America’s Two-Faced Policy on Iran

The Obama administration seeks to demonize Iran — along with Russia and China — while also demanding their help in areas of U.S. interest, an approach that is both disingenuous and dangerous, as former British diplomat Alastair Crooke explains.

By Alastair Crooke

In an article entitled “Why America needs Iran in Iraq,” former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad argues that “the chaos in Baghdad, culminating in the temporary occupation of the parliament by followers of Shiite Islamist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is undermining the war against the Islamic State; weakening Iraq’s economy; and accelerating the country’s disintegration.

“Without cooperation between the United States, Iran and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Sistani, the crisis could very well lead to the collapse of the entire political system set up in Iraq during the temporary U.S. occupation … To prevent this, Washington needs Tehran’s help. And Iran should be as motivated to seek stability [in Iraq] as much as Washington, because” Khalilzad asserts, “Iran, currently is losing favour in Iraq.”

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani celebrates the completion of an interim deal on Iran's nuclear program on Nov. 24, 2013, by kissing the head of the daughter of an assassinated Iranian nuclear engineer. (Iranian government photo)

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani celebrates the completion of an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program on Nov. 24, 2013, by kissing the head of the daughter of an assassinated Iranian nuclear engineer. (Iranian government photo)

Putting aside the questionable implication that Iran might somehow, through co-operation with America, raise its standing amongst Iraqis, Khalilzad’s presumption that Iran should now attend to America’s needs in Iraq, coupled with Secretary of State John Kerry’s insistence that Iran should help America to end the conflict in Syria too, throw into sharp relief the paradox inherent at the heart of U.S. diplomacy towards Iran, Russia (and China also).

This approach has been dubbed the “middle way” by former special adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State, Jeremy Shapiro: the U.S. Administration has no desire for an all-out confrontation with these three states. They are militarily hard nuts, and there is not much appetite for yet more military confrontation amongst a weary and wary American public (to the continuing frustration of the neocons).

More prosaically, the global financial system is now so brittle, so delicately poised, that it is not at all certain that the prospect of conflict would give the lift to America’s flagging economy that war generally is supposed to give. It might just snap the financial system, instead — hence the Middle Way.

Shapiro points out the obvious contradiction to this two-track approach: the U.S. no longer can ignore such powerful states. Its window of absolute, unchallenged, uni-polar power has passed. America needs the help of these states, but at the same time, it seeks precisely to counter these states’ potential to rival or limit American power in any way.

And America simply ignores the core complaints that fuel the tensions between itself and these states. It simply declines to address them. Shapiro concludes that this foreign policy approach is unsustainable, and bound to fail: “This dual-track approach, condemning Russia [or Iran] as an aggressor one day, [whilst] seeking to work with Moscow [or Tehran] the next … would [ultimately] force ever-greater confrontation.”

The ‘Middle Way’

In a sense, the U.S. approach towards Iran seems to be mirroring the so-called “middle way” policy which the U.S. Administration pursues towards Russia, whereby the putative “reset” with Russia was set aside (when President Vladimir Putin assumed the Presidency for the second time), and Obama – rather than seek outright confrontation with Russia – ruled that America however, would only co-operate with Russia when it suited it, but the U.S. would not deign to address Russia’s core issues of its “outsider” status in Europe, or its containment in Asia — or its concerns about a global order that was being used to corner Russia and to crush dissenter states who refused to enter the global order on America’s terms alone.

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama talks with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran during a phone call in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And Obama did little to drawback the NATO missile-march towards Russia’s borders (ostensibly, it may be recalled, to save Europe from Iranian missiles).

Ostensibly, too, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) could have been America’s “reset” with Iran.  Some, including a number of prominent Iranian politicians, thought it was.

But National Security Advisor Susan Rice was very explicit to Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic that this was never intended: “It is assumed, at least among his critics, that Obama sought the Iran deal because he has a vision of a historic American-Persian rapprochement. But his desire for the nuclear agreement was born of pessimism as much as it was of optimism.

“The Iran deal was never primarily about trying to open a new era of relations between the U.S. and Iran,” Susan Rice told [Goldberg]. “It was far more pragmatic and minimalist. The aim was very simply to make a dangerous country substantially less dangerous. No one had any expectation that Iran would be a more benign actor.”

And so, we see a similar pattern, the possibility of a real “reset’ with Iran is pre-meditatively set aside (as per Rice), whilst the dual-track approach of condemning Iran for its ballistic missile tests (which have nothing to do with JCPOA), and its support for Hizbullah, are condemned one day, whilst Iran’s help in Iraq and Syria is being demanded on the next day.

At the same time, Iran’s core dispute with the U.S. – its complaints that exclusion from the international financial system is not being ameliorated as JCPOA was supposed so to do – are not being addressed. Rather they are being met with a shrug that implies “did they really expect anything else?”

Well, some (but by no means all) Iranian politicians had done just that: they had raised the Iranian public’s expectations that all sanctions – other than specific U.S. sanctions – would be lifted.  They rather bet their credibility on it, as it were, and may pay a political price eventually.

And as NATO deploys a further 4,000 troops in the Baltic states and Poland, on Russia’s border, so too the U.S. Congress continues its figurative advance on Iran’s frontiers.

Here is Iran’s (conservative) Keyhan newspaper: “The draft of a new resolution has been presented to the US Congress in which Iran is accused of creating tension in the Persian Gulf, and the US Government has been urged to confront Iran and impose new sanctions against our country. Randy Forbes, a Republican member of the US House of Representatives, has drafted a resolution, which if passed by the Congress, condemns Iran’s military presence in the Persian Gulf as a provocation” (emphasis added)

Shapiro’s specific warning about the “middle way” approach was that “political and bureaucratic factors on both sides would force ever-greater confrontation.” But this is not the only risk, nor does it even constitute being the biggest risk (besides that of having undermined those in Iran and Russia who had put their “hat in the ring” of contemplating Entente with the United State).

America’s Bad Faith

Rather, it is by making this policy approach quite general to those states which have taken on themselves the burden of being the symbol for a non-Western, alternative vision (Russia, Iran and China, inter alia), that a perceived breach of the spirit of the JCPOA (at the least), will have wider repercussions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, following his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 28, 2015. (UN Photo)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, following his address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 28, 2015. (UN Photo)

Russia and China both spent political capital in order to help persuade Iran to sign up to the JCPOA: Will they not wonder whether America is to be trusted? China has complicated negotiations in hand with America on trade and financial issues, whilst Russia has been trying to resolve ballistic missile, as well as Ukraine sanctions issues, with America.

Is it not a straw in the wind for the consequences to this policy when a prominent Russian commentator, Fyodor Lukyanov, who is not at all hostile to rapprochement with the West, writes in End of the G8 Era that using Russia’s prospective inclusion in the G8 as an instrument of pressure on Russia is pointless?:

“The G8 reflected a certain period of history when Russia really wanted to be integrated into the so-called Extended West. Why it did not happen? Something went wrong? This is another topic. The most important thing is that it did not happen at all … it seemed (in the 1990s) that this membership would not mean just participation in yet another club, but a strategic decision aimed at the future.

“However, the desirable future did not come, and probably won’t come. It is obvious now, that the world does not develop in the direction of the Western model. So, now we have what we have, and there is no reason to restore the G8.”

May this general sentiment come to be reflected in Iran too, as the sanctions-lifting issue drags on? Did the U.S. then “win one over Iran” through the JCPOA accord – as the shrugs of U.S. shoulders at Iranian complaints, might imply? Was Iran just naïve?  Did they really think that the U.S. was simply going to empower Iran financially?

It is pretty clear that the Supreme Leader understood the situation precisely — he had, after all some experience of U.S. non-compliance with agreements from the Lebanese hostage negotiations of the 1980s.

But what has Iran lost by the JCPOA? A few Iranians may have had their fingers burned in the process, but Iran achieved three important things: the world now knows that it was not Iran that was the impediment to a nuclear deal; the deal has transformed Iran’s public image – and created an opening – with the rest of the world (including Europe); and it has, in the process, constructed and strengthened strategic political and economic ties with Russia and China.

But most important of all, the rift within Iran that stemmed from the sense amongst some Iranian orientations, that President Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric was a principal obstacle to normalizing with the West, has been addressed: an Iranian government, with a Western-friendly face, has been given, and seen to have been given, the full chance to negotiate a solution to the nuclear issue.  Whatever the final outcome, that boil has been lanced.

No, the Iranian leadership has not been naïve.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West.

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6 comments for “America’s Two-Faced Policy on Iran

  1. Zachary Smith
    May 10, 2016 at 9:02 pm

    On the subject of NATO, I didn’t notice any mention of the fact that the US is sending 650 of our soldiers along with Abrams tanks to Georgia for ‘exercises’. Never mind that Georgia isn’t a NATO member. Both Sweden and Finland are being pressured to join NATO, but so far both nations are showing some good sense and not taking the bait.

    Ditto for freaking Japan, a nation nearly six thousand miles away from Britain. That nation got a NATO invitation from Frau Merkel recently.

    hXXp://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/japan-avoids-nato-invitation-ahead-of-sochi-visit/567712.html

    NATO was deeply involved in the smashing of Libya, and who did THAT help? A certain shitty little apartheid nation on the east end of the Med, of course. And guess who is getting a promotion within NATO:

    http://af.reuters.com/article/egyptNews/idAFL5N18169E

    How does this relate to Iran? Well, when it comes time to finally smash Iran, Israel looks to have the entire North Atlantic Treaty Organization at its beck and call. And who knows – by then Japan and a host of others may have joined the party.

    No doubt President Hillary will clap her blood-stained hands as she giggles with delight. Again.

  2. rosemerry
    May 10, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks for a very informative article. The whole Russophobic and Iran- demonising behavior of the Obama maladministration is shown by such revealing words:

    “The aim was very simply to make a dangerous country substantially less dangerous. No one had any expectation that Iran would be a more benign actor.” OR “condemns Iran’s military presence in the Persian Gulf as a provocation” (emphasis added)”;

    None of these fearmongering beliefs has any basis in facts, and no effort appears to be made to have any understanding of how another country (non-belligerent Iran; patient Russia, competently explained by Pres. Putin)might interpret US actions.

  3. Joe L.
    May 10, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    I don’t believe that the United States can be trusted so I think the way forward for Iran would be to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), join the BRICS (BRIICS), and join any security pacts that it can with Russia, China, and maybe some of the non-aligned countries in the world meanwhile building up its’ own defences if Hillary, McCain, or any of the other neocons want to bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran.

    • Peter Loeb
      May 11, 2016 at 9:32 am

      TO JOE L.

      Thanks! See my comment expressing similar conclusions under Paul
      Pillar’s article.

      (Incidentally, “problems” in Iraq are in the main results of the invasion
      of Iraq by an American coalition. Perhaps my memory is somewhat
      inaccurate these days.)

      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  4. Anthony Shaker
    May 9, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    I don’t know how he does it, but Mr. Crooke always presents some of the most incisive views on any given situation. Equivocation, subterfuge and the use of terrorism for political ends, now the defining features of the American political class, are a sign of weakness, but not only that. They are a sign of internal collapse. And this incoherence and chaos is spreading around the world through “clients states” and proxy wars.

    Whoever wins the election in the US, we should brace ourselves for a few nasty years yet. Change will not come about without a bloody Hail Mary fight from the most warped, revanchist elements in our midst.

    Anyway, Mr. Crooke’s approving quotation of Russian commentator Fyodor Lukyanov’s words is especially timely. “It is obvious now, that the world does not develop in the direction of the Western model,” wrote Lukyanov, which actually is not a model at all, but a permanently “revolutionary” state of mind bordering on insanity.

    This wild dream is over. And I have say, with Mr. Crooke: let the whole world know this! We are not in 1945 anymore, but rather at the end of a long and tortuous century-and-a-half-long period of domination by three Western powers (US, England and France) who have ruined the world and badly damaged our capacity to recover. Worse, they are still busy nibbling away at that capacity not only through political terror, but with the economic regimes they impose on other countries and the material obsessions of a way of life that is little more than a disease.

    These Western powers see fault in everyone else, but they don’t see the devil they’ve been nursing inside them all along.

  5. J'hon Doe II
    May 9, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    We are all living in Hybrid War time. From R2P (“responsibility to protect”) to color revolutions, from currency attacks to stock market manipulations

    5.6.2016
    Pepe Escobar

    From judicial-financial-political-media enabled “soft” coups – as in Brazil – to support for “moderate” jihadis, multiple stages of Hybrid War now cross-pollinate and generate a vortex of new mutant viruses.

    Hybrid War, a Beltway concept, has even been turned upside down by the conceptualizers. NATO, affecting puzzlement at the very existence of the concept, interprets the Russian “invasion” of Ukraine as Hybrid War. That serves prime Hybrid War purveyors such as the RAND corporation to take it further, peddling war game scenarios of Russia being able to invade and conquer the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — in less than 60 hours.
    And that, in turn, foments even more Western military hysteria, encapsulated by the new NATO commander, a.k.a. Dr. Strangelove; Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who made sure he would come up with a stage entrance worthy of his predecessor, Philip Breedlove/ Breedhate.

    Slightly amused at the whole conceptual circus, Russians respond with actions. Extra deployments in our Western borderlands? No problem; here’s your asymmetrical answer. And say hello, soon, to our new toy: the S-500s.

    What Hillary wants

    The notion that Moscow would have any interest at all to capture Baltic states is ludicrous in itself. But with the evidence of direct occupation of Afghanistan (the Taliban will never quit) and R2P in Libya (a failed state devastated by militias) spelling miserable failure, NATO badly needs a “success”. Enter warmongering rhetoric and conceptual manipulation – and this when it’s actually Washington that is deploying Hybrid War all across the chessboard.

    Kremlin Responds to NATO Commander: Russia Not a Threat to Anyone

    Reality occurs beyond NATO’s looking glass. Russia is way ahead of the Pentagon/NATO in A2AD — anti-access/area denial; Russian missiles and submarines may easily prevent NATO fighter jets from flying in Central Europe and NATO ships from “patrolling” the Baltic Sea. For the “indispensable nation”, that hurts – so bad.
    Relentless rhetorical hysteria masks the real high-stakes game in play. And that’s where US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton fits in. Throughout her campaign, Clinton has extolled “a major strategic objective of our transatlantic alliance”. The major “strategic objective” is none other than the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – a NATO-on-trade complementing political and military NATO.

    The fact that TTIP, after the latest Dutch leaks, now runs the risk of being mired in Walking Dead territory may be a temporary setback. The imperial “project” is clear; to configure NATO, which already mutated into a global Robocop (Afghanistan, Libya, Syria), into an integrated political-economic-commercial-military alliance. Always under Washington’s command, of course. And including key peripheral vassals/contributors, such as the Gulf petromonarchies and Israel.

    The imperial “enemy”, of course, would have to be the only authentic project available for the 21st century: Eurasia integration – which ranges from the Chinese-led New Silk Roads to the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union; BRICS integration, which includes their New Development Bank (NDB), in tandem with the Chinese Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); a resurgent, still independent Iran – Eurasia-connected; and all other independent poles among Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) nations.

    Activists stage mock talks as they demonstrate against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the USA outside the European Parliament at Luxembourg Place in Brussels on February 24, 2016.
    © AFP 2016/ THIERRY CHARLIER
    How Washington Will Use the TTIP to Ruin the European Economy
    This is the ultimate, ongoing 21st confrontation that will keep generating multiple, localized hybrid warfare forms – as it takes place not only across Eurasia but across the whole Global South. It’s all interlocked – from Maidan to the secret TTIP negotiations; from provoking China in the South China Sea to an oil price war and an attack on the ruble; from the NSA spying on Petrobras feeding a slow motion, legalistic regime change process in Brazil to an EU ravaged by twin plagues; a refugee crisis ultimately provoked by NATO’s wars (and instrumentalized by Turkey) coupled with Salafi-jhadi terrorism also spawned by the same wars.
    Even with France and Germany still dithering – as in paying too heavy a price for sanctions on Russia — Washington’s “project” counts on a ravaged EU being a perpetual hostage of NATO. And ultimately, a hostage of NATO on trade – because of those US geostrategic imperatives against Eurasia integration.

    This implies another necessity; the conceptual war – it’s the evil Russians who are waging Hybrid War, not us! — must be won at all costs, by instilling constant fear into the average EU citizen. In parallel, it’s also essential to put on a show; thus one of the most massive US-designed military operations on European soil since the end of the Cold War – complete with Navy and Air Force displaying nuclear capability.

    This is the new normal; Cold War 2.0, 24/7.

    http://sputniknews.com/columnists/20160506/1039193968/nato-cold-war-escobar.html

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