Agitated by the recent US military strike in Iraq that accounted for the life, among others, of Iran’s Major General Qasem Soleimani, sections of the world were posing the disquieting questions: Are we hurtling towards a Third World War? Has humankind opted for self-annihilation?
These posers are a veritable measure of the fear US-Iran antagonisms have been generating in the hearts and minds of people the world over, ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran came into being in 1979. While a comprehensive look at the history US-Iran relations over the decades would reveal the reasons for the almost continuously strained nature of these ties, it is not within the realms of the possible that the world would soon have to cope with another World War.
Military tensions between the US and Iran are bound to escalate from now on, but an imminent World War is difficult to visualize in consideration, among other things, of current developments in international politics and economics. On the face of it, though, it would seem that the current round of antagonisms is completely uncalled for. US President Donald Trump could have stuck to the fitful normalization policy trajectory in the US’ ties with Iran set by his predecessor President Barrack Obama, but he chose to do otherwise.
It should be recalled that the current crisis was precipitated by the Trump administration pulling out of the nuclear accord sections of the world community and it shored-up with Iran a few years ago. The US compounded the crisis by subsequently heaping punishing economic sanctions on Iran. It was only a matter of time before US-Iran tensions got into a tailspin and reached the present flash point.
Primary among the reasons for the Trump administration taking an exceptionally tough policy line on Iran is the administration’s strong tendency to pursue an ultra-nationalistic policy thrust in matters domestic and international. Over the years, US-Iran relations have tended to sour under US Republican administrations. Prior to the Islamic take-over in Iran, the Shahs of Iran were strongly backed by the US and this was particularly the case at the time of Republican administrations.
President Trump took us back to those times, when he referred during one of his recent verbal attacks on Iran to the infamous armed take-over of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, the very entity that came to be headed by Commander Soleimani who was killed in the US attack a few days back. Inasmuch as the latter attack is in violation of International Law, so was the over year- long seizure of the US embassy by Islamic Revolutionary Guards. Some of these memories die hard in the US and they are part of the crucible in which Republican Party policy on Iran has come to be shaped.
However, it was US backing for the Shahs that played a principal role in moulding Islamic Iran’s traditionally antagonistic policy towards the US. The Shah regimes were blatantly pro-West and closely allied with the US and by virtue of this legacy the US came to be seen as a ‘natural enemy’ of Iran, particularly when Iran came to be ruled by ultra-conservative Ayotollahs. Accordingly, the US came to be referred to as the ‘Great Satan’ by the latter.
However, the current President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani is an exception to this rule and should have been seen in this light by the US. By adopting a tough policy on Iran the US may have ‘burnt its boats’ with the Rouhani government. But it could not be concluded on this basis that the world is on the brink of a Third World War.
Interestingly, veteran US diplomat and legendary Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was quoted a couple of months back as saying that the world would plunge into a Third World War unless US-China trade friction was contained within manageable limits. In both scenarios another World War is very unlikely because the First and Second World Wars were precipitated, essentially, by antagonistic and mutually-hostile world power blocs which were envious of each other’s power and influence, but this is not the case in the contemporary world.
The US is, at present, more or less on its own and Iran is not a member of any clearly identifiable international political/ideological formations or power blocs. But it cannot be denied that Iran is seeking to spread its influence particularly in the Middle East. In this effort it is at cross-purposes with the US.
Clearly, both countries must step back from the brink of war because a confrontation would prove disastrous for them and the world at large. This is in view of the fact that neither country is likely to step down in the face of the challenge faced by them, on account of the prestige at stake, and may not hesitate to use the most lethal of weapons.
On the other hand, major powers such as China and Russia, would prefer to steer clear of involvement in the conflict militarily. Too much is at stake for them in economic, human and other vital terms. But they would go the extra mile to seek a diplomatic and political solution to the conflict. It would be in their interests to have peace in the Middle East. War in the Middle East, in fact, would have catastrophic consequences for the world economy, thus, enabling war to be seen as a non-option by the international community.
The US under the Trump administration could prove to be highly volatile in consideration of President Trump’s anxiety to be seen at home as a resounding victor over Iran. Too much is at stake politically for him, given the damage his image currently suffers from the impeachment proceedings against him in Congress. Accordingly, the consequences from a US-Iran full blown military confrontation could prove highly unpredictable, besides turning out to be costly for all.
The UN would do well to play a proactive role in bringing about a political settlement to this confrontation. Considering its elevated standing in the eyes of the international community its involvement in peace-making is likely to be hugely welcomed by the world.