US – Iran Relations: Tactics and Effects


The relation between Iran and the US dates back to many years ago. There are reports which indicate that this relation can be traced back to the last years of the nineteenth century. Both countries have used various international relations as tactics to lure the other party for its own gain.

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Such methods as realism, liberalism, hard power, soft power as well as democratic peace theories have been used at different times between these two countries. Some of the tactics have been successful whereas others have resulted in more wars and disagreements. This paper aims to address the relations between these two countries, while paying attention to various tactics that each country has used and their effects, as well.

Use of Hard and Soft Power

The use of power has been used mainly by the US as it has been positioned since the nineteenth century as being powerful over Iran. According to Bakhash (2009), the US used its hard power for the very first time over Iran in 1953. This was done when the US Central Investigation Agency (CIA) got involved in a coup that led to the overthrow of the then prime minister to Iran – Mohammed Mossadegh. This was seen as betrayal by the US to the then government of Iran. It would have been expected that the US CIA would support the then prime minister, but it turned out to be the opposite.

Bakhash (2009) reveals that the involvement of the US military in the Islamic revolution of the year 1979 further deteriorated the cooperation between US and Iran. This is said to have angered the Iranian people to an extent that its relationship with the US was jeopardized. It is believed that since the Islamic revolution, Iran has never fully supported the US ideas (Bakhash, 2009). Although in later years Iran got more involved with the US, there have been lapses in their co-operation as Iran fears that the US might again assist the rebels in overthrowing the current government.

In fact, Bakhash (2009) indicates that these two countries have not been in good terms since the involvement of the US in the two military operations against the Iranian government. Iran is said to have named the US as the ‘Great Satan’ and at some time, the former US president. George Bush referred to Iran as ‘Axis of Evil’.

This indeed portrays how the US-Iran relationship worsened following the involvement of the US with the overthrow of Iran’s government. The use of sanctions has also been deployed, especially by the US. In 2002, Iran was said to have been developing nuclear weapons on one of its plants (BBC, 2014). This angered the US which in effect imposed sanctions, including financial sanctions on Iran. To this effect, the currency in Iran gradually lost its value by more than two thirds by 2013 (BBC, 2014).

Since 1979, the relations between the US and Iran worsened. However, The US has tried the use of soft power to win back Iran to no avail. For example, former president of the US, Kennedy, is reported to have sent delegates to Iran on numerous occasions to try and reach an agreement on their relations (Haykel, 2014). In recent years, president Obama has organized talks with the Iranian government, which have been translated as mechanisms to winning back the good US-Iran relations that was experienced before (Haykel, 2014). However, this has not been a very successful tool to restoring back the relationship.

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Use of Liberalism

Liberalism is the most commonly used forms of international relation by the majority of countries. It is the preferred method as both countries benefit from the relations developed (BBC, 2014). This has been the case with the relation between the US and Iran at some point. Before 1979, the relation between these two countries was mutually beneficial (Bakhash, 2009). Each country benefited from the other and thus the two countries were great friends. It is argued that during this time i.e., between 1945 and 1979, the US was in good relation with Mohammad Reza Shah Phlavi, who reigned for close to 40 years (Haykel, 2014).

The US had interests with Iran as it served as a better strategic point against the enemies of the US. Iran could be used by the Americans to strategize on how to attack the Soviet Union, which was posing a threat to the stability of the US. In addition, Iran was rich in oil, a factor that was attracting many parties including the US. Haykel (2014) says that oil in Iran attracted many Americans who came to seek employment as skilled people. Also, Iran started to grow in terms of wealth generated from oil and thus served as a good market place for the American goods.

On the other hand, Iran benefited from the US in two ways, as revealed by Haykel (2014). Iran had by that time two great enemies, Russia, and Britain. Any country that would prove itself capable of offering protection to Iran over these two enemies would be welcomed by Iran. US proved to be that country that had enough military and was willing to defend Iran against its enemies.

Therefore, Iran agreed to be a close ally to US on the basis of protection. In addition, Iran got involved more with the US as America had promised her to assist in making it a super power within Eastern region. The hunger and thirst for power thus made Iran to become a close ally of the US at that time (Bishara, 2013).

Use of Realism

The use of realism can be centred on how the US has rallied with Iran and in other instances with enemies to Iran for competitive gains. For example, The US has in the past rallied with Iran so that it can effectively fight the Soviet Union (BBC, 2014). This was a competitive strategy where the US was competing with the Soviet Union over powers.

According to BBC (2014) the Iran-Iraq war challenged the US over whom to support during that war. However, it emerged that the US was secretly giving support to the Iraq government, which was by then governed by Saddam. It has been argued that the US did this as it hoped that Iran would be defeated and take over its oil reserves (BBC, 2014). Unfortunately, this was never the case and Iran won the war over Iraq.

Use of Democratic Peace Theory

The current US-Iran relations can be viewed as heading to a better co-operation. President Obama has recently made a phone call to the current president to the UN, Hassan Rouhani. This is said to be the first conversation between the two heads of governments for more than 30 years. The use of democratic peace theory can therefore be demonstrated in this example, as peace is seen to be forthcoming through the relations with foreign entities.

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More effort though needs to be done if the US and Iran are to be in good relations. Economic sanctions will not only worsen the relations, but might give Iran added desire to continue with nuclear weapons plans (BBC, 2014). More and more talks between these two countries ought to be organized as doing so will make the relations more reliable and mutually beneficial.


The US-Iran relation was better in the period between 1949 and 1971. During this period, both the US and Iran benefited from each other. The US used Iran as a strategic position to fight off its enemy, the Soviet Union. Also, Iran served as a good market place for US goods and as a source of employment to many Americans at the time when the wealth of Iran was rapidly growing. On the other hand, Iran viewed US as a protector against Russia and Britain, which were by then Iran’s enemies.

However, the relation between these two countries worsened after 1979 when the US got itself involved in the Islamic revolution. Since then, the relation between these two countries has never been better. Liberalism has been used in the past to develop the US-Iran relations where both counties benefited from one another. The use of military power by the US over Iran and the imposition of sanctions are examples of hard power that US has used over Iran. Realism and democratic peace theory have each been used on different occasions to develop the US-Iran relations.


Bakhash, S. (2009). The U.S. and Iran in historical perspective. Foreign Policy Research Institute, 14 (26), 1-8.

BBC (2014). US- Iran relations: A brief guide.

Bishara, M. (27 October, 2013). Why Arabs fear a U.S.- Iran Détente. The New York Times.

Haykel, B. (2014). Iran is the problem, not the solution.

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