Disclaimer – the opinions expressed on this page and my site are those of my own and not that of my employer, current or former.
Why? Why Iran?
At my core, I’m a patriot. I want my country and my countrymen to be safe. In my opinion the most real physical threat facing people from my country is terrorism. Foreign and Domestic.
I believe for our world to truly be at peace, we (America) need a strong Middle East policy that doesn’t alienate or revocate the rights of citizens abroad. Just like we as Americans wouldn’t accept some foreign country dictating how we operate. (Just look at the disgust at the suggestion that the Russians influenced our elections…) It is my personal opinion that after WWII Western powers never crafted a proper Middle East strategy and we in the West are still feeling the effects of this lack of policy today. Let’s rewind to before the Trump years because that’s a whole different story and i don’t want to muddy the conversation with what i hope will eventually be a short blip in history…
Obama royally screwed up the ‘Red Line’ with Syria. Less at fault, but still somewhat culpable in also withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan before they were ready ot be withdrawn. As if they are every ready, i know…, drone strikes, delaying action against ISIS. Despite Obama’s very loose ties to Islam, he never bowed to the M.E. which is almost respectable in some ways. Politically it would have been suicide for him, but even as his private dealings start to come to light, he never tipped his hand to the M.E.
The Bushes, well…. i mean, the father saddled up with Saddam Hussien and his son and cronies pushed to start wars with countries that had nothing at all to do with 9/11. Shall i remind you to the nationalities of the 9/11 hijackers and planners again: https://www.cnn.com/2013/07/27/us/september-11th-hijackers-fast-facts/index.html ?
The Clintons did nothing to further our agenda in the Middle East. They were consumed with domestic issues for most of his presidency. Lobbed a few missiles over some borders, but that was about it. She, well, Hillary was never able to truly escape the Benghazi incident. Though i had the most hope for Hillary as SoS.
Before that, helping the Iraqis against Iran, before that the hostage crisis, before that backing of the Shah, i mean the list of our (American/British) fuck-ups goes on and on. It’s embarrassing. Truly.
Back to my original point, we’ve never had a strong, cohesive, fair and beneficial-to-both-sides policy for the Middle East. To me, historically, we came upon them as Bedouins and Nomads, gave them a little bit of money and infrastructure, but never truly helped them as an equal partner and never treated them fairly for advancing us well into the industrial age and beyond. We’ve supported petty regional and religious disputes instead of being a friend and non-invading moderator and we’ve taken advantage of almost every country in the Middle East in some form or another!
Am i complaining? Sort of. As someone who used to drive their car over 50 miles daily on refined oil, i appreciate that we are where we are today. But that doesn’t mean i should turn a blind eye to history, which is historically what we’ve done as Americans. In fact – i’d almost say nobody is better at having short-term memories than Americans. And again, i’m not an apologist… but i call a spade a spade when i see it. We, along with the British have fucked up in the Middle East for over 100 years and shame on us for that.
Do you support the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the current regime?
No. Not at all. I mean, if the people today wanted the supreme leader and wanted to have a mixture of church and state, then that’s fine. Abide by the people’s wishes. But that’s not what the vast majority of people want today. I heard it again and again while on my trip that people hate that the revolution happened. They wished for a hybrid of history, where natural resources were nationalized but no strong enforcement of Sharia law. They all seem to want a modern Islamic republic where democracy and choice were the key elements moving forward. They all identified with and wanted to retain Islamic values, but not the brand that has been forced upon them since 1979.
The supreme leader and his inner circle are out of touch with the average Iranian. I heard this multiple times as well. There are some progressive Mullahs out there, but they are the minority. Another funny thing is that it’s easy to tell which side of the fence Iran’s higher religious figures fall, if they are ferried around in a nice Mercedes, it’s likely they were part of the conservative establishment. If they were riding around on a motorcycle, or some other modest mode of transportation, it’s likely they were more progressive and not part of that inner circle. Someone pointed that out to us during our tour.
The Iranian regime supports terrorism, how do you square that up in your mind?
Fair question. I could go the easy route and say; well we support Saudi Arabia, they drop American bombs on Yemeni civilians, all.day.long. They assassinate journalists on foreign soil…
But i won’t take the easy route. Let’s go into the details…
Firstly, Iran will never bomb or invade America or its supposed ally, Israel. It’ll never happen. Just look at the last 100 years. Who has Iran invaded? Nobody. They responded to Iraq when American-backed Saddam’s Iraq attacked them. They’ve had some small internal skirmishes… That’s about it for the last 100 years! They fought the Russians and some other folks, depending how far back in history you want to go. But let’s stick with relatively modern conflicts. These are the official overt conflicts of the last 100 years from Iran.
Now let’s talk about the covert stuff Iran is publicly known to be a part of… Specifically, Syria and Yemen.
Syria – ok so Hezbollah has a route from Iran through Syria to Lebanon to Palestine. Hezbollah has a long history of small-scale bombings, firing local rockets and running arms. They have a small army and Iran supports this army with various resources. Let me for the record state – this is bad. Terrorism in any form, isn’t good for mankind. So why does Iran help Syria? Well the middle east is essentially split into two factions. Sunni and Shi’ite. This statement can also be a euphemism for Saudi Arabia vs. Iran. Saudi’s are Sunni and Iranians Shi’ite.
Syria is a minority Shi’ite country and the Alawites (The group in power) are a natural and a long standing historical ally of Iran. Iran was helping to rid Syria of ISIS forces, and yes, also help prop up Al Assad. But why? Why do they do it, well it’s a relationship of strategy and convenience. Not love. Why do i say this? Well, Syria’s a contested country for the fact that it’s partially Sunni and partially Shi’ite. So to hedge Saudi Arabian influence from spreading, Iran remains a friend of the Syrian Alawites.
Why does Iran supply troops and weapons in Syria? Well, to dampen any ground gained by Saudi Arabia and its allies. Of course. It’s a multi-faceted battle, one could say; Sunni vs. Shi’ite, Saudi influence vs. Iranian influence, ISIS vs. the FSA. It’s a regional war. Saudi Arabia is just, if not more-so, guilty for its part.
Yemen – Well this is very similar to Syria in that it’s a regional proxy war with Saudi Arabia. Again, Shi’ite vs. Sunni in a nutshell. The Arab spring took place in Yemen and caused a catalyst effect which Houthi rebels (Shi’ite) gained power in several key areas and Saudi Arabia was afraid of Shi’ite becoming a majority on their Southern Border. So Saudi’s continue to this day to buy large amounts of weapons from America to attack Houthi rebels, but they usually end up killing more Yememi civilians. So yeah, there’s that.
Israel – Oh boy this is a tough one for me. So let me set the record straight – i think the Jewish people are a fantastic people and i’m no anti-Semite. Not by a long shot, in fact some of my closest friends have been of the Judaea faith. But i have a serious issues with the Israeli government and particularly the Netenyahu administration. Who is one of the most prolific opportunists of modern times. Anyway. Iran and Israel have long had a contentious relationship, at best. Israel has done lots to undermine Iran via political and regional power means and even terror attacks on Iranian soil. So in my opinion Iran has a lot of reason to dislike the Israeli government. Everyone knows Iran will never act against Israel in any meaningful way, instead they fund Hezbollah whom occasionally fires rockets into Tel Aviv or aids Lebanon in wars against the Israeli military. At the end of the day, Iran supports the Palestinian cause and that means it’s inherently anti-Israel. At least government to government.
Lastly, i remind you that no Iranian has ever perpetrated a lone-wolf modern terror attack against westerners, nor was anyone related to 9/11 of Iranian descent.
That’s a very quick brief in a nutshell. Again, these are my opinions and what my ultimate point is that – American media will portray Iran as a “state sponsor of terror”. And that’s true. But why? Why does Iran do it? Well, they have a very powerful foe right at their doorstep. Actually they have several. They have been raped by the Russians and then the British for their resources. Attempted long-term rape by the American’s, also for their resources. Got into a war with their neighbor Iraq because Americans gave Iraqis the weapons to do so and the green light to initiate. Saudi Arabia has emerged as a very strong regional threat. Israel an even stronger threat.
I mean, you have to understand where their geopolitical moves are coming from, right? I don’t condone terror in any form, but shit, you have to protect your existence. Israel does it. Israel projects power well outside of its borders. America does it, look at the fight against communism and how many countries we got involved with to stop the spread of communism… If you are Iran, you’ve got some very strong foes very close to you trying to undermine you at every corner. They can’t go through another Iran-Iraq style war by only having a defensive footing. They can’t afford to lose that many citizens again.
Bottom line – as an American i can’t sit on my high horse and say, well our shit doesn’t stink. They are just doing what we’ve done for a long time, albeit oftentimes through proxies, but still. We can’t claim moral superiority on this one…sorry.
Who stands to benefit from a poor to non-existent relationship between Iran and America?
Israel – Well, i think this is self-explanatory. The Israeli government wants to be the bridge and the only bridge between America and the Middle East. Currently they accomplish this by providing ‘intelligence‘ to western powers. I guess they view it as a value-add that helps the American administration look the other way while the Israeli government continues to build settlements and steal land from Palestinians. The Israeli-backed lobbying efforts in American politics are awe-inspiring in depth and breadth. The Israeli government is so anti-Iran that in the last 10-20 years, it has partnered with Saudi Arabia (In unofficial ways) to help reduce the Shi’ite footprint in the Middle East. Imagine that – Israel aiding the biggest and baddest form of terrorism in the Middle East to undermine Iran.
Saudi Arabia – Another self-explanatory one. Once fossil fuel is no longer the primary method of energy for the world, Saudi Arabia wants to be the biggest regional power in the Middle East. They want their brand of Islam to reign supreme and they currently have the money and influence to sway minds and hearts against Iran.
The Supreme Leader and the IRGC – This may be surprising to the uninitiated, but the Ayatollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (The Iranian Military) need a poor relationship with the west in order to remain relevant. They need to show the west as enemies to Iran in order to have a reason to exist. Otherwise, why would the people stand for a regime that states stupid shit like Death to America and Death to Israel? They wouldn’t. So when world events, like when Donald Trump got elected, they cheer. Because they know Trump will maintain the hard line, remove negotiations in the JCPOA and continue to provide them with a perceived enemy in the west. So the Ayatollahs and the IRGC/Quds all stand to benefit from a poor American/Iranian relationship.
The Nuclear Issue.
All one has to do is walk around Tehran for about 10 minutes and it becomes abundantly clear that Iran does not need nuclear power. Gasoline is at 10 cents per liter, or about 30 cents per gallon. You smell natural gas leaks in places around the country that aren’t being fixed… Fossil fuel energy is abundant and cheap. So why does Iran continue to attempt to make nuclear devices? It’s again, a regional power thing. Israel not only has Nuclear reactors and weapons, but they actually got the original fissile material from America! Iran fears attack from Israel, so naturally, by having these weapons, it would make anyone second guess attacking them. Iran doesn’t want nuclear weapons as an offensive weapon. Instead, i believe their strategy is purely defensive.
The Saudi’s blackmail the American military into giving them conventional weapons at highly discounted rates in additional to intel to quell Saudi ambitions for nuclear weapons as well. But let’s take a step back for a moment. If you are Saudi Arabia, you only truly fear Israel and America. But if you have good to great relations with these countries, well you don’t have much to fear. Now imagine you are Iran. None of these regional/non-regional powers are your friends. Of course they are going to attempt to make a weapon, just look around them… Pakistan, India, Israel. Hell, even the Saudi’s likely have a secret program we don’t know about at this point….
Don’t believe me about Israel having nuclear weapons? Look into: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Plumbat and https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/03/23/what-lies-beneath-numec-apollo-zalman-shapiro/. This is just the surface, if you really look into actions taken by the Israeli government, you’d be surprised just how much stuff is swept under the carpet. Again, i’m no anti-Semite, i believe in the Jewish state etc. I just don’t think the Israeli Government is the ally they pretend to be. Same with the Saudis.
Why do i think a good relationship with Iran is paramount to long-term Middle East peace?
Well, what is the alternative? Continue to sell weapons to the Saudi’s while they encourage wahhabi/salafi movement around the world? There is no bigger threat in this world, in regards to Terrorism than Saudi Arabia. Their Salafi brand, particularly within their borders isn’t tolerant and it never will be. While most people know that the Quran doesn’t actually incite violence against ‘infidels’, the source of violent teachings is mostly within the borders of Saudi Arabia. Bullshit? Look at that list of 9/11 hijackers again. I’m not saying all Saudi’s are bad, they are not. But this movement has started there and the Saudi royal family can’t stop it due to the fear of internal uprisings. So it will never stop without a fundamental shift in the status quo. Saudi Arabia is the one that needs to be put under sanctions, until they attempt to topple this idealism around the world. Then and only then, can we hope for peace and understanding between Islam and the West. And then and only then can an American leader say, with any shred of truth, that they are truly fighting terrorism. You have to strike at the core!
So back to Iran, why is it good to have a relationship with Iran? Their regime is crazy right?, why would we? Well, i’m not saying we cave into the regime per-se. What i’m saying is starting bilateral talks with the regime, but also the people of Iran. United States policy against Iran for the last almost 40 years has been – place sanctions against Iran, hurt the people, not the leadership. And eventually the people will revolt against the regime and there will be a democratic establishment installed after that.
This thinking is wrong. Firstly, the mere fact that sanctions are in place gives the regime legitimacy to exist. They spin it as “See, these western powers are trying to oppress us, we are the only ones sticking up for you! The Ayatolla’s are the only ones looking out for the Iranian people”. Not everyone believes this, but the inner circle certainly does. 75% of the male population in Iran is under the age of 35. They have no interest in conflict or war. They simply want respectable jobs and a decent life. That’s really all there is to it. So if the American government instead starts dialog with the regime, along with using social media to reach out directly to the Iranian people, this two pronged approach will be FAR MORE effective to creating change. Now i know this won’t happen in Trump’s administration. To him and his supporters, a muslim is a muslim is a muslim and they are all bad. So lets skip over Trump and give advice to the next administration.
Engage with the Iranian people. It’s worth it. They don’t hate American or Western values. In fact, they preach a very tolerant brand of Islam and it jives well with our values. American’s have much more in common with the Iranian people than they do the Saudi’s. All.Day.Long. So why not give it a chance? If we promised protection for Iran from Saudi Arabia and Israel in exchange for nuclear de-proliferation – the world would be a much safer place. Iran has a rich culture before and after Islam came to the country 1400 years ago, and even more-so before the 1979 revolution. The Saudi’s are arrogant and think they world owes them something because they happen to be rich with natural resources. They have no interest in integrating with the West. Iran has historically allowed women to be free, free to join politics, to drive, to vote, to educate themselves for decades if not longer...(Relative to Saudi Arabia) Saudi Arabia is the one where women just started to drive in 2018! And there is even backlash for that!
Do not put Iran and Saudi Arabia in the same bucket. Huge mistake. Yes, they both follow Islam, but it pretty much ends there.
The bottom line is – we’ve backed the wrong horses. Time to revisit the stable and put in place a proper Middle East policy and start backing the horse that won’t slit your throat when you aren’t looking.
03/29/2020 – Update!
Fantastic article posted here on justsecurity.org. I couldn’t agree with the author more.