Impulses deep rooted across the length and breadth of post World War II underscores the perennial constraints between U.S and Iran relations
Iran had huge influence of foreign powers, though historically it was never a colony. After the Cold war when the U.S was gaining supremacy in the world politics Iran too underwent a phase of political transition. Reza Khan established the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran and assumed the title of Shah in 1925. He was the founder of development in Iran, the capitalist modernization and economic growth. He signed an agreement in 1933 giving the British huge concessions in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The British had acquired 51% majority shares in the said company. He abdicated his throne and his son Mohammad Reza Shah took over the reins in 1941.
However, a movement began after the invasion of Anglo-Russian forces in 1941 which played a major role in ending the Pahlavi rule. A coalition-The Nationalist Front emerged under the leadership of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh. He was elected as the new Prime Minister of Iran in 1951. Mosaddegh was a champion of secular democracy; a staunch nationalist who offered resistance to foreign domination. He introduced socio-political reforms and most significantly the nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which was a British instrumentality controlling the oil industry of Iran. Mosaddegh cancelled this oil agreement which had become extremely vital for the British economy.
But in the year 1953, Mosaddegh paid a heavy price for his staunch nationalism. He was clandestinely ousted in a coup d’état. And Mohammad Reza Shah was reinstated with the intervention of CIA and the British M16 in what is famously remembered as ‘The Operation Ajax’.
The Soviet Union was also exerting its influence; apart from the economic interests, Iran was strategically important as well. The Soviet expansionist designs could thus be curtailed by keeping Iran subdued. This formed the pivot of the U.S policy for reinstating the dethroned Mohammad Reza Shah in Iran, who was only a U.S nemesis. His pro-west policies paved way for the U.S to wield a profound influence in almost all the internal and administrative affairs of the Iranian life. Iran developed complete dependence on U.S. Even the experts in the oil industry were all British or U.S nationals.
Thus Mosaddegh’s clandestine ouster and the interventionist nature of U.S was a covert pursuit for power and resources in the region. Designs of U.S to exert supremacy as the new world power became clear. Now, the Iranians saw U.S as a demonic force trying to usurp their land and natural resources. Pertinently, the power tussle created an ideologue of ‘the clash of civilizations’. This capital hegemony created ripples of revolutionary surge amongst the masses against the U.S. In 1979 the revolution was led by Ayatollah Khomeini against the camouflaged U.S policy followed aggressively by the imposed Shah through his repressive administration. The Pahlavi King was dethroned and the Islamic Republic of Iran was born. Now, Iran emerged as an indigenous nation, a capable State force challenging the imperialist interests of the U.S and allies. Edward Said asserts, ‘Almost without exception the 3rd World countries seemed to U.S policy makers to be underdeveloped in the grip of archaic and static traditional modes of life dangerously prone to communist subversion and internal stagnation.’
While it may possess some rationale, the West has had only one motive i.e. to colonize and gain political domination in the oil rich nations without getting directly involved. Infusion of the western political values in the Muslim nations specifically created a vacuum when the populace and the State came at loggerheads. There the U.S and allies arrived as saviors-savants of politics.
However, soon thereafter Ronald Reagan, the U.S President backed Saddam Hussain’s chemical war against Iran in which thousands of Iranians lost their lives. His successor George Bush also continued the same harsh policy.
In the year 2002 Bush administration declared the right to resort to force in order to eliminate any perceived challenge to U.S hegemony under the National Security Strategy which is the driving force behind the sanctions on Iran even to this day.
Trump’s tryst with Iran
The duos U.S-Israel have always regarded Iran as Enemy no.1; the most dangerous country primarily for its nuclear programs which pose an existential threat to Israel; and for being a purported supporter of terrorism. Trump right wing approach is more confrontationist than a diplomatic one. He did as he had promised during his electioneering, imposing harshest sanctions against Iran. He unilaterally pulled out of the JCPOA nuclear deal of 2015 signed between Obama administration and the Iranian President.
Over the years U.S has retained its hegemonic status and with a veto vote in the UNSC, it has thwarted all international norms. Indeed the non-assertive role of the UN in resolving any kind of international political crises in the world today is quite questionable. Michael Glenon, Tufts Professor argues, ‘Rules have collapsed, the entire edifice has come crashing down. U.S will act against a hostile regime that has nothing more than intent and ability that may become a virus infecting others.’ Obviously, the aggressive hyperbole of the U.S against Iran stems from this ideological hostility.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is a global nuclear watchdog backed by the UNSC. It is responsible for monitoring and verifying Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA agreement. Until earlier last year IAEA had verified Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement since its implementation. On 10th of July 2019 however, at the behest of the Trump administration a special closed door IAEA Board meeting was convened in Vienna to discuss the report by Yukiya Amano Director General of the agency. U.S through its ambassador to international organizations, Jackie Wolcott tried to make out a case before the IAEA to penalize Iran for its breaches of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Pertinently, the UN sanctions were lifted in 2016 as part of the JCPOA agreement, and the sanctions imposed by Trump administration are in addition to those. Trump unilaterally decided to penalize nations including the European allies who signed the nuclear deal for any continued petroleum purchases from Iran. U.S thus built sustained pressure on its allies impeding sanction waivers granted to Iran’s key oil customers for business with Iran to keep 2015 nuclear deal alive. This only enhanced Iran’s cash crunch and certainly choked its economic survival. Significantly, in the IAEA meeting Board Members Russia and China(veto powers of the UNSC) favored Iran by stating that it was U.S and not Iran that breached the terms of the 2015 agreement unilaterally by pulling out and imposing extra-ordinary sanctions on Iran.
Role of China in Iran crises
Iran and China have mutual concerns about U.S, and China wants to curtail the U.S influence in the East. China has deepened its inroads into the region and built viable ties with the Middle-East with huge investments in the infrastructure and developmental activities.
Iran remains an important supplier at a time of international oil crises. China imports nearly half of its oil from the Persian Gulf through the strategic Strait of Hormuz, which has again been at the centre of Iran-U.S face-off last year.
Nevertheless, Iran is major player in the regional energy security. Further among all Middle Eastern suppliers Iran is strategically significant as it is the gateway to the Caucasus region, where nations other than China have major stakes in the energy sector. Any disruption in crude/gas transit or unrest in Iran could harm their interests, and also destabilize the power balance in the middle-east against China in all its mega projects as it is working on increasing its influence in the region.
Escalation of tensions between the U.S and Iran
The year marked its beginnings by the assassination order of the Iranian top General Qassem Soleimani and his Deputy, the Iraqi General Abu Ali Muhandis by the Trump administration. Significantly, both of them were on the forefront of flushing out ISIS and their ilk-the vicarious instrumentalities of U.S from Iraq and Syria. Soleimani was on a mission of de-escalation of tensions between the Saudi Arabia and Iran through regular diplomatic channels which Trump administration has blatantly refused and instead has carved out a rogue excuse. The assassination of a sovereign nation’s top military official in this manner is blatant exhibit of belligerence by the U.S which has undermined the sovereignty of Iran as well as Iraq. It is an all out act of war. Trump’s inability to coerce Iran to clinch a fresh nuclear deal as he undid the 2015 JCPOA/Obama deal did not work out even after imposing stringent sanctions.
An incredible and overwhelming outpouring of grief put Iran and Iraq under tremendous pressure to react. The caretaker government in Iraq passed a resolution to oust all U.S troops from its soil though it will take a lot of will and time to actuate the resolution. Assumedly, Iran can restrain only to the extent of very calculated responses only. A conspectus of the power praxis in the region shows policy fixations and the irresolute friction between the two nations which has resulted in the current political impasse in East Asia.
Reports suggest that the Daesh troops are being snuggled up in Afghanistan which has porous borders with Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. The strategist General eliminated now, any resurgence out there could plunge the region into chaos. Further, Iran could up its ante against U.S (and allies) in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq itself. While Saudi is completely dependent upon the U.S for its military defenses it can’t remain unaffected. Saudi Aramco went public recently; further foreign investment in its oil and infrastructure will definitely plummet. Qatar is again placed in between the fragile lines.
Energy wars will continue. As Iranians paid last respects to their Generals, U.S bases in Iraq were struck. This military offensive in East Asia is also of concern to Russia and the U.S allies, who may not want a full scale war. Crude and gold prices surge cuing a global economic crash escalating the prices of utilities in near future. Noam Chomsky a renowned author in his book quotes a significant report that says’ ‘The Obama nuclear weapons modernization program has increased the overall killing power of the existing U.S ballistic missile forces by a factor of roughly three and it creates exactly what one would expect to see if a nuclear armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike. Analysts point out this new capacity undermines the strategic stability on which human survival depends. And the chilling record of near disaster and reckless behavior of leaders in the past years shows how fragile our survival is.’
The whole gamut of machismo and ferocious jingoism between Iran and U.S is of deep concern to each one of us. Saudi and Oman can play a very vital role in the whole scenario by arbitrating peace. Geo-politically, peace in Iran is a prime requirement. China must play its part to build pressure in the ensuing UN meeting. India has stakes in the region and its economy is in utter shambles. There is a sense of bonhomie between Trump and Modi. But can India effectively assuage the Iranian anger or arbitrate and use its offices for the negotiations it has offered? Will NATO play a mute spectator or contain the war? Nevertheless, we need all nations to get involved positively. War between U.S and Iran is hardly a new predicament, but if threat becomes real, it’ll be a millennial disaster.
(Author is a Practicing Lawyer)