Analysis & Opinions - Agence Global

Why is the United States schizophrenic towards Iran?

| July 17, 2015

The breathtaking intensity and variety of speculation on the future of the Middle East that were sparked by the signing of the nuclear technology/sanctions agreement this week between Iran and the P5+1 powers has revolved around a few key issues. Is Iran a threat to the Arab world because of its “hegemonic” aims, as some Arab states believe? Will its increased power and influence in the wake of this accord be used to “destabilize” the region? Will the United States slowly make Iran a major regional ally and recalibrate somewhat its relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and Egypt? Will the devious Iranians cheat during the years of the accord, and then sprint to build a nuclear bomb in its wake?

The discussion of these issues in the Middle East is more nuanced than the corresponding debate that I have followed closely in the United States, especially this week. Most troubling, though, are the condescending comments, mistrustful attitude, insulting assumptions, and derogatory accusations and tone about Iran from many American quarters — including officials from the president on down, much of the mainstream media, and most of the political establishment. This is troubling because it risks seriously derailing the implementation of the agreement, and narrowing the prospects of non-hostile United States-Iran relations and a more rational and peaceful political order in the Middle East.

The core problem here is the constant litany of accusations and veiled threats against Iran: that all assume Iran is a lying, cheating, belligerent regional predator that cannot be trusted and must every day show evidence of its good behavior. Americans in their public sphere mostly speak of Iran as if it were a convicted felon, and the whole country needs to be surrounded by an electronic bracelet to monitor its threatening movements. This mean-spirited, adolescent-like American behavior is 100 percent contrary to the noble, generous and sensible actions of both the United States and Iran during the long negotiations.

It might very well be true that Iran is a lying, devious, dangerous actor. Yet to reach that conclusion, we really need more evidence than the collective ignorance of hundreds of provincial American politicians, the money-sniffing obsequious pandering of American presidential candidates, and the unverified accusations, assumptions and concerns of many journalists and analysts whose knowledge of Iran, the Middle East and history is heavily shaped by the talking points and policy memos they get from increasingly hysterical (and isolated) American rightwing extremists, Christian Zionist crackpots, and powerful political lobbying circles close to the Israeli prime minister.

This hyper-demeaning broad-brush negative portrayal and mistrust of Iran runs totally against the constructive principles that saw these historic negotiations launched, transacted and succeed. This agreement is an effective, practical way to address the most important issues that matter to both sides: the world powers’ desire to stop Iran from securing a nuclear bomb, and Iran’s desire to remove the sanctions on it so it can live like a normal country. The negotiations and the accord comprise an important precedent in several spheres:

• how to negotiate with your enemies or people with whom you disagree;

• how to make a negotiation possible by dropping the failed practice of using threats, sanctions and intimidation to achieve one side’s aims (as the United States, Israel and other powers did to Iran unsuccessfully for years, which only spurred the expansion of Iran’s enrichment capabilities);

• how to craft a negotiating process that credibly addresses the critical bottom line issues for all sides, and thus increases the likelihood of success;

• how the two negotiating sides can make substantive concessions, in order to achieve the substantive gains they covet; and,

• how to implement more or less simultaneously the key gains that both sides achieve, rather than keeping one side’s gains hostage to the other side’s mistrust.

The implications of this successful negotiating methodology could be immense for other tensions and conflicts in the Middle East, including domestic, regional and global political battles. The most important reason the negotiations succeeded, in my view, is that they were based on mutual respect that saw the concerns and rights of both sides as equally worthy of being addressed and met— which only manifested itself in 2013 or so, when the Obama administration decided to engage Iran, rather than just threaten and sanction it. Now, however, the United States behaves in public towards Iran mostly with insulting disdain — treating it like a truant delinquent or serial criminal who is certain to carry out dangerous deeds, even when under intense international inspections.

This is more bizarre than the usual chaos-producing American weirdness and wildness in the Middle East that we are accustomed to. Political psychiatrists and buffalo herd behaviorists must help us out here, to figure out what explains this schizophrenic American behavior towards Iran. Or maybe the American public political sphere should simply grow up and embrace the fact that for once it did something constructive, heroic and peaceful in the Middle East.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Middle East Initiative
For Academic Citation: Khouri, Rami..“Why is the United States schizophrenic towards Iran?.” Agence Global, July 17, 2015.