August 15, 2018 | ° F

Flawed argument on Iran as Middle Eastern hegemon


With all the misinformed coverage on the dangers of the Iran nuclear deal, it pains me to see equally misinformed commentary on its benefits. While never explicitly saying so, Arash Irani’s piece, through language and tone, argues for the benefits of increased Iranian power in the Middle East. The author’s arguments, however, show a profound lack of understanding of Middle Eastern international relations.

Irani begins by claiming that Iran is already a regional hegemon and will continue to strengthen its position in the region. This is untrue. If the Middle East has a hegemon, a leading power that eclipses all the rest, it is the United States. Other regional countries are too similar in power, both soft and hard: Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey. The author follows this by claiming that Iran’s economic position will bolster its non-existent hegemony. Again, this is false. The Iranian economy is a one-trick pony. It only has oil. Yes, it will possibly experience remarkable growth in the coming years, but nothing that will enable it to challenge the established power of the aforementioned three. Irani tops this off with “Iran will supplant the United States as the hegemonic power.” This is impossible. Generally, and in the Middle East more specifically, hegemonic power is decided by military force. Without a nuclear weapon, Iran cannot hope to challenge U.S. predominance, and the U.S. has committed itself to preventing a nuclear Iran. Even if Iran develops a large enough arsenal to deter American action, it must still contend with what would be a hysterical and nuclear-armed Israel, supported by a terrified trio: Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Military hegemony is simply impossible for Iran.

Irani then goes on to compare a possible Iranian hegemony in the Middle East to that of Russia over Eastern Europe and Central Asia, stating it could bring “more stability to the Arab world.” Calling Russia a stabilizing force is only possible if you have not been keeping up with any news in the last few years. Georgia, Ukraine and Syria are all examples of Russian destabilization, which is not a comparison a country should want made. The author states that Iran could use its deep-rooted historical and cultural foundations with the Middle East to wield its influence for peace. This again shows a historical misunderstanding. Many Arabs feel little to no cultural affinity with Iranians. The various Persian empires often subjugated Arab peoples. Even now, the Sunni-Shia split is alive and well, best embodied in Saudi-Iranian relations, which are frosty to say the least. The author provides Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen as examples of Iran’s good-neighbor policies of supporting responsible governments. This makes no sense. Iraq’s government and military forces have essentially been used as Nouri al-Maliki’s private army, wrecking sectarian revenge for Hussein’s oppression. Al-Maliki’s corrupt and brutal government is a primary cause of ISIS’s rise. Lebanon is run, to various degrees, by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization which functions as an effective part of Iranian foreign policy. Syria is Syria. Yemen is Syria on a smaller scale. All of these are clearly sterling examples of destabilizing governments.

Finally, Irani argues that nationalism is a good thing. Nationalism has been one of the greatest destructive ideas in human history. American expansionism, German and Japanese fascism, post-colonial wars among the formerly colonized and the Balkans are all examples of how destructive nationalism can be. And by no means is nationalism, as Irani supposes, a liberal ideology. It has, in fact, been co-opted throughout history by conservative or repressive movements. Napoleon’s France, Bismarck’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China all thrived off nationalism. Arguing then, as the author does, that increased nationalism will make Iran a more liberal society is another ahistorical argument.

Though I agree with Irani that the nuclear deal is good, I disagree with Irani's reasoning. Irani’s arguments do not stand the test of history and do not support the cause of better relations with Iran.

Zachary Torrey is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in political science. 

Zachary Torrey

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