Here we will cover the general US strategic imperative (both as is and as we propose it to be) and the way it inter-meshes with Iran’s strategic imperatives.
Key notes concerning Iran
- Total Iranian Dominion: 1,648,195 sq km (19th largest country in the world by landmass); irrigated landmass, 95,530 sq km (approximately)
- Border countries: Afghanistan 921 km, Armenia 44 km, Azerbaijan 689 km, Iraq 1,599 km, Pakistan 959 km, Turkey 534 km, Turkmenistan 1,148 km
- Population dispensation: Iranian settlements are primarily concentrated in the north, northwestern and western areas surrounding the Zagros and Elburz mountain ranges.
- Devoid of maritime power
- Natural land fortress (the walls of Iran)
- Semi-arid climate, rough terrain, mountainous, spotted with deserts
- High lands house majority population.
- Low lands are treacherous and difficult to traverse.
- Resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc, sulfur
- Majority Shi’ite (member of the “Shia Crescent”)
- Strongly favors Shia regimes and minorities populaces across the middle east over Sunni conglomerations.
- Primary languages: Persian (official), Azeri Turkic and Turkic dialects, Kurdish, Gilaki, Mazandarani, Luri, Balochi, Arabic
- Considered state-sponsor of terrorism by USA
Iranian Strategic Imperative
- Bolster military
- Maintain control of the Zagros & Elburz mountains and Mesopotamia.
- Maintain control of mountains east of Dasht-e Kavir & Dasht-e Lut to maintain frontiers against Pakistan & Afghanistan.
- Maintain security surrounding the Caucasus to defend land from Russo-Turkish threats.
- Secure Western Coast of Persian Gulf.
- Mitigate ethnic conflagration and work towards inter-ethnic and inter-religious cohesion.
- Bolster economy to mitigate population dissent
- Exploit Shia Crescent
- Win the proxy war with Israel.
- Extricate country from US, UN, EU control
Since the Iranian Revolution and subsequent hostage crisis (1979-1981) American/Iranian relations deteriorated markedly. Explanations for this “cooling” included the need for both countries to seek out and use each other as spooks to combat internal disorder. Political/philosophical/religious clashes have also contributed to the diplomatic schism (western/eastern tradition, christianity v. shia islam). Given all of this information, what should America’s position towards Iran be?
Strategic detente towards Iran is, we submit, the preferable line of American action. The first imperative of any government should be its own survival, the second is the maintenance of its own power such that it can protect its citizenry and assets. Improved relations with Iran threatens neither of these prime imperatives and indeed, given Iran’s placing within the Middle East, could serve to bolster them.
There is no strategic advantage which out-weights its cost to be derived from simmering enmity between US and Iran at this current juncture. During the 2017-2018 riots there were even those who thought it prudent to engage in military action against Iran to help the protesters overthrow the clerisy in much the same way that the clerisy had overthrown the Shah way back in 1979. This would only perpetuate a cycle of violent upheaval and military expenditure of both blood and treasure which would provide no long-term benefit unless the United States were prepared for a full-scale invasion and occupation of the Iranian homeland (which is unlikely at this juncture to obtain widespread support, either from the US or its allies).
Despite the chilly relations between the US and Iran, informal diplomacy between the two countries dates back to the 19th century. These engagements were largely positive and should be played upon by the USA. Also, discourse concerning Russian designs upon the middle-east, specifically as pertains to areas surrounding Iran, should be framed within the context of the “Great Game” such that memories of the 19th century struggle between British and Russia Empires is evoked. During the period of inter British-Russian conflict, Iran was highly suspect of the intentions of both empires and looked to America as a relatively neutral party. Historical allusions to this time-period – specifically in tying it to modern-day and prospective Russian aggression – could serve to ever so subtly shift perceptions in Iran in a manner which could be constructive to American interests. Reminders concerning the Soviet invasion of Iran during World War II could serve to further cement further distrust of Eurasian interference in the region (in so far as the US/Soviet alliance of the time was sufficiently downplayed). If the US is able to construct a strong alliance with Iran, the latter could be a strong bulwark against any future incursions made by the still congealing Eurasian Alliance of Russia and China.
US war waged against Iran, whether economic, legal or martial war, is, largely, a forgone conclusion for the foreseeable future; Iran’s largely defensive armed forces are insufficient to defeat the more aggressive and well equipped and financed US military combine. Given that Iran’s foreign policy is primarily driven by threat perception the US should cease any and all prolonged military excursion in and around Iran or its border states unless those excursions be necessitated by exigency. A harder line on Israeli aggression (especially as pertains to Syria) may also be required to facilitate this process. Additionally, all discourse concerning “the toppling of Assad” as pertains to Syria, should cease. Syria and Iran have deep ties and Iran will go to great lengths to protect the regime. Furthermore, Assad is just as opposed to the weakened ISIS as Iran and certain segments of the US governmental edifice, as such, this alignment of strategic interest should be the centerpiece for dialogue, especially as pertains to military coordinated action.
Furthermore, the United States of America should uphold the JCPOA. Ad-hoc termination of the deal (such as that proposed by Donald J. Trump has suggested, would only further conflict between the two countries. More importantly, this would set a precedent for world perception to shift more towards distrust, not just towards the current administration but also towards those still to come, that America does not keep to its word, that it breaks its promises on a whim. Iran has kept to its end of the deal and America should do likewise. A high-ranking Iranian diplomat (who made his comments under the veil of anonymity) recently said the following to the Al-Monitor,
“Trump has shown the world that he is more unpredictable than we all thought he was. So far, he has shown a great deal of interest in withdrawing from the JCPOA, but the legal mechanisms of the JCPOA as well as the pressure coming from Europe, in addition to the consequences of pulling out of the agreement, have resulted in his advisers and ministers convincing him not to pull out of the agreement yet. Does this mean that the JCPOA will survive? We need to wait and see, since we cannot make a prediction,” he further stated, “As far as Iran is concerned, a series of multilayered responses are on the agenda. Iran is still hopeful that Europe will continue its efforts to save the JCPOA, but it is not putting all its eggs in Europe’s basket either. Iran’s first reaction will be to expand its [mastering of] nuclear technology. It will naturally do so without violating the terms of the agreement, but the expansion will nonetheless equip the country with more advanced nuclear technology.”
Furthermore, America should move, not just to warm relations not just by decreasing threat perception through decreasing action, but also through increasing positive cultural exchange (‘exchange’ as opposed to ‘foisting’). The “dialogue among civilizations” proposed by former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami between Persia and the US should be re-invoked and reinvigorated as quickly as possible. The impact of such a proposal (which must be evoked at the right time when emotional tensions between both Washington and Tehran are lax) would be heightened by also seeding such a proposal for constructive diplomacy to the UN.
However, before such negotiations can begin to take place US diplomats must make it clear that Iranian officials (whether parliamentary, clerical or both) must cease their calls for “death to America” as well as any similar inflammatory declarations and the spurning on of the Iranian populace in such a destructive direction. Failing this, harsh measures should be instituted to reprimand them. Once this proposed accord has been reached more fruitful discourse can truly begin to blossom which could portend a grand new strategic Atlantic-Eastern paradigm which would prove fruitful for both participants.
- Situation report on the Iran-Iraq war, noting that each side is preparing for chemical weapons attacks (July 29, 1982)
- Top secret memo documenting chemical weapons use by Iraq, and discussing Iran’s likely reactions (Nov. 4, 1983)
- Memo to the director of Central Intelligence predicting that Iraq will use nerve agents against Iran (Feb. 24, 1984)
- Intelligence assessment of Iraq’s chemical weapons program (January 1985)
- CIA predicts widespread use of mustard agents and use of nerve agents by late summer (March 13, 1984)
- CIA confirms Iraq used nerve agent (March 23, 1984)
- CIA considers the consequences for chemical weapons proliferation now that Iraq has used mustard and nerve agent (Sept. 6, 1984)