Middle East Developments and US Pressures against Iran

Monday, January 16, 2012

Seyed Hussein Mousavi

US President Barack Obama declared his country’s new defense strategy in early days of the new Christian year. The new strategy is based on drastic reduction of the country’s defense budget, changing defense concepts of the United States, reducing international presence of Washington and more reliance on ultra-modern means of deterrence. Obama, however, has emphasized that the United States will continue to maintain military presence in two critical regions, that is, the Far East and the Middle East and those two regions have been excluded from the United States’ new defense strategy. As a result, the Middle East is now the centerpiece of US foreign policy, though the country’s standing in the Middle East and North Africa has greatly changed. Some Middle Eastern and North African countries (e.g., Egypt and Tunisia) are gradually distancing from US regional policies. The United States has been also forced to withdraw its troops from another part of the Middle East (Iraq) while it is diligently trying to increase political and psychological pressures against another part (Iran and Syria). The main question raised by political observers in the past few months is whether the United States has changed its defense strategy simply due to its new regional focus?

This article will try to answer that question from a number of angles. In more simple words, it aims to assess the ongoing developments in the Middle East on the basis of their benefits and losses for US interests and ask the ultimate question as why the United States is heightening pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran despite dire conditions which are facing Washington.

First – The world’s political analysts are no more discordant on the similar nature of developments in the Middle East and North Africa. This came after election results in Tunisia and Egypt and another country which is introducing reforms, that is, Morocco, showed that the Islamist figures have won majority of votes. They have already dominated the new governments in Tunisia and Morocco and are on the verge of doing the same in Egypt. The results have put a relative end to debates about the nature of the Middle East and North Africa uprisings as almost all observers have reached the conclusion that “Islamic awakening’ is a better name for popular uprisings than “Arab spring” or “democratic revolutions.” The “wave of the Islamic awakening” was the term first used by Iran and most notably by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei. At the same time, the United States notably, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reacted to the designation by accusing Iran of trying to exploit the political developments in the Middle East. The issue is how the United States has been dealing with the political developments in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. In reality, Washington did not expect or predict a profound change in that part of the word, especially in the form that we see now.

There are many reasons to prove this. Firstly, roughly one year before the revolution in Egypt, Obama took a trip to that country and addressed the Islamic world from University of Cairo to talk about religious moderateness. He also lauded the government of Egypt as prominent example of a moderate state. Secondly, the United States announced on January 25, 2011, that it was sure that Mubarak will survive the uprising during early weeks of people’s protests. The Americans noted that conditions in Egypt were different from Tunisia. However, the pace of developments in Egypt abruptly increased and caused Washington to change its discourse. It was then that the American officials started to support revolutionaries. Only officials and analysts of the Israeli regime were correct in their assessment of the developments in Egypt. Some Israeli officials clearly noted from the outset that the developments in Egypt were similar to the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and expressed concern about future outlooks of the country, especially the fate of the Camp David Accord. Continuation of the United States financial aid to Egypt even after the revolution and making that aid conditional on Cairo’s commitment to Camp David in addition to Washington’s recommendation to Riyadh to give a grant of 4 billion dollars to Cairo all proved that Washington was pressing the weak point of Egypt in order to ensure continuation of its past policies. Many regional observers maintain that Egypt is still going through a period of transition. In fact, such concepts as the “public opinion,” and “government based on people’s will” have not started to weigh down on regional approaches of revolutionary countries in North Africa, though early signs of democratization have raised hopes among regional nations while causing concerns in Washington and Tel Aviv. The unprecedented welcome accorded to prime minister of Hamas movement in Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, and widespread protests by the Egyptian youth against Israel and its embassy in Cairo proved that the traditional political model of the Middle East is experiencing profound changes. Such developments have not remained limited to North Africa. Iraq has also been undergoing a major change in the form of the official termination of the US military presence in that country. After eight years of occupation, the United States finally resigned to leave Iraq. Of course, strategic partnership contracts signed between Washington and Baghdad will continue to keep Iraq within the circle of the US regional policies. However, the equation of power has changed as occupation forces have been replaced with domestic capacities of Iraq which allow for the country’s social structure to determine general direction of its foreign policy. Many Middle Eastern observers believe that the United States took Iraq away from Iran's age-old foe, Saddam Hussein, only to entrust it to Tehran’s strategic allies.

Other regional countries are also treading a similar path. Double standards applied to regional developments by the United States clearly proves that Washington is acting by weighing benefits against losses and does not care much about such concepts as nations’ right to self-determination and does not respect their government model of choice. It is quite clear that while the United States has appeared as staunch supporter of human rights and the right of Syrian nation to self-determination, the same is not true about the situation in Bahrain where the United States’ Fifth Fleet is station. Washington also shows less respect for such concepts when it comes to Yemen and the government of its ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh. In these two countries, Washington has been following a policy of reconciliation between the opposition and governments of Manama and Sana’a which will only lead to limited reforms.

Second – Profound changes in the Middle East and North Africa, election of Islamist figures despite the requirements of the period of transition in revolutionary countries as well as those countries’ foreign policy preferences prove that they are gradually distancing from Washington’s Middle East policies which gives priority to Israel. As a result, there is no doubt about emergence of new regional governments and new arrangements in political structure of the region will be inevitable. Such developments will undoubtedly affect general approaches in regional policies and strategies and will set their course on a logical path which will bring them under the increasing influence of the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy approaches. Therefore, the Islamic Republic of Iran will have to build new capacities, identify fortes and weaknesses of regional and international rival powers, strengthen national solidarity, and formulate new strategic concepts of its foreign policy.

Third – The United States ended 2011 while reeling under the shock of regional developments resulting from the wave of the Islamic awakening. Washington is trying during the new year to mount further pressures on Iran. There is nothing new about Iran's nuclear program and negotiations between Tehran and Western countries. However, tougher sanctions and heightening pressures by Europe and US against Iran which are supposed to impact the country’s energy sector are directly related to developments in the Middle East and the United States’ increasing failure in other areas. The American and European authorities have clearly noted that the main goal of these pressures is to force Tehran to come back to the negotiating table. Even if the problem with Iran's nuclear program is solved, other issues will be raised for further negotiations. Recent diplomatic measures taken by Iran with regard to its nuclear issues and Tehran’s readiness to resume negotiations with Western powers to strip certain Western governments of their main excuses to put pressure on Iran in addition to staging two military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf and eastern parts of the country are all signs of a new smart strategy. Increasing pressures and sanctions against Iran also means to convey a message to revolutionary nations in the Middle East. The message is that if Arab nations of the Middle East intend to adopt Iran's model, they should expect a treatment similar to that of Iran. The United States is trying to avoid the fact that it has to face a new Middle East, a new regional order and new regional policies because in that case, its regional interests as well as credit will be at stake. If the Syrian nation is entitled to determine its own government, the same right should be realized for the people of Bahrain and Yemen. It is time for the United States to say goodbye to its traditional approach and try to come to grips with the above realities. A change in the United States’ defense strategy should more than anything else guarantee a change in the country’s ideas and approaches to regional nations.

*Seyed Hussein Mousavi is the President of the Center for Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies (MERC)

Source: Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies (MERC)
Translated By: Iran Review

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