This post is the first of a three-part series based on a panel titled ‘Middle Eastern Pragmatism and the Islamic State’ which took place at the Tenth Nordic Conference on Middle Eastern Studies Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies 22-24 September 2016 at the University of Southern Denmark, Odense.
The Islamic Republic of Iran’s regime (IRI) response to DAISH (aka IS, ISIS, ISIL, among others) demonstrates the Iranian government’s continued pragmatic manner in which it operates in the international political system. Indeed, since the IRI came into being following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the regime has demonstrated its ability to espouse the revolutionary ethos established at the time, whilst pragmatically pursuing issues of national interests simultaneously. Specifically, this ethos has been evidenced by the following two elements of Iranian policy: Rejecting foreign influence and supporting freedom fighters across the world. The IRI’s dedication to these aspects of policy, in a pragmatic manner, have been evidenced in actions since 1979 and including the country’s reaction to DAISH.
Initially, the IRI demonstrated this approach following the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, when Tehran actively sought (and ascertained) support from foreign states in order to recover from the conflict. The Iranian regime did so whilst continuing to maintain its revolutionary mantra in international affairs (exemplified by the fatwa placed on the British-Indian citizen Salman Rushdie for his Satanic Verses book’s depiction of the Prophet Mohammed and Islam).
Then, following the 2002 revelation that the IRI was carrying out strictly legal, but the necessary measures for nuclear proliferation, Tehran sought to continue along this trajectory by maintaining economic and political ties with ‘friendly’ states in the international system. Ultimately, the sanctions placed on the IRI as a result of the nuclear program were followed by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), geared at alleviating the sanctions in return for the scaling back of said program.
The JCPOA presented a framework for the IRI to continue to act pragmatically to achieve its national interest orientated goals (that is to maintain its sovereign right to develop a peaceful nuclear program), whilst implicitly (and explicitly in some cases) engaging with former rivals to combat the DAISH threat.
Indeed, the JCPOA context provided a forum for dialogue with Saudi Arabia (e.g. on the sidelines of 2013 UN conference), whilst simultaneously backing opposing sides in the conflict in Yemen – demonstrating the dedication to rejecting foreign influence (DAISH in this instance) in a pragmatic manner. Further, despite decades of having sanctions levied against it by the US (and still does), the JCPOA demonstrated a first in the sense of the agreement being followed by an US-IRI dialogue. The support for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) forces in northern Iraq, the Shia-led government in Baghdad and support for Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad all demonstrated Iran’s goal of ridding the region of a foreign threat (DAISH) whilst juggling a pragmatic need to maintain influence in these various arenas.
This demonstrates the IRI’s practice of its policy and the significance of the JCPOA when the interests of the IRI are at risk of being negatively impacted upon. As a result, I contend that Iran’s decisions are rooted in its experiences, constitution and actions. This process therefore comes under the three tranches guiding Iranian policies in international affairs, namely: rejecting foreign influence, supporting what it terms as freedom fighters (i.e. those under the control of their respective ‘oppressors’) and the IRI does so in a pragmatic manner in order to ensure its own stability and security.
Image: Parliament (Majlis) Speaker Ali Larijani meets Syrian Defense Minister General Fahd Jassem al-Freij in Tehran, 9 April 2015. Courtesy of Tasnim News Agency via Wikimedia Commons.