by Dana Aliya Levinson
Recently, Donald Trump and his National Security Adviser, Mike Flynn, said that they will retaliate against Iran for their recent missile test. Never mind the fact that the missile test does not violate the Iran nuclear deal in any way whatsoever and that Iran has a right to conduct military tests as any other sovereign nation does. Iran’s missile program and their nuclear program are two separate things. Is Iran testing where the lines are with the new administration? Very possibly. And they got their answer. In response to the test, the Trump administration has announced that they’re slapping new sanctions on Iran. Once again, President Trump has proven himself to be reactionary and to have no sense of the dynamics that come into play in foreign affairs.
What Donald doesn’t realize, is that while it took President Obama some political capital to push the Iran deal through, it also took Iranian President Rouhani some major political capital. Since the 1979 revolution in Iran, as most know, relations between our two nations are not exactly close. However, what is also not understood by most Americans is the delicate balance of power between the Ayatollah and the elected parts of government. Of course, the Ayatollah calls the shots and blesses all of the President’s decisions. But the President is given more latitude than one may think.
In 2009, when hard-liner Ahmadinejad was reelected as President of Iran, spontaneous street protests erupted. People felt that Ahmadinejad had stolen the election from the more liberal Mousavi. Part of Mousavi’s platform was warming relations with the US and engaging with President Obama in good faith. The street protests were squashed by the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad’s allies, however, for a brief moment, they threatened to topple the entire regime.
Even the Iranian regime has some amount of accountability to the people. When the next elections rolled around, Ayatollah Khamenei knew that if another hard-liner was pushed on the people that the streets would erupt again. Enter President Rouhani. He has personal ties to the cleric class, but his platform was similar to Mousavi’s. He promised major reform, warmer relations with the US, and negotiations to end crippling sanctions. He was endorsed by the progressive wing of the Iranian electorate and in 2013, was elected President of Iran.
Despite his election, there was still major skepticism about entering negotiations with the US on behalf of the Clerics and also the more right-wing segment of the Iranian electorate. President Rouhani expended a fair amount of political capital to help get the Iran deal done. Most of the skepticism was based around the idea that the US would never really honor the deal. Donald has now proven that skepticism right.
While congress says that these new sanctions don’t violate the nuclear agreement, Donald has repeatedly stated that he wants to tear it up. Between those two facts, Iran will most certainly see this as a declaration of intent. Not only will it result in the Iranian regime feeling that if the US is not abiding by the agreement that they don’t have to either, but it will also result in a backlash against President Rouhani’s regime as he heads into a reelection fight. The hard-liners will now get to point at this development and say ‘see, we tried it your way, and the US didn’t abide by the agreement. Now we need to go back to our more militaristic stance because that’s what the US is doing to us.’ Donald may be squashing the reelection campaign of a leader that would be much more friendly to US interests than his opponent.
This development will likely lead to Iran once again revving up their centrifuges and will lead to a Mid-East arms race. Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Sunni theocracy and the Shia theocracy, have been in a cold war with each other for a half a century. Iran’s nuclear weapons program was always less about the US and Israel and more about having a deterrent against the Saudi sphere of influence, including already-nuclear Pakistan. Pakistan, for what it’s worth, has told Saudi Arabia that if Iran gets a bomb, they will give on of theirs to the Saudis. Then if the Saudi’s had a bomb, Egypt would want one, and if Egypt had one, then Turkey would want its own arsenal rather than just potential use of NATO’s, and if Turkey had their own, the rest of the Levantine states would want their own, and then the Maghreb, and next thing we know, we have an entirely nuclear the Middle East, the most volatile part of the entire world. The Iran deal was the best chance we had at heading off this future.