C.I.A., which ousted that country’s democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadegh. Iranians see the US support for Iraq in the war with their country for eight and a half years in the 198 as Washington’s way of seeking vengeance for the 1979 hostage-taking incident by Iranian youth brigade that was close to the new rulers.
Hundreds of thousands of people from both sides of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) lost their lives and millions of families suffered enormously. The country’s economy took a back-breaking blow. Washington encouraged and supported Iraqi President Saddam Hussein against Iran. Both the warring sides experienced horrendous losses. The nefarious Irangate scandal involving a more than dubious dealing in weapons deals and illegal fund channelising against Senate order during the Ronald Reagan administration exposed the sinister game plan against Teheran.
Given the background in the American-Iranian relations especially in the last four decades, there is little surprise in the tug-of-war that goes on in Iran between those who propose continued hard stance against Washington and those calling for moderate approach to the superpower. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani’s policy of improving ties with the US thus gets vigorously opposed.
In the US, too, there are two groups—one for taking a tough line against Iran while the other wants a process of cautiously moving forward in better diplomatic relations and cooperation between Washington and Teheran. Eager to be seen as someone championing the cause of nuclear non-proliferation and world peace, there are fears in the US and elsewhere that the Trump administration might search and find an excuse for military attacks on Iran, as did George W. Bush 15 years ago. From time to time sections in Washington hint of Teheran financing terrorist groups in different countries.
In a recent editorial, The New York Times, which the Washington establishment monitors closely, advised the American president: “Trump would make a grave mistake if instead of trying to work with those moderate forces he led the nation closer to war.”
The advice sounds relevant considering how the US is embroiled in a mess of its making in Afghanistan and Iraq since 15 years and without any immediate chance of things returning to normalcy in those ill-fated countries. In Iran, Rouhani in May comfortably won a second term in office.
Many Americans view Rouhani as a “moderate” because he was in office when the deal with the US was reached two years ago. He also pushed for greater social reforms and better ties with the West. Moderate or otherwise, however, Rouhani’s priority would be for Iran’s interest first just as Trump trumpets his “America first” slogan.
An inkling of Rouhani’s perception of the US political culture can be drawn from how he assesses political campaigning in America. In October, he expressed his dismay over the pattern of presidential campaigns in the US and asked: “Did you see the debate and the way of Hillary
Clinton and Donald Trump speaking, accusing and mocking each other? Do we want such a democracy in our country? Do we want such elections in our country?”
In the past two decades, the US and its allies have fared badly in their interventions in, among other places, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, dragging themselves deeply into conflicts without any restoration of normalcy in the intervened countries. Military action or efforts at regime change in Iran would involve staggering challenges and costs that would only leave the invading forces to regret for good.
Jong Youb Kim is the Executive Director of Korean Environment Corporation (K-eco), Chungcheong Region in the Republic of Korea (RoK). A university graduate...