"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez lavished each other with praise on Monday, mocked U.S. disapproval and joked about having an atomic bomb at their disposal."
America and Iran
In twenty-first century American foreign policy, few countries are discussed with more fervor and fear than the nation of Iran. Radical differences over religion, politics, and human rights have caused the two nations to clash numerous times in recent years. Yet relations between America and Iran have not always been as contentious as they appear today.
To understand modern-day Iran, one has to go back to at least the 1920s when Reza Khan managed a coup against the government of the reigning Qajar Dynasty and took over as Shah. He did much to modernize the country, and also sought to curtail British control over Iranian oil. This did not sit well with the British, who, in partnership with the USSR, invaded Iran in August 1941, arrested Reza Shah, and sent him into exile. In response, the United States sent troops to help the Iranians.
Mohammad Reza Shah succeeded his father to the throne in September 1941, and following the end of World War II, the Iranians' desire to nationalize the country’s oil industry grew. They accomplished the feat in 1951 under the leadership of Mohammad Mosaddeq, who shortly thereafter became Prime Minister. This led Britain to impose sanctions on Iran and challenge, albeit unsuccessfully, the legality of the move.
The United States, under the Truman administration, was initially sympathetic to Iran's nationalist ambitions. Under Eisenhower, however, the United States aligned itself more with Britain, fearing that Iran might become too Soviet-friendly or even go Communist under Mosaddeq's lead. So in 1953 the Americans joined the British in executing a plan to overthrow Mossaddeq. Known as "Operation TP-AJAX," this CIA-led coup d’état succeeded and subsequently strengthened Mohammad Reza Shah’s rule of Iran.
Throughout the next several decades the Iranian Shah established his authority and power through a harsh, non-democratic system of governance. The Shah’s dictatorial methods were compounded by his secularized stance on various issues, a reality which led an Islamic religious leader named Ayatollah Khomeini to publicly renounce him and form an opposition movement.
After many months of unrest, riots, and uprisings, the Shah finally left Iran in 1979, making way for Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers to establish a nation based on Islamic rule. Due to American support for the Shah’s regime, the Iranian nation quickly turned against the United States. This anger was displayed in late 1979 when Iranian citizens invaded the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took a number of Americans hostage. Over the next year, President Jimmy Carter attempted to obtain the release of these hostages through sanctions and a dramatic rescue attempt which failed miserably. The hostages were finally freed and sent home on President Reagan’s inauguration day, 444 days after the crisis began.
The years following the Iranian hostage crisis were marked by a strained and unsettled relationship between the United States and Iran as the two countries navigated the Iran-Contra scandal and the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. During the Iran-Iraq conflict, the United States allegedly tried to aid both sides, a fact which increased Iranian mistrust and dislike toward Americans.
In 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as the new Iranian president. Ahmadinejad quickly became known as an extremist determined to institute strict Islamic rules and regulations on the people of his country. His various speeches at the United Nations further established his opposition to the West, particularly the U.S., Israel, and certain European countries. Indeed, Ahmadinejad’s 2011 U.N. speech suggested that the United States was the instigator for many conflicts of the past centuries, including the two World Wars, the Israeli-Palestinian problems, and the September 11 terror attacks.
The United States naturally took issue with these accusations, especially since many reports indicate that Iran has its own set of ethical problems, particularly relating to human rights violations. Indeed, Iranian political dissent is often crushed - as evidenced in the 2009 election protests - women are often mistreated and denied basic freedoms, and many individuals are arrested and imprisoned under false or insignificant charges. Many of these basic rights, particularly those pertaining to women, are denied due to the influence religious Sharia law has on the country.
In addition to differences on human rights issues, relations between Iran and America have been strained due to Iran’s apparent desire to obtain nuclear weapons. Although Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, developments over the last few years lead many to fear that Iran is secretly going against its treaty commitment. In late 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency reassessed Iran’s nuclear program and expressed "concerns about [its] possible military dimensions." Additionally concerning to the United States is Iran’s close relationship with Venezuela, another American adversary who could potentially provide Iran with nuclear weaponry resources or be used by Iran to threaten the domestic United States.
The United States and other Western nations have attempted to deal with these threats through various economic sanctions on Iran, a tactic which attempts "to destabilize regimes." These sanctions however, have been in existence for quite some time, and actually tend to hurt the citizens of Iran more than their government. They also can influence the Iranian government to threaten retaliation, such as blocking the Strait of Hormuz, a move which would cause oil prices to dramatically increase.
In light of Iran’s increasing prominence on the world stage and its heightened tensions with the United States, this topic presents the historical relationship between these two nations. The topic also explores the possibility of Iran’s nuclear capability, the various options for dealing with it, and the many nuances which have led Iran to get to its present-day state.
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