Locked and Loaded: Justifying Current U.S - Iran Relations
Surajreet Singh, Editor
October 1st, 2019
As the sun rose in Saudi Arabia on the morning of September 14th, thick plumes of smoke obstructed the view of Abaqaiq and the Khurais oilfield, home to the world’s largest oil processing facility and a major oil field. Drone strikes had knocked off 5.7 million barrels of oil, approximately 6% of the world supply. The Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, casting it as a consequence for the Saudi intervention in the Yemeni civil war. The Saudis countered by asserting the drones had come from the North and East, implicating Iran. Washington responded swiftly, as President Donald Trump announced American forces were “locked and loaded” to counter further Iranian aggression. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani waved away allegations of wrongdoing, painting the incident as another result of disastrous United States (U.S) foreign policy in the Persian Gulf.
The attacks are the clearest sign of escalation in Tehran’s conflict with the U.S. Following Mr. Trump’s decision to abandon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, the two countries have been engaged in a diplomatic quagmire and exchanged increasingly aggressive rhetoric. However, as unlikely as it may seem, Mr. Trump needed to adopt a hardline stance against Iran, given the weaknesses of the JCPOA in 2015 and the republic’s role as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The negotiations for the JCPOA first began in 2006 between Iran and the P5+1 (The U.N Security Council permanent members; namely the United States, China, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom; plus Germany). The goal was to ensure that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons in any form but allowed the republic to maintain its right of nuclear fuel enrichment solely for civilian purposes. While negotiations were carried out, the P5+1 levied some economic sanctions on Iran, despite Iranian protests.
After years of negotiations, the JCPOA was agreed, in which Iran would cut down their number of centrifuges from 20,000 to 5,000 while having limits placed on the quality and quantity of uranium. Iran would also be subject to checks from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and in return, they would have access to the world’s economy once more. However, there were several issues with the deal. The JCPOA delayed the inevitability of Iran becoming a nuclear power, allowing them to stockpile material for the next ten years in preparation for key parts of the deal to expire. The IAEA inspections gave advanced notice of sixty days to the Iranian facilities, which meant the checks were not as random as they should have been. The proponents of the deal argued it helped avert a nuclear arms race in the Middle East while ensuring peace for the time being. Opponents argued that peace, for the time being, was simply not good enough.
When Donald Trump took the oath of office in 2017, he took every opportunity he could to lambast the JCPOA, claiming it was “the worst deal ever negotiated.” His remarks left his Western allies shuddering, waiting for the moment he would eventually tear up the deal. He did so in May 2018, under the advice of John Bolton, the recently hired war hawk that has advocated for regime change in Iran, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was against the JCPOA and sought to undermine it as head of the CIA. As a result, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini banned all talks with American officials and vowed to restart the nuclear program.
In 2019, the tensions escalated. The US declared IRGC a terrorist organization, which prompted Iran to do the same to U.S forces. Additionally, there have been several sparks in the region, notably the seizing of oil tankers by the Iranian army and the shooting down of a U.S Air Force drone in international waters, where the U.S and Iran blamed the other for such incidents. During this time, the Trump administration had begun a campaign of maximum economic pressure, designed to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees. By imposing bruising economic sanctions, their hope is that Iran will eventually come to the table should civil unrest begin.
Mr. Trump needed to adopt a hardline stance against the Iranian regime. After the disastrous war in Iraq, Iran slowly took over as the regional hegemon of the Middle East, contributing massively to instability in the region as they attempted to counter “Western meddling”. There is clear evidence of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism and involvement in proxy warfare, as the republic has supported the likes of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine while backing Syria’s brutal dictator, Bashar al-Assad, in an agonizing conflict that has seen millions displaced. The desire to obtain nuclear power is to keep Israel, a key Western ally, in check while advancing anti-Israel regimes all across the region.
By utilizing a campaign of maximum economic pressure, along with the strengthening of Iran’s regional enemies, the U.S is using every available means to stop further state-sponsored terrorism and the propping up of authoritarian regimes. Thus, for example, the administration’s policies towards Saudi Arabia, such as regular arms deals and the indifference displayed at the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, should be seen as a direct effort to keep a pro-U.S ally within reach of Tehran and to influence proceedings in the Middle East. Ensuring Iran would no longer pursue nuclear power under a new agreement, instead of simply delaying the eventuality as the JCPOA did, would be a foreign policy victory for the oft-criticized Mr. Trump.