Al Monitor | : Ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the implicit goal of US strategy toward Tehran has with rare exception been to subvert the Iranian political system. Under President Donald Trump, regime change has been adopted as official policy. Trump’s approach has been twofold: to increase sanctions and other pressures to weaken Iran while countering its defensive capabilities and regional influence, and to support Iranians who seek to overthrow the Islamic Republic.
Before the Islamic Revolution, Washington was the dominant foreign power in Iran, exercising decisive political, economic, military and cultural influence. The United States came into this position after orchestrating the 1953 coup ousting democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and returning to power the dictatorial regime of the shah. The 1979 revolution marked the end of US influence in Iran and was a major setback for Washington in the region as a strategic ally suddenly turned into an enemy.
The most important reason for America’s imbroglio in Iran was the misperceptions US officials had of Iranian society. In a 1977 trip to Tehran, President Jimmy Carter praised the shah for making Iran “an island of stability” and for “the admiration and love which your people give you.” Just months later, slogans of “Death to the Shah” and “Death to America” reverberated in protests that ultimately ended millennia of monarchy in Iran.
While Trump has encouraged the Iranian people to revolt against their government, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that the administration’s aim is to bring about “peaceful transition,” and Sen. Tom Cotton, an influential Trump adviser, has called for covert action to “support internal domestic dissent.” In the lead-up to the revolution, Washington misread the domestic situation in Iran to dramatic consequence. It is of no surprise then that after 40 years of no American presence in Iran whatsoever, the misunderstandings that Trump administration officials have of Iranian society are greater and herald potentially graver consequences. As such, a better US understanding of Iran is of utmost necessity.