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How Can America Bring Iran Back to the West?

مراسم تشییع حجت الاسلام والمسلمین هاشمی در دانشگاه تهران

The recent Russian rejection of an American initiative at the UN Security Council for the world community to express solidarity with the Iranian protesters in the face of the Islamist regime’s brutalities did not come as a surprise. In fact, given the history of Russia’s imperialistic behavior towards Iran, the rejection came as a natural move on the part of Putin. In this article I am going to make a survey of Russian imperialism in Iran and indicate what America can do to neutralize that threat and consequently bring Iran back to the West.

Although the history of Russo-Persian relations goes back to the sixteenth century, the clash between the two started in the early eighteenth century when the Romanovs developed major tendencies for expansionism towards the east and the south. It was Peter the Great, the archetypal Tsar, who in his desire to reach the “warm waters” of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean ventured as far south as the Caucuses to clash with the then Safavid Persian Empire. The string of Russo-Persian Wars that Peter started would establish the Russian military supremacy and, to a great extent, Russian cultural hegemony over Persia between the eighteenth and the twentieth centuries.

All along, according to Andreeva (Russia and Iran in the Great Game, 2007), the Russian cultural attitude towards Persia was one of a “civilizing mission.” As the Persians had proved “incompetent” in ruling themselves, the great and benevolent Russian Empire felt obliged to step in and bring order and civilization to the disorderly Persia. That patronizing attitude would become one of the hallmarks of what came to be known in Central Asia as the “Great Game,” the continuous rivalry between the Russian and British empires for the control of the Indian Subcontinent during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in which Persia, as the buffer zone, played a pivotal role.

The Communist Revolution of 1917 would temporarily put a halt to Russian expansionism in Iran. It was the outbreak of World War II that brought Russian imperialism back to Iran. When in 1941 the Allied forces invaded and occupied the neutral Iran, the Soviet Union, perceiving the situation ripe for an application of the Communist project, started a huge propaganda campaign in favor of the pro-Soviet contingents in Iran. In order to make their presence permanent in Iran, the Soviets propped up a strongly pro-Soviet Union “party” under the name of the Tudeh (masses), the party that for a time boasted being the largest Communist organization in the whole Middle East.

The Tudeh’s professed goal, according to Abrahamian (Iran Between Two Revolutions, 1982), was to “adapt Marxism to the local environment” so that in the end a Soviet-style Communist revolution can be brought about in Iran. In other words, as Iran was mostly a Shiite Muslim community, the Tudeh would use Shiite religious jargon and lore in order to attract the attention of the masses. This ploy would later play into the hands of the revolutionary Islamists who took over in 1979.

In late October 1944, in a blatantly pro-Soviet move, the Tudeh staged mass demonstrations against the Iranian government’s refusal to give the Soviet Union an oil concession in the north. A little later, when the Soviet Union refused to withdraw from its occupied zone where it had set up two puppet regimes in Azarbaijan and Kurdistan provinces of Iran, the Tudeh again backed the Soviet Union. Not surprisingly, Iran Vs. the Soviet Union was one of the first cases to be brought before the United Nations for arbitration. When finally the world community reproached the Soviet designs on Iran, Stalin was forced to withdraw his Red Army.

During the events that led to the nationalization of the Iranian oil under the pro-American Prime Minister Mohammd Mossaddegh in the early 1950s, the Soviet Union would again play the Tudeh card. Almost since the beginning of the movement, the Tudeh set up a smear campaign against Mossaddegh, constantly calling him an agent of imperialism due to his pro-American tendencies. While portraying Mossaddegh as a dictator, the Tudeh would eulogize Stalin as a truly popular and anti-imperialist leader, printing their pictures beside each other and drawing contrasts between them.

As such, the Tudeh would continue to harass Mossaddegh, challenging him on a number of fundamental occasions, mostly in regard to his goodwill towards the Truman Administration. Indeed it can be assumed that one of the reasons Eisenhower later suspected a possible Communist takeover of Iran was the Tudeh’s relentless anti-American activities. As a result, while Truman had partly backed Mossaddegh against the Great Britain in the case of Iranian oil nationalization, Eisenhower found himself in a situation where he would endorse a British-American coup against Mossaddegh. After the fall of Mossaddegh in 1953, the Shah would harshly crack down on the Tudeh; and in 1959 the last remnants of the party had either been wiped out or gone into exile in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe.

In addition, the Baghdad Pact of 1955, initiated by the United Kingdom and numbering Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan as its members, would act as an effective countermeasure to the Soviet encroachment in the region. When Iraq existed the pact in the aftermath of a Communist coup in 1958, the other members, this time with a more articulated American presence, would transition to the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) that meant to be part of the so-called “Green Belt” running from Eastern Europe to the Pacific in order to encircle the Soviet Union. As such, Iran would firmly remain in the Western fold for the remainder of the Cold War.

The Tudeh, except for a brief period during the revolution of 1979, never again played a significant role in Iranian politics. But the Tudeh’s legacy endured. When in the mid-1960s and early 1970s Communist and Marxist-Islamist armed cells such as MEK emerged, many of them would draw on the Tudeh’s experience and example. Around a decade later during the revolution of 1979, those cells would play one of the most significant parts in overthrowing the monarchy and expelling “imperialism” from Iran. Therefore, although Russophilia never officially took office in Iran, it managed to instill many of its tenets and tendencies in the Islamist regime; tenets like anti-imperialism – which in effect solely constitutes “Americophobia” – and a general ideological enmity with Israel and the West.

Although Russians were mired in the problematic of the downfall of the Eastern Bloc during the 1980s and 1990s, since the beginning of the third millennium they have demonstrated their resolve to resume the previous trend of imperialism and expansionism pursued first by the Tsarist Empire and then the Soviet Union. In hindsight, it can be seen that the Russian intervention in the Caucasus, Ukraine and Syria – and assessing the West’s response – was only a warm-up exercise for the Russians; and now it is time for Iran, and then probably all the Middle East if this process is allowed to go unchecked.

President Obama believed that by making concessions to the Islamist regime in Iran over the “Nuclear Deal” he could empower the supposedly “America-friendly” fraction of the regime in order to draw Iran from the Russian sphere of influence into the American sphere of influence without much fray. That was a fancy that the Islamic Republic lobbies in the United States and elsewhere in the West made even more colorful through spending big bucks and setting up various propaganda pageants. However, when looking at that charade from a realistic perspective, it can easily be seen that the whole tale was only a big illusion, and that the regime of the ayatollahs indeed had no clothes on. Right from the start, the “landmark” nuclear deal was devoid of any real substance.

Truth is, in the Islamic Republic’s ideological mindset – which encompasses both the so-called “Hardliners” and “Moderates/Reformists,” the tendency towards Russia, with regard to the historical and ideological background outlined so far, is far stronger than that to America. Indeed one of the ontological principles of the Islamic Republic is an existential enmity with the United States and its downright negation. In addition, form a pragmatic point of view, in the Islamic Republic almost all the key positions have always belonged to the Russophiles or at least to those who typically take a tough line against the United States. Consequently, the overall political attitude of the Islamic Republic will never change as a result of the supposed “internal struggle” between the mostly imaginary Hardliners and Reformists/Moderates.

As a result, it can be safely assumed that the Cold War is still going on in the Middle East, this time with Iran on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Russia is using Islamists pretty much the same way the former USSR used the Third-Worldist Communist or anti-American guerillas to harass the West and score points. These Islamists are highly charged ideologically, have no regard for human life, and are ready to explode themselves for their (and by extension for Putin’s) cause whenever triggered. The ploy is that Putin, while actually supporting these murderers, puts up the appearance of fighting them. The former KGB mastermind has revived and perfected that old Soviet stratagem.

Now, the catastrophic tensions that the Iranian regime has created in recent years with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States along with its suppression of the nationwide popular uprisings that drew international condemnation of the regime will drive it into Putin’s embrace even more. In such a situation, the possibility of Russia’s open intervention in Iran to prop up its client state is high. In line with an age-old Russian strategy, Putin will exploit the terrorist and warmongering Islamist regime to wrest concessions from the West. He can even embroil Iran in civil war as he did in Ukraine and Syria. The present situation in Iran is usually likened to that of the Soviet Union near its end. This is rather misleading, as there was no superpower to prevent the fall of the Communist regime. In Iran there is Russia, which is ready to go to any lengths to keep the Islamist regime in power.

In order to avoid a Russian-instigated civil war in Iran, the United States needs to touch base in Tehran exactly as it did with the Baghdad Pact and the Central Treaty Organization more than half a century ago. While Iran seems to be solidly behind the new Iron Curtain, the regime of the mullahs is much more fragile than it looks: it has lost all its legitimacy and credibility among the populace because its economy is in shambles and tyranny and corruption have engulfed the country. Even more important than that, the new generation in Iran openly craves for Western political and sociocultural values. This became quite apparent in some of the slogans during the recent protests that centered on “secularism” and “democracy.” Also, that is why the regime recently banned teaching of English in primary schools for fear of a Western “cultural invasion.”

As it happens, there is a longstanding pro-Western sociopolitical tradition among Iranians that has never been given due attention by the West. And that is ironic, because that Iranian tradition is the only natural ally of the West in one of the most treacherous spots on Earth. It was the outward manifestation of that tradition that we saw in the 2009 protests, which could have toppled the nefarious regime of the ayatollahs and established a Western-style democracy in its place – if only President Obama had lifted a finger in its support. Now that choice is before us once again.

Thanks to the American government’s unilateral support of the Iranian protesters as well as President Trump administration’s initiative at the UN, the United States now holds the moral high ground with regard to Iran. It won’t be long before the Europeans join the United States in supporting the people of Iran in their quest for freedom and democracy. The Islamist regime is inevitably going down, and there is no remedy for it. However, as long as there is no unified democratic alternative with a large popular following to replace the regime, the protests are not likely to topple it. In the short term, they might even make the regime more rabid in dealing with the populace as well as Iran’s neighbors.

As such, while continuing to support the Iranian protests as well as apply pressure on Russia, the United States must empower that democratic alternative. This is what the “silent majority” has been asking for long. There is a large number of Iranian experts and dissidents in the West and around the world with popular following in Iran who are more than willing to help and guide Iran’s transition from theocracy to democracy. What they need is money, means and media. At the moment, investing in these democratic individuals and helping them to organize and send their message through to a larger population in Iran seems to be the most crucial step for the American project of bringing Iran back to the West. Only when the epicenter of radicalism in the region has been neutralized and democratized will the Middle East be ready for peace and stability.

Reza Parchizadeh is a political theorist and analyst. His area of expertise is the Middle East, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia. His research interests include theory, philosophy, history, geopolitics, security, and cultural studies. Reza has contributed to a number of international publications and other media worldwide including Al-Arabiya, the Algemeiner, Al-Hayat, American Thinker, Breitbart, Clarion Project, Gatestone Institute, Iran Editorial, Iran Focus, Jerusalem Online, Journal of Egypt, Keyhan London, Mackenzie Institute, Policy Studies Organization, Popular Culture Review, Radio Israel, Tehran Review, The Hill, The John Bachelor Show, The Saudi, and Times of Israel. At the moment, Reza is working on his doctoral dissertation for Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) under the title “The Recurring Progress of English Political Thought in Shakespeare’s Histories.”

 

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