Tehran's Anti-Hegemonic Models in Trump Era

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Hossein Kebriaeizadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues

The hegemonic power of the United States in various strategic regions of the world, including in the Middle East, is based on three principles of expansion, proliferation and interventionism. In this way, Washington pursues a wide range of goals, interests and priorities within framework of political, military, economic and of course, cultural hegemony. Such a strategy is natural to elicit reactions, which are called anti-hegemonic reactions, from certain countries and groups. Such reactions, which follow trends that pose permanent challenges to the dominant power, can be considered as the common denominator that creates unity among anti-hegemonic groups and currents.

In the meantime, Iran, as the sole nation-state that counters the United States in the Middle East, has been able to greatly elevate its standing. During the four decades that have passed since its revolution, the Islamic Republic has been well aware of its standing and has made it the pivot of all its policies and soft approaches in order to pose a challenge to the liberal hegemony.

As described by John Ikenberry, the model of the United States’ hegemonic order is an institutionalized order, which must be accepted by all actors and is based on all actors’ belief in Washington’s goodwill. They must also give in to the rules of game that have been set by the dominant power in order to perpetuate its hegemony.

Understanding this issue, Iran has been trying to challenge inviolability of those rules, at least in its immediate surrounding environment, and by doing so, it has made an effort to come up with a different model of regional order in the Middle East.

Tehran, meanwhile, believes that two groups of actors can help it in its encounter with the hegemonic power. The first group consists of those actors who are inherently against the hegemonic power and, in better words, are by nature opposed to the United States. The second group is comprised of those actors, who are just opposed to part of the United States’ hegemonic system and, for example, reject its political, economic, military or cultural dominance.

There is no other nation-state save for Iran in the first group. However, there are quasi-state players such as the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, Shia groups active in Iraq and Syria, and even some Sunni groups, which are often at odds with Iran, who qualify for this category. Tehran is hoping to increase this group’s clout in the Middle East after the ongoing crises in Iraq and Syria are resolved and at a time that Russians are getting more active in the region.

The second group is not inherently opposed to the hegemonic power and is only opposed to parts of the hegemonic system. Therefore, this group can encompass most Muslim nations and even moderate political currents in the Islamic world, which are at odds with cultural, value-based, and even political and military models promoted by the United States.

Iran has been trying through a soft approach to take advantage of this value-based and ideological conflict between the Islamic world and the West, and make all Muslim nations addressees of the Islamic Revolution’s message in a bid to promote the fight against global arrogance, which is a revolutionary and indigenized term used to describe anti-hegemonic behaviors.

In its effort to achieve this goal, Iran’s major assets include such television networks as Alalam, Jam-Jam 1, 2, and 3, Kowsar, and Sahar; publication of Arab-language newspapers, which have great audience among regional nations; exchange of ambassadors with all regional states, except for Egypt; having 11 cultural offices across the region; and having more than 1.2 million Iranian migrants living in various Middle Eastern countries.

On the other hand, the United States, as the dominant power in the Middle East, enjoys various tools and has been trying to isolate the Islamic Republic in the region by promoting Iranophobia. Iran, however, has been very lucky in the meantime and developments in the Middle East have greatly changed the situation in favor of Iran, allowing Tehran to find its allies and friends in this encounter.

The experience gained in the past four decades shows that Iran has chosen different levels of confrontation at different junctures and has moved from the level of simple opposition to systematic and all-out confrontation. In the meantime, and despite inherent opposition that has existed between the two sides, Iran’s seriousness in confrontation with the United States has fluctuated in accordance to the existing conditions. Such factors as motivational and behavioral factors as well as its understanding of the threat posed by the hegemonic power have been major elements, which have at times modified Tehran's positions vis-à-vis Washington.

For example, following the nuclear deal clinched by Iran’s relatively pragmatic administration and the former Democrat administration in the United States, many Iranian elites believed that a new formula different from confrontation with the hegemonic power can be achieved through interaction and dialogue. They believed that the new formula would both meet Iran’s interests and help Tehran avoid paying the cost of overt confrontation with the dominant power, which could be very heavy for Iran. They argued that by doing this, Iran’s economy would achieve a positive growth after having experienced a negative growth for some years, inflation would be curbed, and social welfare would increase.

However, the change of power in the United States and election of Donald Trump as the country’s new president, took conditions in a different direction as a result of which Iranian politicians became more inclined toward hard power options. From another viewpoint, on the verge of new presidential election in Iran, the situation has changed in a way that those candidates, who will take more confrontational stances toward the hegemonic power, will probably appear to be more justified. This situation may prompt some analysts to speculate that Iran is in for incurring heavy costs. However, when Washington changes the situation in such a way that survival becomes the main concern for Tehran, suffering a cost, which may seem to be too heavy, would be considered as legitimate and acceptable under domestic conditions in the country.


*More by Hossein Kebriaeizadeh:
*Evolution of Iran-Russia Axis in Trump Era:
*Challenges and Opportunities for Dialog between Iran and the Arab world:
*Role of Riyadh in Providing Theoretical Support for Extremism in Middle East:

*Photo Credit: Global Research

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.