The US and Iran: Between Obsession and Forgetfulness
The Trump Administration’s obsession with the Iran nuclear deal cannot obscure the U.S. role in strengthening Iran.
- U.S. foreign policy is ahistorical, agnostic about culpability and optimistic about its ability to fix things.
- No nation has been a stronger enabler of the Iranian regime than the U.S. government was under George W. Bush.
- Iran's leaders must still have a hard time believing the gift that landed in their lap thanks to George W. Bush.
While the Middle East has been in turmoil for a long time, the Trump Administration – like Washington D.C. on the whole – seems to lay all of the blame at the feet of a single country, Iran.
The latest round in this hide-and-seek game is the U.S. effort to abandon the hard-won multilateral nuclear peace deal with Iran, to which the latter has faithfully adhered.
That scapegoating exercise may be very convenient to various agendas, but it is way off the mark.
Source of all evil?
To be sure, the Iranian regime is not steered by good actors. Far from it. One of their worst sins is the systematic oppression of the aspirations of a very talented young generation of Iranians.
But that doesn’t justify the American inclination to make Iran the end all and be all of evil on all regional conflicts, such as Syria or Yemen.
That stimulus-response pattern is stunning in its naïveté. The refrain goes like this: We’re Americans. We’re the good guys. Our traditional role is to rein in the bad guys, like Iran. Therefore, we must push the Iranians back.
A Republican president enabled Iran
Leaving the systematic U.S.-backed frustration of Iran’s true democratic aspirations during the Mossadegh era in the 1950s aside (as well as U.S. support for Iranian rivals), this scapegoating of Iran obscures one cardinal fact.
No nation has been a stronger enabler of the Iranian regime than the U.S. government under George W. Bush.
As a result, no nation is more responsible than the United States for enabling any regional machinations that the Iranian regime has pursued during the past decade.
With one completely idiotic move, the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush accomplished what Iran had tried many times before (and had failed to accomplish) — grinding down the political and military power of the Sunnis in neighboring Iraq.
Iran as beneficiary
Once this disastrous mission was accomplished, the Middle East became even more unstable than before. Sunni-Shia conflicts, buried in time for decades if not centuries, broke into the open once more.
The key fact is that Washington provided the trigger. Not the Iranians. The Iranian regime needed to do little more than exploit the completely unexpected gift from the United States.
Iran’s leaders must still have a hard time believing the strategic gift that landed in their lap, thanks to Washington’s collective inanity under George W. Bush.
Of course, that reality does not keep the U.S. foreign policy community from hallucinating. Their worldview is characterized by three particular traits: It is stunningly ahistorical, agnostic about real culpability and forever optimistic about the United States’ ability to fix things, even after royal screw-ups.
The fact of the matter is that the U.S. strategists ought to have learned by now that, in their continuous effort to ride the tiger (that is, the Muslim world at large), they are failing. They have unleashed forces that they will not be able to bottle up again. The only thing that will “fix” what’s gotten unhinged is the Muslim world itself.
It is completely preposterous at this stage to think the United States could intervene or reshape things. With what? NSA listening devices and drones? Endless air raids and supply drops against al Qaeda, ISIS or whoever of that ilk comes next?
A war of civilizations has been kicked off, but it’s not about the West vs. Islam, as much as Huntington et al wanted us to believe.
A different war of civilizations
Rather, it is a struggle within Islam itself. The fault lines are multiplying: Sunni against Shia, Persian against Arab or Turk, fundamentalists and extremists against moderate reformers. To a certain extent, it is also a battle of feudalists against populists.
The region is the cradle of human civilization and countless empires. The U.S. foreign policy community is ill-equipped for the complexity of managing and extinguishing the far-ranging conflagration that it touched off in 2003.
President Trump’s inability to modulate his rhetoric and his administration’s lack of diplomacy ineptly manages to add more oil to the fire.