Obama’s Foreign Policy toward Iran Exception

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Behzad Khoshandam
PhD Student in International Relations

President Obama’s promise for “change” during election hustings raised international expectations about a possible about-face in the United States’ foreign policy approach to Iran. Although no actual change has been made and the world is reevaluating Obama’s records in early months of 2011, there are still many apprehensions on the horizon about the quality of future relations between Tehran and Washington.

The key to understanding the United States’ approach to Iran under current regional circumstances, which have been called “Arab spring,” is the reaction that Obama will show to Iran’s increasing clout in regional and international developments.

There are various views about how the United States will deal with Iran’s rising influence at international level or in the Middle East. Many analysts believe that Obama’s Middle Eastern policy has come to loggerheads with Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East and North Africa at many points and the friction will continue into the foreseeable future.

In reality, however, Obama’s term in the White House saw no real change in the America’s foreign policy toward Iran. On the opposite, this has been one of the worst junctures in bilateral relations over the past 30 years which has been characterized by the United States’ excessive use of “carrot and stick” or “threat and encouragement” policy.

While the Arab spring is in full swing in the Middle East, Obama’s foreign policy toward Iran still sticks to restricting Iran’s influence in regional and international developments. For various reasons, Obama is trying hard to reduce Iran’s strategic depth and means of influence both in regional and international developments.

A major goal of Washington is to block Iran’s spiritual support for movements and countries that are collectively known as “resistance axis,” including the Lebanese Hezbollah, Syria, the Islamic jihad, regional Shia groups…. More focus on Iran-related issues such as the nuclear program, human rights, and Arab-Israeli peace, especially enforcing tough sanctions against Iran through such influential international bodies as the United Nations, the European Union, and (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council are good examples to the point. The Security Council Resolution 1929 marked the peak of Obama’s efforts in this regard. Obama has been trying to depict Iran as an acute international issue and is taking advantage of all foreign policy capacities of the United States in this regard.

Despite many complexities in Iran-US relations, “Iran issue” seems to be the focal point of Obama’s foreign policy and the upcoming election campaign.

All international evidence points to the fact that despite the Arab spring in the Middle East, Iran’s relations with the United States will remain cold because of many variables that affect those relations, especially Iran’s increasing regional clout, which are sure to give a more tragic aspect to bilateral ties.

Therefore, Iran’s conflicting interests with the United States in the Middle East will intensify strategic challenges between these two players. At a time that strategic conflicts between the United States and Iran are worsening due to Iran’s rising clout, the best way for the United States is to reconcile with Iran one way or another.

The ups and downs of Iran-US relations in the past three decades should have proven to the United States foreign policy apparatus that Iran exception should be recognized by Washington in view of Tehran’s increasing influence in regional and international developments, especially the Arab spring. Recognition of Iran exception by the United States foreign policy will be more compatible with Washington’s position as the world leader; the United States’ liberal values, interests, and smart power; and its strategic and foreign policy goals in international arena following experiences gained through occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and military engagement in Libya.