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Analyzing the Effects of U.S.-Iran relations on the Government, Society, and Economy of Iran through the Lenses of Realism Liberalism, and Constructivism
It’s no secret that the relationship between Iran and the United States has been tumultuous. The two countries have many differences that make it challenging to maintain tension-free relations and contribute to the fact that Iran and the United States have had no formal diplomatic relations since 1980. One essential element behind the unstable relations is their differing structures of power. On the surface, the Iranian and U.S. governments seem to have much in common, including an elected president, a legislature, and a dominant judiciary. The key difference is that Iran is an Islamic theocracy with a Supreme Leader who wields political and ideological control; the position of Supreme Leader of Iran was created in 1979. Iran’s Constitution states that the Supreme Leader is responsible for the “general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” essentially outlining that he is accountable for the domestic and foreign policies. The difference in the structure of power encapsulates the two states’ different views on democracy. While the United States is a representative democracy, Iran’s complex system combines theocracy with democracy, allows an unelected body to disqualify all candidates it deems insufficient and lays all power in the hands of the Supreme Leader. Furthermore, Iran’s oil, vital to all industrialized nations, has led to many years of Western countries, including the United States, doing anything in their power to obtain the oil. Differences in the structure of power between Iran and the U.S. and the greed for oil are a few foundational differences in the tension-filled relationship, but momentous events have shaped the relationship and had significant impacts on both countries. Despite their foundational differences, throughout the many years of their relationship, there have been both ups and downs, creating the possibility for improved future relations.
In this article, I will separate the events into four time periods in which the relationship between the two states vacillates. The first time period is between 1953 and 1972, when the U.S. and Iran developed strong relations and created mutually beneficial agreements. The second time period, from 1979 to 1988, sees the downfall of their relationship against a backdrop of devastating wars and crises. The years between 2015 and 2020 comprise the third time period, an era of ultimately unsuccessful efforts to repair the relationship. Lastly, the fourth time period, from 2020 to the present, symbolizes a bridge to the future. I will analyze these four time periods utilizing the three theories of International Relations - realism, liberalism, and constructivism - in order to highlight the impact these events had on the government, society, and economy of Iran. I will then come to a conclusion as to which aspect was most impacted in the years between 1953 and the present. The realist approach emphasizes security, power, and resources as priorities for states; the liberalist approach highlights interdependence; constructivism stresses that social reality is constructed. Furthermore, I will develop my understanding of the future of the relationship between Iran and the United States. Based on my analysis in this article, I believe that Iranian society has been most affected, and I forecast that the future of the U.S.-Iran relationship consists of a partnership between the Iranian people and the United States government aligning in the fight for human rights in Iran.
The period of time when the relationship between the United States and Iran was at its strongest led to a new structure of government for Iran, more oil for Western countries, strong diplomatic relations between the two states, and increased prosperity for both states. This period began with the 1953 Iranian coup d'état. In his article, “What Really Happened in Iran: The CIA, the Ouster of Mosaddeq, and the Restoration of the Shah,” Ray Takeyh describes the wave of nationalism in the 1950s in Iran, which led to the appointment of Mohammad Mosaddeq as prime minister. Mosaddeq was determined to keep the country’s oil nationalized, rejecting every U.S. proposal that preserved any degree of British participation in Iran’s oil industry. However, his plan weakened the economy to the verge of collapse, leading the British agency MI6 to partner with a network of anti-Mosaddeq figures who were willing to take action against him with covert American and British support. Takeyh dives into the propaganda campaign launched by the CIA and MI6 to raise doubts about Mosaddeq, which contributed to the shah signing a royal decree disgracing him. Eventually, Mosaddeq was convicted of treason and spent the remaining years of his life confined to his native village. Takeyh explains that the overthrow of Iran’s elected government and the restoration of the shah ensured Western control of Iran’s oil. For many years, the United States never acknowledged its role in overthrowing the elected government; however, documents uncovered in 2013 are evidence of this intervention. A document entitled, “Campaign to Install a Pro-Western Government in Iran,” by the United States government, is a draft of the internal history of the coup and states that the United States’ objective was to replace the government with a pro-Western one, using “legal'' or “quasi-legal” methods to collapse the Mossadeq government. The document describes the plan of action the U.S. would take and emphasizes the importance of these actions; it highlights the United States’ self-serving motives, underscoring its aim to weaken Iran’s nationalism as a way of improving its own relations with the state.
The post-coup era was a time of uncertainty in which the United States continued to attempt to exert influence in Iran for its own benefit. After the overthrow of Mossadeq, the economy of Iran was left weak. The new prime minister, Fazlollah Zahedi, obtained about $45 million of emergency aid from the United States and set out to modernize the road systems, build new housing, and enhance the healthcare system. The funds obtained from the United States would not last, though. The threat of a finite sum of aid money created the opportunity for the United Kingdom and the United States to join together to push the shah and prime minister into negotiations over the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The British government imposed economic sanctions that prohibited the export of essential products to Iran; this highly effective strategy resulted in the 25-year international Oil Consortium Agreement of 1954. Two key aspects of this agreement are that it provided the British, American, and French oil companies with 50% ownership of Iranian oil, and it gave American oil companies complete control over how much petroleum Iran pumped and the price at which it could be sold. Furthermore, the method utilized to determine Iran’s share of the profit from the sale of the oil was based in part on U.S. tax laws in order to benefit U.S. companies. Herbert Hoover, who President Eisenhower appointed as a special consultant to the Secretary of State, described this agreement as “perhaps the largest commercial deal ever put together.” While this agreement was largely beneficial to the United States and other Western nations, the Oil Consortium Agreement of 1954 demonstrates Iran’s efforts to compromise with the United States. Importantly, at this point in history, the West still viewed Iran as a state with whom they desired to find consensus.
The Oil Consortium Agreement resulted in many years of positive relations between the United States and Iran. Over a decade after the agreement was signed, President Nixon took a trip to visit Tehran, Iran in 1972; his motivation for the journey was to continue the strong relationship between the U.S. and Iran by signing a unique deal with the shah. The “blank check” deal was revolutionary in regards to arms sales policy and the relationship between the U.S. and Iran, and it was beneficial to both nations. The deal encouraged the shah to begin an unprecedented military spending spree, one that would help both the states’ economies grow. In fact, the U.S.-Iran Arms Agreement was so successful that, by mid-1972, Iran’s purchases of arms increased from tens of millions to multi-billions. However, in 1969, when Nixon arrived in office, Iran was already America’s single largest arms purchaser; many scholars have questioned why Nixon decided to go forward with a new agreement. Stephan McGlinchey, in his article, “Richard Nixon's Road to Tehran: The Making of the U.S.-Iran Arms Agreement of May 1972,” describes the agreement as a “blank-check” that “allowed the Iranian monarch to purchase any U.S. weapons systems he desired, in any quantity, short of nuclear weapons.” Nixon’s visit itself also served other purposes, including continuing the friendship between the leaders of both countries. During a toast to the shah at a dinner, Nixon referred to Iran as undergoing “progress in education, progress in economic development, progress in social development” and stated that “Iran stands as one of the strongest, the proudest among all the nations of the world.” Nixon’s acknowledgment of Iran’s progress demonstrates the American government’s intention to keep Iran as its ally and signal its approval of the country’s new trajectory. Furthermore, Nixon referred to Iran as a nation that “we are proud to stand as friends and allies with,” emphasizing the importance of continued trust between the two nations.
From 1953 to 1972, the U.S.-Iran relationship was at its strongest, seeing the nations developing agreements that were beneficial to both parties and considering each other allies. However, to what extent did the United States impact Iran’s government, economy, and society during this period? From the realist perspective, the United States overthrew Mossadeq during the 1953 Iranian coup d'état in hopes that Iran would return to a pro-western government that would benefit the United States; this approach is state-centric, and the United States regained an ally as a result of restoring the shah. A liberalist would argue that the U.S. was simply utilizing soft power by creating a propaganda campaign in order to overthrow the isolationist government in Iran; the outcome benefited all Western nations, making it less state-centric. A constructivist would posit that the creation of a new pro-Western government in Iran could change how both countries perceive each other, but would look down on the methods used to achieve this.
Furthermore, the coup also impacted Iranian society. A realist’s point of view emphasizes how many citizens supported Mosaddeq’s plan to nationalize the oil supply, while numerous Iranians no longer supported the shah; thus, the United States prioritized an increase in its own power over the well-being of the Iranian people. Liberalists would argue the impact on Iranian citizens was large, as their choice for a leader was undermined. Despite that, liberalism emphasizes that cooperation is essential to success; hence, the United States was attempting to improve its ability to compromise and cooperate with Iran, thus necessitating a re-implementation of a government that was more likely to align with the U.S.'s values. A constructivist would critique the materialist outlook of realists and liberalists, focusing instead on the impact that the 1953 Iranian coup d'état had on Iranian society’s identity. The Iranian population was able to reflect upon the coup and construct their own perspective in regard to the United States' ability to oust their elected government.
The economy of Iran was largely impacted by the consortium agreement and Nixon’s “blank check” agreement. A realist would emphasize that, because the U.S, along with Western oil companies, was able to gain 50% ownership of Iranian oil production through the Consortium Agreement of 1954, economic interdependence was achieved and contributed to a stronger American economy. Further, liberalism underscores cooperation; thus the new cooperation with the shah on both the Consortium Agreement of 1954 and the “blank check” provided by Nixon highlights what liberalists view as key to economic prosperity: unity, collaboration, and cooperation. The liberalist notion of soft power was also utilized as the U.S. restored the power of the shah, but then derived benefits from his position of power and created two agreements that increased the wealth of the U.S., yet also provided an element of economic security for Iran. Due to the fact that constructivism addresses topics and issues that realism and liberalism neglect, a constructivist would analyze the impact the Consortium Agreement of 1954 had on the people of Iran. After attempts to elect Mossadeq, whom the majority of Iranian citizens favored largely due to his policies of nationalizing Iranian Oil, and his overarching goal for the economy of Iran to grow on its own. Conversely, the restoration of the shah called for pro-western economic policies; thus a constructivist would highlight the emotional element that these economic changes had on the people of Iran and criticize the state-centric model of the U.S. and western powers.
After utilizing realism, liberalism, and constructivism to analyze the impact the United States had on the economy, government, and society of Iran, I conclude that the government was most influenced in the aftermath of the 1953 Iranian coup d'état; however, that isn’t the case for the following period.
1979 is a year remembered by Iranians as the beginning of the Iranian Revolution, yet it also marks the beginning of tension in the U.S.-Iran relationship. The discord began when Islamic fundamentalist Ayatollah Khomeini rose to popularity. During this time, the American government maintained its support for the shah and provided military aid in order to ensure that he would stay in power. Krysta Wise, in her article, “Islamic Revolution of 1979: The Downfall of American-Iranian Relations,” writes that “if Khomeini came to power, he would limit or eradicate western influence in Iranian politics and relations… it was one of his primary platforms.” While Khomeini was utilizing an anti-western platform to gain popularity and influence people to join the revolutionaries, the United States was doing everything in its power to support the shah. If Khomeini were to become the leader of Iran, they “feared price increases and a lack of oil availability.” The United States took extensive efforts to stabilize Iran, and even “sent General Robert E. Huyser, Commander in Chief of the U.S.-European Command, to Iran.” Huyser, an old friend of the shah, arrived in Iran with a “mission to stabilize the Iranian military and encourage the military to support the shah’s government.” Iran was beginning to fall to the power of Khomeini, and the shah’s government and the U.S. were in desperate need to stabilize not only the military, but also the nation itself. Despite Huyser's efforts, “the revolutions continued to spread chaos among Iranian cities…[Huyser] realized that the shah’s government would fail and Khomeini's forces would take over Iran.” Huyser returned to the United States shortly, while Iran teemed with anti-west and anti-shah sentiments. In fact, anti-shah protests even reached the American media. In the “Daily World'' newspaper, Tom Foley wrote an article titled “Anti-Shah Protests Spreading Across Iran'' that emphasized the hatred many Iranian citizens had for the shah. Foley brought to light how many Iranians opposed both their government’s alliance with the United States and the “modernizing” and “liberalizing” of Iran.
As a result of the growing influence of the revolutionaries, Mohammad Reza Shah and his family fled to the United States. Subsequent to the Shah’s departure, “4.5 million Iranian citizens flooded the city streets in celebration,” and Khomeini obtained power, becoming the country’s first supreme leader. He began his reign by accusing the U.S. of exploitation, stating that “it was because of this exploitation that they were forced to revolt.” Khomeini wanted “Iran to engage in isolationism and did not want to strengthen ties with America, as he believed that all our problems came from America.” Khomeini’s rise to power marked the beginning of the deterioration of the U.S.-Iran relations. In fact, shortly after the revolution, Khomeini officially canceled $7 billion dollars of U.S. arms purchases, underscoring the drastic nature of the shift from a pro-western government to a severely anti-western government. This shift would affect the relations between the U.S. and Iran for decades to come.
During the same tension-filled year, another devastating event took place that had a dramatic impact on the relationship between the U.S. and Iran. In response to President Jimmy Carter admitting Reza Shah to the U.S. for cancer treatment, anti-shah Iranians seized the American embassy in Tehran and took approximately 70 U.S. citizens captive. The violent event, which Khomeini endorsed, came to be known as the Hostage Crisis. He desired ways to showcase his hatred for the United States, and believed that, “by storming the embassy..it could create an impasse between the U.S. and Iran.” Nevertheless, the U.S. was determined to free the captives and mend its relationship with the new Iranian government. In a letter to Khomeini, Carter wrote, “I ask you to recognize the compelling humanitarian reasons, firmly based in international law.” Carter’s phrase “compelling humanitarian reasons” highlights the fact that the United States viewed the new government as immoral and cruel for neglecting human lives. In the closing paragraph of the letter, Carter pronounces that “the people of the United States desire to have relations with Iran based upon equality, mutual respect, and friendship,” once again emphasizing that it was in the hands of the Iranian government to decide whether or not the two nations maintained a relationship. After 444 long days and three failed attempts at reconciliation, an agreement was reached. The terms included the U.S. returning $11 billion of Iran’s frozen assets, American leaders declaring they would not intervene in Iran’s affairs, and the U.S. allowing Iran to attempt to regain the royal family’s assets through the American court system. Not only did this crisis demonstrate the extent to which the new Iranian government was anti-U.S., but it also established to the world that the U.S. and Iran were now enemies.
With the new anti-West and isolationist government in place in Iran, conflict seemed to dog the nation. A year after the revolution, in 1980, a war took place between Iran and its neighbor, Iraq. The conflict occurred after a long history of border disputes, and after Iran demanded the overthrow of Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein, and his regime. In the journal “Great Decisions,” an article published during the war titled, “Iran-Iraq War, What Role for the U.S. in Persian Gulf,” called attention to the policy dilemma faced by the U.S. The article states that the “main interests of the U.S. are to protect Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States--and incidentally Iraq-- from the Iranian revolution.” If Iran won the war, then Islamic movements could spread to Middle Eastern countries with governments friendly to the U.S., thus threatening their relationships. According to political writer Kenneth R. Timmerman, the "Islamic revolution in Iran upset the entire strategic equation in the region. America's principal ally in the Persian Gulf, the shah, was swept aside overnight, and no one else on the horizon could replace him as the guarantor of U.S. interests in the region.” Thus, not only was the United States trying to ensure that Islamic regimes remained contained, but they were also in need of a new country in the region that would support their interests and become an ally. Subsequently, in 1983, the U.S. shifted its position on Iraq from one of neutrality to one favoring Iraq. While in the position of favoring Iraq, the United States supplied them with billions of dollars of credits by providing U.S. military intelligence and advice to the Iraqis. Furthermore, the U.S. also monitored arms sales in Iraq to ensure that they had the military weaponry required to defeat Iran. Additionally, the CIA assisted in the sale of non-U.S. origin military weapons, ammunition, and vehicles to Iraq.
Iran took a negative view of this newfound allyship between the U.S. and Iran. In 1984, Iran introduced a draft resolution to the UN Security Council, in which they condemned Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons on the battlefield, citing the Geneva Protocol of 1925. In response, the United States instructed the members to motion for “no decision” on this topic. At this point in history, it was becoming clear that the U.S. and Iran were at serious odds, and the Iran-Iraq War was furthering damaging relations. It marked the loss of hope for renewed relations between the U.S. and Iran, and it reflected that the two states’ political agendas were no longer remotely similar.
Period two, spanning from 1979 to 1988, marks the commencement and continuation of a rocky relationship between the United States and Iran. The Iranian Revolution, the Hostage Crisis, and the Iran-Iraq War are all significant events that changed the course of relations between the two nations. What was the role the United States played in impacting the government, society, and economy of Iran during this period? The United States’ position in the 1979 Hostage Crisis impacted the government of Iran significantly. From the realist perspective, the United States’ repeated efforts to seek an agreement was an attempt at cooperation, yet Iran’s desire for power and revenge took priority above all else; therefore, the two governments were unable to come to an agreement for over a year. Iran was attempting to maximize their power and self-reliance in order to dominate the United States and the international system as a whole. Thus, the two governments’ relationship was completely altered and their mutual goal of obtaining their own power contributed to the difficulties it took in order to finally come to an agreement. In regards to the U.S. impact on Iran’s government as a result of the 1979 Hostage Crisis, a liberalist would focus on the aspect of failed cooperation and how the government of the U.S. and the government of Iran failed to cooperate and create a productive and swift agreement. Due to the failed attempts at cooperation, the two governments were not able to generate trust, and consequently, the relations between the governments deteriorated. Furthermore, a constructivist would argue that, because international relations are shaped not only by material factors but also ideational factors, the anger felt by the Iranian government as a result of the U.S. allowing the shah to take refuge there contributed to the long duration of time that it took for the two states to come to an agreement. The emotional aspect of anger that the newly implemented Islamic Regime felt towards the U.S. shaped the Hostage Crisis and served as a setback for the new government of Iran and the U.S. government in achieving positive relations.
Not only did this period touch on the impact that the United States had on the government of Iran, but it also included the U.S.’s influence on Iranian society, especially in regard to the Iranian Revolution and Iran-Iraq War. From the realist perspective, humanity is competitive and self-centered, justifying the actions of the United States to stabilize Iran in order for the shah to stay in power. Nevertheless, many Iranian people were in support of Khomeini and believed what he preached, namely that all of their problems were the result of American exploitation; such contributed to the many anti-shah protests, which realism attributes to Iranian society’s underlying hatred towards the U.S., causing them to seek revenge and compete with the United States in an effort to gain more power. From the liberalist perspective, Iranian society lost trust in the United States and in their policies regarding Iran’s oil, thus they shifted their trust to the Islamic Republican Party, whose priority was reducing the United States’ power. A constructivist’s view on the shift in society highlights that the United States’ greed and desire for Iran’s oil was selfish and unjust; therefore, Iranian society’s perspective was that the U.S. 's support of the shah was due to ulterior motives. As a result of this, the Iranian people’s built-up anger against the United States translated into the support of an anti-west leader and the massive celebration of the shah’s departure.
Moreover, from 1979 to 1988, the United States contributed to a change in Iran’s economy, one that crippled the nation’s economy for years to come. In consequence of the United States favoring Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War by supplying them with billions of dollars of credits, the Iranian economy was left to self-fund the majority of costs during the eight-year war. Thus, a realist would focus on the fact that both the United States and Iran were prioritizing national interest, and the United States economically aiding Iraq was a crucial element of their state survival as it ensured that Islamic regimes would not spread. The U.S.’s economic aid was merely a strategic move of offensive realism that prevented the possibility of Iran-like governments spreading across the Middle East. A liberalist would view the economic decision made by the United States as an absolute gain. Due to how the U.S. weighed out the impacts of what would occur if Iran’s values spread to more states, the United States’ aid to Iraq was in their interest. Despite the war not having a direct effect on Americans, the actions of the U.S. government had an effect on the two opposing nations; specifically Iran and the U.S.’s contribution to weakening of Iran’s economy. War shocks the economy, and the U.S. supplying Iraq with credits only deepened the impact for Iran. A constructivist’s perspective suggests that the United States’ decision to aid Iraq was a form of reactionary politics due to how the occurrence of a war reshapes a state’s policies, identity, and actions. Regardless of the fact that the U.S. and Iran had strong relations only a few years before the Iran-Iraq War, their values, priorities, and actions all evolved in light of the political climate, prompting them to economically aid Iraq.
After utilizing realism, liberalism, and constructivism to analyze the impact the United States had on the economy, government, and society of Iran in the second period of this research paper, I conclude that Iranian society was most influenced by the actions of the United States, as a result of Iranians’ growing hatred of the U.S. government and America as a whole. The question is, nearly three decades later, what aspect of Iran did American actions impact the most?
In more recent years, the U.S.-Iran relationship witnessed a glimmer of hope with an agreement known as the JCPOA. The JCPOA is a nuclear deal that requires Iran to “reduce its stockpile of uranium by 98%, and [to] keep its level of uranium enrichment at 3.67% — significantly below the enrichment level needed to create a bomb.” Despite that, the seemingly positive turn was undone just a few short years later due to a change in the U.S. presidency. In “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action: A Game Plan for the United States,” Ilan Goldenberg, Elizabeth Rosenberg, Avner Golov, Nicholas A. Heras, Ellie Maruyama, and Axel Hellman emphasize how the “JCPOA placed significant restrictions on Iran’s [nuclear] program in exchange for sanctions relief.” Prior to the agreement, heavy sanctions were placed on Iran, and the JCPOA represented progress toward their removal and the rebuilding of a lasting alliance between Western countries and Iran as the negotiations took place between the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. In the article, the authors state how “proponents of the deal said that it would help prevent a revival of Iran’s nuclear weapons program and thereby reduce the prospects for conflict between Iran and its regional rivals, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.” Alireza Nader, Ali G. Scotten, and James Hoobler, in “Iranian Domestic Challenges to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” enumerate the issues in Iran in relation to the JCPOA and how the agreement has the potential to weaken the U.S.-Iran relationship. A year after the agreement was signed and adopted, the scholars reflect on the weak Iranian economy: “Although Iran’s oil production has returned to pre-sanction levels and the country saw $3.5 billion in foreign direct investment in the first quarter of 2016, the majority of Iranians have yet to feel the benefits of the deal.” Their perspective emphasizes Iranian society and questions if the agreement genuinely benefits Iran. The authors offer a solution to assuage the fears of a state pulling out of the agreement: “Washington must do more to ensure that the average Iranian sees the economic benefits of the deal.” Due to Iran’s weak economy, lifting the sanction was crucial to gain stability; however, it was simply not enough. Granted that Iran had combative relations with the United States for over three decades, it was vital that both countries work toward aiding each other outside the agreement in order for the agreement to be a success for all parties involved.
Unfortunately, when President Trump was elected in 2016, it became difficult for the two states to work to achieve a stable, beneficial relationship due to Trump’s negative views of Iran. Nevertheless, it was still shocking in 2018 when the United States withdrew from the JCPOA and subsequently re-imposed all U.S. sanctions on Iran. According to the Arms Control Association, Iran had verified compliance with the deal. Regardless, Trump cited “the deal’s sunset provisions and its failure to account for Iran’s ballistic missile program, among other things, as the impetus for withdrawal from the accord.” Trump’s withdrawal from the deal immediately “impacted both U.S. and non-U.S. companies,” benefiting neither states’ economy nor the global economy at large. Additionally, it seemed as though hope for a tentative friendship between Iran and the U.S. was now eradicated. Iran began to resent the United States as, in its justification for withdrawing, the U.S. “did not cite any evidence of Iranian noncompliance with the deal when it withdrew and Iran remained in full compliance with the deal for the year after U.S. withdrawal.” After a year of compliance following the U.S.’s withdrawal, Iran began to breach the accord; they completed their first breach in 2019 and had four more throughout the course of the next year. Undoubtedly, their decision to begin breaching the agreement was as a response to the U.S.’s withdrawal.
In 2020, under President Trump, Qasem Soleimani was assassinated. Soleimani was the most powerful figure in Iran after its supreme leader, and he formulated Iran’s Middle Eastern policies. Soleimani led the Quds Force's clandestine missions and “its provision of guidance, funding, weapons, intelligence, and logistical support to allied governments and armed groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.” Trump described Soleimani as “the number-one terrorist anywhere in the world.” His death occurred at the International Airport of Baghdad. As he was leaving the airport with officials from Iranian-backed Iraqi Shia militias, their convoy was struck by missiles from a U.S. drone. According to Trump, he initiated the strike in order to “stop a war” between the U.S. and Iran because “Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel.” Trump boasted that “we caught him in the act and terminated him." In contrast to Trump, UN expert Agnes Callamard argued to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that “the US had provided no evidence that showed Soleimani specifically was planning an imminent attack against US interests…for which immediate action was necessary and would have been justified.” She even stated that Trump’s “course of action was unlawful.” In response to these findings by the UN, the State Department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, said that “it takes a special kind of intellectual dishonesty to issue a report condemning the United States for acting in self-defense while whitewashing General Soleimani's notorious past as one of the world's deadliest terrorists." It became clear that the U.S. was not apologetic for its action against Iran, undermining its progress toward rebuilding the relationship between the two states. It became apparent that neither nation would be willing to ally unless there was a drastic change in policy, opinion, or leadership.
In the most recent years of relations between Iran and the United States, 2015-2020, the fluctuation of the United States’ stance on the JCPOA and the killing of Qasem Soleimani drastically impacted the government, society, and economy of Iran. The government of Iran was greatly impacted by the shifting stance of the United States regarding the JCPOA. From the realist perspective, the JCPOA granted more power to the United States as its goal was to unwind Iran’s nuclear program; hence, the U.S. taking part in the agreement was both an attempt to dominate the international system and to move towards a positive relationship with Iran. The realist view of why Iran agreed to take part in the JCPOA was to ensure their survival on the global stage. However, when Trump decided to pull out of the once-beneficial agreement that was beginning to bring the United States and Iran closer together, the government of Iran was affected. From the realist perspective, the United States was simply self-prioritizing and putting their survival and success above that of other states. A realist would also draw attention to the subsequent breaching of the JCPOA’s limits after the U.S. pulled out of the agreement. The Iranian government’s response was an attempt to maintain control of their own government while maximizing their power and attempting to gain control over others; nevertheless, these actions drove away the U.S. and sowed doubt in the other nations involved in the JCPOA. The liberalist outlook on the effect of the JCPOA on the Iranian government underscores that it was a step towards stronger relations as it involved cooperation. To the liberalist, cooperation is vital and sustainable. However, in light of how the U.S. decided to pull out of the JCPOA, the two governments were no longer in cooperation, thus causing governmental relations to deteriorate once again. The constructivist lens addresses how the fluctuation of the U.S.’s stance on the JCPOA is historically and socially constructed because the long history of relations between the U.S. and Iran has always been tumultuous, thus setting up the JCPOA to mirror that unpredictable dynamic. It is evident that because of the rocky relations between Iran and the U.S. regarding prior historical events, the JCPOA was bound to end up having the same result.
Iranian society was greatly affected by the United States’ involvement in the death of Qasem Solemani. A realist would analyze Trump’s decision to kill Solemani as offensive realist, as Trump viewed him as a threat and “terrorist.” In killing him, Trump was attempting to maximize U.S. power and eliminate anything that jeopardized it. Nevertheless, Iranian society’s antipathy toward the United States and President Trump increased, especially given the UN’s conclusion that the U.S. had provided no evidence to justify its actions. The realist underscores that human nature impacts the behavior of the state; hence, as the result of Solemani’s death, Iranian society influenced its government to continue to vilify the United States. Additionally, the theory of liberalism stresses individual autonomy, bolstering the idea that the people of Iran had the right to feel resentment towards the United States. Lastly, the constructivist perspective underlines that, because the United States chose to kill Solemani with no justification, they constructed the path for Iranian citizens to gain the proper knowledge and formulate an opinion regarding the actions of the United States. Essentially, they built the foundation for Iranians to produce their own outlook concerning U.S.-Iran relations.
Additionally, the JCPOA agreement as a whole had an effect on the economy of Iran, both positive and negative. As mentioned, the JCPOA increased Iran’s oil production; however, many of the citizens did not reap the benefits of the deal. From a realist standpoint, the United States utilized state-centric motives in an attempt to increase its own power and enhance its own economic stability; the U.S. was more concerned with how it would benefit from the deal rather than if the economic benefits would trickle down to the citizens of Iran. Through the liberalist lens, if states engage in commercial relations with one another, it can lead to a relationship involving trust, shared identities, and empathy; the U.S. and Iran were on the path to do so, and in the process, both economies would thrive. Regardless, when the United States pulled out, the global economy was affected and the U.S.-Iran relations were filled with tension. Further, the constructivist viewpoint highlights that, as a result of non-material interests taking priority over material interests, that the effect isn’t whether or not the economy was thriving or weakening. Rather, the effect is Iranian’s emotions and their perception of the JCPOA as a result of their withdrawal from the JCPOA.
After utilizing realism, liberalism, and constructivism to analyze the impact the United States had on the economy, government, and society of Iran, I conclude that Iranian society was most impacted as a result of the United States’ change in stance on the JCPOA and the killing of Solemani without proper motive, greatly increasing Iranian society’s hatred toward the United States and its leadership.
Despite U.S.-Iran relations taking a turn for the worse under the leadership of President Trump, his successor, President Joe Biden, may play a role in positively shaping relations between the two nations. President Biden and Iranian President Raisi both profess to support a return to “compliance with the JCPOA,” but the negotiations raise doubts “about their political will to make the concessions needed to restore the accord.” There has been a year-long period of indirect negotiations that have produced a “draft agreement outlining the steps to return both countries to comply with their JCPOA obligations.” Nevertheless, a rift remains between the two leaders and nations, as the Biden administration does not think it is necessary to lift the Trump-era sanctions that designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, while Iran argues that lifting sanctions is a necessary precursor to improved relations. If the disagreements are too stark for the nations to reach a consensus, then the U.S. and Iran could potentially follow the footsteps of the European Union when they attempted to pursue an interim agreement. Nonetheless, an interim agreement is not a long-term and sufficient solution.
However, a recent event in Iran may entirely alter the future of U.S.-Iran relations. A 22-year-old Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, was killed by Iran’s “morality police,” for revealing too much hair under her state-mandated hijab. The morality police’s job in Iran is to “arrest women for wearing ‘inappropriate’ hijabs and enforce other restrictions on freedom of expression.” Amini’s death sparked a global realization that women in Iran are treated unfairly and have limited rights. Called to action by Amini’s death, many Iranian citizens are protesting their unfair treatment by the government. The unfortunate reality is that the Iranian government is not receptive to the citizen’s demands and is even implementing Iranian security forces to “crack down on protests and those who support them,” leaving over 83 people dead to date. The government in Iran has also officially cut off internet access throughout the nation, preventing Iranian citizens from sharing their opinions and information about their fight for freedom. The death of Mahsa Amini has caught the attention of the United States, with the State Department issuing a statement that “The United States strongly supports the human rights of all Iranian women, including the right to peacefully assemble and to express themselves without fear of violence.” Furthermore, the United States continues to enforce sanctions, specifically on the Iranian morality police, and holds the morality police responsible for Amini’s death and for violating the rights of peaceful protesters. Moreover, the death of Mahsa Amini contributes to a forecast of the future of relations between Iran and the United States. It is clear that the majority of Iranians and fellow Iranians and their allies across the globe are in search of a better future for themselves and their country; however, to what extent is the United States willing to go in order to help the people of Iran fight for change and impact the future of their relations with Iran?
From the realist perspective, humankind’s egoistic nature puts the national security of the United States at the frontline. After the U.S. pulled out of the JCPOA, Iran followed by breaching the agreement numerous times, and these weapons in possession by Iran pose a threat to the security and safety of the United States. The realist factor of being state-centric contributes to the forecast that the United States-Iran relations will likely stay as they are, with both Iran and the U.S. only complying with the JCPOA if their respective criteria are fulfilled. In regards to aiding the citizens of Iran, in order to ensure that the United States’ security and citizens are not threatened, the realist theory argues that, because states are rational actors, it is more strategic to aid the human rights crisis in Iran from afar. The more positive liberalist outlook expects the United States to help the citizens of Iran in order to rebuild its formerly strong relationship with Iran. To do this, the liberalist would claim that the United States should take part in directly aiding the citizens of Iran, helping them take action against the current unjust government. Similarly to how the U.S. took part in ousting the government of Iran in 1953, the U.S. would support the Iranian people in implementing a new government; however, rather than greed as the primary motivator of the United States, it would be fighting for human rights. Subsequently, with a new form of government that the U.S. helped to put in place, the two nations would generate trust and likely proceed to have a mutually beneficial relationship. The trust between the two parties could lead to the possibility of a return to the JCPOA agreement; the United States would receive the security that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, and the new form of Iranian government would be in support of the fight for human rights. Lastly, through the lens of constructivism, the emotional aspect of the fight to improve women’s rights and help humanity in Iran has completely transformed the identity of Iran as a state; the new identity also impacts the United States because their opinions on the people of Iran are likely to have shifted, as a result of feeling sympathy for their human rights movement. The U.S. already stated that they “strongly support the human rights of all Iranian women,” clarifying that they distinguish between the immoral identity of the government and the hopeful identity of the people, while also indicating that the U.S. and the Iranian people can come together in a joint effort to fight for human rights in Iran. As demonstrated, the future of the relationship between the United States and Iran has many possible outcomes that hinge on which of the three theories the government of the United States is most likely to align with.
The many years of intense relations between the United States and Iran have made it evident that the United States has impacted the government, society, and economy of Iran. After analyzing period one, 1953-1972, using realism, liberalism, and constructivism, and coming to the conclusion that the Iranian government was most affected; then examining period two, which ranged from 1979 to 1988, and concluding that Iranian society was impacted, and finally, studying 2015 to 2020 and determining that Iranian society was once again most impacted by the actions of the United States, I ultimately believe that during U.S.-Iran relations spanning from 1953 to 2020, the United States impacted Iranian society to the greatest degree. Subsequent to analyzing whether or not Biden will rejoin the JCPOA and the impact of the death of Mahsa Amini, I forecast the future of U.S.-Iran relations will be dependent on the extent to which the United States is willing to go in order to help Iranian citizens and allies around the world in the right for human rights. As stated, the theories of realism, liberalism, and constructivism, offer different forecasts of the U.S.-Iran relationship; only time will tell what the United States will do and which theory their actions will most closely resemble.
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