Sawhney and Stratton: A discussion on the Islamic State group and U.S. relations with Iran

Asha Sawhney and Abby Stratton

After the events of 2014, it is well known among the American public that the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, is an enemy of the United States. Likewise, the public knows that the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran and that there has been fear of nuclear weapons being developed by its government. However, 2015 may provide a rare opportunity for the two nations to work together because many Iranians are terrified of the Islamic State group attacks and have the resources to take action. Iran is at risk because it is a Shia-majority country that the Sunni Islamic State group views as an ideological enemy. The Islamic State group has also made direct threats against the United States, highlighted by the beheadings of American journalists including Northwestern alumnus James Foley (Medill ’08). Should the United States abandon its decades-old stance against a nation in order to fight the larger threat of the Islamic State group?

Sawhney: Re-building Iranian relations would save lives

Despite the proliferation of chemical weapons in Syria by dictator Bashar al-Assad dominating American headlines for months, the United States did not send troops of their own and has since shifted its focus to the threat of the Islamic State group.

“U.S. pressure to stop bloodshed and civil war through implementing a political solution early in the crisis could have saved over 100,000 innocent lives before the Islamic State group became a part of the issue,” Riad Ismat, a visiting scholar at the Roberta Buffett Center said in an email. “The reluctance to intervene and play a positive role encouraged the escalation of violence by both conflicting sides based on false hopes.”

When considering whether Iran is too big a threat to work with, it is important to see both sides of strained U.S.-Iran relations. Brought to a modern-day audience by the movie “Argo,” the Iran hostage crisis severed diplomacy between the nations. Yes, this 444-day crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran was an act of terror, but America does not have a clean record itself. Although rhetoric in this country antagonizes Iran for being a theocracy, it was a CIA-led coup d’etat that overthrew the first democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 who had great promises for the nation. The CIA admitted its role in Mossadegh’s overthrow sixty years after the fact in 2013. The reason for the CIA’s involvement? He wished to nationalize the nation’s oil economy and keep out foreign involvement.

However, what is done is done, and we must focus on the happenings of today. Since the outbreak of civil war, al-Assad and the Islamic State group displaced nine million Syrians, and the Islamic State group directly displaced an additional 1.8 million Iraqis. Neighboring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan are bursting at the seams with 1.1 million and 608,000 Syrian refugees, respectively, and as President Barack Obama continues to denounce and promise to take down the Islamic State group, the United States has taken 306 Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, no direct threats have come from Iran in years, and both Secretary of State John Kerry and Obama have hinted at recreating a diplomatic relationship. Iran proved its strength when it backed Iraqi militias that went on to beat the Islamic State group in a key battle in November. It is not beneficial for us to depend solely on small nations such as Jordan and Lebanon that have far fewer resources to spare. We have a larger ally that can strengthen us, so we need to collaborate with them. It is time to settle our outdated Iranian tensions to save the lives of the millions of citizens in danger — including our own.

Asha Sawhney is a Weinberg freshman. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

Stratton: A relationship with unsteady Iran would be dangerous

While it may benefit the United States to work with the Iranian government in the continuing conflict with the Islamic State group, it also has great potential to open doors to new conflict and old grievances. This could put the United States in a vulnerable position. We have to consider whether the conceivable benefits of this partnership outweigh the risks.

The United States has not participated in diplomatic relations with Iran since a group of Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 American hostages in 1980. Furthermore, we have continued economic sanctions on Iran to this day. According to the U.S. Department of State, these sanctions have been imposed due to Iran’s “refusal to comply with international obligations on its nuclear program and its human rights violations.”

The two governments have traditionally butted heads with both sides making inflammatory remarks about the other. Examples that come to mind are George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech in 2002 or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2010 speech to the U.N. in which he claimed “that most people believe the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks.” Questions on Iran’s nuclear program have also been extremely divisive for the past decade or so, especially during the Bush administration.

One of the largest issues facing this potential partnership would be the U.S.’s stance, in general, against extremist governments. In many ways, Iran’s government is considered extreme, demonstrated by their alliance or collaboration with al-Qaeda from the 1990s onward.

Since then, according to International Business Times Erin Branco, Iran is “officially an adversary of the U.S.,” I also question what it may do to our international image. American loyalty to Israel may also be called into question if the U.S. government were to acknowledge a partnership with Iran in fighting the Islamic State group. Israel may already be concerned, considering their enduring animosity with Iran, which is publicly hostile to the Israeli state. With Israel as one of our biggest allies, it is possible that an alliance with Iran could reflect negatively upon the United States in the international sphere. Could the credibility of the United States or our commitment to alliances be called into question?

Although it could pose benefits in the fight against the Islamic State group, as Asha discusses, the uncertainty and potential danger of our relations with Iran are some initial concerns that come to mind. Additionally, the risk of harming the international perception of the United States could damage other diplomatic relations.The traditionally poor or dissatisfactory interactions between Iran and the United States lead me to question not only if an alliance puts the United States in a vulnerable position, but also if the two governments would be able to work together effectively at all.

Abby Stratton is a Weinberg freshman. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].