Iranophobia in US Foreign Policy

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour

Text of Dr. Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour’s address to 18th International Conference on Persian Gulf

Although history of political developments in Persian Gulf show that due to existence of rich oil and gas resources in this region, political and security factors dominate over economic concerns and industrial countries are reaping more benefits than regional states, insecurity in the region has left its impression on many Arab states around the Persian Gulf and Iran, as a country, which enjoys the longest borders with the Persian Gulf. Rivalries between Britain and former Soviet Union during the World War II and afterwards, between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War and present hegemony of the United States over the region after the 9/11 terror attacks are historical examples which show how Iran, as a big and ancient country in the region, has been always faced with insecurity and special threats, which have not been an issue for smaller littoral states. Some of them are newly founded countries which have not been the target of foreign hegemonic powers.

In order to recognize the current situation of Iran in the Persian Gulf region as well as frequent and constant threats posed by the United States against the country, the full text of an address by Dr. Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, faculty member of Faculty of International Relations of Institute for Political and International Studies, which has been delivered in Tehran on June 16 will follow.

First, I must say that there are three major players which affect security arrangements in the Persian Gulf which include Arab littoral states, Iran, and a transregional government, that is, the United States.

There are other transregional countries, which are not as important. Security in the Persian Gulf is the product of interactions among the three major players, in the first place, with the United States playing a very sensitive part, especially in developments that have taken place over the past few years. In view of US presence in the Persian Gulf and special situation in the region following that presence, I will pose three questions and will try to answer them in order to present a conceptual framework for understanding security developments in the Persian Gulf and getting at a possible solution. The first question is “what is the true nature of US foreign policy in the Persian Gulf?” The second question is “what role does confronting Iran play in US foreign policy?” Finally, the third question is about impact of Iranophobia on security in the Persian Gulf as manifested in US behavior in the region.

As for the first question, that is US foreign policy toward Iran, I won’t go into details and only remind that from the viewpoint of international relations theories, demeanor of the US government can be considered a combination of realistic and simplistic theories. That is, the main goal of the United States is a realistic objective from the viewpoint of realism, which is to build up its regional power and influence. The United States has always sought to increase its influence in the Persian Gulf. Despite various approaches taken to achieve that goal, including the Nixon Doctrine, balancing Iran against Iraq, the policy of dual containment, as well as direct presence in the region and destabilizing policies taken by the first Bush Administration, the main goal is to ensure long-term, powerful presence of the United States in the Persian Gulf and this is a realistic goal. The United States will not stop at any level of power and after achieving each level, it thinks about increasing its power to a higher level in Persian Gulf. During all interactions which occurred following the World War II, in general, and after withdrawal of British forces, in particular, and even after the end of the Cold War rivalries between East and West, the United States has always tried to boost its clout in the region.

However, a major point which has come to the surface after victory of the Islamic Revolution is that the US foreign policy in the region has been characterized over the past 30 years with an element of “Iranophobia”. It means that in the Persian Gulf, like other places, the United States has tried to introduce Iran as an enemy and this has been a constant pillar of its foreign policy in the Persian Gulf. This means that US foreign policy presents a special image of Iran as enemy and believes that this enemy should be confronted. Here, we would have to answer the second question as to the part Iranophobia is playing in US foreign policy. This concept has formed in US foreign policy and has changed according to new concepts in various stages. In general, Iranophobia has been used as an instrument in US foreign policy in the first place. It has been an instrument to promote more presence and build up US power in the region and to create a security atmosphere under which it would be able to sell more arms. That instrument has been partly successful, but it has gradually transformed into another factor or has developed another function and has emerged as a goal. That is, one of the most basic issues in US foreign policy is that it does not matter what Iran is doing in the region. I think that Iran has been successful in establishing bilateral relations with most Persian Gulf countries, but such positive aspects are never taken into consideration because the main objective is to isolate Iran and reduce its regional clout. That is, Iranophobia is no more an instrument, but a goal and, in the next stage which I believe would be more sensitive and more difficult; it would evolve into a structure and framework for US regional policy. That is, it would become an indispensable part of US mentality in the region.

All US politicians start with talking about Iran. In fact, what Obama said about Iran after finalizing his candidacy for the Democrat Party was part of this mental framework which tries to introduce Iran as a risk to the region. This evolving structure assimilates new elements every day, but its general outlines are the same. Here, I must point out that regional security, in the first place, is a product of structures; international, regional and national economic, political, and regional structures. However, roles played by different players are also very important.

Discourses and the way players move in this atmosphere and talk and present images of others is also very important. From this discourse-based approach to security in the Persian Gulf, Iranophobia introduced by the United States is a discourse and the United States is trying to globalize it and put more emphasis on the need for more attention to security discourses in the Persian Gulf. In general, three groups of metadiscourses can be found with regard to security matters in the Persian Gulf and I call them: 1. Identity and orientation metadiscourse, 2. Benefit and security metadiscourse, and 3. Hegemony and resistance metadiscourse. Iran is a prominent element of all those discourses especially in the second discourse of benefit and security, which is advocated by governments which are concerned about factors that threaten security in the Persian Gulf and how to handle them. Iranophobia is cast within a sustainable framework, but accepts new concepts. New discourse, which can be discussed within framework of this metadiscourse, is the rise of Iran’s regional power, which is not considered a positive factor according to the discourse which calls for heading off the threats. They say since the rising power is dangerous, it should be suppressed. That is, the rise of the regional power of Iran is a discourse under the benefit-security metadiscourse with Iranophobia as its core concept.

Shiite Crescent discourse, new Safavid discourse, and the discourse which maintains that Iran’s nuclear program is military, pursued by the United States in order to be institutionalized in the region, the discourse of Iran trying to export its revolution, and the discourse of Iran’s intervention in Iraq and that Iran is fomenting unrest in Iraq are all new casts for an old concept of Iranophobia, which has been pursued by the United States during the past 30 years. Of course, the discourse of resistance in the face of hegemony is also there, which is not the subject of my discussion.

Now, let me focus on the third question as to the impact of this discourse building. It is clear that the United States is the main victim of this discourse building. Are you surprised? When it is constantly talking about Iranian threat and Iranophobia is introduced as a sustainable element, not as an instrument, it cannot understand Iran as it is. A major flaw with US regional policy, which pertains to Iran, in particular, and to the whole Persian Gulf, in general, is misunderstanding the reality of Iran and this has caused problems for the United States. Naturally, another outcome of this issue is insecurity in the region because regardless of Iran’s policy in the region, it is considered a threat and this causes problems for other regional states. Of course, it is also a challenge for Iran, which is looking for a way to remove this atmosphere.

Finally, all these facts denote the importance of language and understanding because in modern times, our remarks and discourses would not be limited to mere remarks, but they give shape to our mental structures and become our mental presumptions. Finally, they would be an obstacle to establishment of security. My last word is that if we are interested in Persian Gulf security, either at regional level, or international level; firstly, we need a new understanding of these discourses, which teem with incorrect elements, and secondly, we must create a new atmosphere for better discourses and better understanding. To conclude, I would like to note that risks and threats, either in their old form, or in their new form, are mental elements which may not affect situations, but remind us that restructuring mentalities about security arrangements in the Persian Gulf is of utmost importance.


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