July 12, 2016


What to Do About an Imperial Iran : Tehran has regional ambitions of glory and influence dating back to the Persian Empire. And here's why that should worry the West. (JAMES STAVRIDIS, JUNE 30, 2015, Foreign Policy)

The headlines: A charismatic and wily Iranian leader seeks to expand the borders of his nation, pushing aggressively against neighbors in the region and especially to the West. Iran exerts dominance in a wide range of regional capitals, from Baghdad to Beirut. Trade routes are opening, and wealth will begin into flow to the nation, enabling further adventurism. Sound familiar?

Actually, this describes the foundation of the Persian Empire about 2,500 years ago by Cyrus the Great. The empire at its peak ruled over 40 percent of the global population, the highest figure for any empire in history. It stretched from the littoral of the eastern Mediterranean to the coast of the Persian Gulf, encompassing what are today Libya, Bulgaria, Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, and Afghanistan. Cyrus the Great said, "You cannot be buried in obscurity: You are exposed upon a grand theater to the view of the world."

We don't tend to think of today's Iran as an imperial power, but the Iranians certainly do -- indeed, it is woven into their national DNA and cultural outlook. And we need to decide how to deal with the reality of Iranian geopolitical outreach, which will only increase if the sanctions come off.

Tehran's geopolitical strategy -- underpinned by the Shiite faith as a religious movement -- is taken directly from the playbooks of the first three Persian empires, which stretched over a thousand years. Iran seeks regional dominance, a significant global level of influence, and the development of a power center that is not a bridge between East and West, but rather a force in its own right.

As the West grapples with the significant issues surrounding Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction -- and rightly tries to resolve them through diplomacy -- we need to be keenly aware of the imperial ambitions of Iran and how they will be significantly empowered by the lifting of economic sanctions. A full lifting of the economic sanctions would, by some estimates, cause a surge of revenue to Iranian coffers in the range of $100 billion a year or more, by putting to work as much as a third of the economy that has idled due to the economic barriers. Some of this would be used to improve the economy in Iran, of course, but it would at a minimum provide much additional funding for external activities around the region and the world.

A glance around the region shows the power and reach of Iran today, despite the significant imposition of sanctions. Indeed, Iran is deeply and successfully dominating politics in the capitals of four major states in the region from Beirut to Baghdad, Sanaa to Damascus.Iran is deeply and successfully dominating politics in the capitals of four major states in the region from Beirut to Baghdad, Sanaa to Damascus. And Iran is also punching above its weight in Kabul and Bahrain. If the sanctions are lifted, a significant amount of those resources would be available to fund a variety of causes -- from Lebanon's Hezbollah to Yemen's Houthis.

Posted by at July 12, 2016 5:05 PM