The Magian Doctrine - a Nonviolent Approach to Dealing with Iran

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As of 2019, Iran has been listed as the third largest threat to U.S. national security.

It may therefore seem like the ideal strategy would be to continue taking a confrontational approach in dealing with Persian expansion, however, this modus operandi has simply heightened tensions. There is no question that Iran poses a threat to international peace, but this threat would be more sufficiently dealt with by adopting a doctrine of entente - one centered around trade, neutrality, and deterrence - rather than through war.

From the late 1800s and throughout much of the 20th Century, Iran was one of America’s strongest allies in the Middle East. In 1953, the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was overthrown in a coup d’etat orchestrated by the CIA and MI6, as he was not viewed as being anticommunist enough; the prime minister’s moderation, Churchill and Eisenhower feared, would only make it easier for the leftist, pro-Soviet Tudeh Party to obtain political power. Mosaddegh had also began nationalizing Persian oil, including reserves belonging to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. - the largest private company in the British Empire. Seeking to regain control of the oil, the U.S. and U.K. replaced Mosaddegh with Shah Mohammed Reza. In 1979, anti-American revolutionaries overthrew the shah and established the Islamic Republic. Ever since, relations between the U.S. and Iran have largely deteriorated.

Since 1979, the U.S. has imposed a series of sanctions on Iran, beginning with E.O. 12170, which froze an estimated 1.02 billion dollars in Persian assets. This was followed by an embargo on Persian imports a year later, and, in 1987, a ban on all trade. It was not until the JCPOA was signed in 2015 that the U.S. finally began lifting sanctions, though most were reinstated after President Donald Trump assumed office in 2017. Additional sanctions have been added since then, severely limiting Iran’s ability to export oil.

Although recent U.S. stipulations have proven effective at crippling Iran economically, they have been unsuccessful at creating any sort of political deterrence. Sanctions have done nothing to alter the behavior of the Iranian state, nor have they had much bearing on its capacity to expand its power regionally. U.S. sanctions have also been threatened on certain countries that do business with Iran; as there is more benefit to doing business with the U.S. than there is doing business with Iran, many of these countries have adhered to U.S. stipulations. 

Reports from Tehran indicate that anti-Americanism is at an all-time low, and that public opinion toward the U.S. is higher in Iran than the average Islamic country. It is the U.S. government that makes Iranians wary, thanks to both decades of sanctions and heavy degrees of military intervention in the Persian sphere of influence. Increasing sanctions would needlessly damage that public opinion, making any hope for peace in the near-future even more unlikely.

The threat Iran poses to American interests in the region would be significantly reduced were the U.S. to lift sanctions and begin engaging in commerce. Currently, the U.S. and U.K. are the only major Western nations hostile to Iran, which is a major trading partner of the EU. Iran is currently Europe’s seventh largest exporter of crude oil. 

Germany has developed especially strong ties with Iran, and from 2015 to 2016 alone, the number of German exports to Iran increased by nearly thirty percent. This alone indicates that Iran is willing to do business with the West. Iran seeks economic expansion, which is what American sanctions are designed to prevent. Limited opportunities for growth have forced Iran to find other countries willing to import Persian oil, such as Russia & China.

 Since the mid-1990s, Russia has been one of the largest foreign investors in Persian capital, and has also had a direct role in assisting Iran develop nuclear weapons - something that would give both countries a strategic advantage in the region. In further isolating Iran, the U.S. runs the risk of inadvertently strengthening ties between Tehran & Moscow. On May 8th, 2019, Mohammad Javad Zaariff, Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow to discuss the effects of American sanctions and threats of U.S. military action.  If the U.S. were to lift sanctions, engage in free trade, and re-establish diplomatic ties, then the U.S. would not be seen as such a threat. Iran could recognize that a relationship with the U.S. would be of greater economic benefit to the country than being in alignment with Russian hegemony.

Tensions would also decline if America were to reduce the amount of financial and military aid currently given to Saudi Arabia - Iran’s key rival. Following the outbreak of the Yemen Civil War in 2015, President Barack Obama began providing Saudi Arabia with intelligence, weapons, and access to American refueling stations. This occurred after the Crowned Prince, then serving as defense minister, intervened against the Persian-backed Houthi rebels on Yeman’s behalf. The Trump Administration has continued with these provisions despite bipartisan opposition; in April of 2019, the president vetoed a bill that would have cut U.S. aid to Saudi Arabia altogether. Were the administration to reconsider this motion and limit U.S. dealings with Saudi Arabia to strictly commerce, or even declare outright neutrality, the U.S. would be viewed as less of a threat to Iranian interests.

Until the signing of the JCPOA in 2015, Iran was well on its way to developing nuclear weapons. On the prospect of Iranian nuclearization, the governments of the United States and Israel have consistently argued the same position for decades: that a nuclear-capable Iran would be an existential threat to global stability.  However, it would be better for stability in the Middle East were Iran allowed to maintain a nuclear arsenal. While not an official nuclear power, Israel is currently the only Middle Eastern nation to possess nuclear weapons. For this reason, Israel is Iran’s top military threat. A world where Nation A has the power to annihilate Nation B, but not the other way around, is not a peaceful world. Logically, the proliferation of nuclear weapons by Iran could reduce the imbalance of military power in the Middle East, thus deterring either Israel or Iran from attacking one-another. 

While it is true that Iranian proliferation of nukes would create a balance of power in the region, there is still no guarantee they would never be used. If a reckless government were to order a nuclear attack on Tel Aviv, Israel would likely retaliate with equal force.

There is also no guarantee that Iran would ever accept an olive branch from the U.S. According to the State Department, Iran is currently the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. An Iran with nuclear capabilities could make it easier for terrorists to attack the United States. So while Iran’s having weapons may be good for Middle Eastern stability, it could jeopardize U.S. national security.

Although Iran currently does remain a geopolitical obstacle in the Middle East, intervention is bound to further destabilize the region, as costly lessons in Iraq and Libya have shown. This neither benefits America nor the Arab World as a whole. Strategically, the United States would benefit more from pursuing a doctrine of entente instead. Going to war is not an appropriate means of dealing with the threat that Iran currently poses, but would, in fact, be evidence of the United States’ failure to do just that.