For the first time in over thirty years tensions have begun to ease between the United States and Iran. With the change in Presidencies in both nations came a change in the nature and tone of their respective discourse, and with it the opportunity for negotiations that could result in the decontainment of Iran. Once the pre-eminent power of the Middle East, over the past three decades Iran has been subjugated by large powers who wish to contain it and smaller regional powers who wish to keep its influence subordinated. This new turn toward diplomacy has the potential to allow Iran to once again rise to a place of regional prominence. How current dominant players respond to a rising Iran will largely define the temperature in the Middle East for the next several years.
U.S. Foreign Policy vis-a-vis Iran
Bush vs Obama
Little more than twelve minutes into his Presidency, Barak Obama extended the hand of American friendship to Iran with hope that Tehran would “unclench its fist” (Parsi, 2012, p. 8). Three months later he followed up with an unprecedented video message addressing the Iranian government and citizenry. The overtures and contents of his messages represented a sharp departure from the neoconservative policies and cold tenor of the Bush administration. Moreover the very persona of Barak Obama made it difficult for the people of Iran to summarily dismiss his outreach efforts or vilify him as they had President Bush. From his ethnicity to his middle name, he defied the stereotypical American Imperialist leader (Parsi, 2012). Curious but hesitant to trust, people across across the Middle East cautiously waited for Obama to back up his promising rhetoric with real action (Gerges, 2013).
The previous three decades of U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis Iran had taken its toll. Years of treating Iran as a convenient tactical ally had resulted in a significant amount of distrust toward Washington; with the last incident in particular the final nail in the coffin of diplomacy. In the days following the attacks of 9/11, Tehran offered to assist Washington in defeating the Taliban. Iran offered air bases, performed search and rescue missions for American pilots, and killed fleeing al Qaeda leaders. In short, Iran “undeniably demonstrated that it could help stabilize the region” (Parsi, 2006). It was astonishing then when President Bush threw the Islamic Republic together with Iraq and North Korea as the states that formed the “axis of evil” (Parsi, 2006). Feeling the security of its regime at stake, Tehran put together a “grand bargain” of a negotiation package that addressed all of Washington’s concerns. Washington refused to respond, flatly stating they “don’t speak to evil” (Parsi, 2006). Iran interpreted the cold response as yet another indication that not only was the U.S. untrustworthy, but it was also unwise to attempt to negotiate with them from a point of weakness. It was within the context of this historical...