President Donald Trump's Iran policy knows little of the political realities in Iran.
And it just might land us a war with the Islamic country. However, there's a political tendency in Iran that is rarely mentioned in the media coverage of the country.
Trump started a trend toward more hostile relations with Iran when he withdrew from President Barack Obama's Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an arms-control agreement designed to control Iran's nuclear arsenal. This escalation cycle continued after this.
The administration recently cancelled waivers that allowed a small number of countries to purchase Iran oil. They were purchasing it under the trade that was opened when Iran entered the JCPOA. Trump's administration also announced new sanctions on the country's economy and deployed B-52 bombers and an aircraft-carrier strike group to the region to contain Iran.
Of course, Iran engaged in pushback. First, it has yet to cave to the United States' demands and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced his country would not comply with parts of the JCPOA and said his country would withdraw entirely if Europe didn't deliver benefits in 60 days. Some say avoiding further escalation will be difficult, as both sides seem unwilling to back down.
It's obvious that U.S./Iran relations are worse than they have been in a long time, mostly due to the Trump administration's blustery foreign policy. Iran left the U.S. orbit in 1979 when the Islamic Revolution ousted U.S. ally Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Sayyid Ruhollah Khomeini came to power and instituted an Islamic theocracy. The Iran hostage crises soon followed and made matters worse. The country has remained outside of the U.S. orbit since the revolution. Iran's theocratic government and support of terrorist factions against Israel make it a state that flaunts the idea international law and norms.
On the other hand, there's a side of Iran we must engage with and won't as long as Trump-style foreign policy remains the norm. It's a side of Iran that is more open to the Western world. There political faction in Iran that call themselves reformist and they embrace Western concepts like freedom and democracy.
Twenty-eight percent of the country considers themselves reformist, and they should be nurtured by the West. There are 18 political parties and groups that are a part of the reform movement. It was spearheaded by Iranian intellectuals. Adolkarim Soroush, a former professor of philosophy at the University of Tehran, is the central figure in the movement. Ideas connected with the movement are republicanism (a support for representative government), Islamic democracy (a support for a democratic society within Islamic societies), and liberal Islam (using human reason to interpret Islam).
The reform movement had a big victory in 1997 when Mohammad Khatami won the presidential election promising reform. Khatami voiced support for civil society, called on people to criticize high-ranking authorities, and gave newspapers the freedom to express a variety of political views. He also viewed his country as a more open place and opened embassies in various European nations.
The movement did have shortcomings. Many newspapers were shut down by the judiciary and dissent Islamic leaders were jailed. In addition, police departments cracked down on dissent. All of this was carried out by segments of the Iranian government hostile to Khatami.
Rouhani ran as a reformer in 2013 but did little reform once taking office. However, his verbal support of the movement is testament to its power. The same can be said for Khatami's election. How does the West empower the reform movement in Iran and bring about a possible pro-Western Islamic democracy? Not by following a Trump-style foreign policy, that's for sure. The administration's foreign policy will make the outside world seem scary to many Iranians, lead to less engagement, and weaken the reform movement.
If we travel the same path, Iran will be even less likely to be a state that works toward the establishment of international law to control nuclear weapons and other dangerous arsenals. Perhaps it will be a state that makes war on our country. At the rate we're going, we're looking at a more scary world.