USA foreign policy towards Iran interests relations sanctions and confrontation (Hegemonic Rivalry)


This essay will argue that the hostilities between Iran and the USA are the products of their conflict of interest between these two countries; demonizing Iran does not necessarily show the roots of the conflict between the two countries. In order to show this, this dissertation highlights three issues. The first issue is USA foreign policy on Iran. The second issue is US national interest in Iran-USA hostilities. The third issue is the dynamics of the US foreign policy.

This paper focuses on the nature of the US foreign policy since 1979. The objective is to determine how this policy was demonstrated through hostilities towards Iran since 1979. In this discussion, focus is on how US national interests took center stage during the hostilities in context of regional and international dynamics of the US foreign policy. The aim is to demonstrate that the hostilities arose because of conflict of interest between these two countries. During this analysis, the paper adopts a realist perspective, by which states are recognized as the main units of political analysis and national security is always a central issue. Regarding methodology, the dissertation is based on qualitative library research involving an in-depth analysis of secondary sources. In presenting the main argument, this dissertation is comprised of three chapters.

Chapter 1: How USA foreign policy is made and the US foreign policy towards Iran

The aim of this chapter is to highlight the various ways in which the US foreign policy is formed. It addresses the provisions made in the constitution as well as the role of congress, president, executive branch, judiciary, and the public. In this chapter, a distinction is made between those who participate in the process of making US foreign policy and those who participate in process of conducting foreign policy.

This chapter also elaborates on the milestones made by the US in foreign policy making, the dynamics of the process of making foreign policy, and the increasingly important role of the president in safeguarding US national interests through foreign policy. The main argument is that in recent times, the role of the president has become increasingly important in the processes of not only making US foreign policy but also conducting it.

Regarding the country’s policy towards Iran, the paper discusses how the friendly US-Iran relations of the 1960s and 1970s suddenly turned sour in 1979. This change of fortunes for the US occurred when the US-backed government was overthrown through a popular revolution. This paper highlights the various factors that have led to the continued deterioration of US-Iran relations since 1979. On the basis of this analysis, conclusions for the chapter are made with focus being on the nature of US policy towards Iran.

The formation of US foreign policy

Throughout the history of the US, major milestones have been reached in foreign policy formation. However, for the most part, issues relating to foreign affairs have been in the hands of few people[1]. The elite groups that have been at the forefront in formulating the country’s foreign policy have never felt the need to ensure that there is public participation in the management of US foreign relations[2].

One of the few presidents who made efforts to democratize diplomacy and abolish “secret deals” made behind the people’s back was Woodrow Wilson. In Woodrow’s view it was important for the US to establish a tradition of arriving at covenants openly. Long after the end of his presidency, his ideas continued to have tremendous influence on the way the US conducted international relations. Nevertheless, all members of the public do not influence the making of foreign policy in the same way.

Three categories of the public may be identified in the US; namely the organized interest groups, the attentive public, and the mass opinion or public-at-large[3]. Organized interest groups participate actively in the lobbying process involving crucial matters such as business, agriculture, and national security. On the other hand, the attentive public is largely a representation of the elite opinion on matters of foreign policy. The attentive public plays a critical role in increasing public interest on crucial matters of national interest. In contrast, the public-at-large does not have keen interest in issues of foreign policy.

An analysis of the various categories of the US public is important in understanding the process of foreign policy formation in the country. Moreover, the decisions made by secretaries of state play a critical role in the success of the US foreign policy. However, although major milestones have been achieved in this regard, the US continues to face serious difficulties in efforts to develop a relevant, cohesive, and feasible foreign possible. The difficulties are experienced right from the first step of identifying national interests to the arduous process of implementation.

In theoretical terms, the process of formulating foreign policy ought to start with the definition of US interests[4]. The next step should entail efforts to delineate policies that promote the process of safeguarding these interests. The policies should define the roles that different agencies and departments should play in the process of implementing these policies. The issue resource allocation should also be put into consideration. However, experience has shown that in practice, such an approach rarely produces a cohesive and viable foreign policy in the US. In many instances, different agencies, departments, and officials tend to have different views regarding what national interest is. This is largely because national interest comprises of a cluster of many particular interests. For example, during the Arab Spring, the US government provided an uneven response.

Indeed, one of the main characteristics of the US foreign policy is that it is always changing. The US foreign-policy position has been changing dramatically in recent times, particularly since the end of the World War II. However, during the Cold War, the US went through an era when public support for the country’s foreign policy could not be overlooked or ignored. Public opinion played an eminent role in shaping foreign policy. Today, things have changed a great deal and this eminent role on the part of the public no longer takes center stage.

This turn of events has in recent times inspired numerous efforts within the US administration to democratize foreign policy. The objective has been to make the foreign policy process more pluralistic. This element of pluralism is directed not just at the American public but also the media and rest of the world[5]. The objective is to respond to the new contemporary environment of global interdependence in which people live today. However, this is sometimes considered part of the US rhetoric on matters of foreign policy. From a pragmatic perspective, it would be better to assess the contributions made once the US administration has consulted with foreign policy experts working outside the US. More importantly, such foreign policy experts always have a duty to ensure that all decisions made first and foremost safeguard the US national interest.

Under the constitution, the president’s role in foreign policy is restricted. However, the fact that he is the only official of the administration who is elected nationally puts him in a better position as far as the identification, expression, and pursuit of US national interests is concerned. Moreover, with approval and advice from the senate, he makes treaties with other countries. From this perspective, the indication is that although the presidents’ powers are restricted under the constitution, his role regarding the country’s foreign policy is crucial. The president is the only government official with the capability to restrain foreign policy experts and bring into perspective a reluctant congress as well as the American voters in efforts to support the American leadership. In times of crises, domestic problems may supplant those of foreign policy. In such a situation, it is always important for the president to be able to emphasize the need for the US to engage with the rest of the world on a continuous basis.

The US constitution also has a provision for treaty-making. Those who framed the constitution made a deliberate effort to make treaty-making as difficult as possible. The objective was to ensure that the nation did not enter into treaties with any other nation if such a partnership could be avoided. Indeed, it has been extremely difficult to convince two thirds of the US senate to give assent to controversial treaties. For these presidents, best alternative involves substituting executive bilateral and multilateral agreements for treaties. In executive agreements, which may be either oral or written, the parties commit to accept certain obligations or to undertake certain measures. Most of the agreements that the US has entered into with foreign governments in modern times are executive agreements. However, the constitution does not have a provision for these agreements.

Examples of congressional-executive agreements include the membership of the US in the WTO (World Trade Organization) and the establishment of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). In both of these cases, preexisting legislation was the basis upon which a simple majority vote was made in Congress. However, the judiciary has already challenged the use of this approach. The Supreme Court has refrained from ruling on the issue.

Regarding the power to go to war, the power rests with Congress even though the president is accorded the position of the Commander in Chief. However, scholars disagree on whether the intention of the makers of the constitution was to accord Congress to declare the use of force[6]. Conventionally, Congress exercises this right only as a response to a request expressly made by the president[7]. Only five wars have been declared in US history[8].  The last war to be declared was the World War II between 1941 and 1945. This fact shows a trend where the power to send the armed forces to war without first seeking authorization by the US Congress is increasingly shifting to the president. It is also an indication of changes in the circumstances under which countries engage in international conflict. During the most recent conflicts in which the targets were Iraq and Afghanistan, this trend the shift regarding the role of the president was also demonstrated. Congress participated by only giving its support to the president’s right to authorize the use of force against another nation at his discretion.

However, the role of the president to receive foreign ambassadors remains unchanged. In this regard, the president has to make decisions regarding which foreign governments deserve recognition and which ones do not. Other powerful roles include the ability to chart the national agenda and the power to commit the nation to a certain diplomatic course of action. Once the president has embarked on these two courses of action, it becomes nearly impossible for his opponents to alter that course.

During the process of making foreign policy, the participants include the president, Congress, the executive branch of government, and the public. Once it has been made, it is upon the president and his staff in the executive branch to conduct it. This is a fuzzy distinction but one that is extremely important. In making policy the participants come up with a decision on what needs to be done in order for a certain objective to be achieved. In conducting policy, the president decides take various actions, including employing the armed forces in a foreign conflict such as the one that occurred in Afghanistan.

US foreign policy towards Iran

The US policy towards Iran is one of the most discussed issues today particularly in the context of US foreign policy. The main issue that has brought US-Iran relations to the fore is Iran’s nuclear program. The US has been insisting that Iran intends to build nuclear weapons, a claim that Iran vehemently refutes. The US has been at the forefront in expressing keen interest in this issue because the emergence of a nuclear arms race in the Persian Gulf would threaten US national interests. The US fears that a move by Iran to develop nuclear weapons would make Iran’s neighbors feel threatened, thereby embark on similar programs. This would trigger a nuclear arms race. The resulting hostility would ultimately harm US national interests.

Today, the US-Iran relationship is fraught with tension[9]. However, this tension has not always existed[10]. For many years, Iran was a close ally of the US[11]. In fact, during the 1960s, the Iranian government received US assistance to begin its nuclear program[12]. At that time, the aim of the nuclear program was the production of nuclear fuel[13]. The friendly relations reached a turning point in 1979 when the US-backed government was overthrown through a popular revolution. In its place, the Islamic Republic of Iran was established. This new system requires Iranians to elect their legislators as well as the president. However, Islamic clerics make final decisions regarding the operations of the government.

The relations were further damaged in late 1979 following the move by the Iranian government to take American diplomats hostage. This led the US to sever formal diplomatic relations with Iran. To this day, these relations have never been repaired. For decades, Iran continued with its international obligation of allowing IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) monitors to inspect the country’s nuclear programs. However, in 2003, Iran faced international condemnation after admitting that it was secretly enriching uranium. The enrichment process is necessary in the development of both nuclear weapons and nuclear power.

The continued pursuit of uranium enrichment program by Iran has led the IAEA to express concerns that Iran could already have embarked on a nuclear program. However, the agency has no definitive proof that the country is indeed in the process of developing nuclear weapons. In the meantime, the US has been leading other governments of the world in expressing the worry that Iran’s intention is to start building nuclear weapons. On the other hand, Iran has been defending its right to embark on a nuclear program as provided for in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran’s argument has been that the nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes. The main problem is that it is impossible to differentiate between a nuclear program that is intended for military purposes and the one intended for peaceful purposes.

Nevertheless, the response of the US to the nuclear program is also informed by several other factors. To begin with, the US considers the government of Iran to be “a state sponsor of terrorism”[14]. This is because Iran supports radical Islamic groups such as Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Moreover, the US has in the past accused the Iranian government of violating the human rights of the Iranian people. A case in point is 2009 when the presidential election was followed by violent street protests. Dozens of Iranians were killed and thousands arrested. President Obama criticized the Iranian president for the violent response to the demonstrations by the country’s security forces.

Another critical factor is the fact that since the turn of the century, the US has invaded two neighbors of Iran: Afghanistan and Iraq. Analysts point out that the US needs to learn some lessons from the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was triggered by claims that the country was developing weapons of mass destruction. After the invasion and occupation, the claims turned out to be false. The Iraq war ended with the overthrowing and capture of President Saddam Hussein. However, the new US-backed government found it extremely difficult to govern following the emergence of an insurgency. The US has continually accused Iran of providing support to this insurgency.

The issue of Israeli security is also a major factor that has influenced the US policy towards Iran[15]. US policymakers have since 1979 expressed concerns regarding the hostile stands that Iran takes towards Israel[16]. Conversely, Israeli leaders regard Iran as one of the biggest threat to the security of their country[17]. Some analysts even foresee a situation where Israel will attack Iran’s nuclear facilities in the event that the US administration fails to take a tough stance against Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The US, a crucial Israeli ally, is in a position where it may have to opt to support Israel, thereby sparking a bigger war in the Persian Gulf region.

The US foreign policy on Iran is also intertwined with the issue of the flow of oil into the US economy from the Persian Gulf[18]. Iran is situated in the Persian Gulf, and is one of the biggest producers of oil in the world. For the US economy to recover fully, oil must flow continually into the country. Moreover, oil prices must remain stead instead of increasing further. Any disruption of oil flow or increase in prices may plunge the US back into economic recession. Makers of foreign policy in Washington are therefore faced with task of ensuring that any policy adopted towards Iran does not interfere with oil imports from the Persian Gulf.

Finally, the Middle East has recently been going through a wave of popular uprisings that have been given the name “Arab Spring”. Currently, the Middle East is still going through a major transformation as part of the popular revolt that started in Tunisia. During these democratic protests, citizens of many countries in the Middle East have toppled long-term leaders. Some of these leaders were key US allies. In other countries, the threat of revolt still exists. In Syria and Bahrain, the revolution continues to unfold. During the Arab Spring, sporadic protests were also reported in Iran although the country’s security forces succeeded in promptly repressing them. During this transition period, Iran has been taking advantage of its position as a regional power to extend its influence to a number of countries. In light of these circumstances, the makers of the US foreign policy are faced with the task of putting into consideration the impact their policies towards Iran will have on this increasingly turbulent region that is of utmost economic relevance to the US.


In conclusion, it is evident that the president continues to play an increasingly critical role by giving guidance on the most appropriate courses of action in foreign policy. This was evident during the decision by the US to invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan. The president played the most crucial role by exercising this right to authorize the use of force against another nation at his discretion. This approach is less cumbersome than its more widely known alternative, which requires a two-thirds majority approval by the over-reluctant Congress. In the post-World War II era, the emerging trend is one where the power to send the armed forces to war without first seeking authorization by the US Congress is increasingly shifting to the president.

It is important for the US policy towards Iran to be viewed in light of this emerging trend. The main factor that has been driving this policy is Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Other factors include allegations of sponsoring terrorist organizations and the decision by the US to invade two Iran’s neighbors since the turn of the century. The US foreign policy towards is also influenced by Iran’s hostility towards Israel, a crucial US ally in the region. Finally, the oil-factor also remains critical in shaping the policy of the US towards Iran. Political stability in the Gulf would be in the best national interest of the US since most of the country’s oil comes from the Middle East.

Chapter 2:  US national interest in Iran-USA hostilities since 1979


The purpose of this chapter is to explore two major issues; namely US national interest in Iran and Iran-USA hostilities since 1979

US national interest in Iran

Iran is endowed with vast natural resources especially oil. Moreover, its geostrategic positioning is unique. The country’s high population is also a major asset, particularly when compared with the low populations of her neighbors. Iranians have traditionally been well aware of these competitive advantages. With this awareness, this state has consistently been expressing ambitions of becoming a regional power. Many people within Iran believe that the region can only flourish and overcome war and bloodshed under Iranian supremacy. The impression created that Iran is in an excellent strategic position of maintaining peace and political stability across the Middle East.

Many Iranians regard their country as a natural hegemony within the Persian Gulf. They argue that the weakness portrayed by the country’s neighbors disqualifies them from aspiring to that position in a legitimate way. They argue that Iran’s culture, power, and history are unmatched in the region. Iran has been seeking to achieve not just political supremacy but military supremacy as well. The nuclear ambitions that Iran holds today should be viewed in the context of the desire to be the regional power in the Persian Gulf.

To achieve supremacy in the region, Iran has been pursuing economic reforms and lavish military spending. During the early 1970s, Iran had evidently acquired the position of a regional power. Most of the progress was made during the 1960s at a time when the US was a close ally of Iran. Iran succeeded in outgrowing her neighbors both economically and militarily. This made the country a major power in the Persian Gulf. During the early 1970s, Iran was assuming leadership in not just the Persian Gulf but also within the greater Middle East and the oil-producing world.

The US has been well aware of the Iran’s aspiration to become a regional power. This aspiration, though legitimate, clashes with US national interest. The most crucial ally of the US in this region is Israel. Iran has always expressed opposition towards Israel. It is therefore obvious that if Iran becomes a regional power, it would pose a serious security threat to Israel, thereby harming US national interest in the Persian Gulf.

US national security is arguably the most important factor that puts the US at loggerheads with Iran. Currently, the US has expressed its commitment to ensure that the most dangerous weapons are kept away from the hands of the most dangerous people in the world. The US has already branded Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. At the same time, the US has continued to express concerns regarding the continued failure by Iran to cooperate with IAEA inspectors. This failure has made the US to conclude that Iran is preparing to make a nuclear bomb. Such an undertaking would be against the US national interest because it would pose a serious not only to Israel but the neighboring countries and the world at large. Such a move would also trigger a nuclear proliferation race in the Middle East.

Given that the greatest threat to the US national security is posed by nuclear weapons, the issue of Iran will no doubt continue featuring prominently in the US foreign policy debate. The reason for singling out nuclear weapons to constitute the biggest threat is that these weapons have a unique capacity to cause massive loss of life within a wide geographical area. It is also for this reason that nuclear weapons are appealing to terrorists and rogue states.

One of the greatest challenges faced by the US administration during the last two decades is on how to handle Iran and her nuclear ambitions. During this time, the Iranian administration has been making efforts to prevent the nuclear efforts from scrutiny by the international community. The claim on the part of the regime has been that Iran does not intend to make nuclear weapons. However, the refusal by the nation to cooperate in good faith with the international community gives indications to the contrary. At one time, Iranian president claimed that Israel should not exist. This provocative statement made the US to join her European Union and Russian partners in pressuring Iran to comply with all international requirements and to guarantee the international community that the intention of embarking on the nuclear program was solely to engage in peaceful activities. In the view of the US, this diplomatic undertake must be successful for confrontation to be avoided.

Other than the issue of nuclear weapons, the US has a problem with the tendency by Iran to sponsor terrorist organizations. This poses a serious threat to Israel. It also destabilizes peace in the Middle East. Sponsorship of terrorism also poses a serious threat to the process of building post-war institutions in Iraq. The position held by the US is that for the nuclear issue to be resolved amicably, Iran strategically changes her policy by giving Iranians more freedom and opening up the country’s political system. This is the ultimate foreign policy of the US towards Iran.

During the past two decades, various US administrations have declared that they would spare no efforts to ensure that US national interests are secured against various adverse effects of the activities of Iran. On the part of the US the main problem arises from the tendency by the Iranian regime to engage in dangerous ambition and illicit behavior.  The US insists that this should not be interpreted to mean that the nation has any intention to come in the way of the interests and aspirations of Iranians.

The likelihood of an armed conflict with Iran

In 2012, President Obama stated that Iran could succeed in developing a nuclear bomb within one year. Obama made this statement in the context of Washington-Tehran negotiations that continue to drag on with no sign of an immediate breakthrough. This means that the odds continue to increase that the impasse will eventually lead to an armed conflict. In such a situation, there are significant chances that the US would be dragged into the way. Such a war would have serious economic, political, and military consequence to the war-weary US.

In the event of such a war, the primary objective would be to destroy the major nuclear facilities that Iran has already established. In the event that some of these facilities are not destroyed, Iran may use them as building-blocks in efforts to reconstruct the nuclear program. The state may also use them to launch a rapid breakout. Nevertheless, the US would have succeeded in dealing Iran’s nuclear program a major setback.

However, policymakers in Washington are aware that this is not the only warfront to be put into consideration. In recent years, Iran’s leaders have been issuing retaliatory threats to the US, which should not be ignored. Moreover, Iran has demonstrated that it has numerous allies and agents who would be too much willing to commit terrorist acts against US interests around the world. This capability has been demonstrated through various terrorist activities committed by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that receives a lot of support from Iran. During these terrorist activities, Hezbollah has been targeting Israelis residents, tourists, and diplomats in different parts of the world. In essence, it is not lost on the US that terrorism remains a crucial part of Iran’s military strategy.

Additionally, oil being a major factor as far as the US national interest in Iran is concerned. As such, US administrators are keen to evaluate the effect that an armed conflict would have on flow of oil from various points within the Persian Gulf such as the Strait of Hormuz. US military strategists are most likely aware that Iran is in possession of numerous military speedboats, anti-ship missiles, and midget submarines. These weapons could be used to launch attacks on American vessels thereby disrupting activities relating to the transport of oil through various channels particularly the Strait of Hormuz. A sustained oil blockade would certainly have far-reaching implications on the global economy. This is because about twenty percent of the all the oil that is traded internationally passes through the Strait of Hormuz.

Nevertheless, Iran’s leaders are of the view that an oil blockade would be an extremely ambitious undertaking that would trigger a severe response. It may be impossible to seal Hormuz completely altogether. The most likely approach would involve military harassment using missiles and floating mines for days, weeks, and probably months.  An environment of uncertainty would prevail especially with the combined assistance of operatives from neighboring countries and the deployment of ballistic missile forces from within Iran. Such a situation of uncertainty and violence would have a negative impact on the US. However, Iran would benefit because it would be on an equal footing with the enemy. To safeguard their national interests, US military strategists would opt for a full-scale, sustained entanglement.

The US, being war-weary country it is today, is not yet ready for another full-scale war. However, the events taking place in Tehran, may eventually make the US to be sucked into war with Iran. The decision to adopt an armed engagement may be inevitable considering the growing nervousness on the part of Israel because of Iran’s resolve to build a nuclear bomb. It is obvious that the national interest of the US would not be served through such a war. It would have a negative impact on the country’s economy. Regardless of the outcome of the war, oil prices would increase. If the military action is not decisive and short-lived, the price increase may last for months.

The impact of war on the global economy must not be underestimated particularly considering that the world is going through a fragile process of economic recovery. Today, policymakers in the US also consider the perception of various countries of the world towards the war to be a major area of concern. During the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, many states condemned the US and regarded the country as a war-monger. The criticism intensified particularly after it was established that earlier claims about Iraq being in possession of weapons of mass destruction were found to be untrue. The US is yet to redeem its image as a war-monger even after withdrawal of its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if concerns about the image of the US abroad are put aside, the action that the US takes against Iran will most likely be supported or rejected depending on its economic impact on those countries.

In recent years, the US has taken to demonizing Iran in relation to issues ranging from claims of sponsoring terrorism to the launch of a nuclear program with the aim of building a nuclear bomb. In most cases, such an approach fails to capture the root of the perennial conflict between the US and Iran. The objective of demonizing Iran is to safeguard US’s national interests. One of these national interests involves efforts to ensure that the US maintains a dominant position globally. Such a position is increasingly being threatened by the move by countries like Iran to put in place nuclear programs aimed at building nuclear weapons. A nuclear-armed Iran will most likely refuse to tow the line of the US as far as the US foreign policy in the Persian Gulf is concerned.

Moreover, Iran is currently being crippled by economic sanctions. Many elements within Iran are too willing to engage in provocative actions aimed at creating instability in the region. Such instability will not in the best national interest of the US. On the contrary, Iran would benefit immensely from this instability because many countries would be unable to follow up on the economic sanctions that they have already imposed on the country.

Nevertheless, a bigger concern for the US is that the decision by Iran to build a nuclear bomb is that this may trigger a nuclear arms race within the Middle East. As countries within the Middle East compete for the acquisition of nuclear weapons, very little attention would be directed to the US. Moreover, this nuclear proliferation cascade may end up spreading to South Korea, Japan, and other countries in Southeast and South Asia. Such a turn of events would greatly reduce the sphere of global influence that the US has continued to hold onto throughout the post-Cold War era.

In the meantime, the threat of nuclear weapons notwithstanding, the United States continues to have immense interests in Iran and the greater Persian Gulf. In this region, the top-priority issue is non-proliferation. Policymakers in the US understand that as Iran continues to make greater progress in the nuclear program it becomes increasingly difficult to deter it. However, these policymakers fail to understand that Iran’s nuclear ambitions are being fuelled by strategic tensions on the part of Tehran. These tensions have been exacerbated by economic sanctions imposed on the country by various foreign administrations. The US has been playing a critical role in coercing these foreign governments to refrain from doing business with Iran.

Iran-USA hostilities since 1979

Since the onset of hostilities between the US and Iran, the underlying national interest of the US has been to contain Iran’s regional influence and strategic capabilities. In recent years, this shared goal has been pursued aggressively by both Bush and Obama administrations. The Obama administration has upheld the position of previous administrations that regard Iran as a serious threat to the national security threats of the United States of America. This policy position has in many instances set the stage for conflict between Iran and the US.

In efforts to resolve the conflict, the US has since 1979 been attempting to use multilateral economic pressure on Tehran. At the same time, the US has been clearly indicating that the state of cooperation would be restored as soon as Iran agreed to comply with various international demands. Iran’s economy has been significantly weakened by the sanctions. These sanctions took the form of freezing assets of Iran entities engaging in nuclear-related activities, prohibition of transfer of arms outside the country, and bans on international travel by some Iranians.

In the post-1979 era, the US has been in the forefront in calling for efforts to inspect airborne and sea cargo heading in and out of Iran. The US has also been part of a campaign to impose restrictions on some banks operating in Iran. Foreign banks have on many occasions being discouraged from doing business in Iran. This has thoroughly weakened Iran’s economy. In mid-2008, the Iranian economic crisis occasioned by these sanctions was worsened by a drop in international oil prices. To put emphasis on the determination by the US to use sanctions, former US president had already established naval presence within the Persian Gulf.

However, the reasons that motivate the US to impose sanctions on Iran have been changing frequently since 1979. After the ouster of “Shah” in 1979, the US lost a major ally in the Persian Gulf. Under the reign of Shah, Iran was an anti-communist country. The US was keen to establish cordial relations with Iran to counter the influence of the Soviet Union in the Persian Gulf. The objective of this relationship was also to counter the impact of Arab movements and regimes that were pro-soviet. The mass demonstrations and guerilla activities that eventually led to the collapse of Shah’s government were also responsible for the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power. Khomeini, an anti-West leader, was keen to destroy decades-old relations between Iran and the US. Pro-Khomeini’s were even to seize the US Embassy in Iran, which they did in November 1979.

Nevertheless, the most recent dramatic turn of events as far as the Iran-US conflict is concerned was witnessed in 2005 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office as Iranian President in August 2005. A controversial figure, Ahmadinejad likes to make maximum use of all opportunities to bash the West. One of the most memorable opportunities came during a Tehran conference in which he called for efforts to “wipe Israel off the world map”. Such provocative and potentially inflammatory remarks have led the US to lead the world in a diplomatic onslaught against Iran.

Ahmadinejad’s continued defiance of the US has been taken a notch higher by his tendency to frequently visit and hold meetings with anti-US leaders such President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Some observers within Iran have observed that these actions are increasingly isolating Iran from the international community. In fact, this is one of the factors at play in split of Ahmadinejad’s conservative faction in 2008.

The political events unfolding in Iran in the late 2000s came at a time when the US was preparing for a more assertive foreign policy towards the country. In 2006, the Bush administration released its “National Security Strategy”. This document stated that the greatest challenge that the US may ever face from a single country is posed by Iran. This sentiment seems to be shared by many people in the Obama administration. This sentiment is posed by Iran’s growing resolve to build weapons of mass destructions as well as its strategic ability to influence the Persian Gulf to adopt policies that counteract US objectives in the region. It may be argued that the national security goals of Iran are the greatest hindrance to US national security interests, and this forms the crux of the US-Iran conflict. Iran’s primary national security interest is build protection from US and indeed Western attack or interference. At the same time, the country is continually seeking to exert immense regional influence. Iran believes that this influence is commensurate with its concept of nationhood as well as its sheer size.

Iran would want the international community to believe that the US has chosen to adopt an alarmist view of its nuclear program. On this basis, Iran claims that this is an indication that the US is only seeking to protect its interests. President Ahmadinejad argues Iran has a right to pursue certain national interests just like the US. In 2005, Iran set out on a “collision path” with the international community over the country’s nuclear program. In 2009, the IAEA reported that Iran had enriched uranium enough to make a nuclear weapon. However, the IAEA did not find any evidence that Iran was diverting some of the nuclear material for use in program aimed at making nuclear weapons.

This turn of events put the Obama administration in a precarious position in terms of the available policy choices. It is evident that the Iran-US conflict is far from over. In fact, it could soon turn into the “Iran-US nuclear crisis”. In 2003, when the US threatened to push for a Security Council resolution over Iran’s nuclear program, Germany, Britain, and France embarked on a diplomatic undertaking aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. In the face of the Security Council threat, Iran accepted to suspend its uranium enrichment program in the Paris Agreement. This agreement fell apart soon after the election of Ahmadinejad in 2009.

Soon after the 2009 Iranian elections, scientists at the Estafan nuclear facility broke IAEA seals and embarked on the conversion process, which precedes the uranium enrichment process. In an attempt to mend relations with Iran, the Bush administration adopted a multilateral approach by providing the country with a number of incentives in efforts to dissuade it from continuing with the nuclear program. Some of these incentives included negotiations to accept and admit Iran into the WTO (World Trade Organization); sale of a light-water state-of-the-art nuclear reactor to Iran and a guarantee of nuclear fuel for use in agriculture and medicine; and easing of US sanctions to permit sale of commercial aircraft and aircraft parts to Iran.

Other incentives promised by the US included an Iran-EU “energy partnership”, efforts to promote the regional security forum in the Persian Gulf, and the possibility of giving Iran the permission to resume the uranium enrichment program. However, for this permission to be granted, Iran must first comply with all IAEA requirements as well provide proof that the objective of the nuclear program is to undertake peaceful programs.

On other hand, the US has been keen to impose sanctions to Iran. These sanctions range from denial of visas to a freeze of assets. These sanctions are targeted at both individuals and institutions operating in Iran. The decision by the US to stop supporting the application presented by Iran to join the WTO was also positioned as a sanction against this country. The fact that Iran did not respond to the incentives by the US and other Western nations was very telling. Iran must have been aware of the importance of the Persian Gulf to the US national interests. Iran also demonstrated that it was aware of its position of regional influence and the fact that without support from Iran, the US could not succeed in making inroads into the region.


In conclusion, the Persian Gulf is a critical component of the US national interest. The US national interest would best be served if the country managed to achieve a breakthrough by establishing tremendous influence across the Gulf region. However, to achieve such a breakthrough, the US has to deal with Iran, which is the regional power in the Persian Gulf. This is precisely what the US has been trying to do since 1979. On the contrary, Iran has been making efforts to cement its position as a regional power. One of the ways of cementing position is by becoming a nuclear power, hence the decision to embark on a nuclear enrichment. In this undertaking, Iran wants to be in a situation where it can make a nuclear weapon when and if the need to make one arises.

The Iran-US hostilities experienced since 1979 have arises as each country attempts to safeguard its strategic interests. Incidentally, the strategic interests of one country have tended to pose serious disadvantages to those of the other country. For instance, the oil blockade imposed during the Iran-Iraq war was aimed at giving the US a competitive edge. On the other hand, Iran has on many occasions threatened Israel as a way of demonstrating its continued defiance of the West. Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks were aimed at coercing the US into refraining from meddling into Iran’s affairs.

Moreover, the nuclear-bomb idea was conceived in furtherance of anti-US sentiments. The threat of nuclear bomb has created a serious national security threat to the US. Therefore, it is not surprising that both the Bush and Obama administrations have expressed sentiments regarding the negative impact of Iran’s nuclear program on the objectives of the US in the Persian Gulf. In order to draw the attention of the international community, the US has chosen to adopt an alarmist view of Iran’s nuclear program.

Chapter 3: Regional & international dynamics of the US foreign policy

The hostilities between US and Iran have been influenced a great deal by regional dynamics. In the same way, both countries have had to respond to international dynamics in crafting their respective foreign policies. The US has been successful in rallying the international community behind it in imposing restrictions and economic sanctions against Iran. On the other hand, Iran has been focusing a great deal on consolidating regional power within the Persian Gulf.

This chapter demonstrates how these efforts by Iran and US have led to the worsening of the US-Iran conflict. It discusses the efforts that both Iran and the US have made in their efforts to consolidate regional and international power. The chapter also sets out to show how the tendency by the US to demonize Iran in front of the international community fails to show the roots of the conflicts between these two countries.

US tendency to demonize Iran since 1979

Since 1979, the US has been demonizing Iran in order to cast it in negative light in front of the international community. This approach has created a scenario where the roots of the problems are obscured. In this approach, the US has been seeking to protect its strategic national interests. Foreign policy strategists in the US are aware that exerting regional influence is critical to putting Iran under control. For this reason, the strategists have been making concerted efforts to ensure that a lot of negative information about Iran is available to her neighbors.

Since 1979, the US set out on a journey of enacting major sanctions against Iran. These sanctions were mostly motivated not by Iran’s misdeeds but by the fact that the country had turned its head away from the US (Fayazmanesh, 2003).  After 1979, the US government froze major assets of the Iranian government. During the 1980, the US administration also embarked on the so-called “dual containment policy” (Fayazmanesh, 2003).

In 2009, the UN General Assembly complained that the US was demonizing Iran and that this was unfair. These accusations came from the president of the UN General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto (Milani, 2009). Miguel d’Escoto noted that such an approach is against the objective of the General Assembly of upholding the UN Charter as well as promoting nonviolence and peace (Milani, 2009). During a tour of Iran Miguel added that he was struck by the great respect and support that Iran gets from its neighbors in various international forums, including that of the Economic Cooperation Organization (Milani, 2009).

This support seems to arise from certain regional issues that the US deliberately fails to address for political convenience. For example, during the Economic Cooperation Organization meeting, Iran was praised for taking measures aimed at alleviating the plight of Afghan refugees. Indeed, a visit to Iran and her neighbors would provide a deep contrast between what the US has been saying about the country since 1979 and the reality on the ground.

Israel, a major ally of the US in the region, has in many cases assisted the US in the formulation and implementation of policies against Iran. Iran’s response has been to criticize Israel on many fronts. In one instance, Iran criticized Israel’s doctrine of Zionism, saying that it would soon disappear from the annals of history. Iran was responding Israel’s enthusiasm in ensuring that sanctions imposed against Israel succeeded.

Indeed, the issue of Afghanistan has been a major point of convergence between the US and Iran. In this point of convergence, the willingness of Iran to establish diplomatic contact with the US has been demonstrated. For example, in January 2010, Iran attended a “Neighbors and Friends of Afghanistan” meeting that was also attended by representatives from the US, Britain, the European Union, and NATO (Sadat, 2010). The objective of the meeting, which took place in Istanbul, was to establish common ground ahead of another conference in London. During this meeting, Iran expressed serious national territorial concerns arising from the decision by the US to increase the number of troop operating in Afghanistan (Sadat, 2010).

However, the complexity of the 30 year-old conflict was demonstrated in the fact that Iran chose to boycott the London conference. The boycott, which came despite indications by the Obama administration that the Iran-US conflict constituted a priority foreign-policy issue, demonstrates the misgivings that Iran has towards the US. Iran regards the US as an interventionist state that is determined to actualize its goal of toppling the Iranian Republic.

Iran has many reasons to accuse the US of holding such intentions. The dynamics of US foreign policy both regionally and internationally during the latter part of the twentieth century give many indications to that effect. In 1953, the US played a critical role in the coup d’état of the legal government in Iran. In 1979, the US vehemently rejected the Islamic Revolution. Moreover, during the war between Iran and Iraq, the US showed utter disregard for the use of unconventional weapons (in most cases chemical weapons) by President Saddam Hussein. Other US actions that have been frowned upon by Iran include the incident in which the US shot down an Iranian passenger airplane, the imposition of economic sanctions, and freezing of Iranian assets.

The US foreign policy and use of double standards: Reference to regional and international dynamics

An analysis of regional and international dynamics of the US foreign policy shows that the policy position of the US on various issues has been changing depending on the compatibility of those issues with the US national interest. In the case of Iran, things are not any different. The US has chosen to demonize Iran simply because this is the policy decision that best serves the national interest of the US. There are many examples that demonstrate the ever-changing foreign policy of the US both regionally and internationally.

It matters a lot to the US and the international community that Iran has been keen to highlight the double standards employed by the US in furtherance of national interest as well as vested interest in Iran and the greater Persian Gulf. The example of the failure by the US to complain when Iraq used chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war is significant in the contemporary context. One may argue that Iraq had as much a right to make chemical weapons as Iran has to make a nuclear bomb.

Since the US did not complain when Iraq used chemical weapons in war, it should not complain when Iran exercises its sovereign right to enrich uranium so that it can be in a position to make a nuclear bomb whenever the need to do so arises. This argument is reinforced when one reflects on the unfortunate twist of fate that pitted the US against Iraq in March 2003. The US invaded Iraq in the pretext that the latter country was in possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The same alarmist view that the US is adopting today regarding Iran’s nuclear program was used in 2003 to justify the invasion of Iraq within the wider contemporary scheme of “war on terror”. Investigations carried out after the Iraq invasion showed that no such weapons existed.

Another example is that of Israel, a key US ally in the Middle East. Israel has in the past refused IAEA inspectors entry to its nuclear stations. When this happened, the US did not raise alarm to the international community. On the contrary, when Iran refused the same inspectors entry into its nuclear stations, the US raised alarm to the international community.

Moreover, Iran has undertaken numerous positive steps that ought to be acknowledged by the US. However, the US has only been focusing on the “bigger picture” of national interest by deciding to remain tightlipped over those issues. For instance, when the US failed to appreciate the efforts by Iran to help Afghan refugees, Iran took notice. The US may have remained silent on the issue because it was responsible for the refugee problem. The problem of refugees could not have arisen if the US had refrained from hastily invading Afghanistan in the wake of September 11 terror attacks.

Another glaring instance of double standards by the US was in 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. The US opposed the revolution because of what it meant to the future of US-Iran relations. The success of the revolution would mean that Republic of Iran would henceforth cease to be an ally of the US. In light of these frequent changes of policy, it is not surprising that the US has chosen to adopt an alarmist view of Iran’s nuclear program. For this reason, the US may have a difficult time trying to convince the international community that the best way forward is to invade Iran. The aim of such an invasion would first and foremost be to promote and protect US national interest in the Persian Gulf. Iran has been keen to cite these examples in efforts to win the support of various states within the Persian Gulf. Iran’s success on this front has added to the challenges encountered by the US in efforts to promote its foreign policy.


An analysis of the US-Iran conflict demonstrates that an environment of deep mistrust has been established since 1979. All along, the US has been making the best use of opportunities at its disposal to demonize Iran. Iran’s response has been to embark on policies that run counter to US national interest. A case in point is the decision by Iran to pursue nuclear ambitions. To end the conflict, the US needs to stop demonizing Iran. Instead, it should focus on addressing the root of the problem. In the absence of such an approach, Iran will continue holding suspicions to the effect that the US is keen on toppling the Islamic Republic.

The US policy towards changed drastically after the popular Iranian revolution of 1979. Several factors were responsible for the worsening US-Iran relations. First, the US lost a major ally in the Persian Gulf following this revolution. The regime that took over government after 1979 was not friendly to the US. The US responded by adopting a hostile approach towards Iran. The first show of hostility was the decision to consider the government of Iran to be “a state sponsor of terrorism”. At the turn of the century, the US has invaded and occupied two neighbors of Iran. This has increased the level of anxiety on the part of the Iranian government. Since the end of the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has directed most of its attention to Iran. This has created the feeling that Iran is going to be the next Middle Eastern country that the US will invade and occupy. In this environment of anxiety, Tehran feels a sense of urgency in building nuclear capabilities in readiness for the threat posed by the US.

It is evident that the conflict between US and Iran has never been based on real issues affecting the two countries. The US was too quick to demonize Iran after 1979. Iran responded by aligning herself with groups that were perceived to be terrorist organizations by the US. Each side has since maintained a hard-line position. As the two countries continue to blame each other, the only important issue that emerges is that each country is pursuing its national interest. Since 1979, no efforts have been made to reach a compromise in order to end this conflict of national interests.

A primary reason why the US is interested in Iran is the oil that flows from the Persian Gulf. Any interruption in the flow of this oil would not only cause a recession in the US but also destabilize the world economy. This is the greatest US national interest in Iran. The US fears a situation where Iran would sabotage the flow of oil from the Gulf, hence the concerted efforts to weaken and demonize this country through economic sanctions. Some people may argue that the main reason why the US has not attacked Iran other than war-weariness is the fear that it would lead to an oil blockade. This would hamper the economic recovery efforts being made in the US.

The conflict between Israel and Iran presents another situation that may suck the US into a war with Iran. Israel is increasingly concerned about Iran’s apparent success as far as the nuclear program is concerned. In the past, the US has been applying double standards as far as Israel’s nuclear program is concerned. This demonstrates the extent to which the US is willing to go to protect this key ally. The US did not raise alarm when Israel showed hostility to IAEA inspectors. However, when this same phenomenon unfolded in Tehran, the US was quick to portray Iran as a warmonger to the international community.

The US is determined to continue making efforts to contain Iran’s regional influence and strategic capabilities. This is because the lifeline of the US economy is highly dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf. Rather than address the real issues and expose its vulnerability as part of efforts to reach a compromise with Iran, the US will continue using alternative strategies. One of them is to demonize Iran as a country that cannot be allowed to build a nuclear bomb. The objective of such an approach is to create an opportunity to invade Iran in the pretext of destroying her nuclear stations. In response, Iran may resort to unconventional fronts of war such as terrorist attacks on US interests.

The best solution is for the US to reach a compromise with Iran. Such a compromise can be reached easily if the US stopped drawing too much unwarranted attention on the country’s nuclear program. This may just turn out to be the sign of goodwill that Tehran has been waiting for before moving forward towards the negotiation table. Through negotiations that are founded on trust, both countries may succeed in building bilateral relations, thereby transforming them from foes to allies. Moreover, through economic partnerships, both countries would succeed achieving economic stability and security. Such economic would also bring success in efforts to address the problems facing Iraq and Afghanistan.



Chapter 1

Campbell, D. (1998). Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Entman, R.  (2004). Projections of Power: Framing News, Public Opinion, and U.S. Foreign Policy. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Gasiorowski, M. (1991). U.S. foreign policy and the shah: Building a client state in Iran. Cornell University Press, New York.

Holsti, R. (2004). Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy (Revised Edition). University of Michigan Press, Detroit.

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Katzman, K. Iran: U. S. Concerns and Policy Responses. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

McCormick, J. (2010). American Foreign Policy & Process. Cengage Learning, Boston.

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Rosati, J. & Scott, J. (2011). The Politics of United States Foreign Policy. Cengage Learning, Boston.

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[1] Rosati, J. & Scott, J. (2011). The Politics of United States Foreign Policy. Cengage Learning, Boston.

[2] Ibid.

[3] McCormick, J. (2010). American Foreign Policy & Process. Cengage Learning, Boston.

[4] Entman, R.  (2004). Projections of Power: Framing News, Public Opinion, and U.S. Foreign Policy. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

[5] Holsti, R. (2004). Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy (Revised Edition). University of Michigan Press, Detroit.

[6] Campbell, D. (1998). Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Op. Cit.

[9] Houghton, D. (2001). US Foreign Policy and the Iran Hostage Crisis. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Gasiorowski, M. (1991). U.S. foreign policy and the shah: Building a client state in Iran. Cornell University Press, New York.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Pillar, P. (2001). Terrorism and United States Foreign Policy. The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.

[15] Mearsheimer, J. (2006). The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Middle East Policy, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 29–87.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Katzman, K. Iran: U. S. Concerns and Policy Responses. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

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