Over four decades into the Islamic Revolution, it appears that Iran and its political nemesis, the United States of America are nowhere near a détente, especially now that a tempestuous President Donald Trump has sat itself in the Oval Office, and from behind a Twitter storm put Tehran “under notice”.
At the heart of the matter lies Iran’s Axis of Resistance – this movement, which, throughout the Greater Middle East has called more capitals to its cause, a grand cry against the pestilence of imperialism and America’s own brand of exceptionalism.
With democratic passions at an all-time in the region, experts have looked onto political developments with much unease, realizing maybe for the first time that the Middle East grew up quite a bit since its borders were manufactured. That which should have remained divided is tentatively unifying … to what end remains to be determined.
The elephant in the room, the one political electron western capitals were never able to make bow to their will, Iran now towers over the Greater Middle East as the Sun does over our solar system – immovable and all so attractive. Iran’s gravitas does not equate nefariousness.
Iran’s pull, and the governance model it has claimed for itself does not exist in imperialism – it needs not be exported or replicated to assert its legitimacy. Iran’s Revolution was never meant as a crusade, rather an affirmation of a people’s right to constitutional self-determination.
It is because the West has perceived Iran’s revolutionary movement as a challenge to its own authority and own fashion of governance that to this day bias and prejudices have tainted the political discourse, preventing for reason, political pragmatism and diplomacy to lead.
For all intents and purposes Iran and America’s discourse has been drowned in pride and prejudice … and while such dynamics may play out beautifully in Jane Austen novel, they have no place in the world of politics.
Following some heavy posturing on the part of US President Trump, Fars News Agency – Iran’s official news agency, published a statement on January 30th in which it warned that Trump administration should know that destroying “Iran’s Axis of Resistance” is impossible. The agency also stated that “without understanding the realities of the Middle East, placing pressure on Iran will not result in gaining any achievement.”
To better understand the infamous Axis of Resistance one needs to understand those principles which have acted cornerstones to Iran’s revolutionary movement and system of governance: the Governance of the Jurist, as enounced by late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Wilayah al-Faqih as it is most commonly known, sits an affirmation that Islam – as expressed in Shia traditions, offers a divine model of governance, one which can bear no contention since anchored in Islamic jurisprudence. A complete religion, Islam encompasses and provisions for all aspects of life, without any real demarcation in between the religious and the civilian.
While many may recoil at the idea, since democracy, we have been told, can only be expressed in a clear separation of powers, it would be to deny a people the right to political self-determination to reject Iran’s choice. Any real debate or conversation would need first to recognise any and all nations’ inherent political prerogatives.
Today Iran’s rising traction in the Greater Middle East has been looked on by western capitals as a rejection of their own. For Washington, such unease has been compounded by a deep-seated sense of entitlement – one could go as far as saying a sense of ownership over the fate of the region since America’s financial and military interests remain so tied up there.
Needless to say that Iran’s unapologetic defiance towards the US has ired the new administration to the extent where it felt compelled to taunt Tehran into engaging into a war of rhetoric.
Keen to stake a claim on Resistance, and its right to support those nations struggling for freedom, Iran has long reiterated its commitment to defeating neo-colonialism and foreign interventionism. A powerful force in a region wrecked by conflicts and much socio-political uncertainties, Tehran has undeniably inspired resistance movements to not only rise-up, but affirm themselves as the carrier as popular legitimacy. That is not to say that Tehran architected dissent, rather it offered a catalyst to those who wanted to formulated opposition to tyranny.
In an article for Foreign Affairs, Payam Mohseni and Hussein Kalout both traced Iran’s new gravitas and its rising role within the region to Hezbollah’s victory against Israel in 2006, adding that Washington should come to terms with this new reality.
They wrote: “In 2006, in the midst of a fierce war between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice famously stated that the world was witnessing the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” She was right—but not in the sense she had hoped. Instead of disempowering Hezbollah and its sponsor, Iran, the war only augmented the strength and prestige of what is known as the “axis of resistance,” a power bloc that includes Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas in Palestine.”
Iran’s role in the Middle East
While Iran has been pandemically characterised as a political and militarised “agent provocateur” in that it has been linked to Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen, much of the hype surrounding Tehran’s role or even influence has been largely overblown, and almost always taken out of context.
Where the likes of Dr Taghrid Alhajali, the previous Minister of Culture and Family Affairs in the Syrian interim government have denounced Iran’s role in Syria, pinning much of the devastation Syria has endured to Tehran’s military support to President Bashar al-Assad, one cannot give in to such generalisation without losing intellectual credibility.
Whether “mainstream” care to admit or not, President al-Assad represents the only legitimacy to be had in Syria, in keeping with Syria’s constitution – anything else is an attack on Syria’s national sovereignty.
Rather than brush Iran under grave misapprehension it would be far more productive to admit that as a regional power Iran has in fact a role to play within the formulation of the new Greater Middle Eastern Block, especially when enacted in accordance with international law.
When it comes to Iran’s role in the Middle East and how Tehran has been instrumental in formulating Resistance we absolutely need to rise above political bias and recognise that the Islamic Republic has positioned itself against Terrorism, and in defence of such principles as national sovereignty and political self-determination.
Countries’ objection to both Iran and the Axis of Resistance stem not from international law but their distaste of Iran’s system of governance, and, that in itself is a dangerous form of bigotry. We ought to be more objective and legally pragmatic if we are to unlock the Middle East and the many conflicts brewing within.
As far as US President Donald Trump goes it is likely we will see a disengagement from foreign policy and the Middle Eastern theatre – quite simply because it makes little economic sense and Mr Trump’s main narrative has been focused on the economy. More importantly the US has lost its relevance in the region to both Iran and Russia.
Iran’s nuclear deal and Mr Trump’s objections to its formulation are but the expression of a new form of geopolitical protectionism, whereas western powers and their clients are arguing control against those movements which ambition to extract themselves from under political feudalism.
Ultimately it is how those two forces will interact with one another that will determine what future will be that of the Greater Middle East. One must hope that officials will not pay lip service to peace just so to prove a point. Only this January, Digital Journal published a report in which it announced the US Congress was looking into allowing President Trump to “use military force against Iran.”
The “Authorization of Use of Force Against Iran Resolution,” is sponsored by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and permits the president to wage war as he sees fit, with the goal of thwarting Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions.
If war has been whispered rather loudly in Washington’s corridors of power, other voices have offered reason by way of moving forward.
In exclusive comments, Dr Ammar Nakhjavani, Imam Ali Chair for the Hartford Seminary noted: “it’s very difficult at this stage to predict what policies US President Donald Trump will front in regards to Iran, and I think we need to carefully separate the theatrics of politics from state policies. There is a lot of posturing on all sides, and this was to be expected. There is however a real opportunity for peaceful collaboration in between Washington and Tehran and it would only be pragmatic to forge new alliances – if anything for the promotion of common economic interests and counter-terrorism.”
Indeed … as the saying goes: only fools rush in!
Catherine Shakdam is the Director of Programs of the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies and a political analyst specializing in radical movements, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.