Do the Iranians see the Americans as weak


Josef Braml

To person

is USA expert of the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP) and author of "Trump's America - At the expense of freedom" (2016), among others.

For the foreseeable future, Iran will remain central to the vital interests and foreign policy of the United States in the Middle East - a region that, because of its oil and gas resources and its location, is also in the geopolitical crosshairs of other great powers, once the Soviet Union and today above all the emerging Power of China, stood and stands. While in the Cold War it was primarily raw materials, in today's geo-economic debate, trade, financial and communication flows should be controlled and manipulated as comprehensively as possible.

Collective memories

In 1953 the secret services of the USA and Great Britain overthrew the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh with the "Operation Ajax" (actually: TPAJAX). The fall is still having an impact today, both in the collective memory of Iran, from which the mistrust, even the hostility of its leadership and people feeds against the USA, as well as on the international energy markets: The nationalization of Iran's oil industry heralded by Mossadegh was reversed and the further exploitation of Iranian oil fields by the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (renamed British Petroleum, BP, in 1954 after the conclusion of the consortium agreement) and subsequently also by US oil companies. Washington's new alliance with the Iranian monarchy should pay off for US exploration companies: They held 40 percent of the shares in the new international oil consortium - as many as BP.

The US military industry also benefited from the armament of the new ally. According to Gary Sick, who served on the National Security Council during the tenure of US President Jimmy Carter (1977–1981), President Richard Nixon (1969–1974) and his foreign affairs advisor, Henry Kissinger, “have a unique and never had in the years leading up to Carter's election existing relationship with the Iranian ruler "established. As part of the so-called two-pillar policy (twin pillar) the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was chosen as the "main guardian of US interests in the Persian Gulf" alongside the other pillar, Saudi Arabia. In return, the Shah was allowed to buy "any non-nuclear US military technology he wanted". [1] Indeed, the Shah's regime reinvested oil revenues in its military build-up. In just five years, from 1972 to 1977, Iran bought arms from the US worth over $ 16 billion. [2] But the coup also brought a high foreign policy price: Without the disempowerment of the democratically elected Mossadegh, there would have been no Shah regime and, as a result, probably no revolutionary government that today violates the human rights of its people and threatens the security of Israel and the USA.

Remarkably, the history of bilateral relations between the two countries, which is collectively remembered and told in the USA, does not begin until the Iranian Revolution of 1979. This event profoundly changed both domestic and foreign policy in the USA. The Shah's regime, which was sponsored by the USA and promoted in the sense of the Nixon Doctrine to curb the ambitions of the system rival Soviet Union, was swept away surprisingly for the political leadership [3] and the intelligence services [4] of the USA in just a few days of revolution. When the Shah left the country on January 16, 1979 and Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Tehran from his French exile two weeks later, a new era in foreign policy began for Washington.

America’s foreign policy weakness was also to have a fundamental impact on domestic policy: Carter's re-election failed not least because of the impotence of world power, which also became evident during this crisis. The American leadership and people more or less had to accept and watch as revolutionary forces occupied the US embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979 and took 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days in order to force the extradition of the Shah, who was in found refuge in the United States. An unsuccessful military liberation operation in April 1980, the "Operation Eagle Claw", finally sealed Carter's political fate. The fact that the hostages were only released after Carter's tenure and symbolically on January 20, 1981, on the day of the inauguration of the new US President Ronald Reagan, demonstrated the new self-confidence of the revolutionary rulers in Tehran, who since then believe that every US government is politically in control to be able to bring the trouble.

Illusory realpolitik of the USA

But also in the USA illusions are cherished that are thought of as realpolitik. The Iran crisis could have induced sober geostratics in Washington to question their basic assumptions and foreign policy convictions. After all, a supposedly stable authoritarian regime, a "cornerstone" of US realpolitik in the Middle East region, had turned out to be unexpectedly unstable. Sacrificing human rights on the altar of stability and security had brought stability and security neither to the Iranian regime itself nor to its US protector in the long term.

The school of thought of the so-called realists in Washington drew a different lesson from this crisis: the Shah's regime faltered and was overthrown because it was not unreservedly supported by the United States. President Carter's human rights restrictions and his pressure on the Shah to reform the country have only encouraged revolutionary forces to revolt. Accordingly, the Carter administration failed to support the Shah regime as a bulwark against international communism. Carter's universalistic, values-oriented foreign policy had given up US interests - so the core of Jeane Kirkpatrick's analysis of events, which would point the way for the future foreign policy course of the US. [5]

"He’s a bastard, but he’s our bastard" was now the credo of US realpoliticians, who in the Reagan administration even tried to pull the mullah regime to the side of the USA by selling arms. From August 1985 to October 1986, among other things, American anti-tank guided weapons (TOW systems) and mobile anti-aircraft missile systems (HAWK systems) were delivered to Iran. [6] But the "Iran-Contra affair" was not only sensitive domestically: with the equivalent of the arms sales to the - hostile - regime in Tehran, the right-wing Contras were supported in the war against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua - against the express will of the US Congress . In terms of foreign policy, Washington’s secret arms sales to Tehran were all the more explosive, especially since Iran was at war against Iraq and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was counting on the (military) support of the USA. [7] The Iran-Contra affair ultimately turned out to be another moral and geostrategic declaration of bankruptcy for the world power's foreign policy. Once again the illusions of the "realpoliticians" were destroyed by reality.

In essence, however, the real political orientation of US foreign policy in the region was retained, but subsequently relied all the more on the Saudi Arabian regime, which is hostile to Iran. Under the "Security for Oil" deal, Washington protected the oil monarchy of Saudi Arabia and Riyadh, for its part, took care of Western oil supplies. The following presidents, George H.W. Bush (1989–1993) and Bill Clinton (1993–2001) made greater rhetorical efforts to flatter the religious leaders in Tehran in order to achieve tactical goals. [8] But both remained strategically firmly linked to Saudi Arabia. They tried to maintain the balance of power in the region through realpolitik - if necessary also with military force or with a strategy of "double containment" (dual containment), with which Clinton wanted to keep Iran and Iraq weak as opponents and thus in check.

Human rights played in this Balance of power-Politics play a subordinate role. If an autocratic ruler disregarded the human rights of his citizens, it only played a role for the geostrategists in Washington if he opposed the geopolitical interests and the global leadership of the USA. Such "vicious" regimes, such as Iraq under Saddam Hussein, should, if necessary, be "democratized" with military force. But the neoconservative policies of George W. Bush (2001–2009), which set moral goals but were essentially politically motivated, ignored the reality in the region and once again helped Iran to expand its position of power. thanks to the regime change, the elimination of the dictator Saddam Hussein and the ensuing chaos in Iraq, Tehran not only has one archenemy less, but as a regional power can also influence developments in Iraq and Syria.

In the effort of the successor government of Barack Obama (2009-2017) to find a cooperative solution, these regional activities of Iran - to the great displeasure of Saudi Arabia and Israel - were accepted and excluded from the negotiations with Iran in order to contain a larger, nuclear threat from the country . When Iran renounced nuclear weapons for the time being with the Vienna Nuclear Agreement of 2015, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it was granted a civilian nuclear program in return and the economic sanctions lifted.

Business representatives from western countries then began to compete for the best investment opportunities in Iran. Experts put the investment requirement in the oil sector at over 200 billion US dollars. Automobile and aircraft manufacturers also sensed the big business in markets traditionally dominated by European companies. The state civil aviation organization of Iran alone has announced investments of almost eight billion US dollars to renew the outdated civil aircraft fleet. Iranian airlines wanted to buy more than 300 aircraft over the next decade. [9]

Donald Trump, who moved into the White House as the 45th President of the United States in January 2017, also thwarted European entrepreneurs by keeping his election promise and unilaterally terminated the agreement on May 8, 2018, despite Iran complied with its obligations - which has been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) through multiple investigations.

The European contracting parties - Germany, France and Great Britain - (as well as the co-signatories Russia and China) have stuck to it and tried to circumvent the US sanctions by means of the special purpose vehicle INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) founded on January 29, 2019 and to maintain payment transactions for Iran transactions. But INSTEX has so far proven to be ineffective against the US (secondary) sanctions. Europe cannot withstand the geo-economic pressure of the USA because European companies also know where the bigger market is: not in Iran, but in the USA. If you want to do business in the United States or do business in the US dollar, you have to bow to the economic and military power of the United States for better or worse.

Iran's "Look to the East" strategy

Disappointed by the Europeans, Iran is now trying to find alternatives in Asia with its "Look to the East" strategy and to develop economic relations with the leading powers there. Unlike most European countries, at the discretion of the USA, selected countries such as China, India and Japan were still allowed to import oil and gas from Iran, but only until the exemption from the sanctions, which had been granted for six months, expired.

China could once again capitalize on the US sanctions that have been in full effect again since May 2019 and the weakness of Europe. Until the agreement in the nuclear dispute, which was negotiated by the Europeans and approved by the Obama administration, the Middle Kingdom was already profiting from the fact that other companies, such as a Japanese consortium (Inpex Corp), had terminated agreements with Iran in order not to violate those of the US violating enforced sanctions. [10] The USA also influenced India's decision to forego the construction of the planned Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline and thus withdraw this economic support from the Iranian regime. European companies had also curtailed their engagement, working with Washington to increase pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

China continues to be particularly interested in diversifying energy suppliers and delivery routes because its economic development and military armament depend on energy imports. But China's energy supply from the Middle East can be blocked in many places by the USA - not least on the Strait of Hormuz, the most important waterway on the trade route from Europe to Asia, the blocking of which would prevent extensive oil deliveries from the Middle East. In a possible dispute, this "bottleneck" would be (choke point) a double-edged sword for international energy supply: Significantly, the Iranian regime is also blatantly threatening to block the lifeline of western economies if the US sanctions endanger its oil and gas exports and thus its survivability. The USA would see a blockade as a threat to its vital interests and would take military action against it.

Contrary to what many observers expected, because of its supposed energy independence in the wake of the "shale gas revolution" and its reorientation towards Asia, the "Pivot to Asia" announced by the Obama administration, the USA has not moved away from the Middle East averted; on the contrary: the world power will not stand idly by a possible global shift in power in this geostrategically important region.

US geostrategists have also noticed that Iran, Turkey and Qatar are forging joint geo-economic plans. The "Middle Eastern Entente" [11] sometimes wants to defend itself against the USA and its sanctions. Among other things, Qatari and Iranian oil and gas are to be pumped with pipelines via Iran and Iraq to the Syrian Mediterranean port of Latakia. [12] Turkish pipelines could also be connected. Turkey gets half of its oil supplies from Iran [13] and also opposes the US sanctions, which are supposed to isolate the Iranian regime and put it under economic pressure. Iran is already negotiating with Syria to operate its main port, Latakia, and to advance the trade route from Tehran to the Mediterranean.

Economic corridors and BRI-participating economies (& copy mr-karthographie Gotha 2020)
In addition to the pipelines and the planned railway network, the Mediterranean port is also to form a further strategic hub in China's comprehensive "Silk Road Initiative" (One Belt, One Road) (map). Iran plays an important role in China's Silk Road plans not only because of its oil and gas resources, but also thanks to its good economic and diplomatic relations with Central Asian countries. As early as February 2016, the first Chinese goods reached Iran via a 3200-kilometer connection between Urumqi, the capital of the western Chinese province of Xinjing, and the Iranian capital Tehran. The rail route runs through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The China Railway Company plans to expand the line into a high-speed connection for freight and passenger traffic.

Chinese propaganda is spreading even faster, also via new communication channels. It even recently thwarted the US government's aid to Iran, which has been badly affected by the corona pandemic. Iran's revolutionary leader Ali Khamenei, for example, rejected the US offer of aid because of a Chinese-scattered conspiracy theory that the United States developed the virus to weaken enemies like China or Iran. Accordingly, US aid supplies should also be mistrusted, as these could also be infected with the virus. [14] All the more, because of the US sanctions, Iran will now have to rely on China's help.

The time bomb is ticking

If necessary, the USA will not only counter Iran’s nuclear option and regional power ambitions with military preventive strikes, but will also thwart its main rival China in its geopolitical calculations and prevent it from once again benefiting from Western sanctions. The mind games in the USA and Israel to eliminate the threat posed by Iran through preventive strikes are not new. However, this option only exists until Iran has made itself invulnerable to nuclear weapons.

From the perspective of the current governments in Israel and the United States, time is playing for Iran. The nuclear deal co-negotiated by the Europeans, China and Russia is, in their opinion, unsuitable for effectively putting a stop to the nuclear arming of Iran.It was therefore no surprise when US President Trump unilaterally terminated the agreement in May 2018. With its geo-economic strategy of "maximum pressure" through (secondary) sanctions, the US has since tried to force the Iranian regime to the negotiating table so that Tehran not only abandons its nuclear plans, but also restricts its regional activities.

In its misperception of US weakness, the regime in Tehran initiated a profound change in its regional strategy. By building extensive military capabilities in the region, especially in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, [15] it also prepared for a possible larger conflict with Israel, as security expert Yossef Bodansky did in October 2019 warned. [16] However, the Iranian leadership should not underestimate the US's determination to intervene militarily if Iran does not cease its domestic-political efforts to arm itself conventionally and nuclear and to establish regional dominance.

Strategically responsible for the close cooperation with the Iranian representatives and militias in the region was Lieutenant General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Brigades, a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. At the beginning of 2020 he was killed by a US drone attack, also because he was suspected to be the puller behind the public humiliation of the world power when the US embassy in Baghdad was attacked by a mob at the end of 2019 and even the US security personnel were coerced. to seek protection themselves - dramatic images that reminded many Americans of the disgrace 40 years ago.

In order to demonstrate his determination to react to a possible retaliatory strike by Iran after the targeted killing of Soleimani, US President Trump threatened to bomb 52 already selected targets in Iran in this case. [17] With the number 52, Trump also activated the collective memory of the Americans: the memory of those 52 diplomats who were taken hostage by Iranian revolutionaries in Tehran in 1979.

At the time, Jimmy Carter paid a high political price: he was voted out of office because, as President and Commander-in-Chief, he personified America's foreign policy weakness for 444 days in the eyes of his compatriots. Contrary to what the Iranian leadership assumes, today - also because of this history - a major military confrontation with Iran would not harm the incumbent US president domestically - on the contrary: a Rally-around-the-flag-Effect, a patriotic rallying movement around the President and Commander-in-Chief in the face of a national security threat, could even be useful to Trump in election year.

In order to counter an external threat, the President is on internal cohesion, so also on one unified government reliant. Criticism and scrutiny of the legislature would not be expected in a patriotically charged mood in the face of a national threat. The dominant role of the commander in chief of the armed forces in a national crisis could also protect Trump from his personal impotence scenario: namely his election or the loss of majorities in both chambers of the legislature in the upcoming presidential and congressional elections on November 3, 2020.