America has wanted to put an end to the government of Islamic Republic of Iran since it overthrew the Shah. Iran for the most part wants to enjoy the rights allowed to other nations. Going to Tehran shows Iran’s efforts and history as a nation that strives for acceptance, demonstrates it is a sovereign state, and pursues its interests in a non-threatening way; It is the United States (practically by itself) that wishes to deny Iran its rightful position. This position seems to be at odds with what almost every American believes about Iran, even those who actually knowledgeable international relations or Middle affairs. The Leverett’s provide more than ample of examples of Iran’s efforts for acceptance.
The United State’s policy with post revolutionary Iran has been a policy of buying time and moving a problem to the future rather than trying to solve anything. The U.S. refuses to deal with Iran as a legitimate state when in public. America creates issues and offers unattractive proposals. When they fail, the United States responds with sanctions. A more practical approach presented is treating Iran like Nixon did China. In 1972, Nixon visited China, America’s enemy, who bent on its destruction, opened relations and entered into meaningful dialog. The situation was diffused and there have been stable relations since then.
Iran is viewed as a rogue nation supporting terrorism and wanting nuclear weapons. In the Iran-Iraq War, America’s ally, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iran. Iran having chemical weapons refused to use them on moral grounds. Since the end of the Iran-Iraq, the United States spends seventy times more than Iran on defense. Saudi Arabia spends four times more than Iran spends on defense. The Iranian Revolution was about independence from foreign powers and ending (American) hegemony than spreading revolution or exporting Islam by sword. Iran does not have a military capable of exporting revolution, even if it wanted to; it can barely defend its own borders. Iran has 15 neighbors bordering it, none of them can be considered allies. It is Shite state surrounded by Sunni majority states. As far as concerns of supporting terrorism are concerned, Iran does have relations with Hezbollah (who since the 1990s, under the influence of Iran, has moved to becoming a political party instead of a terrorist group). However, America’s enemies, the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida are Sunni groups supported by allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
In 1988 the Taliban attacked an Iranian Consulate in Mazar e Sharif (Afghanistan) killing nine Iranians and hundreds of Shites in the area. Rather than retaliate, Iran went to the UN to find a solution. The result was the 6+2 Plan. Six neighboring states and the U.S. And Russia coordinate a response. There was not a unilateral retaliation but a responsible international effort.
During the Afghan War, Iran actively assisted the United States. It opened its borders for search and rescue, provided the US with intelligence, and gave the support of the Northern Alliance. An independent Afghanistan would secure a major border problem for Iran, something very positive and in the interest of Iran. Iran offered further support but it was turned down by the U.S. in favor of Pakistani and Saudi Arabian support, two of the largest supporters of Al Q’iada.
Iran is also popular in post Saddam Iraq. Iran’s support for the Kurds and Shites has made Ahmadinejad more popular than other foreign leaders including American presidents. The Karzai received over $500 million from Iran. Iran is interested in trade and economic development in the new Iraq.
Iran’s nuclear problems stem from the Ford Administration (including Cheney and Rumsfeld), where it was seen as a way for Iran to export more oil. Iran claims that nuclear weapons are not in their interest. First because they do not have the wealth to compete with the United States, and secondly like chemical weapons, nuclear weapons are against Islam. Iran is currently trying to enrich uranium to 20% for use in its research reactor. This is far below the 90% enrichment needed for nuclear weapons.
Iran sees itself as a regional power or a “soft power” basing its support not on military but on three other fronts. Cultural: many of the other states in the region have Shite minorities and Iran considers itself the cultural center of Shite in the reason. Political: Iran is an example of a stable state based on Islam and having democratic institutions and processes. Foreign Policy: Iran’s foreign policy is not anti-US, but anti- US hegemony. It sees American policies as harmful, colonial, and repressive.
Iran has repeatedly opened itself to serious dialog with the US. Moderate leaders in Iran felt betrayed by the Reagan Administration. When the US asked Iran to use it’s influence to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon. The US promised arms in return (Iran was struggling in the Iran-Iraq War). There was not a program of giving arms to terrorists in exchange for hostages, but America paying Iran for its help. Iran held up its end of the bargain but the American government backed down after profits from the arms sales were discovered going to the Contras.
George H.W. Bush in his inaugural address said of Iran, “Goodwill besets goodwill.” Iran worked to free the hostages in Lebanon and gave quiet support to the U.S. lead Coalition war against Iraq. In return Iran was banned from the peace conference and was removed as a player in the New World Order. The Clinton Administration needed a way to get arms to the Bosnia Muslims without appearing to be an ally of the Bosnian and not breaking the arms embargo. The Clinton Administration turned to Iran for help. Iran agreed to help. For its help it is rewarded the U.S. blocking American oil companies from developing Iranian oil reserves, followed by economic sanctions, the first since the Iranian hostage ordeal. In 1996, after the Kobar Towers terrorist attack the US blames Iran even though the Saudi’s insisted it was done by Saudis and intelligence pointed to Al Q’iada. Finally, Iran saw “hope” and “change” with the election of Obama as US president. Obama spoke of better relations and is the first president to call Iran by its proper name The Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran is still waiting waiting for change; but, instead there have been new rounds of sanctions. (Reported by the Washington Post, Iran again is open to talks with the United States 11/9/2012)
Iran has proved itself to be a legitimate and stable government. The United States believes that that unless Iran is a secular democracy, it remains a threat. This is counter to the view of Turkey, an ally, a largely Muslim country with open elections and when given given the choice, elects representatives from religious parties over secular leaders. Iran elects its leaders and representatives. To ensure representation seats are set aside for Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrians. Iran demonstrates open elections, and peaceful transitions of power. As much as America believes Iran is a fragile government, it has survived a major war, elections, peaceful transitions of power, and the Green revolution. In the polarized American political system, both neoconservatives and liberal internationalists find themselves on the same side of the Iran issue. Neoconservatives still not forgetting or forgiving the Shah’s overthrow and liberals wanting open democracy and human rights. This unusual position puts Iran in a unique and dangerous position.
The Leveretts provide a very well documented report on Iran and its history with the United States. Despite the documentation Going to Tehran does appear to be very one sided and if it were not for the credentials of its authors, one might think at times the book was written by the Iranian Information Ministry. However, the authors’ purpose is to sway opinion and to take a new look at Iran who had been demonized since 1979. The argument that is presented is convincing. There will be arguments on human rights issues, but then too, leaders like Saddam Hussein, Pinochet, and Somoza were given full support of the United States. Nixon went to China. Reagan went to the Soviet Union. Why won’t America go to Iran? Sooner or later Iran will tire of extending its hand only to have it slapped. It is doubtful that the United States and Iran will become allies, but assurances of peace or even diplomatic recognition would provide regional stability that both countries desire. While having an enemy for diplomatic saber rattling (or calling a Great White Satan), or rallying around the flag (or burning flags) is helpful for governments to maintain military strength or detracting populations from real issues, United States already has those enemies and they are also enemies of Iran. In all this book provides a straight forward, sensible approach to stability in the Middle East and South West Asia.
Full disclosure: This book was given to me as an advance copy, free from the publisher through Goodreads. My review based solely on my reading of the book and background/education in international relations.