Friday, June 20, 2014

Religion Matters, When It Comes to the Current Civil Wars in Syria and Iraq.

The essay below is an analysis about the final stage of conflict between the USA and Iran amid Iran's nuclear ambitious activity. In this essay, i have predicted that there is high probability that the USA would finally militarily attack Iran's nuclear facilities. My prediction in this matter might not come true. The reason that i have re-uploaded this essay again is not that point. The important point is the role of religion in the foreign policy of the Iranian Regime. This issue is clearly tangible and visible with regard to the behavior of Iran in both civil wars in Syria and Iraq as well. I suggest the curious readers to read that part of my essay, if they don't want to go through whole essay; a part that explains how the policy makers in Iran look at the current tension in Syria and Iraq based on Shiite mythology. This part of my essay shows that Shiite religion and its mythology play an important role in the foreign policy of the Islamic Regime.

M. Sirani                                    20.06.2014  

Will the US attack Iran?

Mehran Sirani                                             01.11.2012                           


Iran’s nuclear activity is one of the main topics of discussion amongst most politicians around the globe. This issue has generated enormous fear and uncertainty amongst some policy makers, particularly amongst those officials in the strategic region of the Middle East. In response, Iran continuously insists that the nature of its nuclear activity is peaceful and the country does not have any plan to build a nuclear weapon. On the other hand, after many years’ efforts, still the IAEA has not been able to verify the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activity, due to the lack of full control and access to all Iran’s nuclear plants and programmes. Consequently, so far, the US and the EU have enforced severe diplomatic pressure and enormous economic sanctions on Iran. However, despite all these hard pressures, Iran not only has not stopped or reduced its nuclear activities; instead, it has intensified its nuclear programmes at one of its underground nuclear facilities i.e. Fordo. The combination of all these issues has made Iran’s nuclear activity more suspicious and dubious. It seems that Iran is moving towards building a nuclear weapon. This is something that is unacceptable for most of the countries around the world including the US. Regarding Iran’s nuclear activity, there are two general opinions amongst most of the people. The first group believes that the current situation is very critical and Iran would finally stop its nuclear activity. The second group argues that Iran would not halt its nuclear activity and the country is trying to acquire the nuclear weapon. In response to the first group, we can argue, if Iran stops its nuclear activity, then the problem has been solved. Regarding the premise of the second group then, we are facing a serious question as follows: will the US attack Iran? This paper will attempt to find a convincing answer to this important question (Aei, 2012; Sirani, 2012).       

3- Main Discussion: Will the U.S. attack Iran?
In order to find a reasonable answer to this question, we need to have some knowledge about the mindset of decision maker in the US. In other words, how would the U.S. policy makers perceive the current nuclear dispute with Iran? In doing so, it would be helpful to use a theoretical framework, which has been introduced by Steve A. Yetiv in 2004. Through this framework, Yetiv has analyzed the main causes of the US invasion to Iraq in 2003. Although, there are many differences between that war and current tension between the US and Iran in different terms, but this framework, to some extent might help us to find a convincing answer to our main question. However, Yetiv’s framework consists of three theoretical models, which all of them should be examined parallel to each other and simultaneously. These theoretical models include 1- The Rational Actor Model (RAM), 2- the Groupthink Model and 3- the Cognitive Model (Figure 1) (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010).

   Analyzing the possibility of a war

The Rational Actor Model

  The Groupthink Model

   The Cognitive Model

    The Causes of 


Figure 1: Yetiv’s framework for analyzing the possibility of a war (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010).

3.1. The Rational Actor Model (RAM):
The main structure of the RAM model is based on realist point of view. According to this model, the anarchic nature of the international system forces states to rely on self-help, in order to achieve and protect their national security and interest. In the anarchical international system, a state, based on rational choice would go to war, if it recognizes that its vital national security or interests are in jeopardy. Thus, in the international system: war is always a possibility. With this brief explanation, let us examine the possibility of the US war against Iran within the RAM model. So far, the nuclear activities of Iran have been causing many tension and uncertainty in the international arena, particularly in the strategic region of the Middle East. The US (i.e. policy makers in the USA) knows that a nuclear-armed Iran would dramatically change the balance of power in the Middle East. Such change in the first place, would weaken and threaten the superiority-security of Israel as the US closest ally in the region. On the other hand, a nuclear-armed Iran would also threaten the security of some other oil-rich states including Saudi Arabia in the Gulf area. This event, as a result, would accelerate a nuclear arms race amongst other states in the Middle East. Such a nuclear arms race in an area, which supplies large amount of oil and gas to the rest of the world would automatically threaten the global economy too (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010; Nti, 2012; Sirani, 2012).

This brief explanation shows that the RAM model faces a serious dilemma. On the one hand, as we know, most of the realist scholars including Kenneth Waltz are the proponents of a nuclear-armed Iran idea. These scholars claim that a nuclear-armed Iran would create the balance of power between Israel and Iran in the Middle East. As a result, this issue would promote peace and stability in the region. From this point of view, based on the RAM model, we can deduce that the US would not attack Iran. However, on the other hand, a nuclear-armed Iran would lead the Middle Eastern countries towards a nuclear arms race. This event, consequently, would threaten the national security-interest of not only the oil-rich states in the Middle East but also other countries around the globe, which are dependent on oil, and gas of this region (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010; Pbs, 2012).   

Moreover, there is tremendous fear about the growing activities of fundamentalist non-state actors such as Al-Qaida in the region and access of these fanatic groups to any types of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapon. This is also a crucial issue for most politicians in the world including the policy makers in the US. If, for instance, Iran obtains nuclear weapons and after a while, this political system would face a serious political turmoil, some radical Islamic non-state actor or some fundamentalist faction within this political system might have access to the nuclear bomb in the country. In this case, what would happen? How would the international community be able to control this nuclear-armed fundamentalist group? The combination of all these issues, would automatically threaten the national security and interest of the US and its close allies in the region. In this case, based on the RAM model, we can conclude that the US would attack Iran, in order to protect the national security-interest of itself and its close allies in the Middle East. As illustrated above, the RAM model faces a serious dilemma and gives us two contradictory outcomes of negative and positive conclusions about the possibility of this war (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010; Pbs, 2012).   

3.2. The Groupthink Model:
This model focuses on the mindset and perception of small group of advisors, who their opinions to some extent would influence the process of decision making for war. These advisors (Think Tanks) might work in the private sector, some government bureaus, university departments or some public institutions. This group of advisor provides useful information and consultation on different international issues for states. We should bear in mind, that any miscalculation or misperception in these advices, could lead the process of decision making towards an unnecessary and devastating war. The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 would be a clear example of such erroneous decision. Regarding that war (2003), Yetiv claims that a small group of advisors mistakenly convinced President Bush that the economic sanctions against Saddam’s regime would not function anymore. As a result, the president Bush approved an unnecessary and costly war against Iraq without any further consultation even with some of his experienced staffs including C. Powell and N. Schwarzkopf (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010).       

Based on some reasons, analyzing the possibility of the US war against Iran within this particular model, would be difficult too. One of the main reasons is the broad range of foreign policy advisers with different IR theoretical thinking within Obama’s administration. The simultaneous presence of some leading realist figures such as Z. Brzezinski and B. Scowcroft and some liberal internationalists such as S. Rice and H. Clinton within this administration portrays an image that it seems; Obama’s administration is swinging between realism and liberal internationalism approaches in terms of its foreign policy. This bipolarity makes our analysis within this model a little bit more difficult. Consequently, we are left with some unanswered questions including: who would be the main and final advisor/advisors regarding this war? Would these advisors have a realist or liberalist understanding about the international system? Which one of these approaches would be the dominant idea in the final stage of the decision-making? (Antiwar, 2012; Jackson & Sørensen, 2010).      

3.3. The Cognitive Model:   
This model focuses on the individual key decision-maker, in this case the President Obama, who can profoundly change the course of the decision-making process regarding this issue. In order to analyze the possibility of the US war against Iran within this model, we need to find reasonable answers to some questions including: How does Obama perceive the current tension with Iran? Does Obama use any historical analogy regarding this war? What kind of images does Obama have about this tension? Are these images derived from accurate information through an authentic source or are mixed by fake and bias information? Answering these questions is not also an easy task, because it requires some confidential information, which unfortunately is beyond our access and authority (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010).
The lack of such confidential information limits the scope of our analysis within this model. This issue compels us to rely on some information about Obama, which we have observed in the past four years of his presidency. In this case, we can argue that there are two different images from Obama. On the one hand, Obama is a president that:
He has racked up some notable successes, including significantly weakening al Qaeda, effectively managing relations with China, rebuilding the United States' international reputation, resetting the relationship with Russia and ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), achieving a UN Security Council resolution imposing harsh sanctions on Iran, completing overdue but welcome free-trade accords, and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq”      (Foreignaffairs, 2012).

Based on this statement, Obama is a liberal internationalist. From this characteristic, we can deduce that Obama would prefer to solve the current nuclear dispute with Iran through a diplomatic and peaceful manner. On the other hand, we have seen another face of Barack Obama, which to some extent undermines the previous deduction. Obama’s hasty reaction to Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president, and the US military intervention in Libya that led to regime change in this country portray another image about Obama. From these examples, we can assume that Obama has some tendency towards liberal interventionism approach too. However, whether Obama is a liberal internationalist or a liberal interventionist or combination of both these approaches, we should bear in mind some important points. Firstly, these different approaches do not mean that Obama will continue to this diplomatic struggle with Iran in an infinite period; since every diplomatic effort, even a diplomatic marathon type (i.e. a long-term negotiation) has a time limitation, particularly when it comes to sensitive and crucial issue like the nuclear weapon. Secondly, these approaches do not signify that Obama would always solve every tension in a peaceful and diplomatic manner. Regarding Iran’s nuclear activity, Obama has clearly expressed his opinion in different occasions and publicly announced that, the US prefers to solve the nuclear dispute with Iran through a diplomatic manner, but all of the options including the military action are still on the table. Moreover, recently, Obama has strongly emphasized that the clock is ticking and as long as he is the president, he would not allow Iran to obtain the nuclear weapon. Thirdly and in addition to all explained above, we should also bear in mind this part of M. Doyle’s statement, when he claims: “Liberal democracies are as aggressive as any other type of state in their relations with authoritarian regimes and state less peoples” (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010; Nytimes, 2012; Dune, 2008, p.113).

3.4. The Summary of Yetiv’s Framework:
In the last three sections, we have tried to find a convincing answer to our main question within Yetiv’s framework. Through this framework, we have examined the possibility of this war within three separate theoretical models. The result of its RAM model led us towards two contradictory negative and positive conclusions about the occurrence of this war. The results of two other analyses of the groupthink and cognitive models also could not give us a concrete and precise answer about the possibility of this war, due to the lack of access to some confidential information within Obama’s administration. However, in general, the results of Yetiv’s framework bring us to some important points. Firstly, it indicates that a nuclear-armed Iran to some degree would threaten the national security and interest of the US and its close allies in the Middle East. In other words, if Iran would not agree to stop its secret and mysterious nuclear activities, there would be some possibility that the US will attack Iran (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010).

Secondly and more generally, Yetiv’s framework might have been helpful in case of analyzing the US invasion to Iraq in 2003, but it cannot be a universal and comprehensive theoretical tool to use by every analyzer (with all respect to Yetiv) in every case study; due to some complications in its groupthink and cognitive models. As illustrated above, these two models can be examined properly, only by those analyzers who have access to some confidential and secret information, in our case study, within Obama’s administration. The lack of such important information undermines the accuracy and efficiency of Yetiv’s framework. This shortage of knowledge, as a result, creates extra complication for us. For example, in the current situation, there are some important events going on in the international arena. Each one of these events to some extent might increase or on the contrary, decrease the possibility of this war; but within Yetiv’s framework, we cannot evaluate them. The current global economic stagnation is one of these events. Within this framework, we cannot analyze, whether the current global economic stagnation would be a driving force towards this war, or on the contrary, this issue would prevent the war. The second event is ongoing severe civil war in Syria as one of Iran’s closest allies in the Middle East. Within this framework, again we cannot figure out whether this issue would increase the possibility of this war or not? Although, analyzing the effect of current economic stagnation on the possibility of this war is beyond the scope and format of this paper, but the recent conflict in Syria is an important issue, which should not be overlooked. In order to find out how current tension in Syria might increase or decrease the possibility of this war, we should turn our attention to the mindset of policy makers in Iran. In other words, what is the final goal of policy makers in Iran? How would the policy makers in Iran perceive the current tension in Syria? The next section shall analyze these issues.   

4- The Mindset of Policy Makers in Iran:
The ideological foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based on the Shia branch of Islam. The Shia Muslims in Iran (Mostly Twelver) are the followers of the twelve descendants of the Prophet Mohammad. According to Shia mythology, some three centuries after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, the twelfth Imam (Mahdi) went into an indefinite period of occultation. The fundamental belief of Shia branch is as follows: when the world is full of injustice, inequality, and violence, Imam Mahdi will return and fill the world with justice and prosperity for all people, through the establishment of an Islamic state on Earth. Based on this theological doctrine, the Islamic Regime has been trying to expand its influence and hegemony beyond its own geographical borders, particularly in the Middle East. This religious expansion is a celestial duty for the Islamic Regime and it pursues a sacred goal: the establishment of a Shia Empire in the region. Two of the most important functions of this Shia Empire would be as follows: 1- It would facilitate the advent of Imam Mahdi and 2- It would provide the necessary assistance and support to Imam Mahdi, when he will return from occultation. Iran precisely knows that the achievement of such a divine and important goal without the nuclear weapon is almost impossible. This is the main reason behind Iran’s nuclear activities. However, different evidences indicate the fact that recently despite enormous diplomatic pressure and severe economic sanctions, Iran not only has not reduced its uranium enrichment programmes, instead it has accelerated its nuclear activities, for example at Fordo underground facility near Qom city (Afshari, 2011; Aei, 2012; Sirani, 2012; Eteghad, 2012).

This issue raises a serious question. Why Iran does not halt or reduce its nuclear activity, despite all these diplomatic and economic sanctions? The answer to this question has direct connection with current civil war in Syria and Shia group uprising in Yemen. As we know, from early days of the Islamic Revolution, the policy makers in Iran have been trying to hold a durable, solid, and close tie with Syrian regime. This close relationship between Tehran and Damascus can be understood partly within the concept of a stronger strategic partnership against Israel. However, this is not the whole story; since, there is some other important reason beyond this inseparable strategic partnership. According to different hadiths in Shia branch of Islam, the righteous movement in Yemen and bloody civil war in Syria are amongst five events, which would occur before or during the emergence of Imam Mahdi (Eteghad, 2012; Sirani, 2012).
According to one of these hadiths:

One example of the direct help that Imam Mahdi will receive from Allah s.w.t. will be his defeat of Sufyaani. Sufyaani will be a man from the family of Abu Sufyan, and he will emerge from Damascus and conduct a ruthless campaign of bloodshed and mass killing, during which thousands of innocent people will be slaughtered. He will be supported by the people of the tribe of Kalb.

Sufyaani will dispatch his army to Mecca in order to destroy Imam Mahdi, however Imam Mahdi’s army will easily defeat Sufyaani’s army. Sufyaani will then lead a separate contingent of his remaining army to face Imam Mahdi himself. This army will subsequently be destroyed by an enormous earthquake at Baidaa on the road to Mecca” 
(Al-Shia, 2012).

It seems unrealistic for us, but this is the way that the policy makers in Iran perceive the Shia uprising in Yemen and the current civil war in Syria. In fact, the policy makers in Iran have a strong belief that currently, the Sufyaani army (i.e. the Syrian Liberation Army and those states who support them) wants to defeat Syrian regime and after that, this army will move to Mecca in order to kill Imam Mahdi. Therefore, defending Assad’s regime would become a divine duty for policy makers in Iran, which has to be fulfilled at the expense of everything, in order to save Imam Mahdi. In fact, the combination of the current civil war in Syria, Yemen and the Arab spring has portrayed an image in the mind of religious policy makers in Iran that these rallies across the Middle East arise from the chaos of the final war. In other words, according to Shia mythology, we are close to the advent of Imam Mahdi or the Day of Judgment. Thus, based on Shia eschatological philosophy, Iran should defeat its enemies and establish a new world order; a new world without war, injustice and inequality (Williams, 2013; Al-Shia, 2012; Eteghad, 2012).
This is an important matter that most of the scholars and politicians do not pay attention to it.
Based on all explained above, we can deduce that Iran’s eschatological war, across the Middle East including in Syria has begun. In the mind of policy makers in Iran, this is the historical-religious moment that Iran should acquire the nuclear bomb in order to accomplish its divine mission. Therefore, the chance that Iran would stop or reduce its nuclear activities is very low. As a result, we can expect that eventually, these diplomatic negotiations will also reach a dead end somewhere in the future. In this case, there is high probability that the US will attack Iran. The next section shall discuss this issue (Williams, 2013; Sirani, 2012).   

5- The Reaction of the US:  (If Obama wins re-election):
Obama knows that a military strike on Iran would increase the price of oil and this event would consequently deepen the global economic stagnation, at least for a while. Moreover, he does not want to repeat the same mistake that his ancestor (former President Bush) did and dragged the country into an unnecessary and costly war. Furthermore, he is fully aware that there is ongoing political transformation in different parts of the Middle East and a new war would generate more chaos and instability in the region. On the other hand, a nuclear-armed Iran would threaten the security of other states in the region and consequently would spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Such nuclear arms race would jeopardise not only the national security but also the national interest (e.g. oil and gas) of the US and its close allies in the region. This is a dangerous issue and a clear red line for Obama, particularly, since most of the states in the Middle East to some extent have been challenging by different radical Islamists non-state actors inducing Al-Qaida. However, after a while, Obama will come to the final point that the costs of waiting for sanctions to function are increasingly surpassing the benefits and the Islamic Regime is an intransigent regime, which cannot be trusted and negotiated anymore. In this case, against his own will, Obama will go to war against Iran somewhere in the future (Jackson & Sørensen, 2010; Sirani, 2012).

Through this war, Obama will try to minimize the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran in the Middle East. In fact, this war will be an instrument for the US in order to achieve a political and rational purpose; and that is to protect and maintain the national security and interest of the US and its close allies in the Middle East. From this, we can conclude that the US involvement and its perspective about this war will be based on the political philosophy and understanding of war (Williams, 2013).

As Michael Sheehan also states:
“Wars are fought for reasons. The Western understanding of war, following Clausewitz, sees it as instrumental, a means to an end. Wars in this perspective are not random violence; they reflect a conscious decision to engage in them for a rational political purpose. They are rationalized by those who initiate them by appeal to belief and values systems” (Sheehan, 2008, P. 214).

In this essay, i tried to find a convincing answer to the question of whether the US will attack Iran or not. In doing so, i used Yetiv’s framework. Within this framework, i examined the possibility of this war within three separate theoretical models. The result of its RAM model was a dual negative and positive conclusion about the occurrence of this war. The results of two other groupthink and cognitive models within this framework were also unclear and uncertain, due to the lack of access to some important and confidential information within Obama’s administration. These ambiguities compelled me to turn my attention to the other actor of this tension i.e. Iran. My aim was to find out how the policy makers in Iran perceive the current tension. The result showed that there is some connection between the current tension in Syria and Iran’s nuclear activities. Moreover, it showed that this connection stems from ideological characteristic of the political system in Iran, which compels Iran to move faster towards acquiring the nuclear weapon. From this, it can be concluded that the chance that Iran would stop or reduce its nuclear activity is very low. Consequently, this issue would force Obama to go to war against Iran. Through this war, the US would try to delay the Iranian nuclear weapon programmes or possibly destroy the entire Iran’s nuclear facilities. Some of the consequences of this war would briefly be as follows. The result of such military strike would be devastating in different terms for both sides. Many people, mostly Iranian would lose their life during this war and the effects of nuclear particles and radiation would pollute the country in the years ahead. Iran might not be able to compete with high technological military equipments of the US, but the country has some powerful weapons to retaliate, which should not be underestimated. The first and important weapon is that Iran would carry out a proxy war in the whole Middle East by using its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ghods elite force and other Shia militia groups including Hezbollah. The second and important weapon of Iran is the vulnerability of the Strait of Hormuz. Iran would easily close this strategic part of the world. So far, Iran has accumulated large amount of oil in the fixed storage in the Khark Island (23 million barrels) and its floating oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. Iran would easily spill some amount of this oil in the Persian Gulf and burn them. In this way, Iran would be able to close the Strait of Hormuz, at least temporarily for a while. However, the hostility between Iran and the US will continue more or less until the final days of the Islamic Regime in Iran (Sirani, 2012).

M.Sirani                   01.11.2012                                                                                                                                                         


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Accessed on: 21.10.2012.  (This is a Persian language article about Iran’s activities in the Middle East including in Syria, which I published in the Persian websites).

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