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Understanding Iran’s Intentions in Foreign Policy

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Diako Hosseini
Researcher, Iranian Institute for European and American Studies (Iran- EURICA)

Forget what opponents say about the nuclear deal. If the United States succeed to indicate its benign intentions, Iran is somehow ready to reverse past antagonistic rhetoric and practice proportionately, not only because of retort, but geopolitical beneficiaries which would be achieved through rapprochement between Iran and U.S. In recent years, some Iranian journalists, pundits and politicians who are affected by discussions about the rise of Asia, have begun thinking about the appropriate questions. How reaching Asian giants to peak of the hierarchy, could be affective on Iran's national interests? Whether the occurrence of tectonic shift per se is desirable for Iran. If so, then, what kind of grand strategy or policy agenda should be applied to protect its aspects? Historically, Iran does not belong itself only to the landscape of the Middle East but also part of the seascape of the Indian Ocean. Iran has youth and well-educated population, huge productive capacity and an insatiable appetite for flaunt in the world markets. The rise of Asia has provided a new chance for Iran in order to disentangle from the Middle East’s caldron. Beyond optimistic assessments, however, redistribution of global power brings some new threats to its own. Just like any other country around the world, geography is destiny of Iran and determining geopolitical orientations.

The rise of Asia will flow the emerging powers, especially largest oil-consuming countries in the Persian Gulf. Among others, Iran is the only regional power that could ensue shipping lines and imperative control of one of the top checkpoints throughout the world. China and the India through extending ports, railroads and pipelines are crawling to the Persian Gulf. Unlike America, if China wants, any reason, could find Iran available through east and northeast borders. History has taught to the Iranians that the major powers are not harmless angels. In the last millennia Iran has repeatedly crushed by Hobbesian world. That is why Iran is in thought how could prevent coming threats, if America decides to leave them with their own ambitions. Unlike what it seems, Iran is a rational actor that behaves along the cost and benefit calculation- if you doubt, look Iran's behaviors in nuclear negotiations, cooperation with America in ousting Taliban in the Afghanistan or coexisting with American navy and bases in the Persian Gulf region - In this way, Iran doesn't believe could deter china lonely. Instead should find sustain and reliable allies on a common ground. In the logic of the balance of power and the pursuit of survival, Iran and United States are natural allies, even if temporarily ignored.

Despite undeniable attitudes, if we cannot provide strong evidence to prove Iran is a rational actor in the past and at the present, we will not be able to use it for the future. Let's take a step back. Do as Natanyahu said, Iran is seeking to "take over the world"? Alongside his claim, Hoover's Josef Joffe argue "Iran is not a normal would- be great power amenable to a grand bargain where I give and you give and we both cooperate and we compete. Realist should understand the difference between a revisionist and revolutionary power. Revisionist (" I want more") can be accommodated; revolutionary ("I want it all") cannot. Revisionists want to rearrange the pieces on true faith, be it secular or divine."Mr. Joffe following Natanyahu has fallen into false assumptions. Even if Iran wanted to export revolution to the world could not, because of the simple reasons: first, the whole of the world not Shitte Muslim. Second, Iran lacks the military power to do so. Indeed, he failed to distinction between “defensive revisionist” states and “offensive revisionist” states. Defensive revisionist states seek to change the distribution of power, because under the existing situation they feel insecure, exposed to foreign intervention or humiliation. Offensive revisionist states trying to overthrow the status quo, not for security, but greed for power, territory and wealth. Offensive revisionist states have realized accumulated enough power -or whatever is necessary - to change the status quo and therefore do not be afraid to adventure. On the other hand, defensive revisionist states know their shortcomings in economic and military power and therefore encountered threats cautiously. Defensive revisionist states are security seeking and whenever attain to a degree of security that deserve it, would be satisfied. In this sentence, Nazi Germany and imperial Japan were offensive revisionist states, but Weimar Germany and at present federative Russia are defensive revisionist states. What can say about revolutionary Iran? At the first glance, Islamic republic was offensive revisionist in the three last decade. Iran footprint can be seen across the Middle East. According to conventional wisdom in the West, Iran’s puppets are in an invincible struggle to overset monarchies in the Arab world which facilitate pushing Western powers out of the region. According to this story, Iran’s ultimate goal has achieved dominance in the Middle East. In the more depth, whatever we knew on Iran’s intentions in surface, suddenly disappear. On the eve of the revolution, Baathists Iraq triggered a ruinous eight-year war, which backed by the western powers against Iran. Moreover, Iran permanently threatened to regime change and militarily surrounded by America’s intrusive forces. Enmity prolonged to impose sanctions in order to paralyze the Iran’s economy. Remember, Iran has not tremendous conventional military or any nuclear bomb to which enable him to assure survival. This weakness encourages Iran to enhance missile defense capabilities. These deteriorating experiences, led Iran to some clear conclusions. Arguably, Iran should expand the front line of any potential war to reduce the direct damages. In fact, the all of these measures are defensive tactics not an offensive one. Furthermore, Iran and West have been put in a zero-sum game. At the Iranian viewpoint, this is an ideological as well as geopolitical competition. In spite of this formal rigidity, Iranians have cheered pragmatism.  Trita Parsi in the pivotal book “Treacherous Alliance” correctly pointed out: “As much as the Iranian leaders may have wanted to pursue their ideological goals, no force in Iran’s foreign policy is as dominant as geopolitical consideration”. It is naïve to believe we will be able to understand Iran’s foreign policy - and albeit any other country- without talking about its political culture. An Iranian political culture rooted in both religious and secular traditions. As far as related to the foreign policy, cultural norms like “justice” and “be against oppression” back to pre- Islamic era in the Iran. It is one of the main reason why Iran supports the Shiite minorities, who are oppressed by tyrannical Arab regimes in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere. Also, that is why Iran was condemned September 11 terrorist attack before any country in the Muslim world. Because self- esteem arising from old civilization, pride and dignity are focal attributes in the Iranian culture. Iranians are accustomed see themselves in the center of an empire of the mind which made with beams of Iranian civilization.  Hence, it is not surprising that officials, regularly, say to the world that they should talk with Iran respectful. No need to say that cultural preferences and geopolitical interests are overlapped at this time. Neither the West nor Iran want to see the victory of extremism. In this vein, no matter cause would be promoting liberal democracy or being against oppression, justice or liberty. Deepen cooperation not only for Iran and the West, but also for the core values of the world would be useful. The nuclear deal proved that everything, even between foes is possible.

More By Diako Hosseini:

*Why Opponents of the Iran Deal Are Wrong?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Why-Opponents-of-the-Iran-Deal-Are-Wrong-.htm

*ISIL’s War in Iraq, Iran's Opportunity to Score a Political Win: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/ISIL-s-War-in-Iraq-Iran-s-Opportunity-to-Score-a-Political-Win.htm

*Why US Should Stop Supporting Israel?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Why-US-Should-Stop-Supporting-Israel-.htm

*Photo Credit: New Eastern Outlook

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

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