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2016 US Presidential Election Debates: Returning to or Rejecting the Iran Option

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

During the past few decades, Iran has been a major topic of discussion in the United States’ foreign policy and will continue to be among major items on the US foreign policy agenda through election debates in 2016. Of course, after the beginning of 2016 election debates among US presidential candidates from both Democrat and Republican parties, serious debates about the need for the US to return to the option of non-hostile cooperation with the post-JCPOA Iran, or rejecting that option as well as debates about credit of the Iran deal in US foreign policy beyond 2016 have been emerging.

As a first step and in late October 2015, after years of denying the approach adopted by some traditional actors in the Middle East, extending official invitation to Iran to take part in Syria talks paved the way for a reluctant return to Iran option in the US foreign policy. This was aimed at providing the United States relative support for the global diplomacy option and the Syria nation-state in 2016, and also provided necessary ground for offering solutions to delineate future of the Middle East crisis through Vienna conference (November 2015), adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, and holding the 52nd Munich Security Conference.

Ethnic, divisionist, secessionist, extremist and sectarian evidence show that solution to the Middle East crisis cannot be achieved through such mechanisms as one-state, stateless, non-state (Islamic caliphate), and rogue state solutions that have been offered by such experts as Thomas Friedman. Due to inseparability between security and the polarity of racial, ethnic, religious and cultural fabric of the Middle East, developments in this region are result of internal and indigenous equations of the region and finally come into being by the people and citizens in this region. Therefore, they are mostly people-based and awareness-oriented solutions.

Review of the Middle East’s developments in the past century has proven that no actor and solution in the Middle East can be compared with its equivalent actors and solutions in the region. For example, Iran's uniqueness is due to ancient and long process of nation-state building, adaptability, solid leadership and existence of intricate power institutions, dynamism of Shia jurisprudence, soft power potential, smartness and public diplomacy, as well as the country’s extraordinary geopolitical capacities and energy resources. To the above list one can add such items as young and elite manpower; social asset and expatriate Iranian elites; existence of necessary cultural, social, political and strategic infrastructure; moderate ideology; and a unique political structure and governance model in addition to the country’s regional influence.

Following the implementation of Iran's nuclear deal [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)], the Middle East has turned into the most urgent environment for Iran's national security and the solution to the crisis in the future Middle East is a moderate, middle-way, pluralist, and proactive solution. In this way, future outlook for actions taken by various actors in the Middle East will be oriented toward creating new opportunities and taking advantage of the existing opportunities in favor of the regional people.

The United States’ traditional allies in the Middle East, including Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt are being worn out and are not ready anymore to tie developments in the Middle East to exigencies of the United States national interests. Future outlook for actors in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kurdish regions and Palestine also hinges on supporting an approach, which would be based on people’s votes. Taking an instrumentalist approach to regional and international peace and security and future outlook of terrorist groups or those groups that carry out terrorist operations against the West’s interests as well as the refugee crisis are among major tools that the aforesaid actors can use to take concessions from the United States and the NATO in the Middle East.

Despite what the West thinks, the historical influence of a number of traditional actors in the region is not a result of their hard power, but is the result of their traditional influence and historical role in the region, which has been there since many centuries and millennia ago, and has been ignored by Western analysts. Presence of internal actors in the Middle East from Beirut and Baghdad to Sana’a, Ramallah, Gaza and Damascus, is not the outcome of territorial occupation or military presence, but comes from cultural, identity-based, religious and constructivist bonds and relations, which are different from presence of France, the United States, or even Russia in some regional countries. Unlike what France and Britain did after the conclusion of Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) and unlike what Russia did during the Cold War and what the US did after the Cold War (in Iraq in 1991 and 2003), shadow and influential traditional actors in the Middle East did not send their armies into Arab lands.

The ongoing developments in the existing restive Middle East, which are a combination of statelessness and prejudice, pressure on Arabs, divisions, and turning of the region into a passage for jihadist forces, who come from across the world, and the Daesh terrorist group will practically turn into the Achilles’ heel of the next US president far beyond 2016. The main duty of presidential candidates and the next US president beyond 2016 is to come up with a sustainable, fundamental, constructive and novel solution in order to make up for the mistakes that politicians in Washington have made during past few decades in this geopolitical domain.

Due to the significance and status of internal actors in the Middle East, including Iran, from the viewpoint of future American politicians and in view of the United States’ experience in getting this actor involved in Syria peace talks in October 2015, such actors can create more positive developments in order to offer new solutions to crises in the Middle East. Of course, achievement of this goal would not be a desirable option for Jewish and pro-Israeli lobbies in those institutions that can affect the United States’ national interests. The world public opinion does not expect the US election campaigns in 2016 to lead to revival of the bitter memories that the American and Middle Eastern citizens experienced under the rule of neocons at the White House in 2000-2008. Beyond 2016, the realization of the American dream in the Middle East will not take place through the Wall Street corridors, but through realization of the Middle Eastern citizens’ expectations from the world’s lone superpower. What those citizens expect from Washington is mutual understanding, relative materialization of justice, and practical normalization of interactions between nation-states in this region and the international community.

Key Words2016, US Presidential Election, Iran Option, Post-JCPOA Iran, Middle East Crisis, Vienna Conference, United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2254, Munich Security Conference, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Daesh, Internal Actors, Mutual Understanding, Nation-States, Khoshandam

More By Behzad Khoshandam:

*Iran and the United Nations Security Council in 2015: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-and-the-United-Nations-Security-Council-in-2015.htm

*Iran and Turkey in 2015: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-and-Turkey-in-2015.htm

*Iran and the Concert of Great Powers in 2015: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran-and-the-Concert-of-Great-Powers-in-2015.htm

*Photo Credit: Daily Post

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