Iran and the Law of Attraction

Dario Quadri recently graduated from the University of Kent, having studied a Bachelors in Politics and International Relations (First Class Honours). His main research interests revolve around the Middle East, primarily Palestinian/Israeli affairs and the Politics of the Gulf. Dario is currently engaged in contemporary global international affairs and keen to examine these through pragmatic approaches. He also has extensive experience in campaigning.

The balance of power in the Middle East is undeniably changing. The role of Iran has become more prominent in the region due to international diplomatic achievements such as the recent Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Yet this rise in power has not come about abruptly; it has taken almost four decades for the state to experience rapprochement with the West. At the same time, Iran is experiencing great interest by those outside the political sphere of influence through individual agents in civil society. The law of attraction, the focus on needs for mutual benefit and not on fixed positions, seems to be working its magic in the Islamic Republic.

Iran you say?

I am sure nearly everyone who has a presence in social media has heard of the popular photo-journalistic work known as ‘ Humans of New York’ (HONY), carried out by Brandon Stanton. His work demands respect, but what is most formidable is the way he is able to re-humanise what the media dehumanises on a daily basis.

The case study for him this time is Iran.

Funnily enough, this is not the first time he has visited Iran. In fact, it became the first destination in which he made an international trip with HONY. His objective? To offer a reflection of the true nature of the Iranian people.

Death to America and Israel I hear you say? Far from it. Logically speaking, if that were really the case, chances are he wouldn’t go back to the country.

I attach a snippet of Brandon’s work:

“My mother died when I was two years old, so it’s just me and my father. He’s been really angry with me lately. He’s always wanted me to be an engineer like him, but I switched my major to photography. He didn’t’ show any emotion when I told him. He always has a poker face. But I know that he’s angry from the little things. He never asks me to go shopping with him anymore. We used to go to the market together. He’d pick up a watermelon, inspect it, then would hand it to me for my opinion. It doesn’t sound like much but I really valued that time together. But once I changed my major, he stopped asking me to come along. But I think things are getting better. Recently I scored in the top 5th percentile on the University Entrance Exam for photography. When I told my father, he didn’t show any emotion. But the next day he asked me if I wanted to go shopping. And that made me so happy. Because it’s just the two of us. And I really, really, really, really love him.” (Tehran, Iran)

Maybe Brandon is just an outlier. Maybe he became brainwashed and fell in love with something that is in reality unlovable. Yet, this is not just a one-off phenomenon. More and more people who associate some form of predisposed stigma on the Islamic Republic have easily let go of their dogmatic views. A recent article in The Guardian titled ' Iran is Great ' illustrates the story of a couple. The husband is Romanian, the wife French and their naturalised German kids, who are wanderlust and seek to travel to India. Little did they know they would find an even greater treasure en route - Iran.

“We planned to stay five days; we ended up staying two months”, Cristian said. “During the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad years, Iran had a particularly negative image in Europe. We went there anyway, we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the country and how people treated us, something we had never experienced in any country before and after.”

With their experiences, they now seek to reverse the negative image that the media has nurtured throughout the years in Iran by raising awareness primarily in Western countries.

I would also like to include a personal story in this whole scenario. At University I met a German who told me he had gone to Iran for a holiday. Out of curiosity I asked him if he had any predispositions and he said that he believed that they would cause him and his friend a lot of trouble just because they were Westerners. Yet, the same phenomenon happened. The next year after that, he returned to Iran. I asked what exactly was it that made you go back? The hospitality, the magnanimity, the smiling faces coupled with true generosity…

Is this a ‘Law of Attraction’ at a local level? Does it seem like Iran is able to ‘pull’ local agents of civil society to their realm? Now I am not saying that these things don't happen in other areas around the world, but Iran presents a case whereby real life experiences completely conflict with what is presented to us by the media.

A Brief History of Iran-Western Relations

Nearly everyone who follows contemporary politics or has studied the subject is aware to some extent the history behind the United States-Iran debacle, which arguably paved the way for almost four decades of tense relations. However, I will provide a brief overview of the animosity that has defined recent relations between both the United States and Iran.

In 1953, Mohammad Mosaddegh, who had promoted himself as a secular leader, was elected by the people. Unfortunately, Mosaddegh wanted to nationalise key energy sectors, predominantly the oil sector which had been under British control since 1913 through the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC). Naturally, this led to a conflict of interests between Iran and Oil giants as they would lose access to their own refineries. The solution? A coup d'├ętat orchestrated by the collusion of the CIA and the British Secret Intelligence Service. Consequently, Washington established Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the new leader, and this appointment led to negative consequences. For example, his support for a westernized society coupled with US interests was not likened by the people. Moreover, the fact that he allowed US elites to take in charge of how society should be run, coupled with the repression of dissent through security services such as SAVAK, created deep frustration for the people within the status quo.

Forward to 1979, and due to the growing number of grievances, the Shah fled for his safety leading the control of the nation to Ayatollah Khomeini, which led to the initiation of an Islamic Revolution. The rest is followed by further dirty tactics. The renowned author Peter Van Buren outlines this succinctly:

"In retaliation, the U.S. would, among other things, assist Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran in the 1980s, and in 1988, an American guided missile cruiser in the Persian Gulf would shoot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board. (Washington claimed it was an accident.) In 2003, when Iran reached out to Washington, following American military successes in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush declared that country part of the 'Axis of Evil'."

Needless to say, if you ever wanted to look at a classic case study of a failed negotiation, other than the Palestine-Israeli conflict, US-Iran relations are a prime example. Therefore, every negotiation that took place would end in a stalemate, as each party would hold on to fixed and hostile positions.

Perseverance can work in politics

On a local level, a large proportion of foreigners are experiencing the true Iran and somehow are longing for more. On an international level, this somehow seems to be the case as well. The balance of power in the Middle East is undeniably shifting and it is quite clear that Iran is experiencing an ascendancy in the region. Despite the consequences of the Arab spring, the destabilisation of Syria and Iraq through the emergence of ISIS, the conflict in Yemen and continuous economic sanctions due to Iran's alleged nuclear program, evidently Iran seems to be faring well.

Even though these incidents comprise a series of unfortunate events with no end in sight, the continuing resistance by Iran in the last few decades to not give in easily to Western demands has arguably allowed Iran to reap the fruits of its labour. Yes, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was signed on the 14th of July is indeed a game changer. In fact, this is a rare instance of a win-win scenario, with both Iran and P5+1 countries (China, US, UK, France, Russia and Germany) claiming victory. The following table provides a brief summary as to why this is the case.

Table 1- Mutual benefits

Victory for the P5+1

Victory for Iran

Iran disposes of 98% of its enriched uranium

Economic sanctions lifted, allowed to sell oil to Europe

IAEA Inspectors get permanent access to nuclear facilities. They will also have access to visit non-declared sites where they think nuclear work might be going on.

The implementation of the JCPOA allows Iran to pursue nuclear energy under the articles of the Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Arak heavy water research reactor will be revamped to minimise the production of plutonium and not to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

President Obama promised to veto any attempt by Republican opponents to undermine it .

The Natanz Enrichment facility will keep its level of uranium enrichment at a maximum of 3.67%,

The JCPOA will be incorporated into a new security council resolution intended to replace and supersede six earlier sanctions resolutions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme.

Although the policies that are specific to nuclear development can only be assessed in the long-term and the lifting of sanctions will not be immediate, the establishment of the JCPOA has acted as a guarantor to an ease in market liberalisation. In essence, the lifting of economic sanctions has already created an opportune moment for international players to grab a piece of the Iranian market. In fact, the US has urged its European allies to not make haste whilst sanctions are still in place, but to no avail. The JCPOA is too large of an incentive to have European powers hold back.

According to the Gatestone Institute, senior officials from Germany, France, Italy and the European Union rushed to Tehran to pursue business deals. Furthermore, leaders from Austria, Spain and Sweden are planning to lead trade missions to Iran in September and October. In contrast, US companies are still waiting for the 'starting pistol' as they still need to wait on Congress' stance on the agreement whilst ultimately losing out to their European allies. The result? A deepening of the so called ' Atlantic Divide'- the belief that European countries and the US are becoming increasingly different in their attitudes toward power, military force, and sovereignty.

The Obama administration has already made it clear that there is no turning back. Even if Congress rejects the agreement, with a consequential veto from the President, the administration has warned detractors that they would be unable to reimpose a multinational trade embargo. Furthermore, it is not in their interest to do so anyway; if detractors really want to stand by their position, they will lose out in relation to the Europeans. In fact, P5+1 countries have made congress aware that they will not return to the negotiating table. In other words, a congressional vote on the 17th of September will not stop the European elite from touching down in Tehran. In fact, the chances of the agreement being derailed are technically not possible through Congress due to the latest developments in which the Obama administration has secured enough support in the Senate to ensure that the deal will survive a congressional vote. These 34 votes in favour of the deal means that the President has enough votes to effectively carry out his veto if he needs to use it after the votes are registered in the House of Representatives.

The following YouGov polls illustrate the latest developments of the Atlantic Divide:

Figure 1- US Support for the Iran Nuclear Deal

Figure 2- Europeans Support for the Iran Nuclear Deal

Whilst by the end of July, the opinion polls showed that 38% opposed a comprehensive deal; seven European countries have all supported the deal with 58% as a minimal level of support. The disparity is striking and is clearly evidence of a deepening in the divide. The British public’s support for the deal is also expressed through the re-opening of the British Embassy in Tehran, which is a significant sign of the thaw in relations between the two states.


So what exactly is happening here? On the one hand, we have numerous cases of foreigners visiting the country when there is clearly no incentive to do so and somehow Iran has been able to retain them in the long-term by offering them a true outlook of their society. At a global level, this is redefining the way we traditionally view the Middle East. Despite the actions of ISIS hindering this through orientalist depictions of binary oppositions such as ‘good vs bad’, it is a regional development that is challenging the conventional wisdom. On the other hand, the consistent position of Iran in its goal of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and being open to negotiations has eventually led all parties to work cooperatively.

Iran does not have significant hard power. In other words, it cannot use its military might to compel others to follows its grand strategy. Neither does it have influential soft power. In this case, its non-kinetic elements of national power are consistently undermined by the regimes inability to wholly capture the ‘hearts and minds’ of their own people.

Nevertheless, after suffering from the severest economic sanctions to date, and perhaps this being the main causal factor to their fragile hard and soft power, Iran has still been able to develop an outstanding and long lasting strategic affinity with all its major and minor contenders through practicing a form of political perseverance. What would I call it? It is hard to put it into words but to me it seems to be a ‘Law of Attraction’. Political perseverance in Iran has had such a great effect as to ‘pull’ the p5+1 group to the renegotiating table, agree on a deal that contributes to mutual benefits, and ultimately transformed Iran’s role in the Middle East. The implications of this deal are huge, but that is something that will be constantly redeveloped with time.

In the end, slow and steady wins the race...


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