WASHINGTON (Dispatches) – A report by John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) has listed consecutive U.S. governments’ miscalculations about the Islamic Republic of Iran.
As an academic initiative, SAIS’s RETHINKING IRAN project has outlined “core policy principles” with regard to Iran, saying “it aims to provide the policy community with the most academically grounded analysis of contemporary Iran”.
“We are particularly focused on the effects of sanctions on Iranian society and the necessity for a ‘reexamination’ of sanctions policy rooted in sober social science,” the report said.
“We hope to reach a bi-partisan audience through our work, particularly those officials who do not believe that the cruel effects of sanctions on the lives of everyday Iranians were precisely the goal of enacting such sanctions in the first place,” it said.
“We also contend that another U.S. led war in the Middle East is clearly not in the American national interest,” it added.
According to the report, RETHINKING IRAN’s chief policy objective is to provide the leading academic experts on Iran with a platform in the debates on sanctions currently taking place in the corridors of power in Washington, New York, Brussels and beyond.
It lists ten core policy principles related to America’s Iran policy derived from the empirical record, saying “many of these principles are applicable irrespective of the outcome of the current negotiations between the U.S. and Iran regarding the U.S. return to the JCPOA and the Iranian return to full compliance”.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, it said, “has proven to have a uniquely durable capacity to survive in comparison to other revolutionary regimes. It is capable of continuously co-opting a sufficiently broad cross-section of actors within the Iranian public sphere”.
The Islamic Republic, it said, “is extremely unlikely to fall apart as a result of foreign pressure, either by means of kinetic intervention, sanctions or support of opposition organizations”.
According to the analysis, the Iranian establishment “consists of rational actors making decisions on domestic and international policy out of conceptions of national interests”. The establishment, it says, “is neither irrationally messianic nor antisemitic in its hard power calculations”.
Iranian society and politics, it says, “have shifted from religious revolutionary fervor to an intensification of Iranian nationalism that includes a populist religious element”.
“This element is strengthened by the popular perception that Iran has been humiliated by foreign powers and subjected to inhumane suffering due to U.S.-imposed sanctions,” it added. Such elements have broadened the Islamic Republic’s base of support within Iranian society, the report said, adding the U.S. and Israeli assassinations of senior figures such as General Qassem Soleimani and the head of Iran’s nuclear program Mohsen Fakhirzadeh – along with the foreign sabotage of nuclear facilities – have intensified this dynamic.
According to the report, “a Cold War posture of the U.S. towards Iran does not realistically account for the complexity of Iran and the U.S’s relationship in the context of the current power relations structuring the international community and the attendant regional dynamics”.
“Furthermore, Iran is not the Soviet Union, and a Cold War positioning and pursuit of a containment strategy modeled after U.S. Soviet policy is neither appropriate nor realistic.”
The fifth principle listed by the study states that the Trump-era “maximum pressure” sanctions and the assassinations of Gen. Soleimani and Fakhrizadeh have neither led to a realignment of Iran’s regional posture nor halted the pursuit of nuclear capabilities.
“Instead, these actions have achieved quite the opposite results. These activities only strengthen actors opposed to increased cooperation and dialogue with the United States.”
According to the analysis, Ebrahim Raisi’s election as president of Iran in 2021 offers the U.S. the unique ability to negotiate with a leader who is deeply embedded within and representative of the panoply of domestic actors that determine Iran’s foreign and security policy.
It advises that a rejoining of the U.S. in the nuclear deal must be accompanied by mechanisms that allow foreign business entities (especially those in Europe) to be confident in their investments into the Iranian economy.
“The continued threat of Treasury Department sanctions after the nuclear accord went into effect undermined the support of the Rouhani government even prior to Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the accord. Iranians saw very little of the promised economic benefits promised to them by Rouhani, thereby weakening his and his allies’ position significantly,” it said.
A reentry of the U.S. into the accord and the lifting of sanctions “should constitute the first, not last steps, in U.S.-Iranian dialogue regarding regional security issues of mutual interest”, it further said.
It claimed that Russia and China “will only benefit geostrategically and economically should the U.S. not reenter the agreement or should an agreement not include tangible mechanisms allowing for European trade with Iran”.
“As the U.S. is seeking to reduce its military presence in the Middle
East, after leaving Afghanistan and planning to leave Iraq by December 2021, a return to the nuclear deal is a key path towards reducing tensions and creating sufficient stability in the Middle East in order to allow the U.S. to focus on East Asia and Russia,” it said.
Finally, it recommended that the U.S. “coordinate carefully with both European allies and Russia/China in order to further root the nuclear deal within an international framework”.
It claimed that Russia and China share deep concerns regarding the potential weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program.
“Yet should the United States refuse to rejoin the agreement following sufficient attempts by Iran to demonstrate flexibility in their negotiating posture, Russia and China will ramp up their economic and security cooperation with Iran in a manner fundamentally opposed to U.S. interests,” it said.