Historically, Tehran and Washington have spent more time as allies than nemeses, and the restoration of a positive relationship between the two countries could be the key to stability and healing in the Middle East.
“The world has become a far scarier place in recent years, largely because of threats and instability emerging from the Middle East and nearby region,” Stephen Kinzer wrote in his 2010 book “Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future.”
“What these powers are doing in the world’s most volatile region is not working. They are using old thinking to solve new problems.”
At a time when chaos, bloodshed and religious extremism appear to have engulfed the Greater Middle East, throwing the region’s political architecture off its balance, it has become painfully clear that whatever policy “these powers” — as Kinzer puts it — have followed so far, has been detrimental and self-defeating.
Talking to MintPress News, Prince Ali Seraj of Afghanistan — a direct descendant of King Amanullah — stressed that many of the crises unfolding in the region can be traced back to the mutual animosity between Washington and Tehran.
Former allies in a world ruled by imperialism, relations between Tehran and Washington have been marked by hatred, contempt and suspicion since the 1950s. Such ill-sentiment led to the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran, when U.S. diplomats were held prisoners by Iranian revolutionaries, and the more recent fallout over Iran’s nuclear program.
Yet, as Kinzer eloquently suggests, it is time for the former friends to hit the reset button.
“In the same way a country needs political unity and social cohesion to prosper, regions too require that the powers which drive them fall into alignment and synchronicity. It is such frictions and tensions which have given birth to the myriad of cancers developing across the region – radicalism, sectarianism, poverty, corruption, violence, political instability,” he wrote.
“There are too many opposing currents, too many contradictory agendas.“
As the region has devolved into a murky melting pot of overlapping conflicts and crises, it has become increasingly difficult to imagine a future in which stability could be restored or one in which peace would prosper. This has become especially apparent since Islamic radicalism has hijacked the narrative, casting a shadow over international relations and straining social interactions. With fear and prejudice in the driving seat, countries have more than ever been left to react to immediate threats, and they’re losing much needed perspective in the process.
Marwa Osman, a popular Lebanese TV presenter and political analyst, strongly echoed Prince Ali’s sentiment, telling MintPress, “A major strategic rethink is needed in the Middle East.”
“As we stand now, our trajectory points only toward more wars and more terror. The clock has already rung and it is now the zero hour. The real question is: Will world leaders overcome their preconceived political hostilities to do what is necessary or will they continue on this path to self-destruction?” Osman said.
Noting that the United States and Iran are “natural allies,” Prince Ali said, “The U.S. is certainly closer politically from Iran, which is a republic, than it is from, let’s say, Saudi Arabia or Qatar, which are monarchies and thus stand in contradiction to democratic values.”
He continued, pointing out that there was a time “not too long ago, when both countries were as the fingers of one hand — different and separate from one another, yet working together.”
The corridors of history
In its fight for independence against the British Empire, the U.S. had Lafayette. In 1909, when Iran was fighting for its own liberty from imperial forces and its democratic aspirations were being trampled by the boots of royalists, Howard Baskerville came to the rescue.
An American missionary who journeyed to Iran in 1907, just as the country was awakening to the idea of political self-determination (an awakening, it must be said, that drew strong inspiration from George Washington and Benjamin Franklin), Baskerville decided to defend Iran’s constitutional democracy to the best of his abilities.
As Iran’s budding democratic dream was besieged by royalists, it was an American who stood by its side, determined to defend the nations’ shared values.
Speaking of Iran and the dreams of Iranians, Baskerville famously said, “The only difference between me and these people is my place of birth, and this is not a big difference.”
On the day of his funeral in Tabriz, where Baskerville was killed in combat on April 19, 1909, Hassan Taqizadeh, a prominent Iranian politician and diplomat, noted, “Young America, in the person of young Baskerville, gave this sacrifice to the young Constitution of Iran.”
Then, just a few years later, another American joined Iran’s fight in the country’s time of greatest need. On May 12, 1911, one determined Morgan Shuster arrived in Tehran to serve as Treasurer General of the Persian Empire, a post created especially for him by parliamentarians in a desperate attempt to resist and save Iran’s fledgling democracy. Caught between Russia and the British Empire, Iran was fragmented and weak, its people crushed under the unrelenting grip of imperialism and colonialism.
“The United States at this stage looked like the partner Iran had long hoped to find in the West – anti-feudal, anti-colonialist, modern but not imperialist — a truly benevolent foreign power that would, for once, treat Iran with respect,” Prince Ali told MintPress.
“If we think of the British and the Russians in the 19th century as the ugly sisters, then at this time, Morgan Shuster and his United States looked like Prince Charming.”
The end of a fairy tale
Iran and the United States’ political love affair would come to an abrupt, dramatic end in 1953, when after almost a century of utmost trust and friendship, Washington flipped its narrative in favor of the British Empire.
This “break-up” began when Mohammad Mossadegh was nominated prime minister by the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Shah, in April 1951. A reformist and a fervent nationalist, Mossadegh put in motion a series of reforms which profoundly upset the British. Keen to reclaim Iran’s wealth for its own people, Mossadegh nationalized Iran’s oil concessions, directly stepping on Britain’s imperial toes.
Mossadegh’s defiance of the old order prompted the British Empire to call on its long-term ally — the U.S.
In “Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future,” Kezer wrote, “Since the British were unable to bludgeon Mossadegh into submission, the British decided to overthrow him.”
When Mossadegh foiled Britain’s plot and subsequently declared all British diplomats persona non grata, Prime Minister Winston Churchill turned to Washington for support.
“While U.S. President Harry Truman had been sympathetic to Iran’s rising nationalism and democratic undertones, his successor, President Dwight Eisenhower, very much understood Iran as bit players in the global Cold War drama,” said Mojtada Mousavi, an Iranian political analyst.
“Eisenhower considered any government not fully aligned with the West — and certainly any that dared nationalize a Western corporation — an enemy to be crushed. This gave the British their chance and ruined Tehran and Washington ties,” Mousavi continued.
“To this day Iran has not forgiven America for killing its democratic dream,” he said, noting that rather than standing with the people of Iran, Washington took the Shah’s side. “Ever since then, U.S. policy has stood antithetical to its [the United States’] democratic origins.”
Operation Ajax further cemented feelings of anger and resentment toward the U.S.
“It is actually the 1953 coup d’etat against Prime Minister Mossadegh which has really defined Tehran and Washington’s tumultuous relations, not so much divergent ideologies. Bitterness and distrust are at the core of this diplomatic conundrum. Policies and ideologies play second fiddle to history here,” noted Osman, the TV personality and political analyst.
The hegemon complex
Dr. Kevin Barrett, a writer with a Ph.D. in Arab and Islamic cultural studies, stressed to MintPress that, “The U.S. would be a natural ally of Iran if it were willing to restrict its Middle East role to that of ‘honest broker’ rather than hegemon.”
“If this were the case, the U.S. would team up with Iran and other progressive forces in the region to help build stable democracies, resolve disputes, and resist aggression. Unfortunately, the U.S. is seeking global hegemony, not peace and stability.”
In his 1989 book “The Eagle and the Lion,” Bill James, a leading American historian on modern Iran, wrote: “Iranians of all political persuasions increasingly formed a negative opinion of the U.S. They no longer saw the United States as an external, liberating force whose influence would protect Iran and from its traditional enemies – Britain and Russia. Instead they developed a perspective in which the protector had become the exploiter.”
Building on James’ analysis, Prince Ali Seraj said, “As Britain retreated from its preeminent role in the Persian Gulf, the United States replaced it as the new, intrusive and intervening external power — and there lies the heart of the issue.”
If logic and common sense would have Iran and the U.S. sitting at the same table and working toward the same goals, as they did prior to 1953, within the perimeters of a partnership rather than a relationship similar to that of a master and his vassal, history seems to have gotten in the way of political cooperation.
Iran and the U.S. spent more time as allies than they have spent as enemies. It could well be another policy shift which will see these two nemeses return to a place in which differences can be embraced and similarities celebrated.
“Then, and only then, will the Middle East begin to heal,” Prince Ali said.