By Javad Heirannia

U.S. Iran policy unlikely to change dramatically with Bolton ouster: Jahanpour

September 18, 2019

TEHRAN - Professor Farhang Jahanpour, a part-time tutor on Middle Eastern affairs in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford, says “although Bolton led the most extreme stance against Iran in the Trump administration, he certainly was not the only person to hold such views towards Iran.”

Jahanpour, who was also a senior research scholar at Harvard University, argues that “U.S. policy towards Iran is not likely to change very much as the result of Bolton’s dismissal.”
Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: What is your assessment of John Bolton's dismissal? Will the militant faction become a minority with his removal?

A: As is well-known, John Bolton was one of the most hawkish officials in the current U.S. administration. Even under President Gorge W. Bush when the 9/11 attacks had created a strong feeling of nationalism and the desire for vengeance against the perpetrators of that crime, the U.S. Congress refused to ratify Bolton’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and he was appointed for a short time to that post during recess. 

Bolton never saw a war that he did not like and he always pursued very hostile policies not only towards Iran but also towards China, Russia, North Korea, and even the European Union. His main policy was “bomb first, ask questions later.”

He was the man who led the disastrous failed coup against President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, which greatly embarrassed the U.S. administration, while probably strengthening President Maduro. 

Bolton sabotaged the nuclear deal with North Korea by saying that the only satisfactory deal would be one based on the Libyan model (where Colonel Qadhafi got rid of his rudimentary nuclear program and was then attacked and killed). In an op-ed that Bolton penned in the Wall Street Journal in February 2018, entitled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First”, he argued that the threat from North Korea was imminent and the United States had to launch a preventive war before it was too late. 

He was apparently the main force behind the cancellation of the landmark INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty, which had been signed by President Reagan and President Gorbachev and had prevented the two superpowers from developing intermediate-range nuclear weapons which would have made nuclear war more likely, with Europe being caught in the middle. The cancellation of that treaty has made the world a much more dangerous place.

The final straw was his hawkish stance towards Afghanistan and the Taliban. U.S. forces have been fighting in Afghanistan for 18 years with tens of thousands killed on both sides at a cost of over one trillion dollars. The result of all that sacrifice is that the Taliban is resurgent, occupying more than half of the country. If that war continues for another 18 years the situation will be the same or worse. It is clear that there is no military solution to the Afghan tragedy. President Trump’s instinct was to withdraw U.S. forces and to reach some sort of the deal with the Taliban, something that Bolton opposed. 

Therefore, he was a very hawkish person with very dangerous extreme views, and his dismissal certainly is a welcome move, but whether his firing will mean that the militant faction will become a minority faction in the Trump administration remains to be seen. 

Q: What effect will Bolton's dismissal have on U.S. policy toward Iran?

A: While Bolton adopted a negative and extremist stance towards many international issues, he harboured a special hostility towards Iran. His views of Iran mirrored those of Israel and Saudi Arabia, and maybe he was even less realistic than they were in his hostility. In a speech that he gave to the conference of the terrorist organisation, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), in 2017 he described them as a good alternative to the current Iranian government. He even promised he would celebrate their victory in Tehran with them before the year 2019. Meanwhile, he received tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from that organisation (or its backers).

In an op-ed that he wrote for the New York Times on March 26, 2015, entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”, he predicted, “Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure… Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.” His prediction was, of course, false, because we noticed that Iran did reach an agreement with the U.S. government and with all the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany and signed a nuclear deal that severely curtailed her peaceful nuclear program, but even after that and after being appointed as the National Security Advisor he continued with his uncompromising stances.

Q: With Bolton fired, it was speculated that Trump would pursue a diplomatic course with Iran. On the other hand, Yemeni attacks on Aramco have prompted Washington to declare that it is ready to fight Iran. What is your assessment of this situation?

A: Although Bolton led the most extreme stance against Iran in the Trump administration, he certainly was not the only person to hold such views towards Iran. The Houthi attack on Saudi oil refineries has shown that a number of senior U.S. officials, especially Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have followed in his footsteps and have blamed Iran for the attacks, despite the fact that the Houthis have accepted responsibility for them. This shows that U.S. policy towards Iran is not likely to change very much as the result of Bolton’s dismissal. 

U.S. hostility towards Iran is not limited to the Trump administration. Even under President Obama, the U.S. Congress adopted a very hostile stance towards Iran and opposed the landmark nuclear deal. So long as the so-called Neocons and pro-Israeli activists in various branches of the U.S. government, exert such a powerful influence on U.S. administrations of both parties, the hostility towards Iran will continue. What is needed is not just the dismissal of a few individuals, but a major reappraisal of U.S. policies, and of the failure of partisan and militant policies in the Middle East over the past few decades.

Q: Recently, there has been some talk of a rapprochement with Iran, with even the possibility of a meeting between President Rouhani and President Trump. In view of this deep-rooted hostility, how do you assess the prospects for future relations between the two countries?

A: The Houthi attack on Saudi refineries has shown that even a small country with limited resources can do so much damage to a much bigger and more powerful country and can take out half of Saudi oil production with its enormous implications for that country, for oil markets, and for the global economy. Those who are sitting in glasshouses should not throw stones. If such a small attack can have such a damaging effect, just imagine what would happen if a major war breaks out in the Persian Gulf and if Iran retaliates against the oil installations of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, etc. A recent study argued that within the first few days of a war with Iran, the region would sustain trillions of dollars of damage. 

The same is also true of Iran and other regional states. This is why in the wake of this attack the West and particularly the United States can adopt one of two options. They can either start a military adventure with unforeseen consequences, or make a serious attempt at dialogue with the aim of bringing peace to Yemen, and more broadly to establish a regional security zone in the Middle East that would include all the countries of the region, including the PGCC, Iran, Iraq, and others. 

If a meeting between Iranian and American presidents was useful and desirable before the latest events, now that we have been able to stare into the abyss, such a meeting or at least serious bilateral negotiations are essential and necessary. Iran stretched out a hand of friendship to the West, agreed to a major nuclear deal that drastically curtailed her nuclear activities, in return for the lifting of sanctions. Although according to 15 IAEA reports, Iran has carried out all the requirements of the deal, she has not been able to enjoy the economic benefits of the deal due to the U.S.’s illegal extraterritorial sanctions.

As we see the total failure of the “maximum pressure” policy, and as we have been reminded of some of the possible consequences of a war between Iran and other regional states, it is more urgent than ever for realism to prevail on all sides and to deescalate the tension. The United States should lift the sanctions and should return to the JCPOA. Regional countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, should realise that they will not gain anything by intensifying hostilities, and the international community led by either the United Nations or the EU should start a process of mediation and negotiation to reach a fair and lasting agreement between Iran and the United States, and between Iran and the regional countries.
 

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