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Redline of Iran – U.S Relations :

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Why Obama and Romney address Iran as the greatest threat to U.S ?

Lesson From United States Third Presidential Debates GambarObama Debates on Foreign Policy

*Tulisan Ini Dipublikasikan pada Jurnal IDEA Himpunan Mahasiswa HI Univ. Prof. Dr. Moestopo Tahun 2012 


Tulisan ini bermaksud untuk memberikan analisis dibalik wacana dalam debat pemilihan calon presiden Amerika Serikat dalam konteks kebijakan luar negeri Amerika Serikat terhadap kawasan Timur Tengah, khususnya hubungan Iran dan Israel serta Amerika Serikat sendiri dengan keduanya. Sebenarnya, Apa yang membuat Iran bisa menjadi ancaman terbesar bagi Israel dan membuat Amerika Serikat kemudian juga ikut merasa terancam adalah fokus utama dalam tulisan ini. Untuk menjelaskan itu, tulisan ini akan menyertakan perspektif realisme mengenai hegemoni dan kepentingan nasional.

Kata Kunci : Why Iran?, Regional Hegemon and Iran, U.S. Energy Interest

Even Obama has re-elected from the U.S. election 2012, the discourse behind what Obama and Romney debated are interesting to be observed. When the last U.S presidential election debates on Foregin Policy was conducted, Bob Schifer as a moderator encompased the emergency situation in the Middle East, particularly relationship between Israel and Iran. Within, Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney as the candidates elaborated their ideas about what is the important role of U.S foreign policy in responding to the issues. They believed that if there is any attack on Israel that means it is an attack on U.S. Despite the both sides have a shared understanding about their everlasting relationship, true friend and greatest ally –which is Israel– both of them actually have different perspectives on the scope of foreign policy they should conduct.

Barrack Obama on one hand, proposes a diplomatic endeavour which involves the other allies and also international institutions to press Iran, Mitt Romney on the other hand, proposes not only diplomatic endeavour that should be conducted, but also military efforts that should be affirmed.

Based on this core debates, the most important material resources that affect U.S to protect Israel is not only that Israel is their greatest ally in the Middle East, but also that U.S should achieve their national interest i.e to maintain the viability of U.S role in the in the Middle East and also throughout the world.

Why Iran ?

Since the Iranian revolution in 1979 to build an Islamic State, the U.S – Iran relationship drawn unto an adversarial condition. Henceforth, U.S is no longer faced excellent relationship in maintaining stability in the Middle East just like when their backed Shah in 1953 until the Revolution (Bhutto, 2007). The U.S sees that the Iran power now gradually growing and it is seen not good to U.S., which has long sought to prevent any one country from establishing hegemony in the Persian Gulf.

Historically, the U.S has learned much from the Iraq-Iran wars in 1980s. Since the Iran regime has changed from democratic to authoritarian one, the basic principle that U.S understood is that Iran would change their interest in the regions into narrower for the endorsement of Shia Supremacy. Thus, U.S believes that Iran has also supported to the strenghtening of Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad in the region which will affect the Israel co-existance in the region. The Iranian regime under Shia supremacy would lead the peace negotiation with Palestine to an impasse negotiation.

When Ayatollah Ali Komeini led the Iran during the Iran-Iraq wars, Reagan directly backed Saddam administration in order to prevent the Iraq defeated by Iran. If at that moment Iraq was successfully defeated by Iran, Iran could invade the other countries in that region. For now, the U.S believes that the gradually growing power of Iran will affect the region with uncertainty and tends to disturb the U.S interest itself within the region. Besides, Shia supremacy will encourage balance of power with Sunni. As we know that sunni dominated countries and shia dominated countries are always fight to each other. Thus, the Sunni Dominated Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates feared that Iranian regime someday will invade their country.

In the Iran current situation, there are three factors that should be counted as the determinant factors of why Iran is the greatest threat of U.S besides the former historical reason mentioned above. First of all, Iran has always sought to master nuclear full cycle in which U.S believes that it would allow Iran to build nuclear weapons. Secondly, some of Iranian leaders such as Mohammed Khatami and his successor Ahmadinejad have made deeply disturbing remarks questioning Israel‘s Right to exist (Ahmadinejad, 2012). And the last one is, Iran counted as one of the most powerful islamic states which also has the potential to dominate the oil rich area. In the latter discussions in this paper, I would like to emphasize the analysis in this three factors that would also depict the Iran current situation, therefore, we could understand those factor affecting U.S.

Regional Hegemon and Iran

Why does Obama and Romney have to debate about Iran as U.S greatest threat on foreign policies? Or why should Tehran be feared with Washington if Tel-Aviv in the region either militarily and economically much stronger than Tehran?. Washington itself treat this matters not only merely because of the Israel alarm from 1993 until now that Iranian regimes stand in the contrast line with U.S. but also because Iran has a potential power to affect other countries in the Middle East. It means, U.S. status quo and the distribution of power in the regions will be altered. Obviously the U.S. even does not want to alter the current status quo in the regions. Since many years ago, at least since the Iran-Iraq wars ended, U.S. has always got a lot of benefits from its hegemony within the region. We can refer to Keohane definitions of hegemony as such an order in the world politics it typically created by single dominant power (Keohane, 1984). Then, we can also refer that the form of regional politics in the Middle East has also typically created by U.S., even the Israel could be counted as the regional hegemon with U.S. also nowadays. Both hegemons are benefited if the status quo is still, but if there is any such alteration, both will be threatened.

Since the 9/11 and U.S invasion to Iraq, the perception of Islamic fundamentalist and terorism arose vastly. Since that moment, the U.S. more deeper concerned on war against terorism and therefore classified the countries in the Middle East who are with U.S. or Against U.S. Just like Bush addressed those countries who are against U.S. as the axis of evil. U.S. perception of other values convinced them that they would be threatened by its values. They believe that the rogue state such as Iran would support for the terorism act rather than support them. Therefore, U.S. should prevent the alteration from power distribution in the region, as U.S. perception that the rise up of Islam fundamentalist is the main actor. After U.S. invasion has convinced themself that they successfully reduced the threat from Iraq, Iran should be the next threat that should be reduced. They believed that Iran is an apparent threat would also change the current status quo and appear as regional hegemon.

First, why Iran is believed could be a regional hegemon is that Iran has always sought to master nuclear full cycle in which U.S. and Israel believed that it would allow Iran to build nuclear weapons (Walt, 2007). Relations between Iran—which always seeking a nuclear full cycle than also build a nuclear weapons—and Israel become very complicated later. There are several assumptions that would be a reality if Iran got the nuclear weapons. First, if Iran mastered a nuclear full cycle and built nuclear weapons, Iran would be the one and only Israel contender in the region. Therefore, Iran would start to confront Israel more directly. This assumptions would be strengthened with the former reasons that have been mentioned above, besides the reason that Iran is the actor who always supports the strengthening of Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad, (whose actors are also confronted with Israel and U.S) Iran also should be considered as an actor who always critizes the Israel’s right to exist in the Middle East rather than either to acknowledge its existance or to encourage Israel to be seated in the negotiation table with Palestine. Ahmadinejad feels that the existance of world oppresor behind Israel (this means U.S.) has dismantling the Islamic World (Times, 2005). This would give a pressure to American Jews who lived in U.S. and it would affect U.S. foreign policy. Therefore U.S will be threatened also. Eventually, the option of who will be a new regional hegemon should be questioned. Whether the Iran would become a regional hegemon and thus alter the distribution of power in the region or the current status quo still exists.

Second, if Iran as the shia dominated state built nuclear weapons, the rest of Arab states which is dominated by Sunni supremacy would be deeply frighthened and feel threatened, thus eventually will also stimulate the arms race among the arab states. As Johan Bergenas stated, it is not only an arms race, but it is also called as nuclear domino among the regions (Bergenas, 2012). On the other words, if Iran succeeded to build nuclear weapons, the rest of Arab states would also build nuclear weapons. This matters will possibly occur, for the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime –which always proclaims to keep the world safe without Nuclear weapon- itself is very weak, there are no doubts that this assumption is weak, because Israel itself is listed as non parties in the NPT, even U.S. is aware of it. And however, Iran feels that having a nuclear is indispensable matter. In fact, Iran has also convinced the world that Nuclear is the rights of each state due to the North Korea, Pakistan, India and Israel cases, not only for the major power (Antara, 2012).

Eventually, Iran could become a regional hegemon if Iran is buttressed by the Arab States which means Iran has successfully played a significant role to the Palestinian peace process issues. Despite the Arab States such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan are the allies of U.S., those countries would not guarantee that they would go hand in hand with U.S. in Palestinian issues. Due to Palestinian Issues, Ahmadinejad have made deeply disturbing remarks questioning Israel‘s Right to exist. That means, Iran stand on distinc position in supporting Palestinian rights. Otherwise, U.S. who always stand in uncertainty regarding to their position to Palestinian issues. On one hand, U.S. has endorsed the Palestinian right to exist, but on other hand, the Israel has always strenghtened by U.S. official assistance. Hence, Iran feels that U.S. would never seriously concern to resolve the Palestinian matter. Iran sees if the Israel occupation to Palestinian territory has abuse the human rights, therefore to support the Palestinian, Iran backed Hamas all at once harmed to U.S. while U.S. itself is concerning in terrorism. Besides, Due to the impasse negotiation between Israel and Palestine directly rise a question about the existance of U.S. as mediator.

Energy Interest

Over the time, the complexity relations between U.S and the Middle East was intensified. Historically, there are some inconsistencies from U.S in conducting the foreign policy to the Middle East region. For example, that U.S to buttress for Iraq to oppose Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980s and then outright hostilities against Iraq in the 2003 Iraq war. At various times the seeming contradictions have been justified on the grounds, on one hand U.S promote the justice, human rights and democracy during the cold war with Soviet Union. But on the other hand, U.S is still lick one’s lips to consume the Saudi Arabian oil mining industries Ghawar Field (Administration, 2012) even the Saudi Arabia is still not in democracy and not ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Therefore, neither Obama nor Romney clearly stated that both are in favor to promote the human rights, democracy and open trade to the Middle East, actually are the inconsistencies of U.S foreign policy in the Middle East. Therefore, the most important factors that considered by U.S in conducting the foreign policy is the energy matters, rather than promotes the U.S values.

The importance of the Middle East to the U.S increased further when U.S domestic oil reserves began to decline by the 1970s. At about the same time, the high cost of its manipulations in the religious and political conflicts of the Gulf States became evident with OPEC’s 1973 international oil embargo of countries perceived to be biased, including the US. The consequent oil price shock of 1973 brought home the need for an integrated energy policy as a factor in economic development (Atiemo, 2006). Since the failure of energy market in 1973, U.S oil reserves thus undergo a circumstances of lowering oil reserves level.

The domestic factors of U.S has always been an important factors that determine the U.S foreign policy. Based on U.S Energy Information Administration, the needs of oil consumption has domestically increase. The U.S consumptions itself approximately reach the 11 million barrels/day or 60% imported (Administration, International Energy Statistic, 2012). The U.S oil production became no longer capable to maintain the increasing number of domestic consumptions. Therefore, in order to tackle this matter, U.S should imports the oil from the other country which is dominated from country in the Middle East Region. In addition, the oil prices in market are inevitably fluctuation and it accordance with the deficit of U.S balance of payment while the unemployment within the country is increasing.

Related to the Middle East region, almost all of the U.S policy makers believes in one perceptions that the Middle East region is a stupendous source of strategic power and greatest of material prizes in the world history (Atiemo, 2006). Regarding to the Iran as the main focus of what have Obama and Romney debated, Iran become so important while Saudi Arabia oil stock is no longer to serve in 20 years untill 30 years ahead. Scientist and researcher claims that Iran is the second bigger oil producer after Saudi Arabia and also has the second bigger of natural gas reserves in the world after Russia (CIA, 2011). Obviously, the Iranian oil reserves should not be neglected as the undermining factor for U.S in conducting it foreign policy. Besides, Iran itself have a geographical advantages that would also threat U.S : The Hormuz Straits. U.S. is protecting their access to oil commodity while mainly depends on preventing any single country hegemony. The Hormuz Straits itself is the only way of sea line to export the oil from the Gulf Countries to around the world, which it has also deliver the U.S oil needs. Eventually, the U.S foreign policy to this matters are very critical and important and much more influenced by their national interest rather to promote stability through democracy and human rights in the Middle East.


To conclude, there is no doubts that Iran has been U.S. greatest challenge. Since the ended of Iran-Iraq war, Iranian aggresivity on enhancing nuclear weapon, the 9/11 and the “war against terorism” declaration, tension and suspicion between U.S. and Iran has been gradually arose. Based on several reasons of Iran endogenous background, Israel as the U.S. greatest ally felt that Iran would conduct a new regime as regional hegemon that can caused an instability in the region and re-alter the power distribution.

Back to the third presidential candidates debates on foreign policy, between Obama and Romney actually is dissapointed to everyone. Both are not in favor to be honest either to their Americans or to the world. Both are looks very carefully in answering every questions that Bob Schifer asked for them. U.S. foreign policy to the Middle East is obviously critical one not only to U.S itself in order to achieve their national interest, but also to maintain the regional hegemony.

The current situation in the Middle East is just like as a complex web. I would like to say that relationship between Iran and U.S deserves to be alegorized as redline relations. Because both are in favor to confront each other unless to attack each other, or even Obama often declared during the debates that U.S. needs to aware if diplomacy is impassed.




Books :

Bhutto, B. (2007). Islam, Demokrasi & Barat. Jakarta: BIP.

Keohane, R. (1984). After Hegemony. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Walt, J. J. (2007). The Israel Lobby and U.S Foreign Policy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Websites :

Administration, U. E. (2012). International Energy Statistic. Retrieved Oktober senin, 2012, from

Administration, U. E. (2012). Petroleum and other liquids. Retrieved Oktober senin, 2012, from U.S Energy Information Administration:

CIA. (2011). The World Factbook. Retrieved Oktober Senin, 2012, from \


Antara. (2012). Ahmadinejad kecam “intimidasi” nuklir barat di PBB terakhir kalinya. Retrieved Oktober senin, 2012, from

Atiemo, N. (2006). What is relationship between U.S energy policies and U.S Foreign Policies in the Middle East? Dundee, Scotland.

Bergenas, J. (2012). The Nuclear Domino Myth. Retrieved Oktober Senin, 2012, from Foreign Affairs:

Times, N. Y. (2005). New York Times. Dipetik oktober senin, 2012, dari


Speech :

Ahmadinejad, M. (2012, September). Ahmadinejad Addresses UN General Assembly. Retrieved Oktober senin, 2012, from




Written by polhaupessy

April 1, 2013 pada 8:28 am

Ditulis dalam Uncategorized

4 Tanggapan

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  1. Good afternight?

    I have 2 point regarding your assessment. First, Iran as a greatest threat for the U.S in the middle east need more elaboration on under what condition. In materialistic form, the nuance of ‘greatest threat’ could be denied on 2 argument. Iran hasn’t had nuclear weaponary capabilities yet while Israel has. Every State, even for the United Nations, doubt about the existence of nuclear weapon of Iran. It could be the reason why the term of greatest threat will insufficience without ‘legitimate power’. As long as public has not seen a concrete form of nuclear weapon of Iran, ‘legitimate power’ operated unwell. I will conclude that what happened in the middle east it simply because Iran as a threat directly for the Israel and indirectly for the U.S. And we confirm that both U.S and Israel is in the same way to see Iran as a threat.

    The second point is regarding on term of hegemony. I hope I’m not made mistaken, that you miss the indicator of hegemony according Keohane. A hegemonic must have a capability to distribute public goods. The question is, did Iran have that capability? I doubt it because since Iran facing the economic embargo, it weakens the economic performance of Iran.


    April 1, 2013 at 7:15 pm

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