History Hindering US-Iranian Normalization
Iran possesses the second largest oil reserves as well as the second largest natural gas reserves in the world. Iran also has extensive reserves of minerals and metals, including copper, gold, and uranium, as well as the demographics necessary for industrial growth. With these material advantages, Iran possesses a rich and cohesive cultural inheritance whose influence far exceeds the boundaries of the modern Iranian state. While it makes sense that the United States would benefit from becoming allies with Iran, throughout this course it has become apparent that instead of ally-hood there is a long history of antagonism between Iran and the United States. Decades worth of mutual mistrust and internal politicking has led to each side portraying the other in a negative light. While there are many obstacles to the normalization of US-Iranian relations, history is arguably the greatest; historic events coupled with preexisting myths and prejudice continually prevent the collaboration between the U.S. and Iran due to exacerbating tension—something that has led to poor formal diplomatic relations between the two countries.
One of the most important events that has set the tone of poor relations between the two countries would be the 1979 Islamic Revolution that resulted from American Cold War policy. The bipolarity that categorized the world during this time period led to a lot of policy mistakes that have remained a constant barrier to normalization. Iran’s long border with America’s Cold War rival, the Soviet Union, and its position as the largest, most powerful country in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, made Iran a “pillar” of US foreign policy in the Middle East during the Cold War. As the cold war intensified Iran under Mosaddegh wanted to nationalize their oil—stalling negotiations with the United States at a problematic time. In an effort to combat this rising Soviet influence in Iran the U.S. launched Operation Ajax under the CIA in 1953—an organized coup d’état to overthrow Mosaddegh and to install Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi as the authoritarian monarch. Following western influence, the Shah promoted secularization, appealing to Zoroastrian motifs and to Iranian nationalism. At the same time, the too rapid expansion of the oil sector led to false hopes and economic bottlenecks as well as uneven development—the rural population was neglected, and the slums saw rapid growth. This growing class disparity coupled with a cultural gap between the Shah and the Iranian Shiites led to discontent among the general populace in the late 1970s, resulting in a string of massive protests now referred to as the Islamic revolution of 1979—a turning point in US-Iranian relations.
After the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Shah, the Iranian people coalesced with Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini thought that ethics the governments concern and that the most ethical thing for Iran to have would be a religious clergy; for the first time in Shiite history the clergy would rule. This was a very important not only because it shattered the previous model of bipolarity, but also because under Khomeini anti-American sentiment began to rise. Iranians are nationalistic and thus resented the CIA coup that overthrew the nationalist government of Mosaddegh. Khomeini also advocated an anti American populism that insisted on national autonomy against globalization, state socialism, and a nationalized economy—ensuring enmity with Washington. At this point, relations had not completely soured, however in late 1979, a radical guerrilla group invaded the U.S. embassy in Iran and took personnel hostage (the Iranian Hostage Crisis). Initially, Khomeini did not know what to do, however, he eventually sided with the guerrillas and completely shattered all diplomatic relations between the two countries. Thus, under the Carter administration Iran was called a terrorist nation—a mentality that has been the status-quo ever since.
During the Reagan administration, US-Iran relations did not get any better. At this time, the Iran-Iraq war broke out and the United States publicly supported Iraq (even though it privately funded Iran during the Iran-Contra scandal)—earning resentment from the Iranian people and increasing Iranian mistrust of the United States. More recently, the Bush administration wars in Afghanistan and Iraq removed the main Iranian foes in the Middle East. This freed Iran to pursue role in Arab Middle East as a regional hegemon; Iran becoming a dominant power is problematic for the United States since Iran is affiliated with many other US recognized terrorist groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. Iran’s allies with radical Shiite groups reinforces its status as a “terrorist” country. This myth of Iran as a terrorist nation run by zealots has also led to tensions over the Iranian role in Iraq. By 2007 the United States demanded the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization even though there was no evidence against Iran. Iran had no motive to destabilize the Shiite government in Baghdad, yet, U.S. prejudice led it to believe that Iran was plotting against the democratization effort. The United States’ rocky history with Iran exacerbates myths and prejudice and continually prevents the collaboration between the U.S. and Iran.
The main question facing the United States in the twenty-first century is that of the birth of the modern Iranian state, its reemergence as a regional power, and its successful and managed integration into the international community. This is hindered by the friction over the Iranian nuclear research program which is aimed at achieving the ability to enrich uranium for nuclear energy plants. Iranian political actors fear that when Iran’s petroleum resources run out the country will be without resources and will be forcibly drawn back into the western orbit—only with an independent nuclear enrichment capability can Iran maintain its independence. The United States, however, disagrees with Iranian motives—labeling the nation as “the axis of evil.” The United States is currently advocating a containment policy aimed at preventing Iran from expanding regional influence, fostering terrorism, sabotaging Arab-Israeli peace efforts, and acquiring nuclear capabilities. In the same way that Cold War tensions revolved around myth and prejudice, the Iranian diplomatic failure is also one in which historical context has been skewed to exacerbate myths and prejudice—continually hindering relations. If the U.S. is serious about normalization with Iran it must keep history in the past and look towards a future in which diplomatic relations between the two countries have finally resumed after a prolonged hiatus.
Disclaimer: 1000 word limit, not thorough.