More than one year after signing of Iran’s nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was based on “the choice of reconciliatory strategic necessity,” the Iran issue was raised 18 times during the first presidential election debate between U.S. Republican and Democrat candidates, Donald trump and Hillary Clinton, on September 26, 2016.
During that debate, discussions were made about Iran’s power and role in the Persian Gulf, Middle East and the world and the necessity for the United States to either return to the Iran option, or counter Iran’s rising role in the world.
Another important point in that presidential debate was the impact of the Iran deal on the United States’ foreign policy beyond 2016.
Frequent references by US presidential candidates, both from the Republican and Democrat parties, to a wide spectrum of issues related to Iran, both in this debate and in their other remarks, are indicative of the fact that Iran will continue to remain an exception in the United States’ foreign policy far beyond 2016.
Under President Barack Obama, the Iran issue remained an exception despite the beginning of negotiations, which Obama had promised to get underway with Iran without any preconditions. This state of being an exception gradually changed the viewpoints of major international actors about Iran’s capacities to create stability or challenged in the Middle East region, which includes the Levant, the Mesopotamia, and the Persian Gulf subregions. Therefore, one can claim that in the forthcoming years, the United States’ foreign policy with regard to Iran will be shaped by four legacies of Obama, which include Daesh, proxy wars, the refugee crisis, and redefinition of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in the Middle East.
Under these conditions, the specifications of the Iran exception, to which both US democrat and republican presidential candidates have been referring, is undergoing change. At a time that the United States is trying to create an America-oriented Middle East, the Iran exception aims to create a new Middle East based on nation-states, localized, and oriented toward regional nations. In such a Middle East, the role played by the Iran exception will be a strategic role based on civilizational backgrounds and experiences, which date back to several thousand years ago. It is obvious that Americans, including the present presidential candidates from both major parties, are facing remarkable problems for having a good grasp of Iran.
In the absence of such a strategic view to the Middle East and in view of the stabilizing role played by the Iran exception in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, it is hard for the United States to accept the benefits of the JCPOA that was signed by Iran and the P5+1 group of countries on the basis of a win-win logic. As a result of these conditions, Iran is expected to rapidly embark on new cooperation with allied forces in the region, which will not be a desirable option for the United States.
A complete example of the approach taken to the region by this Iranian exception was materialized in the cooperation between Iran and Russia in Syria. The alliance between Russia and Iran and an effort to find a solution to the Syria crisis by these two actors in rivalry with the West is not desirable to the United States. If this alliance ends up in the formation of a joint military front, the Iran exception will become less controllable, its soft and hard power potentialities in the Middle East will increase and, as a result, conflicts between Iran and the United States in the Middle East will escalate.
Iran’s increasing spiritual influence in its surrounding regions as well as Syria has turned the Iranian forces and other groups that are allied with this country into experienced actors. Most probably, in order to counter the Iran-led resistance axis, the U.S. will boost its investment in Iran’s regional allies, topped by Saudi Arabia and Israel, and also in some non-state actors. In doing this, the United States is also trying to engineer the public opinion and the civil society in Iran to bring them in line with the West’s intentions and approaches in Iran’s surrounding regions and will continue its efforts in this regard.
Of course, the Iranian nation and the public opinion in the country consider the United States as a desecuritizing and untrustworthy country due to the background of relations between the two sides. However, if a tangible practical change takes places in the United States’ behavior toward Iran’s xenophobic people, Iranian politicians are sure to make a serious change in their attitude toward the United States in a way that would help create sustainable security.
Therefore, the main profound concept that one can derive from the first debate between Trump and Clinton is the necessity of changing the future American administration’s strategies and policies toward the Middle East and those discourses that are supported by Iran. If the 45th US president were ready to make such a paradigm-based U-turn toward the Middle East, he could prevent further deterioration of the situation in the Middle East. In this new Middle East, exceptional actors will see the United States as a factor in helping management of the regional affairs and finding fair solutions to the existing conflicts in the region, without making any effort to dominate the region under the excuse of establishing security within new global retrenchment.
The realization of the American dream and making America great, as claimed during US presidential debates in 2016, would not be possible through the corridors of the Wall Street or populist slogans aimed at promoting Islamophobia and racial hatred. American ideas in the Middle East can be only realized on the basis of the final result of the forthcoming presidential polls and through taking real and serious decisions by the United States to adapt the next American government to the ideas and solutions and strategies cherished by exceptions to the US foreign policy in the Middle East.
By Iran Review