Creating new perspectives since 2009

Iran: Trapped between a military rock and an economic hard place

September 18, 2018 at 6:13 pm

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (L) presents his official approval to Hassan Rouhani, who was re-elected in presidential elections on May 2017, during a ceremony in Tehran, Iran on 3 August 2017 [Iranian Leader’s Press Office/Anadolu Agency]

Those who follow US politics are aware that various corporate interests, political lobbies and power-brokers are responsible for creating the red or green lines in presidential policy.

In other words, the power of influence lies with the major firms, banks, media networks, and rich and politically well-connected lobbyists, not to mention powerful foreign firms.

This means the economic and military might of the US has been employed against Iran on behalf of vested interests rather than solely by the president’s personal decision. Broader forces are at work in the decision to draw the Iranian regime into a rat-trap it cannot escape a high stakes lethal game that will determine its ability to maintain power and survive. This contest also threatens Iran’s colonial ambitions in the Arab region.

Under Khomeini and his successor Khamenei, Iran’s influence and clout have grown. The country has extended its influence to areas where the superpowers have vital interests. They have crossed a red line for a third-world nation, one that not even the new Persian empire should have been so bold to try.

When former US president Barrack Obama accepted the proposal for a nuclear arms deal with Iran, which contained many dangerous flaws, he was too fearful and timid to take firm action against the Iranian regime. He decided, therefore, to pass the buck, leaving any confrontation to his successor. This left President Donald Trump with two options: either accept the Iranian regime’s agenda, including its regional expansionism and threats to US interests, allowing it to move freely in the region, or reverse Obama’s course and adopt a far harsher economic, military and political stance.

Trump, along with the major power-brokers in the US, has set out to restore America’s prestige and show the world that America’s interests and positions on various issues have done a 180-degree turn from those of his predecessor.

Inside Israel’s new Iran strategy

His decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal and impose new sanctions on Iran are part of a series of US measures aimed at settling outstanding political scores against several nations. The current standoff with Iran is one of the existential battles in which Trump is personally expected to play a lead role.

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his aides are apparently either unable or unwilling to accept this massive shift and setback in their fortunes.  Having grown used to the idea of wielding massive political power regionally and globally during the Obama administration, the regime is clinging to the illusion that it retains this immensely powerful and influential status, not only domestically but regionally. The regime’s deep-rooted sense of supremacist, sectarian and deeply racist triumphalism over the “inferior” Arab peoples is so all-consuming that it is incapable of rectifying its course to accept any return to its previous pariah status.

Despite boasting an extensive range of missiles, militias, nuclear reactors and scientists, Iran is still a third-world nation and as such it will not be allowed to dominate or control the region, nor to cross the red lines outlined by the major powers.

Iran copies US drone - Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Iran copies US drone – Cartoon [Sarwar Ahmed/MiddleEastMonitor]

Iran currently spends three-quarters of the Iranian people’s wealth on its military assets and regional wars, including its objective of possessing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as on the militias, parties and organisations working for it in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and other remote countries. For the Iranian people, there is no longer any acceptable or rational explanation for the supreme leader’s generous spending on wars, expansion, intervention and conflicts with regional states when the Iranian people are being crushed by wave after wave of massive crises, poverty and unemployment.

Here we need only recall the lesson Robert McNamara, defence minister under president John F. Kennedy, drew when he explained that even if the Soviet Union were an armed fortress, it still didn’t have any butter.

Indeed, America and its European allies forced the Soviet Union to engage in a very costly conventional and nuclear arms race, as well as dragging it into hot and cold wars across multiple regions, which forced the USSR to spend much of its wealth on its military arsenal and maintaining its status as a global nuclear power. Living standards for people in the USSR, however, stagnated and declined until the Soviet Union eventually crumbled under Mikhail Gorbachev, collapsing from within, under the burden of wars abroad. Iran’s regime today is caught in the same trap.

Let’s look at the options available to the Iranian regime as it faces the challenges of economic punishment from the US and confrontations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Iran, US heading towards a clash in Iraq

After Trump threatened the Iranian regime with dire consequences, in case of any violations of the landmark 2015 treaty, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani addressed his  compatriots, saying: “We will continue to enrich, and we will continue our nuclear research, but at the right time, after negotiating with our partners.”

This quote reveals the trap that Trump has set for the Wilayat-e Faqih regime; despite all the regime’s bragging about missiles capable of striking American battleships and threats to America’s interests in the region, especially in the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Straits, Iran’s words are bluster.

Those who heard the fiery speech and tough talk by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might also recall a speech by James Baker, who served in the same post under George W. Bush, who warned Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, that the US would “send Iraq back to the Stone Age” if it did not forthwith pull out of Kuwait.

Pompeo’s demands of the regime similarly call on it effectively to choose between economic or military suicide. Whether the Iranian regime sticks to its position or yields, its prospects are bleak either way.

Pompeo’s demands that the regime end its efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, allow IAEA inspectors to enter all nuclear sites, halt its production of any nuclear-capable missiles, and disclose previous efforts to build a nuclear weapon, are all presented for one reason; to justify a new war against the regime if it fails to comply. Even if Iran’s regime accedes to these demands under duress simply in order to avoid a war with the US, the stranglehold of ever-more-restrictive sanctions means that economic collapse is now a real danger.

Even if Iran agrees to most of the demands, however, nobody expects that it will ever accept some others; Iran’s rulers will never accept calls to withdraw support for Hezbollah or stop backing Shia militias in the region, to end aid to the Houthis, withdraw their forces from Syria, or end their support for the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, nor will they stop harbouring Al-Qaeda’s leaders who are politically useful to them. If the regime were to accept these demands, unconditionally, it would effectively be cutting off its own arms and ending its regional influence. Doing so would undoubtedly lead to an upsurge in domestic and regional opposition, which would quickly unite to topple the regime which is now viewed as an oppressor and enemy not only by dissidents within Iran but by peoples and states across the region, especially in the wake of its devastating involvement in Syria. Such a unified effort could topple the regime, particularly in its current weakened state, within weeks, leading to Iran’s leaders facing the same grim fate as their former nemesis and arch-foe Saddam Hussein.

Europe must offset US pullout from nuclear deal – Iran minister

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.