When people talk about pariah states, which are regarded as automatically acting wrongly and who must be opposed for the sake of it, the Islamic Republic of Iran is always one of the first names mentioned, inter alia, amongst a long list of accompanying alleged wrongdoings.
It is the focus of a loud chorus of accusations – intolerant, repressive, brutal, anti-democratic, and anti-woman—you name it. It would be unfair to single out the Islamic State as uniquely discriminatory against women, as there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction amongst women in even the most democratic nations, including the United States.
But in reality all the political rhetoric has more to do with Syria and Saudi Arabia than Iran’s “real” and “perceived” shortcomings. The US and Israeli would like to push Iran out of Syria, thereby safeguarding Israel’s border and weakening Tehran’s influence in Lebanon and the wider region.
And to top it all, Iran is anti-Western
Most of these allegations have long been repeated by War Hawks and Iranian exiles now living in the West, and subsequent US administrations. Iran is also in the crossfire for its alleged operational nuclear program, especially under the Trump Administration. Few care to discuss that it was non operations, and at least the Europeans were not concerned.
Fewer even brother to ask any more, or even wonder why all the sabre-rattling: Simply if the West really doesn’t agree with what a country has done in light of its own vested interests, and when it doesn’t march to the same tune, then it is slated to be overthrown and sanctioned to submission.
Just look what has happened in Nicaragua, Iraq and many other places. As before Trump the policy continues, how can Iran be stopped from getting a nuclear bomb? The first actions of the new US administration was to derail all the negotiations and even put the US back to having to consider a military action, aside from putting sanctions back on Iran.
What counterbalancing actions should Washington take?
Little is said in the MSM how the US supports Saudi Arabia, turns a blind eye, in the destruction of Yemen in mass genocide through disease and starvation. Many of the problems faced by the US with Iran has more to do with the regional manoeuvring by Israel and Saudi Arabia over their own interests, not the interests of the United States and its allies.
Only know people are starting to realize that the US under both the current and previous administration, supported terrorists groups, and rather openly, especially in the case of Syria and the so called moderate opposition to Assad.
It is rather two-faced for the US to dare talk about human rights when it comes to Iran, Syria and Turkey—especially when America’s own track record is not one to brag about. Most of the problems now faced are self imposed and political rhetoric and campaign financing get into the way of engaging US diplomacy.
As long as the oil flow and Saudi Arabia maintains itself as being the regional banker and base of operation for covert actions, it will continue to enjoy good relations with the US and Iran and its “friends” will be the bad guys, Forget about the injustices Saudi inflicts on its own people, meddling in the affairs of others, and how it is the top state sponsor of terrorism in the world—and even against the United States as in the case of 9/11.
Neither is it the only state where opponents of the regime are imprisoned or murdered, or subjected to other human rights abuses. The US continues to support governments which treat their opponents in the same way, not least that of Iran under the Shah and let us not forget Egypt and Jordan.
Nor does being anti-Western automatically make you a pariah if it suits the West – Saddam Hussein, of all people, was funded by the US to wage war on Iran in the 1980s to try and remove its Islamic regime, despite the mutual hostility between Iraq and the West which was manifest in propaganda even then.
There are two reasons why Iran, above all, is officially treated as a leper, despite the oil resources everyone wants a piece of. They tell us a lot about how power politics and US foreign is actually conducted, and why that has to change, for the benefit of all nations, including the perpetrators of these diplomatic atrocities and human right violations in the name of democracy and Western values.
Power does not equal intelligence
The last Shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, regarded himself as “Leader of the Aryans” and thus an automatic friend of the West. Indeed, he had no choice but to be, as in 1953 the Western powers intervened to destroy the democratically elected government of the popular Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh, who had ended foreign exploitation of Iran’s oil industry by nationalising it. The Shah himself would have been removed and replaced with a foreign nominee had he not gone along with this coup and allowed the CIA to establish the notorious SAVAK security force to keep his opponents at bay.
When Jimmy Carter became US president on a platform of sweeping away corruption at home and supporting human rights abroad he was rightly worried about the undemocratic and repressive nature of the Shah’s rule. However he was prevailed upon by his advisors to accept him as the least of several competing evils, and continue supporting him for strategic and energy supply even after the Shah led the OPEC boycott, which seriously damaged Western industrial production.
There were some obvious threats to the Shah’s rule, which did not pretend to be democratic in the Western sense and derived from a coup his father had conducted against the previous dynasty. The Shia clerics had always been an influential force with the grassroots, and the communist Tudeh Party retained a popular base despite considerable repression.
Similarly, the beneficiaries of the Shah’s modernising and Westernising programme, the “Persianists” who had always thought themselves to be a different breed to the conservative “Islamists”, eventually wanted more say in the running of the country. Greater wealth had made them think their opinions were more valuable, the driving factor behind most genuine civil wars and revolutions.
But no one thought that all these forces would act together, much less under the leadership of an exiled cleric in his seventies. Iran’s crime in the present day is that it caught the world napping.
No Western diplomat or government advisor saw the 1979 revolution coming, or then thought that it would succeed. Other revolutions have been fomented by the West to begin with (Ukraine providing two good recent examples) or have resulted from failures the West understood. But the convergence of forces which overthrew the Shah in 1979 was unforeseen and incomprehensible, and therefore its outcome, which Iran still lives with today, must be fundamentally wrong in the eyes of the West.
All the elements of the modern Islamic Republic of Iran are present and understood, individually, in other states. They could also be understood in Iran, and form the basis for some sort of dialogue, even if it is between bitter opponents. But Iran has never been forgiven for showing the West up to be both ignorant of reality and a political failure. This, rather than anything Iran actually does, is the root cause of both the West’s hostility towards it and its fear of trying to remove a regime which has remained capable of doing these things.
Getting there the wrong way
The second reason Iran is a pariah is that not only was the revolution not expected, it did not add up. Thirty-five years later, the type of government it ushered in is still there, and still doesn’t add up. The Islamic Republic has refused to collapse, despite wars and sanctions and diplomatic warfare and hit teams which continues unabated as a substitute for real action in support of the West’s professed principles.
But in Western thinking that cannot happen. The West is not just the biggest and best political bloc, in its own estimation, but the one with the highest values. Therefore, according to its own logic, everyone who does not do as the West says is backward and expendable. If the human race is to progress everyone must eventually evolve Western thinking and practice, and if a government claims to be trying to make that happen, however falsely, it should be supported.
The 1979 Revolution was in no way progressive by purported Western standards, and nor did it pretend to be. Its point was to replace the so called modern Western values being introduced by the Shah with Islamic values the population were more comfortable with, but which were seen as a return to the dark ages by Western governments.
Nor did it introduce a modern interpretation of Islam, but a conservatism which denounced what the West regarded as social achievements, such as greater female involvement in decision making, secular education and more liberal attitudes towards dress and sexual relations. In Western thinking, people can’t just turn their backs on these things when they have been established in their country. If they do, the backward turn must result in social and political collapse. But it hasn’t in Iran, so once again it must be demonised for demonstrating to the West it is not the pinnacle of human achievement, or at least not the only one.
Languages without speech
When any new country emerges, or a significant change of government occurs, the first question asked is always, “does it have a common language with the West?” Iran is avowedly anti-Western and gets away with it, so it sees no need to develop one, much to the West’s annoyance. So what does the case of Iran tell us about what sort of common language with the West a state should develop if it wants to avoid becoming another international pariah?
Firstly, all states have to accept that the West is more advanced in intellectual and political terms as well as material ones. Much of what the West has today derives from non-Western sources, despite US claims that Thomas Edison invented practically everything. But the contemporary version must somehow be superior, because it is Western.
Native methods, in industry, politics and social organisation, adopted in the West’s client states are tolerated as local curiosities which are now ready to be supplanted by Western ways. The people of Argentina will tell you how much better life was in the days of hyperinflation than they were after the IMF imposed a rescue package to Westernise its financial arrangements, structural adjustment, and this is not an isolated case.
The West saw what happened when Soviet rule was imposed on countries which would never be suited to such a system. It doesn’t now want to admit that its own systems are equally inappropriate in many places. So to remain a friend of the West, you have to go along with the big lie, in the hope that Western political and financial support will somehow make the lie irrelevant.
Secondly, to develop a common language with the West you must be predictable. A radical change of policy or practice which was not previously dictated or explained by the West is too much of a threat even in democratic states.
The policy that continues in the US towards Iran and the region is one based on the unending post-1979 vendetta with Iran over the hostage crisis and its unwillingness to accept the popular upraising to get the Americans out. It is also based on the mentality of good vs. Evil and once bad, then always bad, and this is much the same as trying to put modern Russia in the same light as the former USSR.
American politicians, businesses and the media have convenient memories; they are almost clueless of Iran and its rich but hectic history, as explained in one Guardian article. That is “in such a vacuum”, for its enemies, notably the paranoid Sunni Arab dictatorships of the Gulf, to unfairly portray Iran as pariah and international bogeyman.
For John Bolton, Trump’s veteran national security adviser, War Hawk and others of his ilk, Iran is unfinished business, a part of George W Bush’s infamous “axis of evil”
Iran is not a pariah state because of what it actually does, even though some of its actions could easily make it one. It is a pariah because the West can’t face its own failure and looks for a convenient scapegoat for its regional failures, especially in Syria. It didn’t see the 1979 Revolution coming, because of poor intelligence and ignorance. At least the US will never admit it that it was totally caught off guard, much like Stalin when the Germans invaded.
It couldn’t understand that its ways were not automatically superior. This is the fault of the West, not Iran. But the West is not going to change its ways to suit lesser powers, so deviants have to be punished. Any state can be declared a pariah at any time, as all embarrass the West every time they get something right and the West gets it all wrong. When new countries are added to the list, such as Assad’s Syria, Saddam’s Iraq, Somoza’s Nicaragua or Chavez’s Venezuela, it is often cynically assumed that this is about struggles for influence and oil. Indeed it is, but when such states are described as a “threat”, as they routinely are, we begin to see what threat they actually pose.
The West does not believe its own values or it would respect them elsewhere and allow other countries to have them. That is why every country which does things differently, and successfully, such as Russia, is a threat. If the West can’t claim perpetual superiority, all its other claims are founded on sand.
Seth Ferris, investigative journalist and political scientist, expert on Middle Eastern affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.