The Society for Iranian Studies

email us

US Transcom
US Transcom

Shahin & Sepehr

Iranian Online Directory

Sehaty Foreign Exchange

Advertise with The Iranian


Agonizing reappraisal
A way for the U.S. to end its isolationist policies in the Persian Gulf

November 18, 1998
The Iranian

The time has come for the United States and its allies to do what in diplomatic circles is politely called "an agonizing reappraisal." The failure of "dual containment" in the Persian Gulf policies of the last few years have now become apparent to everyone except the most obstinate. Iran and Iraq have not been contained. On the contrary, both countries have taken advantage of the emerging rivalries of the post-Cold War era to develop economic and political ties to subvert those policies. Russia, France, and China as well as the U. S. Arab allies are opposing military action against a recalcitrant Iraq, while revolutionary Iran under President Mohammad Khatami is entering into a rapprochement with Europe and the conservative regional powers, notably Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Despite its current reconsideration of past policies, the Clinton Administration has not yet shown a more imaginative approach. Why is the United States being isolated in this vital region of the world?

Fundamentally because current policies are the relic of the Cold War in a post-Cold War world. Following World War II, the United States inherited the mantle of hegemonic domination of the European colonial powers in this region. By pursuing policies of opposition to communism as well as Arab and Iranian nationalism, the United States itself became identified as a hegemonic power. By aligning itself with conservative and dictatorial regimes, U. S. succeeded in preventing the Soviet penetration of the region. But it paid a high price for this success. In Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, those policies created regional hegemonic regimes that constitute threats to their neighbors and regional security. Before the Iranian revolution of 1979, the twin pillars of U. S. policies were Iran and Saudi Arabia. That led to the creation of two heavily armed regional superpowers that were perceived as threats by other countries in the region. Those policies also led to the unintended consequence of an Islamic revolution in Iran, a stimulus to the spread of Islamic militancy elsewhere in the region.

With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the U. S. surrogates of power became Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. Attempting to stem the tide of Islamic revolution, with the support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Western powers, Iraq attacked Iran in 1980 in a bloody war that lasted for eight years with enormous casualties and destruction in both countries. The war came to a standstill and a grudging peace but in the meantime, Iraq had become the new hegemon of the region. It should have occasioned no surprise therefore when Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, reclaiming it as its 19th province. In a moment of enthusiasm, all of the U. N. Security Council rallied to the United States call for driving the aggressor out of Kuwait and subsequent subjection to economic embargo and weapons inspection.

In Afghanistan, United States made common cause with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to support the Islamic Mujahedin to fight a successful war against the Soviet occupation. When the Soviets withdrew, however, Afghanistan became a tribalized scene of conflict among rival Islamic factions. With U. S. weapons, Saudi cash, and Pakistani military training and direction, the Taliban are the faction that has finally taken over 90 percent of Afghan territory. But just as in the case of Saddam Hussein, the Taliban are another Frankenstein monster beyond the control of their creators. They constitute a threat to ethnic peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

If this narrative rings true, the lessons are clear. In the long run, hegemonic policies are self-defeating. In the post-Cold War era, in which there is no single enemy to counter, it is best for the United States and the regional powers in the Gulf to pursue communitarian policies. That means efforts to build a regional security community in which perceptions of threat are reduced to a minimum by confidence building, non-aggression pacts, arms control, and regional cooperation. In collaboration with Australian National University, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, and Copenhagen Peace Research Institute, the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research is initiating a triple-track diplomatic effort to do just that.

The first meeting of an International Commission for Gulf Security is planned for March 6-7, 1999, in Istanbul, Turkey. Yasushi Akashi, former UN Under-Secretary General and currently director of the Hiroshima Peace Institute, will chair the meeting. Distinguished representatives from the eight Gulf littoral states, the five permanent members of the Security Council, and the UN Secretary-General's office will meet to explore ways to build a lasting security community in the Gulf. In lieu of saber rattling, this plan deserves the support of all realists and peace-loving people.

- Send a comment for The Iranian letters section
- Send a comment to the writer, Majid Tehranian

Copyright © Abadan Publishing Co. All Rights Reserved. May not be duplicated or distributed in any form