In this article, the author argues that the recent allegations against Iran have been largely shaped by America’s perceptions of, and prejudices against Iran, which were shaped by the changes in their relations post-1979.
By Aryaman Bhatnagar, 19 Oct, 2011
The most recent American allegations against Iran accusing it of plotting the assassination of the Saudi Ambassador in Washington and the Iranian dismissal of such allegations as being baseless have once again revealed the endless cycle of blame that characterises Iranian-American relations. This latest round of allegations and subsequent denials originates from the perception that America has of Iran.
The Quds Force (QF), a special branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has been accused by the United States of America and Saudi Arabia to have been part of the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. However, Iran’s alleged complicity in this plot has met with strong scepticism within the diplomatic community and from foreign analysts specialising in Iran. Moreover, the lack of evidence to indict the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini or the Revolutionary Corps in this plot does not help America’s claims. Despite this, the Americans are adamant that the plot had been sanctioned by the QF or directly by Khameini himself. The Americans are calling upon the international community to strengthen sanctions against Iran and have not completely ruled out the military option as retaliation for Iran’s “flagrant violation of international law”.
This has not been the first time that Iran has been accused by the Americans without any concrete evidence. Iran had been accused of bombing the American embassy in Beirut in 1983 and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which was home to American troops at that point. Years of investigation failed to prove Iranian involvement but even this has failed to dispel American suspicions, who continue to believe otherwise. Similarly, Iran has been accused of providing aid to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in order to destabilise American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although, there has been evidence to suggest that Iranian weapons have been used by insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan, there is nothing to prove that this is part of a deliberate policy. However, such allegations have been used by America to exclude Iran from all the major projects concerning the region.
The reasons for the continuous demonization of Iran in America can be traced back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a watershed for American-Iranian relations. The revolution changed the image of Iran from a modern ‘westernised’ ally of America to one of America’s most formidable foes in the Middle East, which was ruled by ‘Mad Mullahs’. The Islamic Republic’s use of ideology in its foreign policy and an alternate vision for the world social and political order were seen as a threat to the American-led world order. It was the hostage crisis of 1979, which shaped the image of Iran as an irrational actor and left a lasting impact on the American impression of the Islamic Republic. From this date onwards, Iran became synonymous with worldwide terrorism and the source of all evil. Thus, irrespective of where terrorism was committed, the finger was automatically pointed at Iran. Even if there was lack of evidence, it was assumed to be something that Iran was capable of doing and were, thus, condemned for it.
Such a negative perception of Iran has become institutionalised in the political culture of America. As a result, the US policymakers have found it extremely difficult to shed their prejudices against. This is most evident in case of America’s response to Iran’s nuclear programme. Although, there is strong evidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is meant for peaceful purposes, America is convinced that it is meant to cause harm to them. A nuclear weapon in the hands of religious fanatics is believed to be dangerous for the entire world. It is interesting to note that America had been instrumental in starting the nuclear programme in Iran prior to the occurrence of the revolution. Their paranoia then clearly is an outcome of their perception of the nature of the Iranian regime than the actual dangers posed by the nuclear weapons.
The US’ differences with Iran are also motivated by their different strategic interests as both want to establish their primacy over the Persian Gulf region. Moreover, USA’s alliance with Israel and the bitter Iran-Israel relations also act as an obstacle for normalising the Iranian-American relations. But USA has managed to work around such issues and resolve its differences in the past with other countries. It is the perpetuation of the perception of Iran as an inherently anti-American nation, which is always looking for an opportunity to subvert them that has not only prevented USA from reconciling with Iran but also encourages speculations about its intentions.