Less than three weeks remain before the United States presidential election, which appears to be crucial for the balance of the region. More precisely, three weeks separate us from Barack Obama's second victory in the presidential elections in the greatest state in the international community.
Thorny issues plaguing the Middle East are not expected to change during these three weeks. Things will rather stall until this great event arrives and reveals US foreign policy.
If Republican candidate Mitt Romney wins the presidency — something that is unlikely due to a number of factors — Washington is expected to adopt policies similar to those adopted in the George W. Bush era.
This could involve military intervention in the region to defeat opponents and a declaration of "victories" that would quickly come to be seen as "mistakes" committed against the people of the region or the interests of the US itself.
On the other hand, if Obama wins, no major changes are expected to take place in the policy he adopted over the past four years. US national interests and balancing various influential groups within the American political establishment will remain the basis upon which US foreign policy stands.
Still, four more presidential years will offer Obama a new chance to implement his policies, as a result of his growing ability to cope with pressure in general, particularly that which comes from Israel.
Obama was forced to accept the expansion of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, just like he yielded to Israeli extortion regarding the Iranian nuclear issue. He announced that the US drew a "red line," and would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons by any means possible.
Amid growing regional problems — such as the Palestinian issue, which is at the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict — the geopolitical repercussions of the Arab Spring and the US maintenance of its interests in the Gulf region, Iran seems to have a special place among these issues and interests.
Tehran is hindering the new Middle Eastern project, both on its own behalf and on behalf of its allies, which are spread from Iraq to southern Lebanon. This obstruction grants Iran a particular significance in US strategy. The US and Iranian projects are confronting each other in the region, and neither one of them has managed to neutralize the other and its alliances.
Therefore, despite the growing signs of escalation between the US and Iran and the emergence of a potential military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, one cannot theoretically rule out that Tehran and Washington may reach understandings which would include allowing Iran to play a significant regional role, all the while ensuring US interests in the region.
The intensification of the Iranian nuclear crisis results from the following two elements: Iran's determination to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes — given that it is a right under international law — and Washington's insistence on opposing this enrichment for political reasons relating to the fact that Washington is opposed to the ideology of the ruling regime in Tehran and its regional orientations.
Moreover, due to the current international balance of power and the fact that one pole dominates the current international system, Iran seems to be going against the nuclear and regional ambitions of the international system.
Washington's theoretical options regarding Iran are thus reduced to two possibilities only: A political solution or military action.
A political solution between the two parties will never be reached due to Israeli extortion. This happened during the first four years of the Obama presidency, as talk of military escalation against Iran's nuclear facilities was at the heart of the media and research centers throughout these years.
According to calculations regarding the Iranian regime’s position, it is currently impossible to change this regime from the inside, and a secular government in Tehran may be even more inclined to acquire nuclear capabilities.
The possibility of a dual containment scenario regarding Iran collapsed, due to regional policies adopted by Bush. The US — not any other country — was the one that eliminated the risks threatening Iran's southern border through the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.
Washington also did Tehran a great favor by overthrowing the former Iraqi regime in 2003. As a result, Tehran's allies — for the first time since the establishment of Iraq — came to be in seats of power in Baghdad.
Thus, the option of containment completely dropped out of the discussion, especially since Washington was forced to engage in implicit understandings with Tehran during its military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the post-occupation security arrangements in both countries.
So, the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq turned Iran into a regional superpower, whose interests cannot be ignored when planning a new system for the region.
Iran — over the past three decades — has proven that it becomes more aggressive once excluded, and that the best way for Washington to influence its decision-makers is to integrate the country into the region’s security structures instead of leaving it out.
Because regime change cannot be achieved from the inside, and due to the resounding failure of the policy of containment, the only option left for the US is to choose between a military solution and a political solution.
From a US national security perspective, Iran possesses unique advantages. Although its population only represents 1% of the global population, it owns 10% of the proven oil reserves globally and is the world's fourth-largest oil producer.
The importance of Iran is not only limited to this. Iran also possesses 16% of the proven reserves of natural gas worldwide, which makes it the second largest gas producer in the world, after Russia. Because Iran produces 6.2 million barrels of oil per day, of which it consumes 3.6 million barrels a day, it can export 2.6 million barrels per day.
According to these figures, it is possible for Iran to maintain its current level of daily production of oil for over forty years, since its reserves are estimated to be 130 billion barrels of oil. It is also possible for Iran to produce 500 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually for a period of 55 years, as a result of its natural gas reserves totaling 27 trillion cubic meters.
The supposed political solution between Iran and the United States is — logically — based on the US’ acceptance of Iran's regional goals in return for Iranian concessions on the regional level, while making significant changes to its foreign policy.
In fact, Iran does not need Washington to extend its influence in the region. It has done so through its regional alliances amid a heavy US military presence and without US consent. However, Iran — or any other regional power in any geographical area — cannot play an internationally recognized regional role without being given the green light from the US.
Also, under the unipolar world order, it is hard to imagine that the world would recognize the right of a state to possess nuclear technology without the same [green] light from the same source.
It is true that Iran's excellent regional hand enables it to disrupt US projects. Tehran has proved this in the past 10 years, through [its adoption] of a remarkable combination of investing US confusion, twisted strategic [methods] and Iranian savvy along the geographic area stretching from western Iran to the occupied Palestinian territories.
But despite all of this, the decision-maker in Tehran — who is always aspiring to play a regional role — is well aware of the cosmic limits which restrict its historic ambitions. The excellent regional papers may be sufficient to obstruct the US’ goals in the region, but they are not enough to [achieve] regional [power sharing] without an understanding with Washington.
Also, this regional influence would only translate into recognized regional interests within the framework of a wide-ranging understanding with the US.
However, we believe that the most important Iranian prerequisites for the US in order to reach a political situation would be the following:
- Recognizing the legitimacy of the current Iranian regime
- Ending all forms of US sanctions and hostile acts against Iran, in conjunction with Iran’s response to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) requirements
- Releasing frozen Iranian assets in US banks
- Respecting “Iranian national interests” in Iraq
- Respecting Iran’s right to have unrestricted access to peaceful nuclear technology (similar to the Japanese model)
- Recognizing Iran’s security interests in the region (and recognizing its regional role)
One can confidently say that the primary obstacle for a political settlement between Washington and Tehran is Tel Aviv, along with the US military-industrial complex.
However, the main advocate of such a settlement is the US oil lobby, which is eager to control Iranian oil and to be able to easily transfer riches from the Caspian Sea through Iran. In short, the settlement option is not only related to the Iranian side being willing to reach a settlement — which would secure its regional leadership in the region — but it is mainly tied to the US situation at home and the balance of power between different American factions.
Iran has always been keen to separate between Iranian-American relations and the Iranian-Israeli rivalry. The rapprochement — based on geopolitical interests — between Iran and the US is obvious, as is the regional rivalry between Tehran and Tel Aviv. Iran has thus far excelled, even in the darkest of circumstances, in using diverse background channels for dialogue with Washington in order to influence the escalation options of some parties within the US administration.
Perhaps it is useful to note that Iran is not hostile to the US for merely ideological purposes. Tehran is primarily seeking to bring Washington to the negotiating table and force it to recognize Iran’s influence in the region. This would incur major regional and political losses for Washington’s allies.
Should the Middle Eastern political landscape be compared to a casino — which is true to a large extent — Iran would be the player that has accumulated his chips, whether they be Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria (whose regime remains in power for the moment and is Iran’s ally) or Lebanon. Iran is the player that has ripped off his local and regional opponents. Iran has only to cash in its chips from the bank, which is the US — the only international pole.
Obama’s victory does not necessarily suggest that a US-Iranian political settlement will be reached. However, the dangers of potential military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities will be carefully considered in American decision-making circles.
For the first time in the history of US-Iranian relations, Iran tends to favor a democratic presidency, while it has previously established historical and traditional relations with the Republican Party and its conflicting interests within the US oil lobby.
It is a three-week countdown to the beginning of a new type of conflict between the American and Iranian axes. However, the bone of contention is not the crux of the conflict but rather the changes sweeping across the region due to the “Arab Spring,” on one hand, and Obama’s ability to preserve American interests in the region — withstanding the Israeli pressures in this quest — on the other hand.
In view of this complex regional environment, the idea of a political settlement between Washington and Tehran is not likely to be ruled out from the list of possibilities.
In this context alone, and in the framework of the US-Iranian relations, one can doubt the absolute validity of the Persian saying that goes: “Love and hatred are passed on from parents to their children.”