Iran’s unapologetic self-determination, including its ballistic missile and nuclear energy program as well its resistance to economic imperialism, make it a constant thorn in Washington’s side.
WASHINGTON (Analysis) — Washington’s hostility towards the Islamic Republic of Iran dates back nearly 40 years to February of 1979, when revolutionary forces overthrew the Western-backed monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah.
The United States consistently maintains that its involvement began with the hostage crisis in 1979 and continues today due to Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear program, as well as meddling throughout the region in places like Syria, Lebanon, and now Yemen (albeit without evidence in some cases).
What the media and Western governments don’t mention is that Iran’s core ideology stands directly opposed to U.S. military and economic expansion. The Islamic Republic’s promotion of self-determination indeed poses an existential threat to Washington’s dominance throughout the entire region — similar to that of communism during the Cold War.
However, the Islamic Republic of Iran is nothing like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Despite the media’s almost childlike ignorance, Tehran and Riyadh stand at direct odds due to pervasive ideological differences rather than simple Sunni-Shia sectarian disagreements.
But why is Tehran such a thorn in Washington’s side and why have tensions recently increased?
To answer this, it’s important to understand the key ideological differences between the United States and Iran, as well as how these differences play out on the geopolitical landscape.
A clash of ideologies: imperialism vs. self-determination
Even independent news outlets often fail to grasp the reasons behind Washington’s constant targeting of Iran — pointing simplistically to oil and gas. While resource theft has been a significant factor behind Washington’s foreign policy, it alone is not sufficient motivation to promote “regime change” for 40 years.
The true conflict stems from Tehran and Washington’s differences in ideology (and no, it’s not Christianity versus Islam). It’s a conflict between imperialism and self-determination.
The U.S. status as world superpower relies on its ability to exploit and manipulate competition while propping up what essentially amounts to an empire through military quests. The United States uses military, political and economic imperialism to control populations from the Middle East to Latin America.
Even the population within the empire is not immune, U.S. citizens face police brutality, labor exploitation, and tax extortion to fund empire abroad. Several oppressed groups exist inside the United States (such as African-Americans and indigenous peoples), which provide a micro-scale example of how Washington deals with foreign entities it views as inferior.
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While the United States often functions as an oppressor, an opposing ideology is the backbone of Iran’s constitution: self-determination.
As Point 6c in Article 2 of Iran’s Constitution states:
The Islamic Republic is a system based on the faith in the wondrous and exalted status of human beings and their freedom, which must be endowed with responsibility, before God. These are achieved through: the negation of all kinds of oppression, authoritarianism, or the acceptance of domination, which secures justice, political and economic, social, and cultural independence and national unity.”
To achieve this goal, Article 3 states that Tehran will devote resources to “unrestrained support for the impoverished people of the world” and “the complete rejection of colonialism and the prevention of foreign influence.”
Iran’s foreign policy focuses on unrelenting support for the oppressed, and refusal to accept domination culturally, economically, and militarily. That’s precisely why Iran unconditionally supports Palestine against Zionism, as well as other nations under the thumb of U.S. domination.
Ph.D. candidate, university lecturer, and political commentator Marwa Osman, based in Beirut, Lebanon, asserts U.S. foreign policy goals regarding Iran have little to do with national security:
The U.S.’s attempts to put further sanctions on Iran or possibly even start a war with Iran have nothing to do with safety or US national security as consecutive administrations have emphasized since 1979 and everything to do with protecting corporate interests.
Iran has the third largest oil reserves and second largest natural gas reserves in the world. U.S. foreign policy has been centered on control of the world’s energy reserves, while the four major recipients of Iran’s oil are all from Asia, which is very much unacceptable to Western policymakers with national interests in mind.
The economic sanctions proposed by the U.S. would cripple the Iranian economy and surely it would not be long before political and domestic turmoil to grow out of hand. This would offer the U.S. and its allies the chance to enter the country with the goal of ‘spreading democracy.”
Syria as a breaking point and the curious case of Yemen
Syria has manifested as a breaking point for relations between Tehran and Washington.
The United States launched its proxy war against Syria for a variety of reasons, one of which included replacing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with an Israeli-friendly regime. As part of warming relations with Israel, Washington’s ideal Syrian government would cease relations with Iran and cut off cooperation with Hezbollah.
An email published by WikiLeaks reveals an exchange between Hillary Clinton and her aides which includes the subject line “an interesting proposal from Bruce Riedel re: how Israel could help get Assad out of office.”:
Ephraim Halevy, the former head of Israel’s secret intelligence service, Mossad, has rightly argued that toppling Assad and weakening Hizbullah is a far more important and strategic opportunity for Israel today than a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
Isolating Iran was always one of Washington’s primary objective in its war against Syria.
The email describes hypothetical negotiations that include Syria gaining full control of the Golan Heights on the condition Assad step down in favor of a government that recognizes Israel while ceasing support for Iran and Hezbollah.
That plan didn’t work out as hoped.
In fact, it drastically backfired: Syria has strengthened its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah, and those entities are now battle-tested.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Hezbollah, and Iranian-backed militias played a crucial role in supporting the Syrian Arab Army against U.S.-backed proxies. Indeed, if it weren’t for Iran’s support, the Syrian landscape would look vastly different today.
Not only has Iran supported the Syrian Arab Army against U.S.-backed proxies, but its militias have dislodged and nearly eliminated ISIS and other terrorist groups throughout Syria and Iraq. Osman had this to say about Washington’s reaction to Iranian policy in the region:
Nowhere is Iran projecting its regional power more broadly than in Syria. … This only made Trump push for a further aggressive approach to try to contain Iran. I think what worries the Trump administration is that, with these gains, Iran and its allies will carve out what the U.S. calls a ‘Shia crescent’ extending from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, and into Lebanon, where Hezbollah is the most powerful political and military force.
Such a viewpoint appears threatening not only for the Trump Administration, but also its allies in the Arab world, especially the KSA and the Israeli entity. According to the recent developments this past week, combined with Tillerson’s statement, it’s obvious that the next line of attack is going to be the northern border of Syria with Turkey.”
Syria and Lebanon are obvious hotspots, but Washington’s vilification of Iran through its purported support of rebel fighters in Yemen raise far more pressing questions.
No tangible evidence exists to prove Iran supplies Ansarullah (the Houthis) with weapons, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley recently asserted. Nonetheless, the United States recently labeled Ansarullah an “Iranian-backed militia” in nearly every media report (or simply a “Shiite militia” to imply Iranian influence).
The New York Times went so as far as to call Ansarullah an extension of Hezbollah:
The network Hezbollah helped build has changed conflicts across the region. In Syria, the militias have played a major role in propping up President Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally. In Iraq, they are battling the Islamic State and promoting Iranian interests. In Yemen, they have taken over the capital city and dragged Saudi Arabia, an Iranian foe, into a costly quagmire. In Lebanon, they broadcast pro-Iranian news and build forces to fight Israel.”
The Times does not, however, explain Tehran’sability to smuggle weapons into Yemen during a U.S.-enforced land, sea, and air blockade.
The United States knows it is operating in a bipolar world: a nation or group in the Middle East that doesn’t ally itself with the United States and Saudi Arabia will likely build relations with the opposing axis, which effectively means Iran, Syria, and now Qatar. Although Ansarullah began as a Zaydi-Shia movement, it has since morphed into a broad coalition consisting of Sunnis, Shias, as well as various local tribes and political parties that oppose U.S. imperialism, Zionism, and economic exploitation.
This prospect troubles the United States and Saudi Arabia. If a small Yemeni movement can resist and become self-determined, what’s to stop citizens in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and elsewhere from getting such ideas? The mere possibility that Ansarullah could ally with Iran is enough for the United States to allege the relationship already exists, and to carry out a devastating military response.
Over 35,000 civilians have been killed or wounded by Riyadh’s U.S.-backed military aggression and siege against Yemen, based on nothing more than the idea that they could possibly make their own choices.
Iran is not a “Shia” Saudi Arabia
The barrage of negative press surrounding Iran serves two purposes: defaming Tehran and normalizing Riyadh.
Yet the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are nothing alike — even before considering the obvious religious differences.
Iran is a theocratic republic with a constitution containing democratic elements. Citizens, both male and female, elect leaders and representatives into office through a well-defined electorial process. Despite media portrayal to the contrary, Iranians are guaranteed human rights through their constitution, including the freedom to practice any religion, freedom of assembly, and a legal presumption of innocence.
Iranians also enjoy a robust social welfare system which either provides or subsidizes housing, higher education, food, healthcare, unemployment insurance, and physical training. Many of these benefits are constitutionally guaranteed: a constitution designed on the Islamic principle of a fair and just economic system.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for citizens of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
It’s true that a subset of Saudi citizens enjoy social welfare benefits on the back of a lucrative oil economy, and do not pay taxes, benefits which have kept the Saudi population relatively docile. This, however, will likely change soon as Riyadh moves towards pervasive privatization.
Saudi Arabia does not have a constitution nor does it guarantee even basic human rights. Instead of a constitution, the Kingdom employs “basic law,” a concept that’s typically utilized on a temporary basis. In the Kingdom, basic law is determined by the country’s hardline Sunni interpretation of the Qur’an and the Salafist interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law) and Sunnah (traditions).
Citizens are not free to practice any religion — even Shias, and Sunni Muslims who do not adhere to Wahhabism or Salafism, face persecution. In Saudi Arabia there are no synagogues as all religions other than Islam are banned. Iran, on the other hand, has about 60 synagogues for its Jewish community, the largest in the Middle East outside of Israel.
Perhaps the most striking contrast between the two countries is the status of women. Women comprise 70 percent of Iran’s science, tech, and engineering students. In fact, Iran enrolls more women in manufacturing, engineering, and construction than any country in the world — nearly double that of the United States, despite having a much smaller population (323 million total population in the U.S. and 80 million in Iran). As of 2012, 476,039 Iranian women were enrolled in higher education in these fields compared to 262,840 women in the United States.
Women in Saudi Arabia may not leave home without a male guardian’s explicit permission at the risk of draconian punishments such as beheading or stoning. Adultery is a death sentence for Saudi women, who won’t have the right to drive until recent reforms are enacted later this summer. The rights of women are mentioned 12 times in Iran’s constitution, while Saudi Arabia’s basic law fails to mention word “women” even once.
As Osman told MintPress News, the Iran depicted through popular media tropes is a far cry from reality:
The reason behind this behavior is that the Western mainstream media knows that the easiest way to gain support with their audiences back home and abroad for all the hostilities against independent nations that are opposing them, is to smear and demonize them.
In the eyes of many people, Iran is a nation of Islamic fundamentalists with a sole purpose of destroying ‘Western’ and ‘civilized’ values. … News stories about the country are often accompanied by photos of burka-clad women walking past a graffiti illustrating the Statue of Liberty with the face of a skull on the wall facing the former U.S. Embassy.
But this is not the real Iran. I have been to Iran and have one thing to say about it: Pack your bags and go see it, you can thank me later for the great experience you will have, the amazing and generous people you will meet and the astonishing history you will learn about the country.”
A thorn in Washington’s side
The United States has levied sanctions and other restrictions against Iran in some way or another for nearly 40 years.
Despite this, the Republic has not only survived but thrived. Infant mortality rates are at all-time lows. UNICEF calls Iran’s post-revolution healthcare system “excellent” for meeting the needs of both urban and rural citizens of all income levels.
As with any country crippled by decades of sanctions, Iran’s economic situation is far from ideal. However, it is improving.
The failure of the U.S. sanctions to curb Iran’s growth has the United States under President Donald Trump scrambling to reduce Iran’s influence and domestic gains by going after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal).
What makes Trump’s decision to backtrack on the nuclear agreement so difficult to carry out?
After sanctions relief was first enacted in 2015, U.S. allies in Europe jumped at the chance to invest in – and conduct business with Iranian entities, meaning Iran is now not only an enemy of Washington militarily and ideologically, but is now an economic competitor.
Iran’s unapologetic self-determination, including its ballistic missile and nuclear energy program, resistance to economic imperialism, and exportation of this powerful ideology by its support of oppressed nations, makes the Islamic Republic a constant thorn in Washington’s side.
Top Photo | Thousands of Iranians attend the funeral of Mohsen Hojaji, an Iranian soldier beheaded by ISIS in Syria, in Tehran, Iran, Sept. 27, 2017.(AP/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Marwa Osman is a Ph.D. candidate located in Beirut, Lebanon. She is a University Lecturer at the Lebanese International University and Maaref University and former host of the political show “The Middle East Stream,” broadcast on Al-Etejah English Channel. She is also a member of the Blue Peace Media Network and political commentator on issues of the Middle East on several international and regional media outlets, including RT, Press TV, Al Manar and Al Alam. And she is a writer in several news websites including RT, Khamenei.ir, Fort Russ, Shafaqna, Italian Insider, AHTribune.
Randi Nord is a journalist and co-founder of Geopolitics Alert. She covers U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East with a special focus on Yemen.