President Obama and his national security team are no doubt making final preparations for the upcoming trip to Israel. Obama already began to lay the groundwork for his trip by sending messages to the Israeli leadership who remain fanatically wed to coercing the U.S. to go to war with Iran. And it seems the coercion is working. The president's message had nothing to do with peace. "All options are on the table," he professed to an Israeli news outlet. Of course these seemingly threatening statements drummed of another looming battle. The thing is, that if I were his National Security Advisor, helping to lead the way to "all options," I'd be reading Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett's book Going to Tehran with vigor while insisting that the president and his entire staff do the same so we all can avoid another war.
This book sheds dramatic light on the central foreign policy of the Iranian government. The Leveretts superbly outline the true intentions of Iran and the way they are using international alliances and soft power to get there. Intentions are not as the neocon talking points imply. Iran wants to be a regional economic and political power not a nuclear one. Unfortunately, instead of listening to the nuances of Iranian policy and messaging, the U.S. Administration is allowing itself to remain deaf to the words of Iran's leadership. In essence, they seem to prefer to bypass diplomatic efforts that would set the stage for a long-term peaceful and reciprocal relationship and continue to threaten them with destruction through military force.
There is no doubt that the U.S. continues to be the strongest military power on the globe and can overmatch any other traditional power, however, it is losing influence both politically and economically throughout the world. This holds particularly true in the Arab and Persian populations from North Africa to Afghanistan.
Hindsight is 20/20 and the Obama administration should review past history in the region to clear up current misinterpretations of Iran's actions. The American unintelligible decision, which flies in the face of all moral rhetoric, to overthrow Iran's democratic president, Mohammad Mosaddegh, has not been forgotten by Iranians. Basically the Iranian government doesn't trust the U.S. because of its past behavior. They are under the impression that America's current intention remains squarely in the path of another regime change, which will install an unpopular Western leaning leader like the former Shah, Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī. All actions on our side support this assumption and the Obama Administration is doing nothing to change it.
America's policy of random regime change has wreaked havoc around the world. Ironically, American nuclear technology shared under the Shah, gave birth to the current situation -- potential air strikes that could lead to all out war.
No one wants external interference especially when it is so lethal and ultimately takes away sovereignty, self-determination and human rights. As the Leveretts point out, former Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski says, "there is a global political awakening" where regions like the Middle East are "scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination," and there is a "yearning for human dignity" and "cultural respect." Populations are "disliking the status quo" and "are susceptible to being mobilized against those whom they perceive as self-interestedly preserving it." In Iran and the Middle East, they have had enough of Western military and colonial intervention. Even Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi cautions against thinking all Iranians won't rally if attacked.
As the book point out, "for most Egyptians and other Middle Easterners, the main division in the world is not between democracies and dictatorships but between countries whose strategic autonomy is subordinated to the United State and countries who exercise genuine independence in policymaking. For most people in the Middle East, the Islamic Republic is on the right side of that divide." Iran, to the chagrin of the U.S. and Israel, is charting its own path and despite strangling world sanctions continues to do so.
Since the revolution, Iran continues to use soft power to enhance its influence in Asia, parts of Africa, and the Middle East. Tehran remains a vibrant city and until more recently, it also had extensive trade with Europe, which went beyond petrol resources (even Israel keeps Iranian farmers afloat as it looks the other way when it comes to importing Iranian pistachios - the best in the world).
Iran is actually a natural ally for the U.S. The population is well educated and has a rich economic, political and cultural history with superb diplomatic skills -- something the U.S. State Department should be modeling not condemning. Other than protecting itself during the American supported Iraq invasion to its territory, Iran has shown no propensity to use force unlike the U.S. and Israel.
In the past, Iran paid a huge political price to help free American hostages in Lebanon. The country has helped keep oil flowing out of the Persian Gulf. The Iranian government has offered to partner on security and invited American oil companies to invest in the country. It supported America wholeheartedly after the September 11, 2001 horrific attacks on the U.S. by using its allies to rebuild the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, the warriors who took up arms to drive out the Soviet Union and, after 911, the Taliban. Finally, Iran agreed to stop enriching uranium for almost two years as well as and to buy nuclear fuel rods from Brazil through an agreement negotiated by Brazil and Turkey. Expecting a more level relationship for its efforts, it instead got nothing. U.S. administrations rebuked it at every turn.
Iran does want to be a regional power and despite all the American and Israeli efforts it continues to be one. Its success lies in its unwavering support of those who have been marginalized in the region. Rhetoric supporting Shi'ite minorities, popular elected governments like Hamas, and the subjugated Palestinian population ingratiate it to those in the region who are tired of ostensibly Western dominance and deadly intervention. It is time for the U.S. and the West to take a new path.
Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have reminded foreign policy scholars like Hillary Mann and Flynt Everett to speak out about the flaws in U.S. policy and encourage all of us to demand that it change. Our world can no longer depend on military solutions for political resolutions.
In one military exercise after the other the Iranian government has been shown to be a viable opponent. The Leverett's suggest that the U.S. follow the examples of former Presidents Richard Nixon and Anwar Sadat. Their trips to "China and Jerusalem, [are] a form of recognition that cannot be taken back" and "the two sides [must] work to reorient their relationship, the recognition bestowed by a presidential visit cannot be reversed. It would undergird all future diplomacy and underscore confidence that reconciliation will come." If President Obama and his team are truly looking for an alternative that looks beyond war, they should schedule an overdue detour by leaving Tel Aviv for a historical visit to the city that may actually help lead to future world stability and peace -- Tehran.