Iran hasn’t been a major expansionist power since the 17th century. The modern state of Iran is a pale shadow compared to any of the empires across milennia based in the Persian homeland.
There frankly isn’t much reason for the United States to make Iran a top foreign policy priority. They may eventually get nukes but Pakistan, a state infinitely worse than Iran already has nukes and the world hasn’t ended yet.
Aside from influence over Middle East client states, the US and Iran have no real conflicts of interest. Rivalry with Iran was largely manufactured by US meddling in Iranian affairs. For some bizarre reason the US establishment just can’t get over the fact that their Shah didn’t work out 40 years ago and that they need to move on. It’s not unlike their inability to adjust to the fact that the USSR no longer exists.
President Trump, as of this writing, has just fired his national security advisor, Michael Flynn. There are many flimsy-sounding official reasons for the dismissal but I suspect it is not without coincidence it comes shortly after Flynn put Iran “on notice” after the test launch of a missile.
Iran responded by launching more missiles and the US was again left looking foolish and impotent.
It looks like Trump took Flynn’s advice regarding Iran, but perhaps had his reservations because he made Flynn publicly own the announcement rather than doing it himself and taking the credit.
When Flynn’s sabre-rattling backfired, Trump may have decided to pull the plug even though he must understand that the optics are damaging to his administration.
He acted similarly many times firing staff during his campaign with everyone saying he was finished and his organization falling apart. These kinds of plays shouldn’t surprise us by now.
The open belligerence expressed by Flynn, when backed by no credible threat, makes no sense and makes the situation worse. We need only reflect on how W Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ needlessly inflamed and encouraged his designated enemies.
Why on earth would anyone want to keep their enemies “on notice?” Why not keep them guessing about their relationship with the US and always leave room for negotiation? I remember how neocons and cuckservatives revolted when Obama merely said he would be willing to “talk to Iran.” What kind of national leaders could express outrage at conducting diplomacy, a basic function of state? This is the sort of childish idiocy an adult like Trump has to tear out by the roots.
Iran is a state with paranoid tendencies as one would expect of a land that has been under the influence of foreign powers for the last 200 years and invaded from every direction by every group for thousands of years. Their nation lies at a natural geo-political crossroads so their government naturally has a hardliner temperament somewhat similar to that of Russia. The key distinction that the US misunderstands is their outlook is primarily defensive in nature.
Beyond a buffer client zone in the Shia regions of Iraq along with its Shia holy cities, Iran really doesn’t seem to aspire to that much at the moment. They have proxies all over the Middle East, but more to destabilize Sunni powers they fear than anything else.
I actually think Obama had the right general policy direction even if he was forced to by circumstance. When his pet Syrian revolutionaries blew up into ISIS he went crawling on his knees to Tehran begging for them keep an independent Iraq in existence on paper at least. The price was that he had to make humiliating concessions.
I think he still could have done a better job of playing the situation, though, considering he was paying the Iranians to do what they desperately wanted to do anyway. I have to give him credit though for at least opening a dialogue when no one else in the establishment would.
The Western powers can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that Iran as the central power of Shi’ite Islam with its own great share of the petroleum market is the natural enemy of Sunni powers. The potential for playing them off against each other should be obvious.
The US had its chance to take the Sunni side of that divide when they backed Saddam Hussein as a relatively secular Arab Nationalist leader of Iraq. Had diplomacy been conducted with a more realpolitik understanding back then, perhaps Iraq would have been allowed to absorb Kuwait as an ally’s reward after their hard-fought war with Iran.
Perhaps that extra infusion of oil money would have enabled America’s then-ally to go back and pose a greater threat.
But that’s alternate history and now it actually makes more sense to play Iran against the Sunni Middle East and thereby have some leverage over them from behind the scenes. At the very least, it makes sense to defuse decades of pointless hostility with Iran.
If the US had wanted to pursue that route, it already could have with a strong ally before it invaded that ally twice, deposed its ruler, and left behind a yawning power vacuum that has caused endless headaches ever since.
At present, Iran aligns with Russia to the frustration of the establishment, but this connection need not exist. Historically, Russian and Persian powers have been bitter enemies that have fought many wars. Their co-operation is far from inevitable. Theirs is an alliance made necessary by American intransigence. As the US drove the Iranians into the arms of the Soviet Union, it now pushes them towards Russia. If it were to become a foreign policy goal to divide them, it ought not to be that difficult. Just encourage both to have more ambitions in the Caucasus.
For the time being, Iranian-Russian cooperation has been beneficial in keeping the Middle East from descending into complete chaos while for once the US can watch from afar as someone else puts in all the blood and sweat.
US establishment rhetoric toward Iran has frustrated me for years. Their stupid heavy-handedness in all things has destroyed their credibility until even a non-politician TV billionaire can step in and push them aside. Some inflammatory statements about Crimea aside, I am hoping Trump has the sense not to get drawn into the cult of unilateral, irrational belligerence.
Update 2/17/17: Was the Flynn firing also a ploy to draw out and expose enemies within the state and intelligence agencies? Very intrigued to see what happens next. Like in the election, Trump keeps people guessing, as he should.