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The World at Home

Last update - Saturday, February 1, 2014, 02:30 By Charles Laffiteau

Previously I expressed some optimism that the positive developments at the end of 2013 involving the mutually beneficial agreement between Iran and the US Congress would carry over into 2014. Yet both at home and abroad, critics of President Obama’s decision to hold secret talks with Iran claim that he is not only strengthening Iran’s power and influence throughout the Middle East, but is also simultaneously weakening the corresponding positions of long-time allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

Unfortunately, they could very well be right. There are many Iranian nationalists who also believe Iran is cleverly using its influence in the Shi’ite-Sunni conflicts in Syria and Iraq to undermine its strongest regional rival, Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, no matter how sincere President Obama and President Rouhani may be about striking a deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions in return for an end to economic sanctions, any agreement will face strong opposition in their respective countries.
Here in America, Republicans have been extremely critical of the interim deal that took effect on 20 January. Just last year, Congressional Democrats and Republicans gave overwhelming bipartisan approval to a proposal to tighten the current economic sanctions on Iran. Even though more than three decades has passed since the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, taking a hard line with Iran is still the politically popular thing to do in an election year.
So if Republicans gain control of the Senate in this year’s mid-term elections, you can rest assured that Congress will also pass new economic sanctions legislation. And even if Democrats retain control of the Senate, 16 Senate Democrats have already joined 43 Republican Senators in support of a measure that calls for more rather than less economic sanctions for Iran.
Meanwhile, in Iran, although President Rouhani’s overtures to the United States are strongly supported by a majority of citizens, he has already acknowledged that any deal that brings an end to Iran’s economic sanctions must travel an equally difficult road. In early January Iran’s official Tasnim News Agency reported that President Rouhani alluded to his opponents in Iran when he said: “A group does not wish to see the sanctions lifted. This group – for their individual and party interests – is against the normalisation of relations with the world.”
Given the fact that the economic sanctions have wreaked havoc with the Iranian economy and there is broad public support in Iran for easing or ending those sanctions, it is hard to understand how a “group” like the one to which President Rouhani is referring could ever justify their opposition to a nuclear deal that brings an end to Iran’s economic sanctions. But the “group” President Rouhani mentions is not just any group: it is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a special branch of the military that is charged not only with protecting Iran, but also with protecting the Iranian Revolution and its theocratic political system.
Iran’s political hardliners and the Revolutionary Guard are afraid that a nuclear deal and an end to economic sanctions will lead to a normalisation of relations that will also strengthen the power and influence of ‘reformers’ in Iran’s political structure. But in addition to its political status, the Revolutionary Guard is also an economic power in many important sectors of Iran’s civilian economy. Any end to the nuclear programme and sanctions, they fear, will marginalise both their political and economic interests.
Israel and America’s traditional Arab allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are also opposed to a rapprochement between the US and Iran but for slightly different reasons. While they are all afraid of Iran developing a nuclear weapon, Israel also has an irrational fear of any Arab nation possessing such weapons. Nukes aside, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States view Iran’s dominance in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria as a geopolitical threat to their domestic security and regional hegemony.
However, in spite of all of this, the United States and Iran are increasingly finding themselves on the same side of many issues. Chief among them is their shared concern over al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists making a comeback in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is actually a model of stability compared to the countries on either side of it that America invaded in 2001 and 2003 and is now in the process of withdrawing from.
Iran enjoyed making trouble for the United States when its troops were fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. But now that America’s influence is declining along with its troop levels, Iran is seeing its Shi’ite allies in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria being threatened by Sunni al-Qaeda militants and jihadists. Since these also happen to be America’s top security threats, I believe the inherent truth of the old proverb ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ will eventually lead to a rapprochement between these once sworn foes.

Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in Public Policy and Political Economy. He previously lectured on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU from 2009-2011.

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