United States - Iran

Confrontational Rhetoric Heating Up

The United Nations General Assembly annual session in September every year provides a setting for the heating-up of the United States- Iran confrontational rhetoric. This year was no exception and the rhetoric seemed to have become more vituperative and searing. A Cold War has existed between the United States and Iran ever since the overthrow of the US monarchial prot'g' regime of the Shah of Iran in 1979.

The United States confrontational stances over Iran stem from a threat perception that Iran poses a security threat to the monarchial regimes in West Asia which have been the mainstay of US political, military and economic presence in the region. The more significant United States threat perception from Iran arises from Iran's implacable public hostility to Israel's existence, though reports indicate that secret engagement between the two exists. More lately, the United States perceives that Iran is behind the problems that stymie the stabilization of Iraq by US military forces there. The United States also alleges that Iran is one of the main sponsors of Islamic Jihadi terrorism especially through armed militias like the Hezbollah in Lebanon.   

However the confrontational US rhetoric today focuses largely on Iran's nuclear program which Iran maintains is for peaceful purposes for power generation whereas the United States maintains that the Iranian nuclear program is directed towards the creation of an Iranian nuclear weapons arsenal. Internationally the jury is still out on this issue.

Iran's major threat perceptions arising from the United States are that the American hostile stances towards Iran arise from two major factors. The first being that the United States has not yet psychologically got over the Iranian hostage crisis following the Islamic Revolution in which American diplomats in Teheran were held hostage by Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards for an extended period of time. Contemporary American hostility against Iran is perceived by the Iranians as arising from United States strategic fixation that the United States wishes to pre-empt the rise of Iran as a regional power or as some would like to call as a regional hegemonic power in the Gulf Region.

Analytically, in simple and brief terms it can be said that United States- Iran hostility and confrontation basically arises from Iran's ambitions to emerge as the regional power which it feels is its manifest destiny arising from it comparative regional superiority in the attributes of power and the United States strategically fixated to prevent this eventuality.

The next question that then arises is as to whether the United States as the predominantly superior military power can go to war with Iran to achieve its strategic aim. Iran can hardly be expected to start a war with the United States which it well knows it is bound to lose. In case of the United States the possibility of the United States going in for military strikes against Iran cannot be ruled out if it is convinced that the Iranian nuclear program is within striking reach of acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

The only thing preventing the United States from doing so are its overstretched military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan which still show no signs of military success. The other factor holding back the United States from resorting to the war option is the lack of committed support from its NATO allies for resorting to this option.

In the eventuality of war between the United States and Iran both sides are bound to suffer devastation, Iran by direct American military action of devastating military strikes and the United States from Iranian asymmetrical counter-responses worldwide and not necessarily limited to the Gulf Region.

In co-lateral damage the United States crafted security architecture in the Gulf Region could collapse as a consequence.

Political and military brinkmanship games are risky games as dangers of miscalculations exist especially if the strategic setting and the security environment is militarily over-charged as existing today in the Gulf Region.

In such a setting it would be prudent for both the United States and Iran to cool down their confrontational rhetoric and explore avenues which could assist in diluting their mutual threat perceptions of each other. In terms of conflict-- management and conflict- resolution a dialogue process is an essential imperative and that applies to the United States and Iran too. 


More by :  Dr. Subhash Kapila

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