Relationship between Iran and the U.SAuthor: Shokrollah Kamari Majin
Relationship between Iran and the U.S
The relationship between Iran and the U.S. is one of the most controversial inter-state relationships in the today's international politics.
It is interesting to know how it can be that two countries with a close relationship in many areas today looking at each other as implacable enemies.
The two countries were as close to each other as "... it's hard to figure out why the U.S. and Iran would necessarily be in conflict" (Pollack, 2005).
Whether that more than three decades conflict between the two states can be explained by the International Relations theories, is difficult to say something about. However, in the first part of this paper I have tried to focus on the Iran-U.S. relationship by using Realist concepts like "security" and "national interest".
Thus, my theoretical framework in this paper is Realism as the starting point. However, I begin to see at the Iran – U.S. conflict first outside of that framework, i.e. with a consideration of other aspects than a direct reference to the fundamental concepts, which Realist Theory is built on. Those aspects fall rather within the cultural, national and historical formations and narratives and thus one part of the political identities. This is because in addition to a presence of a "natural" conflict between two countries in the case of Iran – U.S. conflict there are also many psychological-political factors, mutual hostility features related to national honour and pride, ideological interferences, hatred, historical conflicts and internal power struggles that are involved in that hostile relationship.
I have used Ray Takeyh, 2009, "Guardians of the Revolution" as the main resource, which can be seen that it directly or indirectly reflected in almost all of the text.
For the purpose of a overview of the discussion I have seen to the problem from a dividing of states' way of thinking in two categories; the traditional and the modern.
After a brief review of the two countries' way of thinking in their relationship with each other on the basis of relatively traditional and the modern way I will try to see in which extent the two states behaviours in the past thirty five years have been in accordance with the above mentioned realistic concepts.
The controversial relationship between Iran and U.S. has taken so many hostile events to self, and thus so many narratives have shaped among both people and the elite groups. Especially in Iran it has led to a kind of hatred and fear of "The Great Satan", so that a talk about a normalizing relationship looks to be a taboo in that country.
One can say that in the hostile relationship between Iran and U.S. there are two different ways of ethical thinking that confront with each other; on the one hand a traditional way of thinking, while on the other hand, there is a thinking, which is influenced by the interconnections of the modern world and its evolution.
This categorization does not imply a breakdown of the Iranian and the American societies on the basis of a traditionally-modern dichotomy. This is something which falls within a sociological study, which is not my area.
With this categorization, I will only explain the dominant fundamental thinking of, respectively, the Iranian state system and the U.S. governments, which in the long controversial relationship are reflected in their behaviour towards each other.
Of course one cannot put a sharp separation between the world communities through the above-mentioned division.
However, I have identified at least three important differences between a traditional thinking and a modern thinking which in different degrees may be reflected in the political behaviour of each individual state:
a) People's political opinions in many cases are not independent, but those can be functions of the elite's positions.
Unlike the modern societies where access to knowledge is more open (Olshin, 2007), people in traditional communities have limited access to knowledge, therefore their opinions are highly dependent on society's political or spiritual respectful personalities.
Thus, when there is talking about a collective hatred including hatred of another race, ethnicity, religion or political believe than the own self, the political elites' way of thinking can work decisive to the appearance of the collective hatred, its form and its degree of resentment. These factors after several generations can be mixed with other entities of a culture.
b) The traditional method of judging. A judgment is often made simpler and is taken place from a single angle orientation.
This way of judging behaviour or an action on, does not make a limitation of the behaviour or the act itself and thus a punishment for the guilty person or group appropriate to the degree of violation or unfavourable to others. So it should be no surprise that two similar offenses led to two dissimilar penalties in a more traditional society all depending on who is committing.
Therefore, a state with more traditional political culture reacts to the behaviour of other states with a special attention to the positions, which that state has already outlined for each of those states.
Against this background for a state, which is inspired of traditional political culture a political adaptability and flexibility in relation to other states is not easy.
This approach is contrary to the judgment in a modern society, where in analysis of a given behaviour there is more tendency to a limitation of the behaviour self, and to avoid a generalization.
One can generally say that the traditional way of thinking often involved with value-laden entities, therefore there are other strong criteria than "security", "national interest" or more realistic objectives in the analysis of an event or behaviour. This is why in a traditional way of thinking "the principles and values that guide spiritual and ceremonial life are the same principles and values that guide political life" (Knick, 2010, Huff Post).
Whereas, the modern thinking focuses more on worldly values and thus may hold more adaptability and flexibility in the relationship with the others.
c) In a society with tendency to the traditional political thinking both elites and people believe rather in a kind of authoritarianism than to be statutory and legal faith and law-oriented. The judgment tendencies among the public and even among many elites are traditional or charismatic rather than to be legal.
Just after the 1979 revolution many of Shah's men and supporters escaped to the West, the majority to the United States. In light of the then national and international agreements on political refugees that more or less in many Western countries were applicable, these countries received Shah's men and followers, who now were political refugees. From the youth Muslim revolutionaries' hand, it was perceived as more hostile move by the western world against the newborn revolution. Especially since the Shah was allowed to travel to the U.S. for his further treatment in a hospital in the United States, this permit was used as an argument that the U.S. still insisted on the elimination of the revolution and "Islam" (Takeyh, 2009: 38).
One can well imagine that if two states - like two people - lack a sufficient common denominator to communicate with each other, the relationship will stall.
Another symbolic criterion which is used in an analysing and thus "assessment" in the political relations in the traditional world is the question of "who" one meets with. There is always the question of which person or group "we" are allowed to meet with, and the question of that person or group is in a neutral position in relation to "us" or is someone "we" do not have a friendly relationship with.
Against this background, a political leader - in the traditional sense - will be judged for his meetings with other political leaders. But in the modern sense it may well happen that a political leader or a diplomat for example, during a conference meet with another leader or diplomat from a non-friendly country, without it necessarily being construed as an allied relationship, or trend to the improvement of the relationship or an cooperation. A single meeting of this kind cannot even be interpreted as an attempt for normalization of relations between two states.
In the aftermath of the 1979 revolution in Iran, radical Islamists used several situations, each time a celebrity person has met with foreign persons. Radical Islamists' reactions have been with the intention that they would defeat their internal rivals. It is especially happened every time rival individuals or groups have attempted a meeting with the Americans (ibid, 38) or they have talked about informal dialogue with the U.S.
Barzargan's (provisional premium minister after the revolution) meeting with the Americans during a conference in Algeria in 1979 is an example for these kinds of meetings. His purpose of the meeting was merely a hope for "to reformulate them on basis of respect and equality" (ibid, 36), but the radicals criticized Bazargan and stressed the "hatred" against and rejection of "the enemy".
Such a political position makes diplomatic relations, which are necessary to take steps towards a normalized relationship, impossible or difficult. If you are not face to face to sit and talk with someone who you have problematic relationship with, how can you solve your problems with that?
These kinds of taboos can always be used as middles to eliminating of the internal rival group. On that basis the taboos become harder, because eventually no one dares to approach the red lines.
I think that the "embassy occupation" also occurred in this internal clash embossed direction; just in one direction, where rival groups tried to find resources that could be used against other groups. I am therefore not fully agreeing with Ray Takeyh, where he believes that radical Islamists feared that the U.S. embassy would be a base for counterrevolutionary activities, just a role the embassy had played during the coup against Mosaddegh and his government in 1953 (ibid, 38). The so-called "Oil Movement" in 1953 and the Shah's upheaval in 1979 were, after all, two completely different situations. The two political situations of many reasons are not at all comparable with each other. Therefore, the theory of the Islamists' fear that the U.S. would break the revolution and help with the return of the Shah to power, as happened in 1953, is unfounded.
In the above I have referred to some of the important points of the Iranians behaviour in their relationship with U.S. If we look at the U.S. way of handling in that relationship, we can also not see a big step to end the cold war-like conflict between Iran and the U.S. It has nothing to do with the modern thinking, but it returns to the question of to what extent there has been a will to melt the icing in that relationship, and the question of to what extent there have been possibilities to clear barriers out of the way of a relationship between the two countries.
Now we can look at both countries' behaviours in relation to each other with "realist" glasses.
Two central concepts in the Realist theory are "security" and "national interest". These to concepts have a central role in the understanding of the Realist theory in Internal Relations.
The source and background of the theory in its connection with the human nature – of course from the Classical Realist view of point – can let be to the area of political philosophy, and of realistic discussions, which are very general. What come out of these discussions are states security issue and the issue of the national interest. It is interesting to know whether that thirty five years tens relationship between Iran and U.S has been in the direction of the two countries' securities and national interests. It is also interesting to know whether that relationship and its continue has been in the direction of just one of them and while in the direction of losing and in conflict with the others security and national interest.
One of the points of view, where through we can look at the relationship is an assumption of a starting point in the relationship between the two countries in 1979, when the revolution took place, and from this time and onward, which is a beginning of a hostile relationship between the two states, to see which consequences this hostile relationship has had for the two countries. We take the starting point where the two countries are friend-states, have common interests, and until the revolution those two have very close cooperation.
This close relationship and broad cooperation stops there. Now during the time and by successive events in that relationship we can examine which advantages and disadvantages each of the two countries have had from those events and the process of that relationship.
If we examine this issue a bit deeper, we come to the question of which alternatives each of the countries have had; after stopping this friendly and cooperative relationship. Immediately we find that Iran by its cutting of the relationship with U.S never got a secure and stable alternative, which could fill the U.S. place. But contrary the U.S in the Middle East has had several alternatives. U.S. for which Iran have been a trusted friend and a stable base in the direction of its economic, political and military interests in the Middle East region. In the case of the losing of Iran, U.S. has always had many alternatives in the region. U.S. by an establishing of stronger relationships with its other friends in the Middle East region tried to fill the void cause by losing Iran.
In the top of all those friends there is Saudi Arabia. It is obvious that the relationship and the alliance between U.S. and Saudi Arabia in those currently form is an old relationship. It is a strategic alliance, which has not begin since after 1979 revolution in Iran, but it is something that has begun since before the World War Second. However that is the point that U.S. after the loss of its relationship with Iran, by use of the Saudi Arabia's unused capacities could fill the void of that loss in order to ensure its own security in the first step and finally in order to ensure the economic, political and military interests in the next step. U.S. on the one hand could thus reduce the disadvantages of the loss of the cooperative relationship with Iran. On the other hand by expanding the relationship with Saudi Arabia the U.S. could continue its dominance in the Middle East.
If we return to the other side of that conflict, we can see it has not been the same for Iran. Especially that on the one hand by the insistence from the Iranian side in continuing the war against Iraq and on the other hand the unbroken help, which Americans and its Middle Eastern allies gave to Iraq against Iran, that war had the most important role in the weakness of Iran and was the cause to a broad loss and harm to the Iranian's infrastructure human, economic, political and cultural.
If the proclaims of "the war was a God gift" from the Islamic rulers' side disregarded, the war between Iran and Iraq had a major impact on the country's retrogression in all the areas including economic, political, cultural, social, ....
Of course according to the Iranian Islamic rulers the Eight year war was a gift, if we analyse the situation from that view of point that in which extent it had impact on the stabilizing and continuation of the Islamic rule, and its domination on the all affairs and aspects of the country, while on the destruction and overcoming the internal political competitors.
If we look at the relationship from a point of view of national security and national interests, we can see the war had a very destructive role. The war had no other consequences than problems and retrogression to the Iranian people.
On another point of view, from which we can look at the situation, is on the basis happening of the global changes. The most important of those events was the Soviet collapse and thus the end of the Cold War. Until that the international system was bipolar, and that many of the relations became regulated on the basis of that system and with regard to a rivalry between the two superpowers, there could always exist worries concerning Iran's strategic position especially due to that country's neighbouring with the Soviet Union. However, by the end of the Cold War that strategic position and the worries in a high degree disappeared. Before that there was a worry about what could happen in Iran and there was the question of whether Iran would tend to the Soviet Union, the question of which role Iran would play in relation to the Afghanistan occupation by Russia, and many other questions. But after the Soviet collapse all those worries lost their meanings.
Basically, if we want to explain the up and down of the relation by the realistic criteria, we can conclude that the continuation of the stressful relation did not contain so high a degree of loss and harm for the U.S as those did for Iran; regarding to both "security" and "national interest".
It is worthy to mention that according to the Realist theory there is rationality, which states apply in their assessment of their own securities and national interests. Realists believe states take decisions on the basis of rationality.
However, there appears a question; whether a state's rational in the attempt to their own survival is always in the same direction with the attempt to protection and preserving of the country's security and national interest.
By focusing on the Iranian state's behaviours and handlings generally in relation to the other states and specific in relation to the U.S., I can conclude that the states attempts for own survival on the one side and its attempts for the country's security and national interest in the most of the recent thirty-five years have been in two different directions; if we don't say in two opposite directions, we can at least say in two different directions.
Thus, there also appears a theoretical question. When we see that some state's rationality will be applied in the direction of the state survival, but not in the direction of their people's security and national interest, we can see a paradoxical point, so we cannot find a realistic explanation.
"The occupation of the U.S. Embassy" is undoubtedly the highest point in the long tense relations between the U.S. and Iran in the aftermath of 1979 revolution.
That event on one way or another has had to do with the ideological strength and capacity from the radical Muslim leaders´ side.
The cornerstone of the social and political conditions of any society is based on economic relations. If a state has no economic ideas or recipes for how the economy at the national level should work, it will be very chaotic and a difficult task to establish and maintain the political order.
The revolutionary Muslim leaders still not had a clue of how an economic system would work. Islam - like all other religions - does not have any suggestions on how economic conditions will be. So the new rulers, who now had taken power in a great country, did not have sufficient knowledge and thus a liability or obligation sense of the country's economic interests. They were almost indifferent to the economic issues and therefore trade and economic relations with the outside world. "In Khomeini's view, the path of amassing power and ushering in a radical foreign policy necessitated a crisis that could even endanger Iran's practical and long-term interests" (ibid, 42). They could not assess the economic consequences of an unrealistic policy. They therefore could not dream of a conciliatory relationship with the U.S. and thus benefits for the country.
To adopt of such policy was without doubt not consistent with the Iranians' national interests, but if we generally analyze the Islamic rulers behaviours and have specific focus on the embassy occupation seen from a formation, stabilize and survival of a new political regime, we can agree that those behaviours were enough logical and sensible.
Against this background, their "enmity" against the United States, was however not fleshed out, logical and well reasoned. Their areas of focus in that hostile relationship were often very superficial and populist than being reasonable and related to realities. Unlike the Communists, who specifically tried to argue for a discrepancy between "humanity" and the capitalist system with the U.S. "imperialism" in the lead, the Islamists could not speak anything more than that the United States was "the Great Satan"! Against that background, the Islamists had no choices but to maintain the hostile discourse and using the "embassy occupation" to stabilize their victory over the other rivals. Therefore, they "focused more directly on the U.S. embassy" (ibid, 38). This political style was also largely successful for them at the expense of performing an act totally inconsistent with today's world political conventions. "They had violated international law, antagonized a superpower, and created a lasting image of Iran,... " (ibid, 42). They were not at all worried about throwing the country into an "acute crises", but the important thing was "their advantage" (ibid, 42). Specifically, in the case of "embassy occupation", they used the wrong way, as many of the former occupiers of the embassy today - after almost 30 years - admit the mistake.
The hatred's fire, which was already lit for some years before the revolution, was ignited by the new rulers. "Khomeini's conduct had generated a narrative that would haunt and damage Iran for decades to come" (ibid, 46).
The 1953 "coup", a reason for a sustained hatre?
The most important political events during the 37 years the Shah was in power, were the 1953 coup against Mosaddegh's government and 1963 uprising, which had a predominantly Islamic colouring (ibid, 41). If one carefully analyzes these two events separately, with a special focus on Islamic leaders' role in these two situations, one can get to a more realistic understanding of the leadership's background for a hostile relationship with the U.S.
During the first event which ended with a coup against Mosaddegh's government, Islamic forces did not support Mosaddegh. Of both ideological, strategic and political reasons "Islamic forces" and "Mosaddegh" were far apart. Mosaddegh was a nationalist and stood at the head of a nationalist movement. Basically, the answer to the question of "to be Iranian" or "being Muslim" has always been one of the dilemmas in the political arena, which cannot easily be overlooked.
The political mood under "nationalization of oil" movement in the early 1950s was such that three different political currents were present. These three consisted of a nationalistic, an Islamic and a Marxist trend. There was at least one common feature between Mosaddegh government's strategy and Tudeh Party (Iranian Communist Party). The common feature was the opposition to the Shah's regime, but there was no commonality between these two political roads on the one side and "Islamic forces" on the other side. Therefore, when the coup against Mosaddegh succeeded and the Shah after three days stay abroad returned to Iran, most of religious characters and organisations were not dissatisfied with the coup, so that the then greatest spiritual leader (Ayatullah Boroujerdi) congratulated the Shah. In the period between the coup in 1953 and the later uprising in 1963 Mosaddegh's followers were persecuted and the communists were greatly suppressed, but the Islamic currents got good opportunities for their activities, which resulted in a significant strengthening of the Islamic structure and propagation of Islamic commandments among population.
1963 uprising led by Khomeini was originally formed in protest against the adoption of a special law which separated American citizens from the Iranians in the Iranian criminal law. The so-called "capitulation" law for Americans in Iran - by Khomeini and his followers – was considered as "humiliating a country with a rich history and a well-developed system of justice" (ibid, 41).
Basically after Mossadegh's fall, many Iranians believed that Western states with U.S. at the head had a crucial role in the Shah's return to the power and stabilize his regime, which had created a "deeply ant-American character". It was actually a character that had cast shadow over 1979 revolution (Gasiorowski, 2004: 261).
When the relationship between the Shah and religious circles ten years after Mossadegh's fall was no longer a friendly relationship, Ayatollah Khomeini as head of the Islamic radical insurgency took advantage of this "anti-American character" in the direction of his attack against the Shah.
The collision between the Shah's regime and Islamic currents, which ended with Khomeini's exile, was the foundation of the Islamic movement, which led to the takeover of power through the 1979 revolution.
Against this background one can understand why Muslim leaders do 1963 uprising enlarge and use it as one of the historic reasons for the hostile relationship with the U.S.
Therefore the claim of dissatisfaction with the 1953 coup against Mosaddegh is doubtful. The allegation of discontent with U.S. involvement in the 1953-coup is being used to the purpose of legitimizing the continuous implacable tone against the United States and as one of the excuses behind the "embassy occupation". But when Muslim clerics do not authorize Mosaddegh's supporters for holding a memorial ceremony for him, the claim may not be verified.
A historical / ideological hatred
To provide an overview of the background to today's conflict between Iran and the U.S. we have to go back in history and look at the issue in a larger perspective. It is necessary to study the historical background of the conflict between the West and Islamism in general and between the U.S. and Iran specifically.
I believe that the conflict between these two countries is a part of a chain of a major conflict between the Western world on the one side and Islamic movements, which developed between the First and the Second World War on the other side.
Nevertheless, the two parties after the Second World War came close to each other so that they worked together in many areas. This occurred against the background of the formation of an alliance, and thus a common front against the "enemy", namely the communist camp. There is much evidence that the West headed by the USA has helped to establish or develop and support many of the religious movements in general, and specifically Islamic groups, e.g. Ikhvan al-Muslimin in Egypt, Salafism in Saudi Arabia, Taliban in Afghanistan, etc.
But after the end of the Cold War era the circumstances changed, so that the former enemies again got the opportunity to focus on each other.
"Globalization" has been one factor among many factors that provoked Islamist forces and strengthened Islamic movements among the mass people in Islamic countries.
The theory of "social movement" and more specific "Islamism" are also theories, which can explain some dimensions of the disputed relationship between the today's greatest power on the earth and one of the most radical governments in the Islamic world.
"Globalization" can be considered as one of the factors that have helped to intensify the development of many contemporary religious movements around the world. It is my opinion that these movements can be considered as one of many responses to the idea of a globalized world. The western expansionism in a long time has shown its interest in globalization.
In 1947 President Truman used the word global, when he expressed the desire for a global containment of the communist threat.
In this direction there were created a strategic alliance between "the West" and Islamic currents in the years after World War II, while from time to time some problems aroused between the Western world and Islamic leaders and organizations.
From the early 20th century, the technology-based modern civilization has been subjected to criticism. The criticism that was based on the perception of an inconsistent relationship between the modern civilization and divine values was directed not only by those who came from the non-modern world, but also intellectuals who belonged to the West. In 1935 the Nobel Prize winner Alexis Carrel launched a harsh criticism against the technologically-based western civilization, which he believed to be inconsistent with human nature. Carrel emphasized man's need for "spiritual values" (Drouard 1995).
One could say that the modern world already in the 20th century's first decades begins to challenge the Muslim world and opens a door to the development of an Islamic critique of the modernity (Gershoni & Jankowski 1986).
In this direction, the famous Iranian writer Al-e Ahmad in 1962 wrote a book entitled "Gharbzadegi" which means "struck by the west". He considered the influence of the Western culture in Iran as a disease that was expanded everywhere in the country and particularly spread to intellectuals, technocrats and skilled people. The book was very well known and popular among intellectuals in what was then the Iranian society.
The development of Islamic forces in Iran after the 1963 uprising was coupled with a kind of populism because of Khomeini's exile. In 1963, Khomeini attacked the West very hard, which led to a special popularity for Khomeini and his supporters among the population. Khomeini tried to connect a "religious discontent with the Shah's regime" to a "popular natural discontent" but from the outset, he stressed that it was "an Islamic movement".
Under the Cold War there existed a hope - albeit unstable - of closer relationship between the Iranian theocracy and the U.S. Iran was in the neighbourhood of the USSR - as its northern neighbour. It was very important for the U.S. to prevent Iran from falling into the hands of USSR. "By the mid-1980s, the U.S. bureaucracy was growing more concerned that Iran´s isolation could only benefit the Soviet Union in the Middle East" (Takeyh, 2009: 50). Afghanistan's occupation by Soviet troops and an Iranian-US common resistance to the occupation, according to Takeyh, had created an opportunity for dialogue and improvement of relations between these two countries (ibid, 51).
In this situation, the radical groups in the Islamic regime would not allow an improvement in relations between those two countries. Therefore, the more moderate forces could not advance their ideas about a normalized relationship with the global community in general and the U.S. specifically.
After the Eastern Bloc's collapse many of the political formulas lost their validity - so that Francis Fukuyama called that historic event "The End of History" (1992) - but new formulas replaced the former. The end of the Cold War, the emergence of an empty space due to the end of several decades of bickering between West and East, and finally subsequent political upheavals in the socialist camp now gave both the West and "the political Islam" the opportunity to experience new sides of each other.
On the one side many Islamic leaders and organizations began to challenge the West, and on the other side the West itself had also needed a new enemy.
Since, many studies have been performed and many articles are written about the relationship between the West and "the political Islam". A random review of some relevant research works can immediately observe that concepts such as Islamism, fundamentalism, extremism, radicalization, etc. are used in a high degree in the last 20 years.
The good enemy
The construction of the "good enemy" has rather an internal (domestic) consumption than being a means to use against the external "enemy". Takeyh finds "domestic political rivalries" and "fears of a potential U.S.-sponsored coup" as two reasons behind the "embassy occupation" (Takeyh, 2009: 40).
It is difficult to absolutely agree with Takeyh on the second cause, namely "the fears of a coup", but we can say that the main reason, which Takeyh points out, may in fact be associated to a form of eradication of rival groups, who the radical Muslims headed by the radical clerics had perceived as blockade in the way of a consummated acquisition of power. The attempt of elimination and finally overthrow of Bazargan's interim government is one of many more examples of the internal war in "the Islamic governance". Despite Bazargan's non-alignment foreign policy, he was willing to a non-hostile relationship with the U.S.
Takeyh also mentions one - perhaps less important - factor behind the "occupation" and the radical leaders' desire for a militarized foreign policy (ibid, 40). This is something, which basically is derived from the main cause, as above mentioned.
"Militarisation" may always be used by undemocratic regimes in order to maintain the country in a state where people's attention is constantly directed against "the enemy".
Regarding Iran under the Islamic theocracy, and according to many analysts a crisis have been inevitable to create from the regime's side, which Takeyh also believes that "it is hard to believe that he (Khomeini) would not have instigated a crisis that would achieve all of these objectives" (Takeyh, 2009: 41).
"The embassy occupation" has been a so critical feature from the radical wing of the revolutionary forces, why they called the occupation as "a second revolution that in many ways was more important than the first" (ibid, 42).
Despite doubts and disagreements among scholars, historians and experts about the extent to which the external factor has been decisive or not in the 1953 events, the Iranian rulers after the 1979 revolution used the 1953-coup as a reason for a hostile relationship with the U.S. Although there are strong disagreements with Mosaddegh's way among the current rulers of Iran and despite spreading the "Mosaddegh resistance" tendency among radical Islamists they still point on 1953-coup as a knot in the relationship between those two countries.
Indispensable realities, despite political hatred
The realities may at any time make themselves visible, but it depends on the political regime, whether it handles the situation in a reasonable manner, or simply passing situation unwise.
From the first day after the revolution the Islamic regime in Iran could understand the realities, just as they were aware that there were some conventions and agreements that no other country could easily breaching, however in parallel with the consolidation of its power, the regime closed its eyes to these realities because the Muslim rulers believed in their strength, so they did not find it necessary to bow down to or at least respect the usual customs and conventions of international relations. Three days after the revolution - February 14th 1979 - the U.S. embassy was occupied by a group of students. The new rulers condemned the occupation, the embassy personnel were free, tight security measures were in place and they regretted the offense, "not only did the crisis pass easily, but, through an intermediary, Khomeini even issued an apology to Ambassador William Sullivan, who was still in Tehran" (Takeyh, 2009: 39), but when the embassy in November the same year - for the second time - was occupied, the situation was different.
No matter how hostile a relationship between two countries is, one cannot deny the reality that both countries sometimes have to put adversarial methods, downplay provocative language, and more sensible to go in a direction of negotiation with the "enemy" on compromise-demanding problems. Particularly in the case of two countries like Iran and U.S., which for decades has had economic, trade, political and diplomatic relations, one can not eliminate all forms of relationship, dialogue and contact between the two countries' authorities.
One of those "almost inevitable" contacts, which, despite persistent hostile tones between Iran and the United States took place, was a series of secret meetings and indirect negotiations for the supply of some military equipment to the Iranian military apparatus. At that time Iran was in war with neighbouring Iraq, and thus had extreme need for renewal of an important part of its military technologies, which during the Shah's time had become much Americanized and extremely dependent on American aid. Although the volume of the supplied military equipment was very limited, the contact between these two countries' agents led to a whole lot of surprises, questions, analysis, and criticisms among friends and enemies. The negotiations later became known as "Iran-Contra Scandal".
At that time the situation was characterized by chaos related to the war between Iran and Iraq, Iranian interferences in Lebanon's internal affairs as well as Iranian role as "the biggest supporter" and "sponsor" to southern Lebanon's Shiite groups and their "operations" and violent acts against Israeli and American interests in the region. The Israelis feared for Iraq's possession of "atom weapons", and Reagan administration was under internal pressure to free the American hostages in Lebanon. These and other events made the situation very chaotic and complicated.
In such a situation several factors for the inevitable "dialogue" were present. Therefore, a series of secret meetings and agreements between the Iranians and the Americans was formed.
The circumstances showed some indispensable realities that could not be overlooked; realities which according to Takeyh "mandated some adjustments and even a re-examination of the country's ties with the "Great Satan" (ibid, 49).
Takeyh believes this tactical dialogue could not be interpreted as a return to a sensible policy, and thus relationship with the U.S., but that it was actually a prioritization of enemies. The Americans had landed in a situation that made Iranians' influence on Shiite groups in southern Lebanon as the golden key to solve the hostage problem. The Iranians could use this influence in connection with the liberation of the hostages. They were in turn aware of this reality that without American military technology they were not able to cope with the war fronts against Iraq's military, which at that time were armed and supported by both its Arab and Western allies.
USA's position in relation to the revolution
A foreign policy, which a given government implements cannot be completely independent of the country's overall foreign policy in relation to the world. The central goal of overall foreign policy of a country is usually the country's economic and political interests. Despite fluctuations and adjustments from one government to another is always decisions based on national interests, which are mostly casts shadow over their relations with other countries. This rule can be deviated from the "usual" situation, when there is a fundamental change e.g. a revolution.
In the relation between Iran and the U.S., it was in Iran that a revolution happened (in 1979), but not in the USA. The Iranian foreign policy as all other aspects of the country and all other policies were subjected to revolutionary and significant upheaval. It was therefore not unexpected that the country's stance in relation to previous friends and enemies should now be changed and restructured. U.S. however still followed the previous foreign policy in relation to Iran. The policy could not adapt to the new demands and expectations from the Iranians. A historical review of the events in the relationship between these two countries by the 1979 revolution can give this impression that U.S. could not even have an understanding or at least show some understanding of the revolutionary frustration and hatred of the former regime's biggest supporters. Under such a situation it is also impossible to change (or deviate from) the dominated political discourse in relation to a country, which for decades has been widespread and used in a political arena.
All the revolutionaries during the 1979 revolution condemned the U.S., based on the impression that the U.S. was the strongest backup for the Shah. Under such a situation, the most sensible official policy from U.S. over Iran could perhaps be a foreign policy where U.S as far as possible did not interfere, so that it kept away from a revolutionary chaos marked by contradictory argumentations from different positions about who was the "friend" and who was the "enemy".
The revolution and the chaotic situation in all aspects including on the political scene did that many former friends and foes of the former regime soon began to adjust their political relationship with Iran based on their analyzes and justifications related to the revolution's consequences, but USA's analysis of the situation was not something to be made quick and easy.
Viewed from another angle, in this situation it could be difficult for the U.S. to remain silent in relation to arrests, unfair hearings and executions of people who former (under the Shah) were USA's allies and "to remain silent with regard to such flagrant perversions of justice" (Takeyh, 2009: 37). A superpower like the United States (under the "Cold War" against the USSR, the other superpower) was in a way forced to show his other (standing) allies around the world that USA would not let them alone, but it would support them under all circumstances. Therefore, the U.S. could not let it be to condemn the arrests, interrogations and executions of the Shah's related men. But the condemnations led to even more hostility from the radical forces in Iran.
The relationship between these two countries is now very critical. In recent times, the situation became more tense. From both sides, they have gone as far as a return to a normal situation today can be seen very difficult. Especially for the Iranians' side, it is gone so far in an aggressive and uncompromising way, which has been at the expense of eliminating many internal rival individuals and groups. The theocracy regime today can get really difficult to declare failure and to take a different path than the past.
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With a background as Cand.scient.soc. from Aalborg University, Denmark, Shokrollah Kamari Majin works currently as a social worker in Helsingor, Denmark. In addition, he trained Middle East Studies at the Master's degree at the University of Odense, Denmark. He is interested in studies dealing with the relationship between power and religion with special focus on the Middle East as the regional interest area. Additionally, he works with IR theories. Currently, he is Ph.D. student at the Institute of International Relations, Warsaw University, Poland.