Academic journal article Policy Review

The Saddamizaiton of Iran: Is Tehran Our Next Big Enemy?

Academic journal article Policy Review

The Saddamizaiton of Iran: Is Tehran Our Next Big Enemy?

Article excerpt

Fifteen years after its Islamic revolution triggered a wave of anti-American violence, Iran has emerged as the chief threat to American security interests in the Middle East. Iran is following a path not unlike that of its long-time archrival, Iraq: Fueled by its oil wealth and financed by, billions of dollars in foreign loans, Iran seeks to become the dominant military power in the Persian Gulf. It is actively exporting terrorism, undertaking a massive military buildup, and scrambling to develop biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons.

Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War has helped set the stage for Iran's drive for hegemony over the Persian Gulf region, the strategic storehouse of two-thirds of the world's oil supplies. Iran also is well positioned to exploit the Soviet Union's disintegration, the collapse of Arab socialism, and the rising tide of radical Muslim fundamentalism. Indeed, Iran is escalating its financial, political, and military support for radical Islamic movements throughout the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

In the short run, Iran poses more of an ideological, subversive, and terrorist threat than a military threat to America and its Middle Eastern allies. In the long run, however, Iran's military buildup - particularly its development programs for nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile weaponry - will pose an increasingly grave challenge to the security of American forces and allies in the region.

The Great Satan

As in the early stages with Iraq, the Western response to this threat so far has been lukewarm. The Europeans in particular are again misreading the dynamics of Islamic revolutionary politics. By maintaining an economic lifeline to Tehran - such as offering international credits and loans - the Europeans claim to be strengthening Iranian "moderates." But in Iran the difference between "moderate" and "radical" political leaders is a tactical matter, not a strategic one. Indeed, it is t e "moderates" who are most keen to develop Iran's conventional and nuclear arsenal.

Since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Tehran has seen itself as the leader of the Muslim world. The United States, which the late Ayatollah Khomeini referred to as the "Great Satan," is hated for its support of the Iranian regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi, for its support of Israel, which Iranian radicals seek to destroy, and for its support of moderate Arab regimes such as those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

But regardless of its policies, America is hated for its values and the powerful influence of its culture, which Iranian revolutionaries believe seduces Muslims and undermines Islam. Khomeini denounced moderate Arab regimes as "Westoxicated" practitioners of "American Islam." This ideological motivation explains why Iranian-supported terrorists in Lebanon in the 1980s attacked targets affiliated with the American University of Beirut and Christian churches, in addition to the United States Marines.

Tehran has enjoyed only limited success in fomenting revolution, in part because Iran's Shiite brand of Islam is shared by only about 15 percent of all Muslims. The Sunni (orthodox) Muslims, who make up more than 80 percent of the Islamic world, tend to be more respectful of state authority and distrustful of Shiite radicals.

Iran's greatest success has come in war-torn Lebanon, where it helped to create, finance, arm, and train the radical Shiite Hezbollah (Party of God) movement. Several hundred Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the militant shock troops of the Iranian revolution, work closely in support of Hezbollah in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Tehran also supports less powerful Shiite radical groups in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Shiite revolutionaries have seized power nowhere outside Iran. In fact, Shiite rebellions have been crushed in Iraq (1991) and Saudi Arabia (1979), and an Iranian-backed coup attempt was quashed in Bahrain in 1981.

Exporting Revolution

Iranian-supported Islamic revolutions, however, now have much better prospects for success. …

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