The question I posed to Zbigniew Brzezinski in 2015 was a specific one: how does the United States break the link between Russia and Iran? His answer was a simple one: China. The key was for the United States to establish a relationship with China that was better than the one China had with Russia. By breaking China’s link to Russia, the link between Russia and Iran would also weaken and as a result the United States would be able to extract more concessions from dealing with Russia and Iran because its relationship with China would put the United States in a position of power. Then, the choice is one of continued sanctions against Iran and Russia, regime change in Tehran, or a potential third option that has yet to be explored.
One option that the United States has yet to explore is the fostering of a dialogue between Israel and Iran, given the preconception that such a dialogue would be futile. However, if this option fails, one can always fall back on the two original options, which are continued sanctions and the possibility of regime change. The problem, however, is that sanctions ultimately trigger Iran’s nuclear program, and regime change would lead to an all-out war in the Middle East that would result in the death of millions of people. Regime change in Iraq which in turn empowered Iran still weighs heavily on the conscience of Americans, and the continuation of such a policy towards Iran would only increase the strain that already exists.
Nevertheless, regime change has long been a tool of U.S. foreign policy for decades which largely developed during the Cold War against the Soviet Union. The United States has placed itself in a prime position for regime change in Iran over the past two decades. Iran is essentially enveloped by the United States through surrounding Iran by virtue of establishing military installations in approximately fifteen countries to the north, south, east, and west of Iran.
It is common knowledge that America’s relationship with Iran soured after the 1979 revolution which overthrew the American-backed Shah of Iran and placed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in power. Originally, the United States preferred that Khomeini overtake Iran instead of the Iranian Tudeh Party that was backed by the former Soviet Union in the midst of the revolution. However, Iran’s bellicose stance towards the West and its Middle Eastern neighbors did not diminish and it only grew worse over the last few decades. Iran’s bellicosity towards the West and its Middle Eastern neighbors brings into question whether Iran is a rational actor. Iran is already faced with encirclement by the United States and its proxies, and if the United States plays its cards right, it can sustain its strategy of encircling Iran and can go kinetic in the event that dialogue and sanctions fail to soften Iran’s stance.
As Kissinger said, politics is psychological. Also, international relations equate to role play on the part of states in the international system. Iran’s role is to disrupt the status quo if possible and to spread its ideology of apocalyptic war with the West and Jews that would precipitate the return of “Al-Mahdi,” whom the Iranians believe is the figure that would liberate the world from the control of Americans and Jews. Iran is a state that espouses an ideology consisting of an apocalyptic and messianic dimension. This apocalyptic and messianic dimension of Iran’s ideology is a psychological factor that is driving Iran’s bellicosity towards not only the West and Israel, but also the Arab World. If dialogue with Iran fails to alter or transform this aspect of Iran’s political psychology, the increase of sanctions that lead to the nuclearization of Iran and in turn triggers the option of regime change becomes somewhat inevitable.
However, before sanctions are exacerbated and Iran’s nuclear program is again active, dialogue with Iran that encompasses a variety of issues and topics with the aim of transforming Iran’s cognitive behavior is essential to a significant degree. This dialogue, aimed at transforming Iran’s cognitive behavior, will require the inclusion of religious figures and scholars from a range of intellectual and spiritual groups. The type of hyper-religiosity, hyper-sexuality, and aggression that is espoused by Iran’s government can be tamed only through dialogue and the type of Freudian free association that is common in the Western world. Islam was always intended to be a religion of balance, equilibrium, and moderation that guides believers towards having the best of both this world and the next world.
Regime change would bring down Iran’s government. But the backlash against regime change would also cause irreparable damage to Iran’s neighbors, and it is not a cost that the United States or anyone else should incur. Education, the promotion of morals, and values rein in hyper-sexuality and aggression according to Freud’s social approach, which itself is a political act given that ethics, morals, and values totally encompass the field of politics and international relations. War is always the last resort in the realm of politics and international relations, given that war is intended to be a defensive act through intelligent design, not an offensive tool, which ultimately is aimed at the achievement of political goals.
The political act of addressing the inclination towards hyper-religiosity, hyper-sexuality, and aggression in an educative manner is the difference between what Freud called the “death instinct” and the perpetuation of life in the biblical sense. We can either address the primary subconscious instinct in the mind, namely, the death instinct, through an educative political act, or we can continue capitalizing off this instinct and jeopardize the lives of millions of people.
According to Freud, hyper-sexuality and aggression are symptoms of neurosis, and in turn neurosis is caused by guilt, and it is guilt that leads to hyper-religiosity. Kierkegaard also attributed anxiety to guilt and sin. The cause of guilt and sin, according to Freud, is one’s fixation on what he called “the object of erotic cathexis,” and this object can be a lover or a mother figure, in which case the fixation stems from what Freud called “The Oedipus Complex.” Because of the Freudian dimension of guilt and sin within the human psyche, acts which are considered “crimes of passion” are at times forgiven in certain societies that include the American South. The pinnacle of study in the social sciences is Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and the pinnacle of study in the physical sciences is Max Planck and Albert Einstein.
Scientific inquiry and investigation are ultimately guided by theory, and the nature of a theory is such that the theory must be parsimonious, meaning that it has to explain everything. In Iran’s case, Jung’s theory of religious archetypes does not apply because Persians were originally Zoroastrian, not Muslim. Persians were subjugated by Arab Muslims sometime in the mid-7th century AD, and Iranian Shi’ism is an endogenous cultural concept developed in Iran sometime in the 10th or 11th century AD by one of Safavid Iran’s rulers named Ismail which addressed Iran’s national grievance against the Arabs. Iranian political psychology is largely shaped by war and poverty in its ancient as well as recent history. Ancient Iranians called the outside world “Turan,” which translates into “the abode of war and strife.” The psychological scars that remain from the Iran-Iraq war where Iran was virtually isolated and left to die is also a factor in Iran’s bellicosity towards the West.
What best explains Iran’s revolution in 1979 is not religion. Rather, it was class warfare that underpinned the 1979 revolution. The Shah of Iran could not bridge the cultural gap that existed between the elites and the masses, and as a result the masses led by Khomeini seized the opportunity to remove the Shah and his secular elites from power. Relations were stable between the United States and Iran even during Khomeini’s takeover in 1979 until the United States decided it would provide asylum for the exiled Shah and his family. For the most part, the Shah was despised by regular Iranians for his perpetuation of massive inequalities between his circle and the masses. The Shah’s lavish lifestyle was viewed as an affront by the millions of Iranians who were struggling on a daily basis to make ends meet. It is important to note that the Iranian business class and workers were the key supporters of Khomeini’s movement. It was in fact the Iranian business class and Iranian workers who backed Khomeini and overthrew the Shah and his military.
To draw an analogy between the United States and Iran that is not too farfetched, one can suggest that the Trump movement in 2016 is somewhat similar to the 1979 revolution in Iran as well as the French Revolution of 1789 in the sense that the business class and workers backed a cultural leader who represented their interests in the face of a secular elite that was backed by the military. The business class and workers in both the American and Iranian case felt that the secular elites and the military establishment remained aloof from the public’s interests and were totally detached from the realities on the ground. Since the 1979 revolution in Iran against the secular elites and the military establishment, education and health care have become virtually universal for Iranians. Perhaps education and health care can also become universal in America if the Trump movement corrects the imbalances that exists between the elites backed by the military establishment and regular people since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the long run, it would be helpful if a Muslim who is well-acquainted with Iranian culture and Islam represented the United States in an effort to sustain a dialogue with Iran. An American-Muslim who is well-acquainted with both Iranian culture and Islam would help bridge the understanding gap between the United States and Iran. The Iranian side would feel much more comfortable in establishing trust through an individual that is well-acquainted with their culture and religion. Furthermore, there is a generational change occurring in both the United States and Iran, and the least that the current generation of decision-makers can do is to step back from the brink of apocalyptic war and allow the next generation to push the reset button and begin an all-encompassing dialogue. We have seen the effects of regime change and sanctions policy in the Third World. This policy only gives rise to the creation of drug mafias and terrorist groups. Perhaps there is another option that has yet to be explored.
As far as Russia is concerned, Ukraine and Georgia were red lines that Russians expected the United States to respect. Ukraine and Georgia should act as neutral buffer zones between the West and Russia. Nevertheless, it is important to break the Russian-Chinese link for the sake of American national security interests. Iran does string both Russia and China for its own benefit in order to establish a balance of power between America and Russia in the Middle East that it can ultimately tilt in its own favor against America and Israel.
Turkey, however, is another variable in the Middle Eastern equation, and there are limits to Russian-Turkish cooperation due to Syria. In the past, Syria was an Ottoman colony, and Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is a personal adversary of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Russia patronizes Assad, to the dismay of the Turks. Russia established a naval base in Syria during the Cold War because Syria provides an outlet into the Mediterranean Sea for the Russians, which in turn enables the Russians to strike at the underbelly of Europe in the event of a war between Europe and Russia. As in Asia, grievances and vendettas exist between Russia and Europe stemming from World War II that the United States tends to overlook in its overall strategic calculations.
The reason why it is important to break the link between Russia and China is that this move would have the effect of weakening the link between Russia and Iran, thus enabling America to deal with both Russia and Iran separately and from a stronger position. Over the past twenty years, the United States has largely foregone mediation between Europe and Russia, Israel and Iran, Pakistan and India, and China and Japan in order to use these conflicts as a pretext for the bolstering of its military establishment at the expense of the civilian wing of the American government. However, the entire basis of governance in the United States is civilian rule over the military and the search for political solutions to long-standing military conflicts.
Once the United States was able to decouple China from the former Soviet Union in the latter stages of the Cold War through political means, Gorbachev initiated the policies of “perestroika” and “glasnost” that signaled the weakening of Russia’s position vis-à-vis the West. The goal now, as it was during the Cold War, is to weaken Russia’s position politically so that Russia is decoupled from Iran and both Russia and Iran are dealt with from a position of power on the part of the United States.
Not every issue can be solved through military means. “The Great Game” is a very delicate game. Hitting a nail with a sledgehammer does damage to the entire global structure. The policy of global hegemony and hitting every nail with a sledgehammer had one major consequence for the United States, and that was the enablement of China’s rise.
Has China won in its competition with the United States? According to Steve Bannon, the answer is yes. Upon leaving the White House, Steve Bannon exclaimed that “China has us beat.” As Rumi wrote, if you want to know how the world works, learn from the Chinese. In 1905, the Russo-Japanese War marked the first time that an Asian power defeated a European power in war. China’s aim was to win the struggle against the United States and the West by being better than the West at being “Western” and without firing a single shot. As Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in his final book titled “Strategic Vision,” the center of global power until 1800 was in Asia. Now, the center of power is gradually returning to Asia after a brief period of Western global dominance.
The only solution is the creation of what Brzezinski called a “G-2” between the United States and China that addresses transnational issues and solves global problems. On the surface, Western nations seem united. But in reality, there are deep divisions between the United States, Britain, and the European Union that are just beginning to come to the fore. But ultimately, there will have to be political and security cooperation between the United States and the European Union if there is to be a power equilibrium between Europe and Russia on the European continent.
Stephen Walt is correct in suggesting that the United States seize the role of “offshore balancer” from Britain and help to establish power equilibrium through military means between Europe and Russia, Israel and Iran, Pakistan and India as well as China and Japan until regional cooperation organizations materialize between all these areas through the fostering of diplomacy and mediation on the part of the United States. The strategy of establishing power equilibrium through military means in conjunction with diplomacy and mediation between conflicting parties is a means to an end, which is the fostering of a global peace and the prevention of an outbreak of global war that would lead to the extinction of the human race. Through the establishment of Brzezinski’s “G-2,” the stepping stone would be put into place for the establishment of equilibrium between the East and the West.
In a way, all human beings carry the original sin of their ancestors and forefathers, and the original sin stems from the failure of our ancestors and forefathers and thus our failure to obey the word of God. Atonement for this original sin now hinges on our collective effort in fostering global peace through the aforementioned strategy of establishing power equilibrium between conflicting parties in conjunction with mediation. It was reported that Barack Obama wrote a prayer at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem that asked God to make him an instrument of his will. Ultimately, all human beings are an instrument of God’s will. Yet, the curse of prophets and saints are upon many people. Ultimately, the reversal of this curse rests upon a simple Kantian deontology of doing what is right.