Are US-Iran Relations Permanently Strained?
As the United States saunters blindly down the dark hall of multipolarity, new questions about its capacity to handle the new realities of international affairs are surfacing.
Most attention is being directed towards Russia, as it’s conducting a controversial military campaign against Ukraine. On top of that, is the perennial question of China. The US is ostensibly making a pivot towards Asia in its efforts to contain the East Asian giant’s rise.
Generally overlooked nowadays is how the US will deal with Iran — one of the Deep State’s long-time bêtes noires. Part of the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda is to re-enter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), colloquially known as “the Iran nuclear deal.” Over the past few months, the two parties have attempted to resurrect the nuclear deal. The US’s current energy crunch — a largely self-inflicted predicament — has prompted the Biden administration to desperately revive this deal to allow for Iranian oil to continue flowing to the states.
Whether the deal will be finalized is still up in the air. Signed in 2015, the Iran nuclear deal was a hallmark of Barack Obama’s second term in office. Under this agreement, Iran, the US, and the European Union signed the agreement where Iran ostensibly agreed to iron out several issues with its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief from the US and EU.
However, the succeeding Trump administration scrapped the deal on the grounds that it was not fully permanent, did not address Iran’s development of a ballistic missile program, and did not tackle Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle East, namely its increased foothold in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen.
From there, the Trump administration pursued a maximum pressure strategy to bring the Middle Eastern nation to its knees through tightened sanctions and punitive actions such as the assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani. While tensions did not escalate any further, US-Iran relations likely took a irreparable beating.
Although the Biden administration is still making efforts to rejoin the JCPOA, re-entry into this agreement has been a chore for both parties. US officials have previously accused Iran of not being serious about taking steps to return to compliance with the JCPOA.
On the Iranians' end, they have every reason to be skeptical of dealing with the US due to the long history of animosity between the two countries. More importantly, the US’s growing instability at home is infecting its foreign policy decision making. When a country sees one American president sign an agreement that is scrapped by a succeeding administration, they would be hesitant about re-entering an agreement that was previously scrapped.
Despite the obstacles they’ve faced in recent decades, the Iranians have proven to be resilient in the face of US pressure. In correspondence with Arta Moeini, an international relations scholar specializing in Iranian geopolitical affairs, Moeini called attention to how “years of 'maximum pressure' campaign by Iran hawks in the Trump administration have emboldened Tehran, reassuring it 1) that it can withstand almost any duress, and 2) that it has leverage because of it." Getting back into this deal will not be a walk in the park to say the least.
Putting oneself in an international actor’s shoes allows for one to understand why countries like Iran might not be so giddy about striking future agreements with the US. Why should Iran deal with a US government that has a long track record of reneging on its treaties, sanctioning countries at will, promoting covert operations that destabilize countries, and destroying countries wholesale in the name of democracy and human rights? For all the talk DC foreign policy apparatchiks make about rogue states, the US’s behavior on the world stage ironically embodies such behavior. It’s the classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
While diplomacy is preferable to DC’s usual strategy of saber-rattling, stiff sanctions, covert destabilization, and diplomatic isolation, perhaps it’s time to consider a bolder alternative. That would consist of a full-blown withdrawal from the Middle East altogether and stop interfering in Iran’s internal affairs.
From supporting the coup that deposed Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 to pursuing draconian sanctions against the current Islamic Republic, the US has a long history of interfering in Iranian politics. The latter sanctions have only harmed Iranians, while doing nothing to topple the Mullah’s regime.
Moreover, the negative effects of the sanctions have incentivized Iran to form a strategic partnership with the emerging Eurasian axis that China and Russia are spearheading. Iran has deepened its relation with China by signing a 25-year $400 billion trade deal last year, and is in process of strengthening defense ties with Russia. Similarly, Iran’s 2021 accession into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has reinforced its relationship with this Eurasian bloc.
The types of blowback that American foreign policy is generating will not just come in the form of terrorist attacks but also manifest themselves in the creation of parallel military partnerships. Such alignments will only make Iran even stronger thanks to the injection of money and military hardware from these rising powers.
If the US couldn’t take down the Iranian regime when it wasn’t part of any meaningful alliance structure, what makes American regime change architects think that they can topple an Iran that is beginning to enjoy stronger backing from the likes of China and Russia?
The US is now in a geopolitical environment where it’s no longer the only major actor on the world stage to boss other countries around. The unipolar moment is over and the dinosaurs in DC haven’t updated their foreign policy software. Failure to adjust to the new realities on the world stage, could result in the US stumbling into a disastrous conflict.
With the US mired in so many domestic problems as it is, getting ensnared in a misguided military adventure abroad is the last thing it needs.