Historic BackgroundThe Iranian people of today are the inheritors of a civilization which began over six thousand years ago. Under the Great Cyrus and Darius, the Achaemenid Empire eventually became the largest and most powerful empire in human history to that time (648-330 BCE) ruling over most of the known world. Successive invasions and regimes ruled the area, until the Islamic conquest of Persia (637-651) led to the end of the Sassanid Empire and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia. However, the achievements of the previous Persian civilizations were not lost, and Farsi, the Persian language was largely retained. Over the ensuing centuries the region which is Persia was conquered by a series of invaders until the beginning of the 20th century (see: http://www.mapsofwar.com/images/EMPIRE17.swf ).
The rise of modernization and the interests of the Western powers and Russia in the area fostered the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1911.The Constitution eventually became law, but its provisions were seldom followed. In 1921 Cossack army officer Reza Khan (later Shah) staged a coup against the Qajar dynasty. He was a supporter of modernization, and initiated the development of railroads, modern industry and a national education program. The region was known as Persia until 1935 when the nation was renamed the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In 1941 Britain and Russia invaded Iran to prevent its alliance with the Axis powers. Raza Shah was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. In 1951 Mohammed Massadegh was elected Prime Minister and proceeded to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later BP) which controlled the countries oil reserves. This action adversely affected the British economy much weakened from WWII, and the UK government invited the US to join them in a covert action to depose the Prime Minister. President Eisenhower assented, and in 1953 authorized the CIA to join the British which led to the return to the monarchy under Mohammed Reza Shah. Although the country continued to rapidly modernize, his rule became increasing autocratic and political opposition was brutally crushed by SAVAK, the internal security agency.
In 1979 the ruling monarchy of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi was overthrown and the Shah was forced into exile. Ayatollah Ruhoallah Khomeini returned triumphantly from exile in Paris to become the Supreme Leader and conservative clerics established a theocratic government with ultimate political authority vested in the Ayatollah.
As shown above, its geo-strategic location has made the country an important target for a succession of conquests. In the 20th century access to Iran’s huge oil reserves was of great importance to the Western powers. In both World Wars the British needed Iranian oil for its Navy, to protect its access to India, and to deny these assets to its adversaries. Following WWII John Foster Dulles orchestrated alliances with Iran, Israel and Turkey keep the expansionist Soviet Union from occupying the major oil producing region of the world.
As a result of these geopolitical-driven events, Iranians understandably developed a distrust of Great Britain and the US. Some other Iranian grievances are:
• The US active support of Iraq during the war between Iraq and Iran (1980-1988);
• On July 3, 1988 the USS Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iran Air Airbus 300, resulting in the death of 289 civilians.
• The ongoing US support of the Arab Sunni nations against the Shi’a lead Iranian government.
Principal US grievances are:
• The seizure of the American Embassy by Iranian students on November 4, 1979 and the holding the embassy personnel as hostages for 444 days;
• Iranian support of terrorism in Lebanon and elsewhere. The Iranian pursuit of nuclear technology widely believed for atomic weapons;
• Its ongoing threats to destroy Israel;
• Iran is presently holding two American citizens, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh in Evin prison under false charges. (Note: These individuals entered the country with Iranian passports, and can be legally held by the government. However, this action is perceived primarily as a negotiating tactic by the Islamic regime.).
Iranian Government Objectives
The Iranian government is actively pursuing the development of a nuclear capability which it claims is both its legitimate right as a sovereign nation and that its nuclear technology will only be used to produce electric power needed to generate additional revenues from the sale more of its oil resources to foreign customers. Although both claims have some merit, and the government states that it will not use its nuclear capability to develop nuclear weapons, this claim has been continually refuted by evidence from examiners at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Probably the main incentive for the Iranian government to develop nuclear weapons is its desire to remain in power, an “insurance policy” much the same as for Kim Jong Il in North Korea. Other motives are national pride, reasoning that if their adjacent neighbors, Pakistan, India and Israel all have nuclear weapons; they should not be denied the same capabilities. The possession of nuclear weapons by an Islamic fundamentalist regime that periodically asserts its desire to “Wipe Israel off the map” is obviously a great concern to the State of Israel, and to the extent that it can deliver these weapons or provide them to terrorists, to Western countries as well.
The Ayatollah’s use of schoolboys to clear minefields in the Iraq-Iran Gulf War and suicide bombers in the current conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere illustrates the power of martyrdom to Islamic fundamentalists. The callous disregard for the lives of their followers (in this world) provides scant credence to the strategic concept of “Mutual Assured Destruction” which kept the Cold War adversaries from using their atomic weapons.
Regional Dominance and the Spread of Shi’a Fundamentalist Islam
The internecine conflict in Iraq between the Sunni and Shi’a militias is the primary evidence of the intensity of the 1100 year dispute between these two sects over which is the legitimate heir of the Prophet Mohammed. With its 60% Shi’a population, the Bush administration’s desire to establish a democracy in Iraq provided Iran with a golden opportunity to influence a Shi’a led government in its oil rich Arab neighbor. By funding the Shi’a militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in Palestine and Lebanon, Iran has confirmed its intention to expand its influence throughout the region.
The Bad News
The fundamentalist regime of Ayatollah appears to be firmly in control of the mechanisms of power and is increasing fundamentalist restrictions on the population. The great increase in oil revenues has provided resources for the nuclear and armament programs and the financing of its surrogates Hezbollah and the Shi’a militias fighting in Iraq. Thus far, the regime has been able to rebuff all of the efforts of the United Nations and financial incentives from the Western countries to suspend their nuclear program. Its nuclear program appears on the verge of developing the enriched uranium needed for atomic weapons.
The Good News
Iran has a large and literate population that was exposed to Western culture during the reign of the Shah. It has sought democracy twice, in 1953 with the election of Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh and again in 2002 when Ali Akbar Rafsanjani lost the election (36% to 62%) to Mahmoud Ahmadinajad. Its youthful population is largely pro-West. Young people everywhere resent any impositions on their freedom, and Iranian youth understandably prefer Western culture and life style to the return to the 7th century fundamentalist life proposed by the Ayatollahs. However, their access to knowledge of the West is obtained largely over the Internet, which is a two-edged sword…it also is the prime media for spreading terrorism.
Although Iran has received a huge increase in revenues from the oil price increase, the Islamic government has squandered most of this windfall on funding armaments, the nuclear program, government expansion and foreign adventures to spread Shi’a influence. The funds have not been used to for needed investments in the oil infrastructure or to increase the welfare of the people, as promised. Accordingly, the government has diminished its credibility with the population, making it more vulnerable to a peaceful regime change.
The Best News
A nationwide poll of Iran conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow in Farsi in June 2007 produced the following results:
• 88% considered improving the Iranian economy their first priority;
• 29% thought developing nuclear weapons important;
• 80% favored full international inspections of nuclear facilities;
• 70% favored normal relations with and trade with the US.
• 61% oppose the current Iranian system of government.
• 79% favor a democratic system.
Clearly, this indicates that the majority of the Iranian people are voting for peaceful relations with the West. These results are summarized from an Op/Ed article in the Wall Street Journal June 12, 2007.
Western Policy Options:
The American and European governments thus far have been frustrated in their attempts to influence the government of Iran to suspend their pursuit of technology to produce enriched uranium. The policy approaches which are proposed by their adherents are:
Option A – the “Carrot” Approach
Negotiate with Iranian leaders. Like most people in the region, Iranians love to negotiate, and the refusal to do so is regarded with disdain. Above all, the government seeks respect and legitimacy, which can be conveyed by agreement to negotiate. The Western countries presumably will offer sufficient incentives for Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program, with verifiable inspections.
Other incentives proposed are to end the isolation of the regime, and welcome the Iranian people to join the free world. Proposed programs include scholarships to Western universities for qualified students, conduct athletic and cultural exchanges, promote commercial trade in non-sensitive products, (e.g. food stuffs not weapons).
Leading Advocates: The Baker-Hamilton Commission Report
The Iraq Study Group (ISG), also known as the Baker-Hamilton Commission, was a bipartisan panel appointed on March 15, 2006 charged with assessing the situation in Iraq and the US-led Iraq War and making policy recommendations. The ISG’s final report was released on December 6, 2006. Its analysis concluded that stability as ‘elusive’ and the situation as “deteriorating”. Its major recommendations were (a) a phased withdrawal of US combat forces from Iraq and (b) that all of Iraq’s neighbors (including Iran and Syria) must be included in an external diplomatic effort to stabilize Iraq. This last recommendation was rejected by the Bush administration on the grounds that it would not negotiate with Iran until it suspended its nuclear development program. However, on May 28th, US and Iranian officials met in Iraq for the first time in almost 30 years solely to discuss the Iraq situation. This meeting is considered a step towards the two countries working together to take actions to alleviate the conflicts in Iraq.
Option B – the “Stick” Approach
The standard diplomatic solution for “rogue” regimes which are deemed to present a danger to the world is to first pass UN resolutions condemning the action and thereafter impose economic sanctions to adversely affect the economy of the wayward nation. Both of these methods have been used in the attempt to dissuade Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, with little effect. Additional sanctions have been proposed by the US and its European allies.
Iran imports a large percentage of refined petroleum and heavily subsidizes gasoline prices for its people. Any action to restrict refined product imports could indeed have a significant negative effect. However, economic sanctions generally more create hardships for the people than their government officials. However, all coercive actions serve to unite the people by creating an “It’s us against the World” mentality.
Leading Advocates : Norman Podhoretz – Benjamin Netanyahu
In an article entitled “The Case for Bombing Iran” quoted President Bush in his 2002 State of the Union address, stating “I will not stand by, as ….draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most dangerous weapons”. He goes on to say, “Accordingly, my guess is that he intends, within the next 21 months, to order air strikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities from the three U.S. aircraft carriers already sitting nearby”.
Former Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu contends that Iran is economically vulnerable, and seeking to dissuade US corporations from doing any business with Iran by urging institutional investors to divest holding of shares in those companies.
Option C – “Teddy Diplomacy”
This policy is an extension of Theodore Roosevelt’s doctrine, “Talk softly but carry a big stick”. Until recently, this policy option appears to have been largely ignored by the Bush administration, but on May 27, 2007 an official meeting was held for the first time between officials from both countries.
Leading Advocates: Patrick Clawson
Patrick Clawson wrote that “Economic inducements are unlikely to persuade the Islamic Republic to freeze its nuclear program. The principal levers of power in Iran are in the hands of revolutionaries who are not motivated primarily by economic concern.
Byron K. Varme
i. Robert Fisk, “The Great War for Civilization”
ii Norman Pohoretz, Commentary Magazine, May 2007.
iii Wall Street Journal, Op/Ed article, May 26, 2007
iv. Patrick Clawson, “Could Sanctions Work Against Iran”, Middle East Forum, December 7, 2006.