Four weeks ago president Donald Trump spoke of his desire to “avoid” war with Iran, as anxieties escalate between the United States and this large, diverse Middle East country. It is likely that the Trump administration is sincere in its hope to steer clear of a full-scale military conflict with Iran, as bitter memories of the debacle in Iraq remain prominent in Washington.
Yet there may also be other factors lurking in the background for the ongoing denigration of Iran. Trump himself is quite likely exploiting the tensions with Tehran for political purposes, in a bid to boost his chances for re-election in November 2020.
Concocting images of fierce enemies abroad is an old ploy utilized by politicians so as to improve one’s popularity, or to win over fearful, uncertain voters with an election on the horizon. Similar stratagems were used by past US presidents, from Ronald Reagan and his alleged concerns over the Nicaraguan Sandinistas that were “just two days’ drive from Harlingen, Texas”; to George W. Bush and how “the murderous tyrant” Saddam Hussein “must not be permitted to threaten America and the world”. Trump’s tactics seem to be working. Despite the enormous Western media campaign against him, his approval ratings are slightly higher at this stage by comparison to predecessor Barack Obama during his first term in office.
US ambitions regarding Iran are to continue in applying heavy pressure against the clerical leadership of Tehran, and also the Iranian people, in the hope of bringing about critical destabilization.
In the meantime, unlike Iraq or Nicaragua, Iran represents a formidable obstacle to the United States. Trump’s cabinet, like those before it, is surely aware of the challenge that Iran poses to Washington. Geographically for example, Iran is among the most mountainous of all the nations on earth and its highest peak, Mount Damavand, stands at over 5,500 metres tall. Mount Damavand, a potentially active volcano which erupted most recently seven thousand years ago, is located just over 40 miles from Tehran. Iran’s capital is home to more than eight million people, and is a city which itself stands at mountain altitude above sea level.
As with China, Iran comprises one of the world’s oldest human civilizations, dating thousands of years into human history. Iran is also not easily intimidated by Washington and has consistently pursued policies independent of America during the past 40 years. This has been a major source of concern in the White House. Iran is a country of especially high importance, due in part to its location at the center of the world’s greatest energy-producing areas. Iran, in addition, contains the second biggest known gas reserves on earth, and the fourth largest quantities of oil.
When the Iranians look around beyond their boundaries, they are ringed by US forces. There are at least 45 American military bases almost surrounding Iran, positioned around the Persian Gulf and further east. These US bases are situated in Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait, in which there are tens of thousands of American soldiers permanently stationed. There are further American bases erected in Afghanistan, a country bordering Iran to the east, along with almost 15,000 US troops.
Despite the fact that Iran has developed ties with Iraq, the United States still retains military installations on Iraqi soil, through which there around 5,500 American soldiers present.
It has been claimed by Western politicians, like US vice president Mike Pence, that Iran is a major threat to “peace and security”. Yet Iran’s arms expenditure is much smaller by comparison to Western allies like Saudi Arabia and Israel and is only a tiny fraction that of Washington. These realities are often overlooked, however – but US intelligence has reported to Congress in Washington that the Iranian arms outlay is consistently low by Middle East standards.
US ambitions regarding Iran are to continue in applying heavy pressure against the clerical leadership of Tehran, and also the Iranian people, in the hope of bringing about critical destabilization. This is the principal reason underlining the continued US sanctions implemented on Iran. These economic measures are designed to weaken the foundations of Iranian society, stoke dissatisfaction, and unrest among Iran’s populace, finally resulting in regime change. Much of the same thinking has been behind Washington’s embargo of Cuba which has been in place for six decades.
Unfortunately, due to years of the above policies, the Iranian people have become embittered against America. According to a December 2018 study conducted by IranPoll, more than 80% of Iranians have an “unfavorable view” of the United States. A potential US occupation of Iran would be strongly resisted one can assume.
There are also concerns in Washington regarding Iran’s growing influence that could see Tehran develop relations with the Shi’ite factions in eastern Saudi Arabia.
Iran is not a particularly fragile or poor country either. The Human Development Index (HDI) placed Iran in the 60th position among the countries of the world – which puts Iran just outside the “very high human development” bracket. According to the Human Development Index, the overall living standards in Iran are higher than in major states like Turkey (64th), Brazil (79th), China (86th) and India (130th).
Yet were the United States to regain control of Iran, it would be a massive boost to American power in the Middle East, and thereby reverse some of the US decline elapsing since 1949 with “the loss of China”. President Trump has been increasing America’s military presence in the Persian Gulf, by dispatching greater numbers of US soldiers to the territory. Ongoing suspicions between both sides could result in some unforeseen incident, that may spark a confrontation which would spread. The repercussions of an all-out conflict between America and Iran could literally destroy the Middle East.
Amid all of the Western commentary expounded on Iran over the years, there is an element of truth to the claims that Iran is something of a threat – not to world peace of course. Iranian aspirations are a threat to American interests in the Middle East. Tehran has provided assistance to Bashar al-Assad in Syria, a figure that the United States desired to have ousted, and whom Washington views as a long-time ally of Russia, which is true.
US ambitions in Syria have since been dashed with Assad having practically won the war, mainly because of Russian and to a lesser extent Iranian support. Russia and Iran are now the dominant players dictating policy in Syria, with Turkey recently moving into northern Syria to destroy the Kurdish elements there. Though not as vital a country as Iran, Syria is still a strategically important state that shares frontiers with Israel, Iraq and Turkey, among others.
Iran has furthermore been supporting the Houthi Islamic movement in Yemen, who are in opposition to the US-backed Saudi autocracy, in what has been a brutal civil war directed by Riyadh with Western arms. Saudi Arabia has been a US ally for many decades, and was described by the US State Department in 1945 as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history”. Saudi Arabia is a huge oil nation, and today is the largest producer of this lucrative substance on the planet.
Iran is also mistrusted by Washington due to its backing of Hezbollah, the Islamist militant group based in nearby Lebanon to the west. Hezbollah is a long-time opponent of Israel, another key US ally, and is an organization that was established as a result of the destructive 1982 Israeli invasion of neighboring Lebanon. Hezbollah eventually drove the Israelis from Lebanon, and the group is by now an integral part of Lebanese society. Hezbollah has been acting as a deterrent to another Israeli intervention in Lebanon.
Tehran has likewise been providing financial support for Hamas, the Palestinian association regarded as “a terrorist group” by the US, Israel, and the EU. Akin to Hezbollah, Hamas was founded (in 1987) as a response to Israel’s foreign policy acts of enlargement, in this case, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Worryingly from the US and Saudi viewpoints, Iran also retains relations with mineral-rich Qatar across the Persian Gulf, in the form of commercial and cultural ties, while the two countries share access to natural gas fields. Qatar holds a southern border with the Saudis, who frown very strongly indeed at their relationship with Iran. One of the main factors behind the recent diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar was Riyadh’s dismay at its neighbor’s continued links to Iran.
The United States continues to desire strong control over the Middle East, an ambition which again dates to the Second World War. Dwight D. Eisenhower, America’s famous general and future president from 1953, described the Middle East as “the strategically most important part of the world”.
Another of America’s core concerns regarding Iran, a Shi’ite-majority country, is the spread of its influence to neighboring states also rich in resources. Since the Iraq invasion 16 years ago, Tehran has capitalized on the growing strength of the Shi’ite majority in Baghdad by developing closer ties to Iraq – which was a serious defeat for US foreign policy in the Middle East. There are also concerns in Washington regarding Iran’s growing influence that could see Tehran develop relations with the Shi’ite factions in eastern Saudi Arabia.
Shane Quinn has contributed on a regular basis to Global Research for almost two years, and have had articles published with the American news outlets People’s World and MintPress News, Morning Star in Britain and Venezuela’s Orinoco Tribune. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.