Why It’s time to stop fearing Iran
Christopher Newton | Sunday, November 16, 2014
“Those crazy ayatollahs in Iran want to acquire nuclear weapons, use them to obliterate the state of Israel, and die in a retaliatory mushroom cloud of glory. Or maybe those crafty Persians want to acquire nuclear weapons to prevent American or Israeli strikes against them while they support the likes of Assad, Hezbollah, and other such madmen, simultaneously safeguarding the regime from hostile western powers and destabilizing the region.
“Iran, previously placed upon the ‘Axis of Evil’ by former President George W. Bush, is hell-bent on death and destruction with a theocratic twist. American-Iranian relations are most aptly characterized as Manichean, a struggle of good vs. evil where the good guys have aircraft carriers and the bad guys want nuclear weapons.”
Does this narrative sound familiar? Is it one you perchance buy into? Perhaps you’ve never bothered considering why the United States and Iran are not as cozy as the United States and, say, the United Kingdom. If Hollywood is any source of truth, the move “300” taught us that Persians are at least a little evil, right?
If you had not guessed as much already, the previous paragraphs are filled with nonsense and characterize American foreign policy towards Iran since 1979. Before we discuss why this needs to rapidly change, first indulge me in a brief historical tour.
Iran and the United States have a long and complex history, but suffice it to say that neither side has played particularly nice. After World War II (WWII), colonies and imperialism largely fell out of fashion. While Iran had resisted full colonization, large portions of its territory had fallen in and out of Russian and British control from roughly 1800 through WWII.
After the war, it took some time for the Soviets and British to fully withdraw. Iranians agitated for their own sovereign nation and the last foreign forces withdrew by 1947. The United States gave assurances that Iran would have full control over its natural resources, principally its vast oil reserves. While this encouraged the Iranians to decline a deal with the USSR regarding oil, the United Kingdom retained oil rights extremely disadvantageous for Iran.
In 1951, Mohammad Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister of Iran and moved to nationalize oil production. The British found this move offensive and kindly requested that the CIA intervene. The United States obliged, fomenting a coup that deposed Mossadegh and firmly secured the increasingly autocratic rule of the Shah, the Iranian monarch. The United States began supporting a nuclear power program in Iran.
Fast forward to 1979 and the Shah is overthrown in the Iranian Revolution, a religio-nationalist uprising. The staff of the American embassy are taken hostage for the remainder of then President Jimmy Carter’s term. A Shia theocracy is established and relations between the US and Iran become hostile, with the US backing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against Iran throughout the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s.
Jump again to the present day, where Iran has elected a moderate president, “The Economist” has declared the revolution dead, and the burgeoning middle class of Iran seeks business opportunities with American companies rather than an eschatological showdown. The year is 2014, not 1979. It is time to acknowledge that not only has Iran changed, but that our unquestioned fear of the country is not only unwarranted, but dangerous to American interests.
Has Iran provided support to terrorists and dictators, pursued at best a nuclear breakout capability and made threats to American allies? Yes, it certainly has. Ignoring for a moment American support for terrorists and dictators that oppose Iran’s terrorists and dictators and American allies’ threats to bomb Iran back into the Stone Age, this does not mean that Iran is not in a position to assist the United States in ways that other countries cannot.
Indeed, Iran is uniquely positioned to assist the United States across the Middle East and Central Asia. We need Iran to fight the Islamic State. We need Iran to restructure the Iraqi government. We need Iran to strengthen a fragile regime in Afghanistan as we withdraw. We need Iran to combat al-Qaeda, a Sunni extremist group Iran has no love for. We need Iran to restrain Hezbollah. We need Iran to bring Assad to the negotiating table.
Face it, America, we need Iran.
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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.