by Paul Gadalla
Rai Insights Contributor
Beirut: Iran and the US have been locked in a love hate relationship spanning nearly a century. Over the past several years it finally seemed the relationship was tilting towards a full reconciliation. But now with the ascendency of Trump and his hodge podge of ad-hoc advisors, years of diplomatic efforts could be shattered, posing a threat to security in the region.
America’s love affair with Iran naturally began with its love affair with oil and the Cold War. The American and British governments threw their weight behind the controversial Pahlavi dynasty since they were pro-secular and Iran held large gas reserves. This would be a good bulwark against the Soviet Union and instrumental in the fight against communism. When nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh attempted to nationalize Iranian oil, Britain and the US quickly enacted a coup against him. Although Iranians continued to enjoy Western products and culture under the Shah, resentment grew as the US and Britain interfered in Iranian affairs and held their major source of revenue. And finally in 1979 things hit a fever pitch with the disposal of the shah and the American hostage crisis. The rest is history.
Successive regimes on both sides dug their heels in with intense rhetoric. The romance had ended and both regularly piled hate and blame on each other. Instead of all out war, both used a number of proxies to fight each other, especially in countries like Lebanon with the formation of Hezbollah. By the 1990s tensions had simmered down and it seemed reformist leader Mohammad Khatami might even hold an olive branch out to the US.
What we are witnessing now is history repeating itself. Khatami was hailed as one of Iran’s reformist leaders and quite moderate for the Islamic Republic. It seemed there could be a golden opportunity for rapprochement between the US and Iran but that went up in smoke with George Bush’s presidency. Much like Trump, it seemed George Bush would use xenophobic statements and make wild accusations not based on actual fact. Iran, which had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks, was suddenly placed in Bush’s famous “Axis of Evil”. Iran was once again public enemy number 1 and its nuclear program declared a major threat. Oddly enough, Iran had never carried out terrorist attacks on American soil. The irony is that Iranian influence only grew in the region after Bush’s disastrous Iraq war, which did away with Tehran’s archrival Saddam Hussein and led to a Shia revival in Iraq.
Indeed, Obama recognized Iran’s influential role in the region and his nuclear treaty opened Iran up to the world again. Now, just like under the Bush era, Iran is being targeted in a largely xenophobic and anti-Islamic campaign by the Trump administration. Yet this time it could be different. Iran has substantially grown since the Bush era. Its influence has spread throughout out Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon through a network of clerics and militias. Iran is still seen as a major backer of Shiite parties in the region and leaving it out of the equation in any talks or negotiations is dangerous and destabilizing. Its role in the Syria conflict also makes it a major player there.
One should also mention that many countries, including China and the EU, are not in line with Trump’s anti-Islamic ban. These countries could easily keep doing trade with Iran, as they no longer view it as a threat. This would easily allow Iran to grow and to get around any parameters the US tries to impose on it.
Trump has also made it very vocal that he wishes to scrap of the Iranian Nuclear agreement. Scrapping the agreement would get rid of years of intense diplomatic efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear capabilities and any international oversight over its nuclear program.
As history has shown, one way or another, Iran will continue to carry out its nuclear and regional ambitions. The intelligence community even warned about going to war with Iran. Isolating Iran has not worked and Obama was the first president to finally understand that. If the rest of the world is open to dialogue with Iran it will leave the US trying to fight a regional power alone, a regional power that has oil and influence across the Middle East.
*Paul Gadalla is a New York native communication specialist and aspiring political analyst based in Beirut, Lebanon