A recent US DoD report concluded that Iran’s military capacity is that of ‘defensive’ configuration. This is highly uncharacteristic of the DoD which has historically exaggerated Iran’s capability. However, since the ascension of Hasan Rouhani in Iran, the relationship with “the Great Satan” has improved dramatically over the months with both the parties, in particular the US, are willing to make certain concessions that are previously considered to be anathema in the White House such as a compromised stance on Iran’s uranium enrichment issue.
However, much of the focus over this time period has been on Obama’s Iranian policy which is reminiscent of Kissinger’s policy on China during Nixon’s time yet, by making such assertions, we somehow end up downplaying the geostrategic influence that Iran exercises in extracting such a policy from Obama. In addition, we also end up assuming that Iran is an irrational entity bent on a suicidal foreign policy that in antagonistic of the West. Yet, if Obama’s strategic reversal from the Middle East is to prove a successful strategy to maintain a balance of power in the region by cancelling all the regional powers, then Iran should be the pivot around which the entire policy would be based.
Iran which is indeed a rational geopolitical player understands its own importance hence it will not be wrong to assume that the Iranians have their own grand strategy to deal with the US. If indeed such a doctrine exists, then I assume it would primarily be based on more carrots and fewer sticks. What will be those carrots and sticks? Let us try to list down some of them to establish or at least try to assume Iran’s ‘Carrot and Sticks’ doctrine.
- Unconditional support provided by Iran to America’s war against terror against the Taliban in Afghanistan (Past)
- Assistance to the US in combating ISIS in Iraq (Current)
- Assistance to the Kurds in Iraq – US allies in Iraq (Current)
- Serving as a counter balance to the growing Saudi influence (Current)
- Ready to negotiate on the nuclear deal (Current)
- Provide substantial leverage to the US in its dealing with entities or states under Tehran’s influence (Current)
- Ready to serve as policing state in Iraq (Long term)
- Ready to provide access to its sea port as substitute to Pakistan’s seaport (Long Term)
- Strait of Hormuz serves as Iran’s most important trump card
- Activating proxies throughout the Middle East to endanger US allies
- Nurturing and funding armed groups against the US and her allies.
The fundamental reservation against this whole argument would be based primarily on the incentives or carrots as mentioned above since the sticks are very much in order these days and would continue to do so in time to come. Iran most certainly will hope to seek American approval to the fullest since in the light of recent events, there is a chance for Iran to exercise its regional influence with partial American approval. In addition, Iran is fully aware that the closure of the Strait of Hormuz is a double edged sword as it will not only block a key path for the flow of GCC’s oil shipments, but also will jeopardize the transit fees that Iran charges to its Arab neighbors while also jeopardizing its own shipments which might be threatened by Western forces trying to maintain order in the said region, ergo, inviting an armed conflict. Furthermore, the economic incentives that Washington can offer to Tehran are too lucrative to overlook. These incentives will be in the form trade agreements, access to new markets and of course, ease of sanctions and the introduction of foreign investment by Western companies in Iran.
The picture which then emerges out of this entire situation is a grand strategy or doctrine that we can term as “Iran’s American Policy” which indeed takes into consideration all the pros and cons of this entire geopolitical calculus. However, in showing signs of softening towards the US and the West, Iran has lost its core strategic advantage in the geopolitical arena; it’s unpredictability. Indeed, Iran’s unpredictability coupled with its unconventional capabilities has always troubled the US which has been quite cautious in its dealing with Tehran. But, now, it seems Iran unintentionally has succumbed to the temptations of Washington thereby becoming more predictable and easy to understand. Of course, this might yet be a mirage deployed by the Iranians to extract something from Washington yet, if that is the case, this tournament of shadows is yet to be over.