The question many have after Trump’s decision for America to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Deal on Tuesday is: What does this mean? In order to understand the significance of the deal (as a means of understanding the significance of the US leaving it), we have to understand the recent history between Iran and the United States. Revisiting the Iranian Revolution in the 1970’s, as well as the role America played in that, can help us understand today why pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Deal will hurt us in the long run.
What happened?: A very rough history
In 1951, Prime Minister Mossadegh decided to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company as the British had held a monopoly over Iranian oil while the people of the nation lived in poverty. The British called on the Americans who responded in 1953 by leading a coup and putting Reza Shah Pahlavi into power to essentially serve as a puppet for the two nations (note: PM Mossadegh was democratically elected and the Shah was largely detached from the nation’s people and needs). Throughout his period of modernization in Iran, the Shah ignored many religious and democratic elements of the Iranian constitution which allowed for Ayatollah Khomeini to rise to prominence.
Khomeini preached that Iran needed to protect the integrity of Islam in the country and return to the practices of Shia Islam. Tensions between Khomeini’s followers and Western powers (specifically America) grew increasingly over the next two decades, notably increasing with Khomeini’s exile from Iran in 1962. However, following the murder of his son in 1978 (which was thought to be done by the government), Islamic radical groups began protesting the Shah much more intensely and all of the anger felt within the nation finally came to a head. After the protests on Black Friday and the marches on Tasu'a and Ashura, the Shah was forced into exile and Khomeini returned to take power.
Between 1978 and 1979, Khomeini and the new Iranian theocracy he established repealed many of the Shah’s acts of modernization. Many feared the corruption of Islamic law and teaching under the Shah, but this was eased by Khomeini and the prominence of Shi’ite political theory. This brings us to the chapter on Iran-American relations that many Americans actually know: the Iran Hostage Crisis.
In 1979, the U.S. had granted the Shah asylum to seek cancer treatment which enraged many in Iran, most notably young student revolutionaries. The student revolutionaries took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. There is so much more backstory and nuanced detail that went into the embassy takeover that would take an exorbitant amount of tie to detail and discuss. Simply: a revolutionary group provided xenophobic and Islamophobic Americans with a reason to view Iranians as an enemy. The hostages were released in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was sworn into office.
Things appeared quiet between the two nations until 1988 when it was revealed the U.S. had sent weapons to Iran in exchange for help releasing hostages held in Lebanon. America had once been Iran’s largest arms dealer but ceased during the hostage crisis. After that, America went so far as to start an operation set on educating other nations on why it was wrong to send weapons to Iran. Moreover, the sales made a profit for the U.S. which was sent to paramilitary rebels in Nicaragua who were fighting the Sandinista (a socialist government that America perceived as a Communist threat). This became the Iran-Contra Affair and while it didn’t directly sour relations between Iran and America in the way the White and Iranian Revolutions, as well as the hostage crisis, had, it nevertheless hurt America’s image abroad and within the Islamic Republic of Iran.From there, the timeline can be simplified a bit easier: Mohammad Khatami is elected president and serves from 1997-2005. He calls for more open dialogue between the US and Iran. Nothing happened. Then in 2002, President Bush denounces Iran as part of an “axis of evil” and America issues sanctions on Iran after it is revealed they have developed nuclear facilities. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is elected president and serves from 2005-2013. His presidency sees some of the worst unrest in the nation since the revolution and he increases anti-American dialogue.Then in 2013, President Obama and the newly elected President Rouhani have the first conversation between Iranian and American heads of state in 30 years and work towards a plan to resolve the conflict over the nuclear issue. The relations between the nations came to a positive peak in 2015 when Iran, America, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the European Union all agreed to a framework for a deal in which the nations and the EU would remove economic sanctions from Iran if they would not only decrease their nuclear development to the point that immediate creation of weapons would be impossible and allow for monitoring to make sure this agreement (among others) were upheld. The deal is widely regarded as a success and a positive step forward.
What Does This Mean?: Contemporary Relations
While there is still some strong anti-American sentiment in the region due to our mishandling of, well, everything in Iranian’s modern history, many of the young citizens of Iran are interested in America, American politics, and the future of relations between our two countries. In 2013, reporter Carol Giacomo visited the country and found “the reception in every quarter... to be overwhelmingly welcoming.”
There was (and still likely is) some distaste regarding how American treats and presents not just Iran but all nations we’ve wrongly made our enemies (many Americans rank Iran alongside North Korea as the greatest enemies to national security). As it stands now, there is no reason why not to engage in peaceful dialogue with Iran.
What Happens Next?: The Future of Iran-American Relations
President Trump has long been an opponent of the nuclear deal, often calling it horrible and the worst deal he's ever seen made. He pulled the US out of the deal last Tuesday, instead proposing the reinstitution of sanctions on the nation. But, as Pankaj Mishra argues, "U.S. sanctions deterred neither India nor Pakistan from building their nuclear capacity. In any case, the gambit of increasing the threshold of economic pain to bring about desired political change is always counter-productive."
The main problem with leaving the Iran deal is that President Trump has not offered an alternative plan outside of unspecified sanctions. The decision to pull out of the deal occurred after President Trump met with European leaders such as Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel who tried to persuade him to remain in the deal. British PM Theresa May "spoke on the phone to Mr. Trump [following his announcement to leave the deal] to tell him that Europe remained "firmly committed' to the deal." Moreover, many nuclear experts who have worked for the federal government have since left, leaving a vulnerable gap of knowledge in the administration.
Given the tumultuous relationship between the U.S. and Iran, as well as the relative success of the Iran Nuclear Deal so far, it seems as though the deal would be warmly welcomed by Americans on a broad scale level. With Europe's enduring commitment to the deal, the lack of expertise surrounding nuclear issues in the federal government, and the president's negative sentiments towards Iran, pulling out of this deal will undoubtedly lead to an increase of problems for America on the international stage and uncertainty for the safety of the country.