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Maintaining U.S.

Primacy in the Middle East Two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union paved the way for America to pick up the banner of global leadership, the American moment, as Charles Krauthammer called it, appears to be in serious danger of waning and perhaps even coming to a close. Sometime around the middle of the Bushadministration the prevailing narrative changed and a new wave of declinism began to take hold and spread like wildfire in America and the world at large. Now, not more then five years later, the perception that the U.S. is on the decline as a hyper-power is palpable. In no place is this more apparent then the Middle East where elements within the Islamic Republic of Iran have seized on the opportunity to promote their vision of a post-uni-polar Middle East. Taking advantage of one of the most primary levels of consensus in Tehran concerning the necessity of shifting the balance of power in the Middle East towards Irans favor, hard-liners have been able to advance their own national security agenda as a means to achieve this redistribution of power. Championed by powerful conservative figures like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, it quickly became Irans dominant foreign policy narrative, supplanting the relative moderation that had prevailed during the reformists tenure in power until 2004.1 This strategy of steadfast resistance is a revisionist ideology that calls for the overthrow of the Western-dominated liberal-political/economic order that has prevailed since the end of the Cold War and in its place facilitate a transition to a multi-polar system starting with developing countries who have been historically marginalized from international communities of power.2 This competition between the U.S. and Iran occurs primarily at the level of narrative and representations; by using symbolic rhetoric and actions such as the refusal to engage in nuclear negotiations, hard-liners are able to exploit the atmosphere of crisis between the two countries and use it to both advance Irans regional ambitions as well their own factional prestige domestically. While maintaining U.S. primacy requires addressing these challengers, the changing nature of the game means the U.S. wont be able to rely on traditional methods of statecraft and diplomacy to achieve these ends. The active pursuit of a multi-polar global order has been spurred, at least in part, by the perceived gradual shift of power away from the West and a hegemonic U.S. towards the global south. This transition isnt so-much marked by, as Fareed Zakaria noted in 2008: the decline of America, but instead, the rise of everyone else. 3 The relative advantages enjoyed by Western nations in the immediate post-colonial world such as a developed industrial base, or access to human and material capital have all but vanished as globalization levels the playing field, shifting a greater share of wealth to non-Western states every year.4 Ironically, it is only though the collective security provided by uni-polarity that the global liberal-economic order could prevail and in turn, it is only though this system that the global south could have enjoyed such a high rate of development as it has in recent times.5 It is in this context that hardliners, particularly those associated with Ahmadinejad and other neoconservatives, are attempting to reclaim globalization from, what they perceive to be, a system of global
1

The current intra-conservative power struggle complicates this situation considerably, but at the time hard-line conservatives were, for the most part, unified in their support behind this policy. 2 Heydemann, 2010 3 Zakaria 2008 4 Edelman, 19 5 Edelman, 13

governance dominated by the West.6 The reasoning behind this is that, despite the fact that globalization has disproportionately benefited developing nations, the system is still organized around the realities of the 20th century and grants far too much power to Western nations a prime example of this is the UN Security Council which Iran has often critiqued as unrepresentative of rising powers, particularly Islamic ones.7 To this end, Iran had attempted to appeal to the global-multitudes by forging a wide array of formal (direct state-to-state dialogue) and informal (ideological) ties to countries which have been excluded from hierarchies of power. While this ranges from courting periphery states like North Korea, Sudan, and Venezuela, to encouraging cooperation and mutual-exchanges between developing countries the goal is the same: to form alternative networks of power which can be used to balance Western hegemony. When Ahmadinejad addressed delegates from the G-15 in 2006, he declared that:
under conditions when countries are facing many challenges which have remained from the past century, specially from the power relations and unjust and discriminative international relations. [These challenges] have increased pressures on the third world governments [to pursue] deepening of south-south cooperation...".8

A notable example of this campaign is Ahmadinejads aggressive diplomacy across Africa; in direct contrast to a traditional client-state approach to foreign policy, Iran has worked to put forward a narrative of mutual assistance and development.9 This is due, at least in part, to the simple inability of Iran to coerce states beyond its immediate borders; it couldnt maintain a client-state network even if it wanted to. Within this framework though, Irans goal isnt necessarily to make sure its in control, just so long as it isnt on the bottom It is the global Islamic community (Ummah) centralized in the Middle East however that serves as the focus of Irans efforts in its struggle against uni-polarity. While this vision of multi-polarity necessarily precludes a hegemonic Iran, this hasnt tempered Irans desire for great-power status; top military commander and close advisor to the Supreme Leader, General Rahim Safavi had this to say in 2010: "The Islamic world has a very high geopolitical status and [is] becoming a world power block in the new world order of the current century..10 With the exception of Turkey, Iran is the only nation-state in the Middle East with a sustained national identity (especially one with a history of empire) that has existed since antiquity; its Arab neighbors like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E. are all relatively recent constructions.11 Because of this, there is a widespread consensus among the Iranian leadership elite that Iran is destined to occupy a position of leadership within this bloc; this was on full display during the Arab Spring in 2011 where Iran tried to link the popular uprisings across the region to its greater struggle against the West. During a speech in October, Supreme Leader Khamenei commented that the Iranian nation has turned into a model for the regional nations12 while earlier in April he declared that Thanks to Islam and Islamic Revolution, a public Islamic awakening has happened in the region today, which will definitely yield its results13
6 7

(Heydemann, 2010) ("Iran Urges Reform in Security Council's Unjust Structure " October, 01, 2011) 8 ("Economic Cooperation Best Solution to Confront Unilateralism " September 15, 2006) 9 Based on external research conducted by author with regards to Iranian arms exports throughout Africa. 10 ("Leader's Aide Stresses Muslim Nations' High Potentials " April 15, 2010) 11 Limbert, 31 12 ("Larijani: Iran Has No Imperial Aspirations " October 24, 2011) 13 ("Minister: Islamic Awakening Inspired by Imam Khomeini's Message " June 5, 2011)

This Islamic Awakening as Iran has coined it, taken in conjunction with other factors like U.S. economic troubles and domestic division (many have seized on the spectacle of the occupy movement, declaring it the capitalist autumn, a play on the Arab Spring14), perceptions of imperial overstretch globally, and the relative increase in power of Iran over the past decade, has helped contribute to the belief among those in Tehran that Iran has passed a geostrategic threshold and surpassed the U.S. as the most important power-broker in the Middle East.15 The belief that Iran has crossed a certain threshold, no matter how true it may be in reality, is a signal of a fundamental shift in the nature of U.S. leadership globally, not just in the Middle East. After the collapse of the USSR many classical-realists predicted that the primacy enjoyed by the U.S. would be short lived as states would inevitably join together and balance against the lone hyperpower in an attempt to carve off a chunk of power for themselves.16 Ultimately though, this balancing never materialized and the unipolar moment grew and grew; this happened not because states stopped conceiving of the world in the frame of power-politics, but because the cost of defection was so high and the benefits of band-wagoning so great; Eric Edelman explains:
This willingness to provide certain global public goods facilitated acceptance of US primacy and the unipolar system by other countries. America, while clearly creating some resentments continues to be seen (particularly by governments) as relatively benign in its interactions with other powers. America shares a fundamental view of the world rooted in the neoliberal orthodoxy of free markets, open societies, and democratic institutions that emerged as a consensus prescription for peace and prosperity 17

Implicit is the point that Iran as a state made similar calculations during the same time and reached much the same conclusion which was that Iran had more to gain from operating within the system then trying to confront it. Their weakened position as they emerged from the Iran-Iraq war was cast in sharp contrast to the U.S. who was at the peak of their power and had just demonstrated the cost of defection by brushing away the Iraqi army during Operation Desert Storm the same Iraqi army that was close to achieving victory over Iran just a few years earlier. Today, the calculations have begun to change; Irans policy of steadfast resistance has demonstrated that the calculations that have legitimized hegemonic stability theory for the past two decades are changing and that for some states like Iran, the costs of defection from the international system no longer outweigh the benefits. The fact that other states have far more to lose and far less to gain by defection when compared to Iran who is already suffering the effects of residing on the periphery means that the doomsday scenarios predicted by realists like Layne who talk about counterhegemonic balancing are still a long-term concern.18 In other words, although Iran is unlikely to singlehandedly topple the global system, this challenge to U.S. primacy sets a dangerous precedent for the world at large and could set the stage for a much larger challenge down the road. Because Iran is unable to challenge the U.S. by itself, the question of Irans attempt at balancing becomes all the more important. Even a loose global-coalition comprised of states who have decided to try their luck outside the system would raise the cost of trying to maintain primacy (it is, after all, more difficult to defeat a challenger, then dissuade them from confrontation altogether), and make it
14 15

("MP Views Islamic Uprisings as Role Model for Wall Street Protests " October 10, 2011) Thaler et al, 19 16 Edelman, 19 17 Edelman, 11 18 Edelman, 13

all that much more difficult for the U.S. to influence global policy to suit its interests. This has been demonstrated to a limited degree by the sanction-busting efforts of a few states like Sudan, Venezuela, and China that Iran typically counts among its diplomatic allies. To this end, Iran is entirely reliant on the relative appeal of its alternative system of multipolarity vis--vis the appeal of uni-polarity to the people and governments of the Islamic World (and to a lesser extent, the world at large). Thus, the USs competition with Iran can largely be conceived of as a contest for legitimacy waged at the level of symbolic narrative as evident by the degree to which the Iranian leadership focuses on the need for Iran to serve as a source of emulation for its neighbors; Khamenei made this comment in October:
"[The U.S.] know[s] that the eyes of the awakened regional nations are stared at our dear country and therefore they have used all their possibilities to prevent Iran and the Iranians from becoming a role model for the great Islamic Awakening movement and to avoid prevalence of the Iranian nation's path of resistance among other nations "19

In this contest for influence, certain U.S. policies risk alienating many Arab countries, inadvertently driving them into Irans camp in a process similar to what counter-insurgency (COIN) theorist David Kilcullen would call accidental guerrilla syndrome. In his book by the same name, Kilcullen argues that accidental guerrillas arise when local populations in areas like Afghanistan side with otherwise-dissimilar groups like Al Qaeda against outsiders such as ISAF/NATO because of the ability to graft local issues like occupation/jobs/infrastructure into grand ideological narratives of resistance.20 For the past decade, Iran has played the role of Al Qaeda and exploited U.S. missteps to coopt Arab concerns in places like Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Bahrain and portray the U.S.-backed status quo in the Middle East as unacceptable. Although Iran likes to emphasize the unity of Islamic nations throughout the Middle East such as General Safavis comments above indicating the existence of an Islamic bloc the reality is that no such monolithic block exists and there are numerous potential reasons why the Arab/Islamic world could be wary of an expansionist Iran with ambitions of regional leadership. Arab distrust of Iran has already played a key role in the history of the Islamic Republic; during the Iran-Iraq war the threat of a regional revolution spreading gradually outward from Iran unified Arab states in their support of Iraq, ensuring the bulwark against this threat remained strong.21 Today, like during the 1980s, a key factor in this threat-construction was the sectarian divide between the Shia Persians, and the Sunni Arabs; this difference however should not be overplayed since for many in the region, particularly those without a significant Shia population or a border with Iran such as Egypt and Palestine, sectarianism is a minor consideration.22 It must be remembered that there are multiple sources of identity and residents wont want any of them undermined.23 For instance, during the Iran-Iraq war, Iraqi Shias in the south of the country may have identified spiritually with Iran, but their national identity and loyalty to the state demanded that they resist what Iran would have viewed asliberation. Likewise, many Arabs today are ambivalent toward Iran so long as they arent seen as actively encroaching of Sunniism or Arabism. Perhaps more importantly then sectarianism however, there is significant wariness over the perception of a resurgent imperial Iran. This holds particularly true in countries like Iraq which border Iran where,
19 20

("Leader's Advisor: Waves of Islamic Awakening Not to Stop" October 26, 2011) (Kilcullen 2009) 21 Nasr, 137 22 Rostami-Povey, 176, 208 23 Rostami-Povey, 119

according to Elaheh Rostami-Povey: In the minds of many Iraqis there is a joint occupation between the U.S. and Iran.24 Iran, at least to some extent, recognizes this danger and has attempted to ameliorate it; during a visit to Switzerland in October 2011, speaker-of-Parliament Ali Larijani said: "I told them that we are not seeking to be an empire, and that the (power) equation presented by the Islamic Revolution is basically different from the conventional (power) equation of the (world) powers25 Lacking a common language and unable to use Shia mythology as it was able to do domestically and in Lebanon, Iran has attempted to appropriate secular liberation causes throughout the Middle East by presenting itself as the only force standing up for the oppressed peoples of the region against the depredations of the U.S. and Israel. 26 27 In fact, a common saying in Arabic used to illustrate the attraction to Iran - me and my brother against my cousin, but me and my cousin against the outsider is almost the exact definition of an accidental guerilla.28 Rather then directly attempt a campaign of forced-revolution at the barrel of a gun as they did during the 1980s, Iran now chooses to communicate through the symbolic language of mutual experience and perception of the role of Israel and the U.S.A.29 The peak of Irans popularity in the Middle-East in 200630 corresponded to the 33-day war in which Lebanese Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was able to defeat the U.S.-backed Israel, dealing the first military defeat to Israel since the early-1970s. Meanwhile, Palestinian elections demonstrated Iran-allied Hamass popularity in the face of the moderate Fateh; the ensuing takeover of the Gaza strip again demonstrated the power and strength of the Iran-backed faction. Irans ideological (and material) support for Hamas and Hezbollah allowed Iran to claim that the Middle East had had enough of the USs solutions for the region empowering the ineffectual Lebanese government or Fateh in the face of Israeli aggression and had instead chosen to Irans model of steadfast resistance. Iran was able to symbolically affirm this transition by upping the ante even further, 2006 also saw Iran undertake numerous, highly-visible wargames such as the Blow of Zolfaqar and Great Prophet exercises which featured weapons like anti-ship cruise-missiles (ASCMs) and tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs) which were conspicuously designed to be useful in an asymmetric war against the U.S., as compared to earlier exercises such as the Tondar-5 games in 2004 which was far more oriented towards conventional warfare with their neighbors.31 Perhaps the most significant advantage Iran is able to take advantage of is the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel which saw a sharp upsurge in the post-9/11 world where the close cooperation in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) reinforced the oneness of a singular U.S.Israeli agenda for the Middle East.32 The black and white narrative of youre either with us, or youre with the enemy that was commonplace during the Bush administration helped contribute to the surge of Irans popularity during this time period because even though the Arab street may have held some reservations about Iran, they were still preferable to being lumped in with Israel.
24 25

Rostami-Povey, 149 ("Larijani: Iran Has No Imperial Aspirations " October 24, 2011) 26 Nasr, 137 27 Rostami-Povey, 217 28 Rostami-Povey, 5 29 Rostami-Povey, 119 30 ("Arab Attitudes Toward Iran, 2011" ) 31 Based on authors collection of imagery from these exercises 32 Rostami-Povey, 164

Because of the level of diplomatic, military, and economic support the U.S. gives Israel, Israeli actions like collective punishment or any their various military campaigns, get automatically mapped onto the U.S. as well because its simply assumed that the U.S. provided them with the requisite level of support necessary to carry these actions out.33 This is borne out by surveys of Arab public opinion: 50% of those polled believe that the primary U.S. intention in the Middle East is protecting Israel.34 More recently, the U.S. drew significant condemnation for its diplomatic defense of Israel during the failed Palestinian statehood bid in the Fall of 2011.35 Moreover, this means that Israel serves as a symbolic proxy for the U.S. and because of it whenever Irans proxies make gains relative to Israel, the U.S. suffers fallout; this was on display in 2006 when the U.S. was forced into working to sideline the thenlegitimate representative of the Palestinian government, Hamas, for no other reason then we were locked into this position because of our affiliation with Israel.36 The impact of Irans support for emotionally-resonant causes is compounded by the absence of any viable alternative for the Arab street to select from. Pan-Arab nationalism essentially vanished when Sadats Egypt signed peace accords with Israel in the 1970s and contemporary nationalism has been neutered by the absence of any strong Arab state willing to stand up for Palestinian rights. In Lebanon, the utter impotence of the central government in offering resistance to Israels military in 2006 was set in stark contrast to Hezbollahs stunning success.37 Meanwhile, the U.S.s connection with Israel instantly delegitimized any attempt to act as a credible mediator. Thus, by controlling perception and appealing to those who had been disenfranchised under the current security framework, Iran was able to emerge as an alternate and preferable pole of power to the U.S.38 In the same way that Irans national security establishment came to the conclusion that it was worth more to attempt to balance against the U.S. then avoid confrontation, Iran is now trying to lead its neighbors into adopting the same conclusion by highlighting the cost of band-wagoning (enables Israeli carte-blanche) and the benefits of defection (access to the only mediator who will fight against the forces of tyranny). In this scenario, the Arabs have become Irans accidental guerrillas whose local concerns about the occupation of Palestine, threat of a broader war on Islam, or the legitimacy of their government were integrated into Irans greater narrative of steadfast resistance against injustice and the meddling of the West. This is all despite the fact that there is very little intrinsic reason why the U.S. should be in conflict with groups like Hezbollah, or Hamas, and especially with more mainstream ones like the Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, other identities like sectarianism or nationalism became subsumed under the greater threat of the hostile other, preventing Iran from being vilified.39 Using the narrative of steadfast resistance in order to position itself as the leader of this perceived Islamic-bloc of countries, Irans appeal to the global-oppressed has also come at the cost of further alienation from the West and other non-Western countries which have found it more advantageous to band-wagon.40 If Irans ultimate goal was the ability to act freely and independently,
Rostami-Povey, 120 ("2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll" August 5, 2010) 35 ("Saeb Erekat: US Responsible for Failure of Palestinian Statehood Efforts " November 12, 2011) 36 Rostami-Povey, 165, 226 37 Rostami-Povey, 123 38 Rostami-Povey, 182, 213, 217 39 Rostami-Povety, 214 40 "Pew Global Attitudes Project" 2011
34 33

then assertive posturing certainly did the opposite; it has made the international community more determined to confront the perceived Iranian threat then it would have otherwise; the 2004/2005 decision not to comply with demands for additional transparency resulted in further sanctions and isolation. At a higher level, U.S. attempts to isolate Iran from the global community has been overwhelmingly driven by the perception of Iran as a rogue state; a perception in turn driven by Irans symbolic refusal to engage the system. More recently, the recent state-sanctioned seizure of the British embassy a symbol meant to protest punitive diplomatic by Britain, only led to additional European countries breaking diplomatic-relations with Iran.41 While the pursuit of steadfast resistance can indeed be described as a foreign policy, and to the those observing Iran it would certainly come across as such since it is, at its core, a proscription for how Iran should interact with the international community the definition of a foreign policy by any interpretation. However, to fully understand the decision calculus of the leadership cadre who are making these foreign policy decisions one has to approach it as an expression of a deeply-rooted crisis of domestic identity which was alluded to above. At its core, steadfast resistance is an attempt to remedy the long-standing contradiction in Iranian national identity of an inherently great nation, but who, in modernity, has been thwarted by other great powers bent on preventing Irans preeminence.42 The legacy of pre-Islamic empires like the Aechaemanids or Sassanids retains significant symbolic resonance as illustrated by Ahmadinejads skillful exploitation of nationalist rhetoric surrounding antiquities like the Cyrus cylinder.43 Even after the Islamic conquests, Iran remained a competitive power that could challenge any of its neighbors. Moreover, Irans unique geopolitical position in the Middle East, with a full-range of natural resources, large population, strategic depth and most importantly a cohesive national identity all differentiate it from their neighbors like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Iraq who possess none of these things.44 This past greatness is set in relative contrast to the past 200 years which has seen Irans great-power status shattered as they were administered over by a range of increasingly ineffectual leaders like the Qajars while colonial powers like Britain, Russia and the U.S. carved them up; treating Iran as a playground for the powers of the day.45 This collective memory has produced in Iran the assumption that being recognized and respected as a great-power is one of Irans most fundamental rights as it is simply the natural order of things, the way things should be.46 Thus, steadfast resistance is valuable to Iran not solely because it offers them the chance to advance a specific foreign policy agenda, but because it addresses the contradictions that had previously beset Irans perception of its place in the world - the mere act of refusing to be coerced becomes an end into itself as it affirms the self-evident nature of Irans great-power status, negating the temporary victimization that has defined Irans experience for the past two centuries. A second assumption that has arisen out of this historical memory is the belief that U.S. hostility toward Iran is fundamentally rooted in their refusal to recognize and respect Irans natural power. This has arisen out of Irans historical interaction with foreign powers in modernity who have approached
41 42

Uskowi November 30, 2011 Limbert, 157-158 43 Sahimi May 07, 2011 44 Thaler et al, 5 45 Limbert, 31 46 The value of rights, or haq as they are known in Iran, cannot be understated; see Majd, 113-120

Iran from a position of absolute power relative, and from this position of power, attempted to coerce Iran into accepting unequal agreements. A key example of this, includes the Iranian governments various dealings with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) during the first half of the 20th century; dealings which are now universally perceived as having achieved nothing more then funneling wealth into Londons coffers.47 In this manner, U.S. attempts at containing or otherwise managing the Iranian threat will always perceived as reinforcing these hierarchies of power because, to quote Thucydides, the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must. The very fact that the U.S. continues to approach Iran with the assumption that it can be managed crystallizes these distinctions between the weak and strong states, reinforcing the shame of victimization and weakness within the Iranian collective consciousness. In this context, objections to U.S. meddling in the affairs of Iran arent necessarily objections to the meddling itself; theyre objections to the state of the world order in which Iran is perceived as being an inconsequential-enough state that can be meddled with. The underlying implication to this framework for understanding Irans foreign policy of steadfast resistance is that if the U.S. wishes to manage the threat of an ascendant Iran bent on global revisionism, they too will have to approach the challenge through the same framework Iran does as an issue of Iranian national identity. This means that at some level or another, the U.S. will have to address the fundamental expectation that Iran be recognized and respected as a regional power. Failure to take this expectation into account when creating U.S. policy risks perpetuating the self-destructive policies that have defined the two countries relationships for over 30 years. Refusing to treat Iran as anything more then a rogue state, even when paired with a highly effective containment strategy, ensures that any short-term benefit will remain limited at best. Relying on coercion alone would only serve to reinforce the above-mentioned narratives about the U.S. grand designs in suppressing Irans rights, further empowering hardliners and making it all that much more likely that Iran will emerge doubly determined to confront the system tomorrow. This issue is so paramount for the Iranian nation that even the 2003 grand bargain, offered by Tehran which included previouslyunimagined concessions in order to avert what was believed to be the threat of an immediate US attack, refused to compromise on these principals.48 Failing to do so also means that hardliners in Tehran will always have a tempting safety valve of public opinion that they can turn whenever they feel the need to divert attention from domestic crisis, whether it be a justification for a stumbling economy, or as an excuse to crack down of political rivals who are suspected of being agents of foreign meddling.49 Changing perceptions of the U.S. in Iran though will not be an easy task; there is simply too much institutional inertia generated from 60 years of myth-making to change perceptions overnight. For the past 30 years Iran has built its identity around an other-centric frame of reference in which Iran defines itself purely by its relation to, and its resistance against, the Great Satan. The political toxicity of the US-Iranian relationship ensures that politicians, eager to protect their own influence, will scorn any policy that even risks them being labeled as giving in to foreign influence.50 One avenue that does offer a glimmer of hope is the fact that although there is a consensus among factional elites that Iran is a great-power and deserves to be treated as such, thats where the consensus ends. Pragmatists, who dominated the political sphere during the 1990s and early 2000s,
Limbert, 159 Limbert, 203 49 Thaler et al, 77 50 Limbert, 122
48 47

believe that as long as Iran is regarded as a revolutionary state, it will be impossible for them to escape their pariah status and achieve the respect they deserve. 51 Around 2004, this strategy lost public support and collapsed thanks to its failure to produce any lasting reciprocity from the American side, reinforcing the belief that negotiations were a dead-end. By the same token, the same opportunity exists today to delegitimize the narrative of resistance by demonstrating clearly and unambiguously the consequences of doing so. Doing this though is not as simple as slapping on another round of sanctions as this would likely have the opposite effect, as indicated above. The key is to link it with failure, not just punitive measures; in other words, it needs to be demonstrated that in addition to wreaking havoc on Irans economy, steadfast resistance will only decrease Irans power and prestige while preventing any longterm chance at recognition. The danger here is that in an attempt to undermine the narrative of a hostile west, some might be tempted to adopt far too conciliatory of an approach. Just as insisting that Iran is a rogue state would be likely to provoke a backlash from hardliners in Tehran, appeasement is just as likely to empower them. First of all, any such political proposal would draw volumes of criticism internally from Washington; in the same way that Irans collective memory of Western exploitation continues to foster distrust of U.S. motives, so to is Washington affected by, as Limbert would say: the ghosts of history. While the degree of institutional inertia is on a far smaller scale then that in Tehran (for instance, the entirety of U.S. identity isnt framed around its relationship to Iran), it is a factor nonetheless and any advisors would have to take this account when formulating Iran policy and would have to take great pains to avoid it. Second, appeasement would likely induce Iran to take even further risks. Because the narrative of an unrelenting, hostile U.S. is so ingrained, any move to reverse this perception would immediately be perceived as coming, not coming from a genuine attempt at diplomacy, but from desperation. This in turn would likely prompt Iran to overreach, seeking further and further advantages.52 This was demonstrated during the Arms-for-Hostages deal during the Iran-Iraq war when certain factions in Tehran were able to lead on U.S. negotiators with the continued promise of better relations in order to extract desperately needed arms shipments in order to continue the war with Iraq.53 Any competition with Iran must take place from a position where the U.S. maintains fullspectrum credibility including the military capability to back up any threats, diplomatic support, and the political will needed to see a confrontation through. During the Tanker War from 1987-1988, Iran consistently ignored what it perceived to be idle threats from the U.S. and it was not until the U.S. demonstrated the political will to punish Iran did they respond.54 Likewise, in 2003 when Iran perceived the threat of military action to be imminent and credible, they backed down and conceded as much as possible in an effort to avert war.55 Between then and now, US credibility has evaporated; if a powertransition away from uni-polarity is inevitable as Iran assumes, what incentive do they have to follow our rules? The risk in this is that if the U.S. is able to reclaim its credibility as a global actor, none of our fundamental relationship dynamics with Iran will have changed; they will still perceive the U.S. as a dominant power working to preserve its position of authority. Despite this laundry list of challenges the U.S. faces when deciding how and when to compete with Iran, by taking advantage of unique regional opportunities the U.S. can strategically realign itself,
51 52

Thaler et al, 87 Limbert, 160 53 Limbert, 124, 127, 135, 138 54 See authors previous writings on this subject 55 Limbert, 151

helping lay the foundation for long-term, sustained global primacy. While Edelman warns that accepting the inevitability of decline could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, he also makes the point that past waves of declinism have proved essential in creating the political will necessary to avert them.56 Likewise, today, the perception that the U.S. will be unable to sustain the level of primacy it has enjoyed for the past two decades has sparked a radical reevaluation of its global priorities and strategies. One of the more positive outcomes of this self-evaluation is the emergence of offshore balancing as a mainstream alternative to the status quo, in fact, some version of it is likely to emerge as Obamas de facto foreign policy in the near future; Peter Beinart observes:
Theres a name for the strategy the Obama administration is increasingly pursuing from the Persian Gulf through the Hindu Kush to the South China Sea: offshore balancing. Offshore balancing, by contrast, reemerges when the money and bravado have run out. Now, Obama is doing something similar in the wake of a land-based war on terror that America manifestly cannot afford.57

IR-theorist and realist, Stephen Walt describes the basics of offshore-balancing:


That strategy -- which would eschew nation-building and large onshore ground and air deployments -would both increase our freedom of action and dampen anti-Americanism in a number of key areas. It would acknowledge that Americans are not very good at running other countries -- particularly when their histories and culture are vastly different from our own -- and that trying to do so is neither necessary nor wise. Offshore balancing would take advantage of America's favorable geopolitical position, most notably its distance from most of the world's trouble spots and centers of power.58

As part of a larger strategy grounded in reestablishing the U.S.s legitimacy, off-shore balancing would play a crucial role in any attempt aimed at restricting Irans ability to challenge U.S. primacy. A key part of this strategy is, as its name suggests, balancing, which by its nature, requires the strengthening of alliances and cooperation with regional partners. As detailed above, the reason Iran emerged as a regional leader is not because Iran was necessarily the best choice, but because they were the only choice. Since then, the dynamics have changed and both Iran and the USs strategy have been deeply affected by the emergence of Turkey as an alternative power broker. Closely linked with Turkeys rise, is Irans relative decline; although the strategy of steadfast resistance initially enabled Iran to exploit resentment against the U.S. and Israel, Iran ended up falling victim to its own ambitions and overplayed their hands.59 In this case, Iran believed their popularity during the height of US-Iranian-Israeli tensions granted them a broad mandate to assert themselves as regional leaders. What Iran missed since then is their plummeting popularity; by 2011 the majority of Arabs had a negative view of the role Iran played in influencing regions like Iraq, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf; no more then 17% of Egyptians polled believed Iran had a positive influence, and many Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the U.A.E. had only single digit approval ratings regarding Irans role in the Persian Gulf. This has dropped from a high-point in 2006 when no less then 68%, and as high as 90% of people polled approved of Irans regional role. Iran consistently draws the highest levels of support from Lebanon where a plurality support Irans role in their country, but this support does not extend to Irans role elsewhere in the region, which only ~25% of the populace supports.60 As in Lebanon, one might expect Palestinians to also hold a favorable view of Iran; but between 2009 and
56 57

Edelman, 14, 28 (Beinart November 28, 2011) 58 (Walt November 02, 2011) 59 Limbert, 175 60 ("Arab Attitudes Toward Iran, 2011" )

2011 Irans popularity has dropped precipitously and is now viewed overwhelmingly unfavorably in the occupied territories.61 Over the interceding six years, the paradigm in which Iran was a champion of the rights of the oppressed people shifted toward one where Iran was perceived as far more interested in pursuing selfish ends. Ali Hussein Bakeer, of the Turkish-based think-tank USAK asserts that there are four main reasons for this dramatic shift, 1) Irans activities in the Arab world came to be perceived as just another game of power-politics. 2) The crackdown following the disputed 2009 presidential elections irreversibly shifted Arab public opinion towards viewing Iran a corrupt, autocratic state with no respect for rights. The majority of Arab-media representations of the event were pro-opposition and unlike Iranian media, did not attribute the unrest to foreign incitement. 3) The credibility of Irans rhetoric has declined as more Arabs realize its only meant to bolster Irans own position. 4) Irans perceived hypocrisy regarding the Arab Spring is the latest blow; Irans policy of supporting dissent in places like Bahrain is set in sharp contrast to places like Syria where Iran is backing an equally brutal (if not more so) regime.62 63 This explanation is borne out by recent opinion polls in Palestine where a majority believe that Iran doesnt care about Palestinians, but is instead pursuing its own agenda.64 Turkey, in this context, presents one of the more attractive candidates for offshore balancing against Iran. As a close U.S. ally and NATO member who is firmly committed to operating within the current geo-political order, they can be counted on to ensure core U.S. interests are protected. While it is unlikely to the point of impossibility that the U.S. and Turkey would always agree on every policy, the fact that Turkey would be committed to preserving its own power means that it could be relied upon to check the rise of a hostile rival like Iran. Moreover, the fact that the U.S. and Turkey wouldnt agree on every issue would actually serve to enhance both parties legitimacy; Turkey would avoid being perceived as pawn of the U.S., while the U.S. would avoid being seen as interfering in Middle Eastern affairs. Closely linked with this issue is the notion of legitimacy Turkey currently has the advantage of being one of the respected bodies in the Middle East, beating out China, France, Iran the U.S. and the U.N. Turkey is also perceived as contributing far more to the security of the region then Iran; only Saudi Arabia rivals it.65 Turkey has also been widely lauded in the Arab world for standing up to Israel with Recap Erdogan gaining considerable popularity after the Flotilla debacle.66 The Turkish model is also widely emulated throughout the Middle East; Hamas for instance is pursing close ties with Turkey in an attempt to transform itself from a terrorist organization into a moderate, ruling-party with ties to conventional nation-states, something it cant accomplish with Iran. 67 Rostami-Povey writes that For Hamas, its relationship with Turkey is more important then its relationship with Iran. Turkey is a member of NATO and has invited a high-level Hamas delegation Ankara. Although the USA and Israel have put pressure on Turkey, the country has offered mediation between Israel and Hamas.68
61 62

("Arab Spring and Frozen Peace Palestinian Opinion, Summer 2011" July 08, 2011) (Bakeer November 10, 2011) 63 It should be mentioned that Arab Public Opinion is almost overwhelmingly supportive of the crackdown in Bahrain as well as the empowered role the Gulf Cooperation Council as a regional power broker. See: 64 ("Arab Spring and Frozen Peace Palestinian Opinion, Summer 2011" July 08, 2011) 65 ("Arab Attitudes Toward Iran, 2011" ) 66 ("2010 Arab Public Opinion Poll" August 5, 2010) 67 Rostami-Povey, 179 68 Rostami-Povey, 184

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