By Hampton Marsh, Contributor | NEWSL.ORG
Iranian culture can be associated directly with a few simple words. Those words include individualism, suspicion, mistrust, revolution, scientific, rationalism, pragmatism, and above all else, religion. Though these words seem simple enough, the Iranian identity is far from simplistic. In fact, their culture is based on thousands of years of history and culture that predate many of the Arabic tribes in the region.
Those descriptive words that I just associated with Iran come from Dr. Shmuel Bar, a prominent Middle East historian and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy and Strategy whose is an expert on the cultural and religious sources of Islamic radicalism and Middle Eastern politics. In his piece, “Iran: Cultural Values, Self-images and Negotiation Behavior” he examines the Iranian national character and attributes their “highly exclusive” nationalism to an identity which “projects a sense of superiority towards its Arab neighbors and pride of its pre-Islamic imperial past.” Bar goes on by saying that this perception of superiority exists in the Iranian attitude towards the West and its western culture and ideology.
A mixture of admiration for its achievements in the very areas which Iranian culture prides itself (science and arts) along with rejection of its cultural sway and its pervasive influence within Iranian society and a sense of having been victimized and sidelined by the West. It is this very admiration, however, that brought Iranian nationalist intellectuals to liken Iranian civilization to a body that is affected by a poison or virus of the West (gharb-zadeggi or “Westoxicated”).
Bar additionally notes that Iran is the only remaining overtly radical state in the region with a proclaimed ideological anti-American agenda.
“Iran is also the only Shiite regime and the active ‘exporter’ of Islamic radicalism and terrorism, not only to Shiite, but also to Sunnite Islamic movements; and it is actively involved in attempts to disrupt the Israeli-Arab peace process,” Bar said.
With this wave-top knowledge of the Iranian national character in the back of our minds, we can now see that dealing with this nation requires a level of diplomacy that greatly differs from any other nation in the Middle East…they are elitists.
So where are we now with the Iranian “problem?”
First, according to the Associated Press, on Tuesday an agreement between Iran and Russia had been signed to expand their military ties. This agreement states that the “new agreement includes expanded counter-terrorism cooperation, exchanges of military personnel for training purposes and an understanding for each country’s navy to more frequently use the other’s ports.
Second, oil prices have fallen drastically over the past few months resulting in almost frantic measures taken by some key geo-political players; mainly Venezuela, Russia and Iran.
According to Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor for The Washington Post, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro skipped his state of the union speech for a desperate world tour in search of loans or promises for oil purchase; he got neither. In Russia, Vladimir Putin directed his ministers to implement drastic cuts in government spending, except for defense. And Iran is forced to choose between opening up to the world, or continuing on with a warlike “resistance economy.”
Diehl additionally links the strain within the Iranian economy to “fighting expensive wars in Iraq and Syria while it builds the infrastructure necessary to produce nuclear weapons,” He continues by stating that a recent speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed that Iran’s economy couldn’t develop in isolation from the rest of the world.
In an unfortunate turn of events after a session of talks on a nuclear deal last week with Secretary of State John Kerry, Diehl points out that the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated that the West could not be trusted to lift sanctions and that “Iran could thrive under an autarchic resistance economy.”
The third, and probably the most prominent point of where we currently stand with the Iranian problem is the Congressional debate of the Iranian sanctions.
Before we tackle this issue of sanctions on Iran, let us first look at where we sit in terms of policy and strategic direction. We can get insight of this as we look into the 2010 National Security Strategy.
President Obama states in the 2010 NSS that:
Wars over ideology have given way to wars over religious, ethnic, and tribal identity; nuclear dangers have proliferated; inequality and economic instability have intensified; damage to our environment, food insecurity, and dangers to public health are increasingly shared; and the same tools that empower individuals to build enable them to destroy.
President Obama continues by noting that continued engagement with other countries would play a key role within this geopolitical structure. “The cornerstone of this engagement is the relationship between the United States and our close friends and allies in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East…including China, India, and Russia, as well as increasingly influential nations such as Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia,” Obama said.
Now we should pose how we can come to a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear problem when we clearly, per the 2010 NSS, do not recognize Iran as one of the key players within the region, when we obviously recognized China and Russia.
With the Iranian view of American culture as “westoxicating” their society, it is not surprising that we haven’t reached an agreement concerning the proliferation of the Iranian nuclear program.
President Obama stated in his NSS that one of our goals is to “promote universal values abroad by living them at home… and to strengthen international norms on behalf of human rights, while welcoming all peaceful democratic movements.”
With this in mind, I see this ideological struggle between the West and Iran to be one of the dominant issues of 2015 and the outcome will set the stage for the next two decades within the Middle East.
As for our strategic policy goals for the outcome between the U.S. and Iran, the answer is very simple. We, as the dominant global power in the world, and figurehead of Western civilization, cannot allow a nuclear capability in Iran to develop, for any purpose.
But how can we ensure that won’t happen?
The U.S. and its allies have and will continue to use Flexible Deterrent Options (FDOs) to influence adversary actions to prevent or limit aggression between global players. The key to the implementation of these FDOs is for them to cover across each of the instruments of national power (Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic).
In recent years the West, led by the U.S., has implemented various programs and sanctions to limit Iranian nuclear proliferation. Some of these deterrent options include special nuclear inspection teams and sanction relief operations.
In the informational arena, the national and international media has been very interested in reporting on and keeping this issue relevant within the media cycle, which results in increased population support for implemented restrictions placed on Iran.
Militarily we have seen upgraded alert statuses and show of force actions against Iranian naval patrol vessels operating within the Straits of Hormuz, a few of which I have personally taken part in while conducting “escort” operations of a naval amphibious ready group while in transit within the Straits.
Finally we come to the issue of economic sanctions imposed, which have taken a forefront in our news cycle as of late.
In an article titled “Opening Round Iran Sanctions Fight Kicks off in Senate” written by Deb Riechmann with the Associated Press, she highlights some of the deterrent options that, if passed, will take effect in August.
Riechmann states that these sanctions include new restrictions on Iran’s petroleum industry, new restraints on nations that import Iranian oil, travel and financial sanctions against Iranian officials, foreign bank restrictions on the Iranian central bank and further restrictions imposed on Iranian energy, shipping, shipbuilding, auto, mining and other strategic industrial sectors.
But how effective are these measures?
Based off Iranian actions in the past of “disregarding” the rules and covertly pressing their self-interested programs for regional dominance, I agree with the overall sentiment of the newly elected republican Congress that delaying international pressure is just a tactic for Iranians to “buy time so they can continue enhancing their nuclear programs,” according to Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
With the drop in the price of oil, even though Iran claims it can weather the storm, now is the time to hold them to the fire and economically ensure they comply with the nuclear developmental restrictions imposed on them.
Additionally, with the recent rhetoric from the Iranian Supreme Leader of anti-American/Western mistrust we cannot assume that they will comply of their own free will due to the knowledge of their desire to reclaim the region as an emerging super power. The obvious political and economic misalignment between their president and supreme leader helps reinforce this assumption.
My prediction is that if and when President Obama vetoes the Congressional Iranian sanctions bill those diplomatic attempts to resolve this problem will fail, inevitably worsening a very fragile relationship, and in July we will be forced to impose the proposed sanctions tightening the global economic pressures in an already strained economy.
The recent Russian-Iranian pact shows me that their willingness to deal with the West is wishful thinking at best and that relationship is an investment in their future for possible armed conflict with the West.
The best-case scenario is a realization by Iran leaders that they cannot maintain their overextended posture in the Middle East and are forced into a more open-minded Western influential view of global dependence. Unfortunately, as Bar stated in our opening paragraph, Iranian individualism, suspicion and mistrust will make this best-case scenario unrealistic and virtually impossible.
- Dr. Shmuel Bar, Iran: Cultural Values, Self-images and Negotiation Behavior, 2004.
- President Barack Obama, The National Security Strategy, 2010.
- Jackson Diehl, Falling Oil Prices Hit Venezuela, Iran and Russia Hard, Jan. 18, 2015.
- Associated Press, Russia and Iran Sign Military Cooperation Deal, Jan. 20, 2015.
- Deb Riechmann, Opening Round Iran Sanctions Fight Kicks off in Senate, Jan. 20, 2015.
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