The relationship between the United States and Iran is undoubtedly one of the most crucial and intense of the geopolitical world today. In this paper it is argued that both powers sometimes have common interests, but working together with Iran remains very difficult for the United States. Why is that?
In this paper, there will be looked at the factors that account for United States hostility towards the Shiite Muslim country. Why is Iran such a difficult topic in the United States? The Iranian nuclear program is the main reason for U.S. hostility towards Iran. But there are other reasons as well, and those will also be studied in this paper. Studying secondary sources will test this hypothesis ‘ that the main factor of U.S. hostility towards Iran is the countries nuclear program ‘ like papers, news articles, academic articles and books.
This paper is organized in four big topics, or in other words, the major factors that account for U.S. hostility towards Iran. The first factor that will be discussed is the agitated history between the United States and Iran. This topic is divided in three big time periods, all of them crucial for the U.S. views on Iran: the first is the Shah era, the second is the Islamic republic era, and the third domain, also the most recent era, is called the hostile relationship.
The second major factor for hostility towards Iran that will be studied is the geostrategic factor. This part of the paper starts with a general view on the current situation in the Persian Gulf and the countries around it. Then, the impact of oil on this factor will be discussed. Afterwards the biggest reason for U.S hostility towards Iran will make its entrance: the Iran nuclear program and thereby also the latest developments on a deal between the two countries. Another topic that contributes to the geostrategic factor of hostility between the two countries is the Iranian support of terrorism. At last, the relationships between the United States and its allies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Israel, will be discussed.
The third big factor is the domestic politic in the United States. This topic is divided in three parts: all having an influence in today’s treatment of Iran. The first aspect that will be discussed is the opinion of the two major parties in the U.S., the Republican and the Democratic Party, about Iran. Afterwards there will be looked at the Obama administration and its current actions. At last, the Israel lobby and its influence on the U.S-Iran relations will be studied.
The fourth and smallest factor is the cultural and religious difference between the two countries. In this part of the paper, there will be looked at what the differences are between the two nations and its people in terms of values, beliefs and identity. At the end of the paper, under the ‘Future’ title, different possibilities will be discussed of how U.S.-Iran relations may develop in the next few years. In the conclusion of the paper follows a short resume of the factors and convictions. Moreover, beliefs about how the U.S-Iran relationship should develop are shared with the reader.
These are unarguable interesting times in the development of relationships between the United States and Iran. In April 2015 there was a big development with the signing of a new nuclear agreement, the main reason of hostile relationships the past few years. Still, lots of observers are convinced that the road to a stabile relationship between the two countries is still very long and vulnerable to domestic evolutions in both countries. Only time will tell if the road to peace has really kicked-off.
3. Historical factor
3.1 The Shah-era
If we look back at the history between the United States and Iran, the year 1953 is of crucial importance. In that year, the fully democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeq, was overthrown by a coup organized by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). (Nakhavali, 2013) This was a typical Cold War action of the United States, but it was an interference that Iranian people have never forgiven America. (Clinton, 2014) Anyway, a puppet of the United States was now given power: Mohammed Reza Shah e Pahlavi ‘ in the rest of this paper he is called the Shah ‘ terrorized his own people to maintain his position as an absolute ruler. Nevertheless, official relationships between the United States and Iran were good and the Shah was leading an economic reform process in the country. In practice, Iran became more and more dependent on the Western countries, especially the United States. (??z, 2010)
At the end of the seventies, protests in Iran increased. The Iranian cleric Ayatollah Khomeini leaded them from abroad. The brutality of the Shah became gradually intolerable: thousands of opponents were killed by the regime. America kept supporting the Shah, which leaded to deep anti-American feelings in Iran. In 1979, the situation for the Shah became unbearable and he and his family left Iran. Short after his departure, Khomeini returned to Iran as the country’s new spiritual leader. Under Khomeini’s leadership the Islamic Republic of Iran was installed: from one day to another, Western governments were seen as the enemy, especially the United States. (Aldasam, 2013) This change may seem drastic, but one must remember that the American support for the Shah endured for more than 25 years, which caused a deep anti-American attitude in Iran. We thus can conclude that there was a widespread approval for this change of politics in the Islamic republic. (??z, 2010)
3.2 The Islamic Republic
Although the Iranian position towards the United States changed in the seventies, there was not all too much hostility from America towards the Islamic Republic. This changed on November 4, 1979. On this date, Iranian students stormed the Embassy of the United States in Tehran, the Iranian capital. (Nakhavali, 2013) The students took over the Embassy because the United States had allowed the Shah, who had cancer, to get medical aid in their country. Also, many students had not forgotten the dubious role of the American Embassy in Tehran during the coup in 1953. Common beliefs among the students were even that the United States would try a new coup. (Riggs, 2011) At the Embassy, 66 Americans were taken hostage. 51 of them were only released after 444 days. (Heaney, Unknown) This was undoubtedly the start of hostile feelings from the United States and their citizens regarding to Iran.
America insisted that diplomatic rules were being followed, but the ayatollahs in Iran did not react. This event was a true shock for America: reportages on television about the hostages are etched in the American common memory and were a daily humiliation for former president Carter. (Matthys, 2012) His administration started up severe sanctions against Iran and later, military forces even tried to save the hostages but this failed: 8 Americans were killed. Images that were made of the dead American soldiers in Iran were broadcasted and shocked American society another time. (Aldasam, 2013)
In 1980, Jimmy Carter lost the American presidential election, mainly due to these events. Just when his successor Ronald Reagan became America’s new leader, the hostages were released. We will probably never know for sure what the precise content of the secret deal was that liberated more than 50 Americans after more than 14 months of captivity. What we do know is that United States and its citizen’s view on Iran was irreparable damaged. (Heaney, Unknown)
In 1980, hostility between Iran and the United States augmented again. During the Iran-Iraq war, America supported the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, which contributed to the anti-American feelings in Iran. (??z, 2010) The United States chose to support Iraq because it saw Iraq as more moderate as Iran: Saddam Hussein was a dictator, but at least he had a pro-Western attitude. (Heaney, Unknown) In practice, the wars between Iraq and Iran did not really matter to America: it is always and advantage when two of your enemies are fighting each other. (Matthys, 2012)
In 1985, the American citizens were informed about the Contra scandal: the United States was supplying Iran with weapons to set free hostages that were kept in Lebanon. With the money that Iran paid the Americans, the CIA financed anti-communist parties all over Central-America. (Matthys, 2012) This event shows that despite the troubled relationships between the United States and Iran, America still made ‘ often dubious and heavily contested ‘ deals with Iran when necessary.
3.3 Hostile relationship
In the nineties the United States labelled Iran as a threating factor to America’s interests in the region. The Islamic Republic was, among other things, accused of pursuing weapons of mass destruction and supporting terrorism. We can conclude that anti-Iranian sentiments in America were still on the rise. (Heaney, Unknown)
When the moderate Khatami became president of Iran, the United States and its current president at the time, Bill Clinton, were hoping to blow new life into the relationship between the two countries. Clinton was forcing the famous dual containment policy towards Iran: America wanted to isolate the country and was trying to limit the Iranian support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other organizations that were labelled as terroristic in the United States. Nevertheless, relationships under Khatami’s leadership were improving, and Clinton even admitted that ‘various Western nations’ had sometimes played a dark role in Iranian politics. (Heaney, Unknown) When looking at the history between the two powers since 1979, this was the best relationship the two countries ever had. Reformers were now in charge in Iran and America also seemed ready for reconciliation. (Beeman, 2006)
Under the Bush-administration and after the 9/11 attacks, the relationships between the two countries broke down yet another time. In his 2002 State of the Union speech, president George W. Bush called the regimes of Iraq, Iran and North Korea great threats for America’s safety. Again, accusations were made that the Iranian regime was trying to gather weapons of mass destruction. (Heaney, Unknown) The Bush administration also accused Iran of supporting Al Qaeda and Palestinian terrorists. (Beeman, 2006) All the progression that had been made disappeared. Nevertheless, the Iranian hostility towards Israel should also not be underestimated in this renewed hostile rhetoric of the American neoconservative administration. Jewish and Zionist lobbies in the United States practiced a big influence on the Bush-administration at the time, and they still do. (Jansiz & Lakani, 2015) This will be discussed further on in this paper.
In the meantime, the number of incidents between the two countries kept on rising. An example of one of the typical incidents: in June of 2011, Iraqi rebels killed 14 soldiers of the United States. United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta stated that Iran had armed insurgents in Iraq, who in their turn attacked American soldiers. (Aldasam, 2013) This is only one example in a lot of terroristic incidents throughout the past decennia against American military personnel where the United States accused Iran of having a hand in it.
However, under the presidency of Barack Obama, it seems like the two states are slowly growing towards each other. The two-track policy of offering talks to Iran, but also pressuring the state, has conducted in the fact that Iran came to the negotiation table. (Clinton, 2014) This didn’t go naturally, considering the bad relations between the two countries under the leaderships of Bush in the United States and Ahmadinejad in Iran. Very recently the two countries, together with other global powers, established an agreement about the Iranian nuclear program. More information about this deal will follow further in this paper, when the geostrategic factor will be discussed.
We thus can conclude that United States and Iranian relationships, from the American perspective, broke down after the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran. Since then, suspicion towards Iran from the American public opinion and politicians have never been far away. The historical events still play a big role in today’s negative views on Iran.
4. Geostrategic factors
4.1 A general view: the Persian Gulf
First of all, it is important to say that Iran does not form an immediate and geographical threat for the United States. It also has no bases or anything alike in the neighbourhood of America’s homeland or other territories. According to Kissane (2011), Iran itself has very natural barriers, in most cases mountains, on each of its borders. It also is one of the world’s biggest countries: this makes it very difficult for the United States ‘ or any other nation ‘ to invade Iran. Beeman (2006) states that it is also important to know that if a country invades Iran it can call up, roughly estimated, more than 10 million soldiers due to its big population. This makes of Iran a regional power that must not be underestimated.
Iran is slowly striving for more and more power in the Persian Gulf. The strength of Iran is threating the United States, who has always tried to find a balance in the Middle East, which would secure their interests. The United States finds the security of the Western states of vital importance. Security in this case means mainly energy security. The Persian Gulf is a region with a lot of resources. If a state can control lots of them, like Iran is currently trying, it can change the balance of power in today’s world and America wants to avoid that. The most important objective of the United States is thus to maintain their access to the resources, oil and gas, in the Persian Gulf. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007)
Iran itself has off course a broad access to this important sea. According to Kissane (2011), this is one of the reasons why America is so active in the region and explains the hostile reactions from the U.S. to Iranian military deployments in the region. Washington has, besides military bases in the region, also developed close (military) relationships with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. And one must certainly not forget the closest, most powerful and most longstanding allies of the United States in the region: Saudi Arabia and Israel. This raw geographic draft makes it clear that the isolation of Iran has been an important foreign policy of the United States.
Besides the hostile relationships between Iran and the Gulf states and the special relationships between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and Israel that will be discussed later on, one must also remember that the Islamic republic is also a neighbour country of Iraq and Afghanistan, so it has also an influence in the (failing) peace-making process in these countries. (??z, 2010) All of these reasons lead to what one can call the interfering-attitude of America in the Middle East. From oil and gas supplies to terroristic attacks: they all come from this turbulent region, and especially from Iran. That is why, for a lot of U.S. foreign policy makers, a complete indifferent attitude towards this country is unacceptable. (Haass & Indyk, 2009)
This paper may give readers the impression that America and its allies are living on feet of war with Iran. For this reason it is also important to understand that the hostile relationship does not prevent that the two powers sometimes work together to achieve a common goal. A good example of this fact is that at the time, America is coordinating its air raids against together with Iran (and the Syrian regime). (Kirkpatrick, 2015)
We can conclude that if we take into account the geographical situation, the United States is hostile towards Iran because it tries to spread its influence across the Middle East and is thereby threating allies of the United States. (Bayram Sinkaya, 2009) But the reason why America has developed so much allies and bases in the region is not because they care so much about the other states in the region: it is mostly because they want to secure the flow of natural resources from the Middle East. This is why oil is also an important factor that explains the difficult relationships between the United States and Iran.
4.2 Oil flows from the Middle East
Like it was stated earlier in this paper, it has always been very important for the United States to have as much influence as possible on the oil resources in the Middle East. Iran has the third biggest oil reserves in the world, after Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Before 1979, the United States oil companies were transporting the largest part of Iranian oil. After the Islamic revolution in Iran, all the companies had to leave the country. Needless to say this was a big smash for America. (??z, 2010)
This shows how important it is for a country like the United States to diversify its oil resources. (Vivoda, 2010) One single conflict with a nation, like in current times for example with Russia, cannot not lead to dramatic problems in the area of oil supply. To understand the United States’ view on Iran this fact is very important. For example, Iran has shown interest in the past few years to create a sort of ‘Shi-alliance’, who would control most of the world’s oil resources. To explain this phenomenon it is important to look at the influence of religion on the oil resources in the Middle East. In Iran and Iraq, the majority of the citizens are Shiite: around 60 percent in Iraq and more than 90 percent in Iran. Also in Saudi Arabia, the most oil resources are located in the Shiite parts of the country. (??z, 2010) Iranian propositions like the ‘Shiite-alliance’, explain the hostility of the United States towards Iran on this matter: America and other Western countries will always try to avoid that one single country or one single group of countries gets a monopoly over the oil resources, because this will lead to big geopolitical changes in the world. (Vivoda, 2010)
Of course, besides governments, it is the international oil companies that have a big say in this matter. International oil companies are very powerful organizations in today’s world: sometimes they are even more important than states. It is said that in the United States, these companies had and still have a big influence on policy making. It is true that there are often common goals between the United States and its oil companies, but they also have different views and act differently from each other. One can conclude that those two parties only work together when it is in the interest of both. (Vivoda, 2010)
In the case of Iran, the big companies were not very willing to move to Iran after the CIA-supported coup in 1953. The reason why they doubted on involving Iran was that the companies had augmented oil flows from other countries and because of the fact that involving Iran would possibly lead to a monopoly for the Islamic country. In the case of the 2003 Iraqi war, America’s biggest oil companies also never supported the military operation in the country, just like other military interfering’s in oil-rich countries, like for example in Libya. (Vivoda, 2010) This is probably because the companies prefer a stable regime above war and chaos.
We can thus conclude that the oil in the Persian Gulf and Iran is another factor that accounts for hostility towards Iran. The United States wants to preserve their interests: sustain the flow of resources to their country. It nowadays feels threatened by Iran’s actions. In the end, the influence of big international oil companies on the U.S. government is modest: the administration acts accordingly to what they think is in the national interest of the United States, while the companies are only busy with their situation and their profits.
4.3 Iran’s nuclear program
Nowadays, the Iranian nuclear program is undoubtedly the biggest factor that accounts for America’s hostility towards the Islamic Republic. The United States have been stating for over more than a decade that Iran is trying to create nuclear weapons. Iran always kept saying that it’s acquiring of nuclear energy is solely based on civil purposes. (Aldasam, 2013) The Iranian people thereby also fully support the nuclear program. (Fiedler, 2013)
However, according to America there are a lot of dubious arguments in this Iranian theory. Iran has failed to follow the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) requirements about its nuclear program. (Aldasam, 2013) This is strange because Iran is a signer of the Non Proliferation Treaty, and on top of it also signed an Additional Protocol for more inspections of the IAEA. (Fiedler, 2013) The Non Proliferation Treaty gives states the power to use nuclear energy for civil purposes, while countries that do have nuclear weapons must make efforts on disarming the world. Countries that do not have nuclear weapons, like Iran, promised in this treaty not to undertake actions to maintain such weapons. (Clinton, 2014)
The international indignation about Iran’s nuclear program really began in 2002, when an Iranian opposition group declared that there were two secret nuclear sites on Iranian territory. After that, the United Nations Security Council asked Iran to suspend all its uranium enrichment activities. Next, economic sanctions were installed against Iran. (Fiedler, 2013) Since 2008, the Security Council has adopted six resolutions in where it demanded the shutdown of its arming program. (Clinton, 2014)
Nowadays, there are three types of nuclear sites in Iran: open sites that are accessible for the IAEA, secret sites that are non accessible and little and widespread sites. These three types are a big reason why the United States is so suspicious towards Iran: why is such a big and widespread infrastructure necessary if the program is only meant for civil purposes? Another logical question is why some sites have to be secret. This makes of Iran a shady state, one that the United States doesn’t trust at all. Indeed, Iran has various motives to create a nuclear weapon. It would primary frighten enemies like Israel and the United States to launch an attack on Tehran. (Fiedler, 2013) It can also be a matter of national pride for Iran: a nuclear weapon would emphasize their sovereignty and strengthen its power.
For the United States it is clear: if Iran is allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, this would lead to a chain reaction in the already restless Middle East, especially among the Sunni rivals of Iran. (Clinton, 2014) Above that, it would mean that a severe enemy of the United States grows a lot stronger. America is determined that they must prevent this situation at all causes.
4.4 Latest developments: a deal
Under the Obama administration, the United States has engaged itself to develop an agreement with Iran. There are rumours that American diplomats have already been talking to Iran since the beginning of 2013. Those talks became much more successful after Rohani became president of Iran in the fall of 2013. There is little doubt that he also wants to grow closer to the United States: this was one of his program points in the election race. It is also not a coincidence that Rohani was one of the most important Iranian negotiators between 2003 and 2005 in nuclear talks between the two countries. (Hanck??, 2015)
The United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have been bargaining with Iran about an agreement in which the Islamic republic declares that it will enrich less uranium, in exchange for the cancellation of the international sanctions against the country. There is now an agreement about a general framework: the next few months they will keep on negotiating about the technical details. (Redaction De Standaard, 2015)
In the framework of the agreement is stated that Iran will strongly limit its enrichments of uranium the next few years. They will also decrease their number of centrifuges from 19000 to 6104. Also, the Islamic republic will transport a big part of it’s stock of slightly enriched uranium to Russia. If Iran applies to these new rules, which inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) must determine, the sanctions of the United Nations against the country will be suspended. (Redaction De Standaard, 2015) The inspectors of the IAEA are, according to the agreement, allowed to visit and research the nuclear installations and uranium mines for ten years. (Dierckx, 2015)
Nevertheless the agreement, the United States is very alert for way too optimistic statements about changes in the United States and Iran relationship. Iran has the knowledge about the enrichment of uranium and it will not throw this away now. Above that, the Islamic republic broke a signed agreement in 2003-2004, so chances are that this will happen again. (Sauer, 2015) Above that, a few days after the agreement the two leaders of Iran, president Rohani and ayatollah Khamenei, stated that Iran would only sign the definitive deal in June if all the sanctions against their country will immediately be suspended. On the contrary, the United States declared that the sanctions could only be built off gradually. (Descamps, 2015)
It is also a fact that Obama is reaching out to Iran, but one must never underestimate these politics. Even Obama has never abandoned a military operation against Iran. (??z, 2010) Nevertheless, Obama does realize that a nuclear deal and the lift of economic sanctions will probably result in the reintegration of Iran in the international community. This would be a good thing, because in that way, Iran would have much more to lose than it has now with its nuclear program. (Kirkpatrick, 2015)
A few days after the United States reached an agreement with Iran, it became clear that Obama must present an eventual agreement with Iran for the United States Congress. For some American Republicans, who hold the majority in Congress, the agreement is too soft. They argue that only the U.S. Congress can decide whether economic sanctions should be lifted or not. (Redaction De Standaard, 2015) We can conclude that the nuclear ambitions of Iran threaten the United States more than any other factor. That is why this is the biggest factor that contributes to U.S. hostility towards Iran.
4.5 Iranian support of terrorism
The United States State Department has stated many times that it is concerned about the Iranian’s regime support of terrorism. Especially the support for groups that are fighting against Israel ‘ like Hamas and Hezbollah ‘ has been a major factor in the cadre of America’s hostility towards Iran. (Aldasam, 2013) In general, the Iranian Revolution was the start of decennia of terrorist actions, probably sponsored by the Iranian regime. According to Clinton (2014), especially Hezbollah was responsible for terrorist actions across the world. Some examples of this conviction are the bomb attack on the United States embassy in Lebanon in 1983 that killed more than 60 people, or the attack on the American base in Lebanon that killed more than 240 Americans. For these reasons, the United States named Iran several times as the world’s most generous state in sponsoring terrorism. (Clinton, 2014) Besides terrorist actions against the United States, its allies and Israel, it is also said that Iran is supporting militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. In these cases, the Islamic republic is supporting the Shiites or pro-Shiite fractions.
Iran makes one exception in their support for Shiite organizations: it also supports the Sunni movement of Hamas in Palestine. Iran is supporting the military wing of Hamas by transferring millions of dollars to the Sunni organization in Gaza. Iran does this because Hamas gives the republic access to the southern parts of Israel. The Islamic republic already has one foot on the northern border with their ally Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hamas and Hezbollah are both labelled by the United States as terrorist organizations. (Coughlin, 2015) By supporting Hamas and the Palestine’s, Iran also hopes to drive a wig between the United States and it’s Sunni-Arab allies. (??z, 2010) But, even while Iran supports Hamas, in numerous other conflicts the country is determined to support Shiite groups militarily. The bigger picture here is that Iran tries to undermine the Sunni power bloc, which is leaded by its regional rival Saudi Arabia. (??z, 2010)
A special case in Iran’s support for terrorism and the related hostility of the United States is the civil war in Syria. The Iranian regime is supporting the Assad-regime because this government was a long-standing ally of Iran. As this paper shows, Iran is not very big in allies. Therefore it is from crucial importance to the Iranian regime that president Assad remains in power. It indeed is argued that the fall of the Assad regime would make Iran more vulnerable. (Sinkaya, 2013) But yet again, this fervent support for a dictator who does not mind targeting its own citizens has worsened the relationship with the United States. We can conclude that Iran’s support for terroristic groups has caused hostility from the United States towards the country.
4.6 United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia
The United States and Saudi Arabia have a long-standing relationship. This bound is not really founded on common values, because Saudi Arabia is ruled by an absolute monarch, king Salman, and has a very conservative and religious culture.
The relation is basically founded on a trade agreement: the United States stand in for the national security of the Saudis, in exchange for a permanent flow of oil. This has been the case since the end of the Second World War. The two countries also found each other in their struggles against extremist group like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, but mostly in their common enemy: Iran. Nevertheless, there are still some sensitive factors in the relationship of the two uncommon allies. The Saudi’s were, for example, disappointed in the decision of president Obama not to interfere in Syria, one of the other regional enemies of Saudi Arabia. One must also remember the very complicated relationship between Saudi Arabia and Israel, an even closer ally of the United States. (CNN Library, 2015) This makes it sometimes very difficult for the United States not to kick the shins of one of its two allies.
The problems between the two allies are also viewable on the oil market: the Americans are focusing more and more on their own shale gas winning, to become energy-independent and to tackle Saudi Arabia. The Saudi’s in their turn are now keeping oil prices low to make shale gas winning less interesting for the Americans. (Dierckx, 2015) To make it even more complicated, it is publically known that the Saudi’s are against the Assad-regime, while at this moment, the Americans are coordinating air raids with the regime, an administration the United States wanted gone so badly at first.
Probably the current most harming fact for the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia are the current negotiations and talks with Iran. Iran’s nuclear program has always been perceived as very dangerous in the eyes of the Saudi’s. (Kirkpatrick, 2015) The Saudi’s fear that a deal with Iran may have high costs: on-going conflicts may worsen when Saudi Arabia and its allies fight against ‘ in their eyes ‘ the rising influence of Shiite regimes and (terrorist) organizations under the leading of Iran. Their fear is probably justified, because when economic sanctions are lifted against Iran, their economy will revive and it will have more resources to invest in its army. (Kirkpatrick, 2015) But probably of even greater importance for the Saudis is the leadership of the Middle East: the isolation of Iran has kept Saudi Arabia strong throughout the years. The Saudi’s realize this and are therefore trying to influence their ally, the United States, in every possible way to maintain hard power against Iran. (Dierckx, 2015)
We can conclude that it is clear that the close relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, despite recent disagreements, is a factor that should not be underestimated. The influence that the Saudi’s exercise on America is definitely important if one wants to explain U.S. hostility towards Iran.
4.7 United States’ relationship with Israel
The United States fervent and unconditional support for Israel has always compromised their relation with the countries in the Middle East. (Heaney, Unknown) Also, this support makes of Israel a very important player in the Middle East. For example, the United States itself could not even prevent Israel from building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. (Mead, 2004) It is argued that the support for Israel is so strong because the United States thinks that a Jewish state for the Jewish people is a good cause, worth fighting for. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007)
The preview of a nuclear Iran and thereby a military stronger Iran is a nightmare for lots of Israeli politicians. Due to the fervent Iranian hate speeches addressed to Israel in the past, they perceive this as the greatest threat for the Jewish state. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007) This reaction is understandable, knowing that Israel is a very small state and heavily populated. If Iran has a nuclear weapon it can use this at all time for a first attack: such an assault would then immediately devastate Israel. (Haass & Indyk, 2009) For this reason, the Israelis demand hard and assertive power from the United States towards Iran. It even threatened to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites by themselves.
The United States’ support for Israel has little to do with geographical interests of America in this country: it is really more a moral bound between the two states. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007) This fervent support for Israel is a big factor in the hostility towards the Islamic republic. The relationship between Iran and Israel is so bad ‘ Iran even never recognized the state Israel ‘ that you are either pro-Israel and anti-Iran or pro-Iran and anti-Israel. The reasons of the unconditional support from the United States for Israel will also be discussed below, in the part of United States’ domestic politics.
5. Domestic politics factors
5.1 Republicans vs. Democrats
Beside all the previous geographical factors, it is also important to stretch out the influence of domestic politics in the United States on foreign relations, especially in the case of Iran. There is widespread mistrust and suspicion towards Iran, but there is no clear unanimity in Congress, or in the public opinion about how Iran should be handled. The two biggest and determining parties of American politics, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, are divided about this issue, and there are even a lot of disagreements and fractions within the two parties. In general, it is safe to say that the Republican Party is more pro-Israel, and thus against the Iranian regime, than the Democratic Party.
The Republican Party stands for conservative views on society and a free market economy. The Democratic Party has more liberal views on society and especially Obama is mostly concerned with the wellbeing of the American middle class. Both parties collect about 40 percent of loyal votes. The other 20 percent changes every election. (Baskan, 2012) The Republican Party is, according to it’s own website (2015), more assertive on the area of foreign policy. The Grand Old Party has the majority of seats in the U.S. Congress, and it is said that a lot of Republican politicians are more pro-Israel than ever. This can be partly explained by the party’s right-wing ideology, but one must also remember the fact that donations to Republican politicians by wealthy pro-Israel donors augmented the last few years. In fact, these pro-Israel Republican donors partly helped a group of politicians with defeating Democratic opponents in the 2014 Congress’ elections. (Lipton, 2015)
Strengthened by the large number of Republicans in today’s Congress, 47 fervent pro-Israel Senate Republicans sent a letter to Iran after the announcement about the nuclear deal with Iran. In this letter they warned Iran that if the U.S. Congress does not approve the deal, it is just an agreement between Obama and Khamenei and not between the United States and Iran. (Diamond, 2015) Afterwards, president Obama stated that by sending the letter to Iran, Republicans made a sort of coalition with the hard-liners and conservatives in Iran, who are also very sceptical about the on-going talks. (Redaction BBC, 2015) This is only one event that occurred the past few months, but it does show that there is, especially within the Republican Party, a widespread pro-Israel and anti-Iran attitude.
The bound between Republicans and Israel became even more clear when the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, was invited to speak for the U.S. Congress, which is, like stated earlier, dominated by Republicans. President Obama clearly objected this invitation, which caused a lot of commotion in Washington D.C. (Lipton, 2015) It is thus clear that in America the relationship and domestic views on Iran hang together with their bounds with Israel. It is impossible to separate this two foreign policy subjects from each other.
President Obama is largely supported on the Iran deal by his own Democratic Party, especially by the liberal fraction of the party. (Earle & Fredericks, 2015) But within the political party there is also a group of U.S. Congress members that doubts Iran’s intentions. And almost all members of Congress do not believe that Iran will, all of a sudden, let its ambition flow to acquire a nuclear weapon. (Hanck??, 2015) It can be stated that here is a widespread support of Israel in the United States, and this support is reflected on both political parties. (Lipton, 2015) It often is said that on foreign policy Republicans and Democrats may vary from opinion, but ultimately there will never be drastic changes throughout the years. That is because in the end, both parties are chasing the same goals: maintaining the sovereignty of the United States in the world. (Young, 2012)
To conclude, it can be stated that the Republican Party is more pro-Israel than ever. The influence of the pro-Israel donors in Congress should not be underestimated as will be studied next in this paper. Because of their majority in the U.S. Congress (both in the U.S. House of Representatives as in the U.S. Senate) this can and will influence the relations with Iran. But the most important actor in U.S. foreign policy remains the president, and as long as current president Obama can push the Iran deal through Congress, there is nothing much the fervent pro-Israel Republicans can do. According to Knack (2015), the United States Senate can only overrule the president’s veto against a cancellation of the deal if it obtains a two-third majority; chances are small that the deal will be called off.
5.2 Obama administration
The Obama administration undoubtedly is one of the least hostile administrations towards Iran. For Obama, the Iranian regime is the enemy and not the Iranian citizens. America’s president wants to negotiate with the Islamic republic to reduce at least one big enemy of the United States, a regime that threatens America’s interest in the Middle East, with soft power. But even tough the Obama administration is open for talks with Iran, it is important to mention that even this administration keeps on insisting a change of policies in Tehran before the relationship with the United States can fully change for the better. (Bayram Sinkaya, 2009) Obama also never swiped a military operation in Iran off the table. Further, the liberal Obama-administration has often expressed dissatisfaction on Israel’s foreign policy, but there is no one who even dares to declare that American support for Israel in all areas should decline. (Young, 2012)
5.3 Israel lobby in the United States
Earlier in this paper, it was mentioned that donors largely supported especially Republican politicians with pro-Israel views with donations. (Lipton, 2015) This type of influence is still rising in America and therefore it is from crucial importance that it is discussed within the cadre of today’s hostility towards Iran. There is no specific organization that bears the name of ‘Israel lobby’. It rather is a generic term for all the organizations that try to influence the foreign policy of America towards a pro-Israel attitude. So, one must understand that there is no central leadership and different groups are not always acting complementary with each other. The core centre of the lobby consists of American Jews, but there are also other famous organizations, like the Christian Zionists, who support Israel. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007)
In the past decennia the Israel lobby has loyally followed the views and expressions of the Israel government and thereby criticized the Iranian regime. The Israel lobby especially had loads of influence on the neoconservative Bush administration. This is quite remarkable because there is no geostrategic explanation why the United States should support Israel in the large way America is doing nowadays. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007) This support is also unchangeable: even with the current difficulties between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations, there is not the slightest doubt that America’s (military) support for Israel will reduce. The influence of the Israel lobby is a major reason for this situation and should not be underestimated.
The strong influence of the lobby on America’s politics has of course disadvantages. It makes it difficult for American politicians to disagree with Israel and not support them. The unconditional support for Israel also has and still harms relationships with a lot of Middle Eastern countries. These anti-American feelings are a perfect breeding ground for Muslim fundamentalists and terrorists. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007) Their actions can harm the United States in a big way: this was for example shown on 9/11.
The Israel lobby is thus undoubtedly successive in influencing the United States foreign policy. A major reason for this fact is the open method of the political system in the United States. If a politician wants to be elected, he is in need of large sums of money to finance his or hers expensive campaign. Above that, there are no strict rules about financing political candidates. Even the smallest groups and organizations with lots of financial resources can force politicians to listen to them. In this case, pro-Israel politicians receive money from pro-Israel organizations and thus become often even more pro-Israel. Candidates that express critical viewpoints on Israel are ignored by the Israel lobby or even putted in a bad daylight due to, for example, commercial spots. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007)
The Israel lobby has an advantage: Jews in America are generally wealthy and have enjoyed a good education. It is also stated that Jews are often donating sums of money to political parties and are really involved and interested in American politics. Another interesting fact is that pro-Israel organizations have generally a lot of experience and resources: they are well organized. This leads to a major problem for opposition lobby-groups: for example Arabian Americans are less organized, less rich and less involved in politics. The lack of serious opposition in the United States thus also forms a big advantage for the Israel lobby to influence politics. We can thus conclude that the Israel lobby is certainly one of the reasons of the hostility that was shown the last decennia from the United States towards Iran. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007)
6. Cultural and religious factors
We can say that the policy of the United States against Iran is certainly rooted in some cultural and religious factors. American foreign policy has always circled around spreading values as freedom of speech, separation of church and state, democracy etcetera. These values are also reflected in the generally convictions of lots of American citizens. In the eyes of America, the regime in Tehran is repressing its own citizens and thereby defiling human rights, while Tehran accused the United States of trying to middle itself in their domestic politics. (Heaney, Unknown) This situation contains also a difference in culture: Iran has, due to American interventions in its country, developed suspicion towards countries that seem to be trying to influence domestic politics in the Islamic republic. (Terry, 2013) On the contrary, like said earlier, the United States have, especially under Republican administrations, tried to spread out their influence in the world and butted in some countries their domestic politics. (Jansiz & Lakani, 2015)
America saw and still sees itself as the country with the right values and intentions, and saw Muslim countries like Iran often for fundamentalists and terrorists and accordingly as a threat for their national security and their values. On the contrary, Iran has identified itself as a supporter of the weak ‘states’, like for example Palestine. These cultural factors play a large role in the hostile relationship between the two countries. (Jansiz & Lakani, 2015) Moreover, the Iranian regime always has stretched the big differences between the Western and Eastern world. They follow the guideline to resist Western influence in their country and they resist to what some call the Western imperialism. (Heaney, Unknown)
A similarity between citizens of both countries is that they both have a strong sense of national pride. From America this is publicly known, and Iranian people also have patriotic feelings due to its rich history but also because it is only Shiite state in the world. (Terry, 2013) America has often tried to exploit this situation to isolate Iran from other Muslim countries. But Iranian leaders, especially Khomeini always have stated that all Muslim groups should form one front against the real enemy, the West and its way of life. (??z, 2010)
It is from vital importance for America to accept that in the Islamic republic, not everyone is immediately happy about the Western way of clothing, woman rights and so on. It should respect these points of view, and not try to change them from one day to another. Forcing up the American model to Iranian people is not a solution for their conflict and will only create an even more drastic aversion towards the United States. It must understood that some American values are completely new to some Islamic people and that these people are struggling to give these values a place next to their religion. The best way for the United States to handle this cultural difference is to focus and support the more moderate and progressive fractions in Iran. Moreover, the close ties between conservative Jewish and Christian Americans are a positive prospect: it shows that even the most fanatic religious people can abandon narrow-mindedness and find some similarities on their point of views. (Mead, 2004)
To conclude, the cultural and religious factors can be looked at as less important than for instance the Iranian nuclear program, but it is clear that also these facts contribute to the hostility towards Iran.
7. The Future
Due to the recent nuclear agreement ‘ even if it is still vague ‘ progress is being made after more than thirty years of hostility between Iran and the United States. But this paper and all the cited factors of hostility towards Iran make it clear that the road to peace ‘ or at least not hostility ‘ is still really long.
The difference with previous administrations is that president Obama realizes that making peace with Iran is one of the most important factors to stabilize the fire source the Middle East is today. (Beeman, 2006) In that cadre, it is of crucial importance that the United States keeps on talking and opens up diplomacy again with Iran. America must realize that a chance for an agreement will not present itself each year. (Dierckx, 2015) In fact, there are domestic actors ‘ like the Israel lobby or Republicans ‘ who are not ready for compromise. It is thus of vital importance that the deal with concrete goals is signed in June. This can be the start of more talks and less hostile statements of Tehran and Washington towards each other. A severe rhetoric towards Iran must thus be avoided in these times.
The United States, or at least the Obama administration, realizes that a preventive military action against nuclear sites is a difficult option. If America bombs these places, Iran probably will just rebuild them afterwards, and relations between both countries will have sunk for little accomplishments. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2007) America also knows that Iran can be a useful partner to tackle the unrest in Iraq, which Iranian military is proving already in their coordinated attacks against the Islamic State. The current situation in Iraq and Libya also made some Americans realize that military operations are not always the answer and that a new, fully scale war in the Middle East is not in America’s interest. Even tough considering these facts, it is important to realize that progression in America’s view towards Iran will undoubtedly be a long process, one that takes more than 4 or 8 years, the term a president and its administration can be in power.
To conclude, we can distinguish five concrete options for the United States foreign policy administrators to handle the Iran question. The first is a military operation against Iran. The advocates of this option argue that Iran can never be fully trusted and the current negotiations will not have good endings. (??z, 2010) The second manner is posing sanctions against and influencing the Iranian regime to change its policies. (Nakhavali, 2013) Supporters of this tactic are convinced that the problem lies with the Iranian elite that is ruling the country and not with Iran itself. (??z, 2010)
The third way to tackle the Iran problem is the one that Obama is currently applying: he uses sanctions as a force to persuade the Iranian regime that talks are necessary and a deal should be made. The fourth option is to build a broad international union against Iran and try to limit the power of the Islamic republic in every possible way. The last manner to deal with Iran would be the opening of a broad dialogue with Iran about all global and regional issues, probably resulting in diplomatic ties. If this option is chosen, the United States will fully chose the way of unconditional peace. (Nakhavali, 2013) The disadvantage is that this option will require lots of patience. (??z, 2010)
We can conclude that the conflict between the United States and Iran and the hostility of America towards the Islamic republic will go on for quite some years. But it is clear that the United States will not rapidly choose for a full scale military operation against Iran: the costs would simply be too high. (Nakhavali, 2013)
There are various factors that account for the hostility of the United States towards Iran. Historically, Iran shocked the United States during the hostage crisis and the anti-Iranian feelings that developed at the time are still playing their role in today’s politics. Another factor for the hostility towards Iran are America’s geostrategic interests in the region, which are very different from those of the Islamic republic. America’s control over, or at least the security of a stabile transport of the oil in the Persian Gulf, is a big factor on this domain where the interests of both countries clash.
The biggest factor for U.S. hostility is undoubtedly the suspicious nuclear program of Iran. For America and its allies, only the idea of Iran possessing nuclear weapons is already completely unacceptable. Recently, both countries and partners closed a deal about this contested topic. If the deal is signed, which should normally happen, this agreement will be an historical change that will go down in history.
Another factor that raises American rage towards Iran is the country’s ongoing support for terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. Lots of Americans have died due to terrorist attacks by groups that were sponsored by the Iranian government. The United States will keep on acting ruthless against such organizations. On this factor America’s standpoint is very clear: these sponsorships must stop immediately.
Further there is the special bound of the United States with its close allies Israel and Saudi Arabia, which makes that these countries influence the way America looks at Iran in a negative way. Especially Israel will, under any circumstance, enjoy America’s protection. But it is important to notice that, under the Obama administration, both regimes were criticized and problems arose in their relationship. This was due to the fact that the United States didn’t always reacted as assertively as these countries want in the Middle East.
On the domestic level of American politics, the Republican Party is generally outspoken pro-Israel, more than the already Israel-supporting Democratic Party. It has to be said that the Obama administration has clashed several times with the Netanyahu administration the past few years, due to the more moderate attitude of the American president towards Iran. But in the United States dominates a broad pro-Israel attitude and this is reflected on the political parties. This conviction largely contributes towards the negative view on Iran. These pro-Israel convictions are largely the result of the strong Israel lobby in the United States, who supports, among many other activities, pro-Israel politicians by donating large sums of money to finance their campaigns.
The last factor that was discussed is the cultural difference between the United States and Iran. These two societies have little in common. America sees it as its duty to defend and spread basic values like for example press freedom, democracy and human rights along the world. It tries to influence countries to adopt this Western way of life, but in Iran these views on society are not always shared. Moreover, it accuses the United States of interfering in its domestic politics. This causes hostility in America because they are religiously confident that their values are right. According to the United States the repression of the Iranian people must stop.
Future scenarios of the U.S.-Iran relationships are very hard to predict. Under the current administrations in both countries, it seems that the road to a more quiet relation is started. But in this paper we saw that this process is threatened by lots of factors: from domestic politics over geostrategic interests to cultural differences. If we look at the background and views of possible president candidates in the U.S. for the election in 2016, it becomes clear that a more hostile treatment of Iran in the future is not an unlikely scenario. The historical overview in this paper also pointed out that progress in relations during many years, could be discarded in a just a few days, by for example, a few severe statements towards Iran.
Nevertheless this important consideration must be remembered, current developments in the Middle East and more precisely the rise of terrorist jihadi groups show that it is important that these Iran and the United States work together. Steps were made in the case of the battle against Islamic State. This shows that both countries can indeed work together if they have the same interests. Another positive point is that America, due to two expensive wars that accomplished little change and other various reasons that were stated in this paper, will not be easily tempted to launch a military attack on Iran. This is a very important fact, especially because allies as Saudi Arabia and Israel are making strong statements about launching military attacks to guarantee their own safety and interests in the region. The big influence of the United States can definitely force these countries to slow down. The next few years, the United States must thus become a sort of mediator between its allies and Iran, even if those allies resent America for this fact. Only in this case, progression between the U.S. and Iran can continue.
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