By Ayesha Villalobos

The conventional wisdom regarding Iran and Syria is that these are belligerent states headed by hostile leaders. It brought forth security dilemma in which the West and the U.S. (The Great Satan) in particular, may be implicated as deeply as the vilified regimes in Tehran (The Radical) and Damascus (The Mad Dog).  American power, known at home as fundamentally benevolent and a spring of virtue, but also often regarded by some as a menace to the security of the world. American interventions in conflicts abroad may be considered as tyrannical, gratuitous, and brutal. Americans may be inclined to agree the use of violence as unpleasant duty imposed on the United States by international circumstances; however others may perceive the same actions as indications of an “imperialistic” and arrogant super-powered hero in the Justice League of international affairs.

From the U.S. standpoint Iran and Syria have been a nuisance and threat to the U.S. and its close ally Israel for a long time. Key events that are often mentioned include the 1967 Arab- Israeli War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The two countries’ inauguration of a strategic alliance during the 1980s intensely  threatened U.S goals for a new status quo in the region as did Syria’s alliance with Iraq in the 1990s.As Iran and Syria have resisted U.S. efforts towards a new order in the Middle East, they have engaged means that Washington is unwilling to tolerate. The most challenging and problematic of these, according to the U.S. administration, are Iran and Syria’s backing of terrorism and their quest for production of weapons of mass destruction.

Subsequently, the appalling events of 9/11, the threats emanating from Iran and Syria created a new dimension. In his 2002 State of the Union address President Bush branded Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, as being part of an “axis of evil.” Even though Syria was not formally included, it was put on notice to review its policies and, because of its perceived defiance and unrelenting antagonism towards the U.S., it soon come to be a “de facto member” of the axis.  Subsequently, with the commencement of the Bush administration’s second term both Iran and Syria have come to the top of the U.S. policy agenda as President Bush has made the regimes in Tehran and Damascus a centre for the next phase in the global war on terror.

Washington treated “Iran and Syria as consistently providing safe haven, extensive resources and guidance to terrorist organizations.” Iran has been highlighted on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list since 1984 and is now accused of being “involved in the planning of and support for terrorist acts to encourage a variety of groups that use terrorism to pursue their goals.” Particular actions cited include “(1) providing safe haven to members of Al Qaeda; (2) providing money, weapons and training to Hamas, Hezbollah, and Arab Palestinian rejectionist groups; and (3) helping members of the Ansar al Islam group in Iraq transit and find safe haven in Iran”  Syria has been on the State Department’s list since its initiation in 1979. Although Washington acknowledges that Damascus had not been involved directly in any terrorist attacks since 1986, it nonetheless accuses the regime of providing numerous levels of support to various terrorist organizations. More specifically, the State Department accuses Syria of persistently “to provide political and limited material support to a number of Palestinian groups, including permitting them to retain headquarters or offices in Damascus …. Syria also continued to allow Iranian resupply, via Damascus, of Hezbollah in Lebanon.” The activities of both Iran and Syria are considered to destabilize the region and threaten the security of Israel and the United States.

The second main concern of the U.S. is with Iranian and Syrian production and possession of weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Regarding Syria, Washington views the country as having the most advanced chemical weapons competencies in the Middle East and that it is “without question among those states most aggressively seeking to acquire or develop WMD and the means of delivery”. Nevertheless, in neither case is there concrete evidence that a nuclear weapons capability is indeed being pursued It stands without doubt that over the years both Iran and Syria have engaged in actions that are justifiably perceived as threatening by the U.S and its close ally Israel.

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From an American perspective, the U.S. role in the Middle East inclines to be seen as humanitarian and bringing democracy and modern civilization to a disadvantaged region. It is also acceptable that U.S. decision makers, at least publicly, feel innocent of any previous actions against Iran or Syria, and they are swift to reject any accusations branded against them by outsiders as extreme paranoia, insensible or, deliberately distorted propaganda” However, such feelings, “often based partly on sheer ignorance of Middle Eastern history and partly on rationalizing whatever the U.S or Israel has committed.

Just as the American political discourse tends to misunderstand the effects of U.S. actions through a process of rationalization, the leaders in Tehran and Damascus are, of course, subject to the same fallacy. Both side’s processes of rationalization and projection lend particular legitimacy to their political actions. It is vital to recognize these dynamics rather than discard perceived opponents too swiftly as rogues who frequently bring further escalation rather than a termination of contentions or hostilities. In both cases the misapprehensions maintain a malignant escalating social process, in which defensive or retaliatory measures by each party to the conflict are taken by the other as aggressive and confrontational.

From the standpoint of Tehran and Damascus, the U.S. has for decades been involved in efforts to forge a regional order in the Middle East that is more sympathetically disposed in advancing its own political and economic interests and those of its close ally Israel. These efforts have engaged the form of direct interventions, solid support for Israel towards regional hegemony, and the imposition of political and economic sanctions. Altogether, the Iranian and Syrian leadership understand the U.S. as a threat to the survival of their individual regimes. The Iranian leadership‘s hostile perceptions of the U.S. date back to the 1950s. In 1951 Mohammed Mossadegh was democratically elected to the post of the prime minister of Iran. Prompted by a fear that he would ally with the Soviet Union and also limit U.S. and British control of the Middle Eastern oil industry, the U.S. orchestrated a complex coup that led to his elimination in 1953 and the establishing of the Shah as the new leader. In 1979 the Islamic revolution terminated his repressive rule and fostered Ayatollah Khomeini as the new leader in Tehran. Showing regional interests jeopardized, exacerbated by the hostage crisis with Iran, the U.S. reacted with the imposition of severe political and economic sanctions. The consequential diplomatic isolation of Iran and its compounding economic problems made the country so vulnerable that Iraqi Saddam Hussein seized the opportunity to launch a military attack at what appeared to be an easy target. During the following eight years of long war, the U.S. attempted to deteriorate Tehran further by providing arms and economic resources to pro-Western Iranians opposed to Khomeini.

Anxieties of a “communist outpost” also existed with regards to Syria and likewise here the U.S. attempted a coup. In August 1957 the Syrian government declared the discovery of a U.S. engineered attempt to overthrow the regime and as a result the diplomatic relations between the two countries was terminated. Subsequently, the U.S. leadership was seriously contemplating direct military action against Syria. However, Washington ultimately refrained from doing so because of the absence of support from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, which it considered essential to avoid a regional mayhem. These interventions in the affairs of Iran and Syria weigh deeply in the political memory of Ahmadinejad and al-Asad.

After these drastic interventions, the U.S. has ceased from similar actions in the last few decades. Instead it focused its efforts on support for Israel and the initiation of political and economic sanctions. From an Iranian and Syrian perspective, Israel is an expansive power striving towards regional hegemony. U.S. military and political support has been crucial in consenting Israel to expand its territorial affluences and occupy lands in defiance of what Iranian and Syrian leaders consider to be international legitimacy. In the view of Tehran and Damascus, U.S. policy in the Middle East for much of the last thirty-five years has aimed principally at ensuring Israel’s ability to consolidate and maintain its hegemonic position in the region U.S. sanctions against Iran have continued since the 1979 revolution until today. Among the measures taken by the U.S. are the prohibition of most trade with Iran, the freezing of Iranian international assets and a general containment policy toward political and economic isolation with severe repercussions for the Iranian populace.

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Sanctions against Syria also began in 1979. During the 1980s and 1990s, and 2011 these sanctions were less intense when compared to the sanctions imposed on Iran. However, this changed with the onset of the U.S. war on terror in the new century when Washington enacted the Syria Accountability Act in 2003, a package of sanctions which calls for the adoption of new political and economic punitive measures in order to coerce al-Asad into a more complacent disposition vis a vis the U.S. In the context of the U.S.-led war on terror, the hostile perceptions of Iran and Syria increased not only because of further sanctions.

Now after Iraq as one member of the axis of evil had been eliminated and the threat perception in Iran and Damascus increased dramatically. The fear was that the removal of Saddam Hussein constituted only a first step in a series of imposed regime changes across the Middle East that would also include Tehran and Damascus.

The Obama administration’s affirmed legitimacy concerning the pre-emptive use of force as a tool of foreign policy, united with the substantial intensification of American military power in Iran’s and Syria’s periphery has intensified Tehran’s and Damascus’ uncertainties.

While this is befalling, Washington has made no top-secret of its progressively tough opposition to the Iranian and Syrian regimes and that it would strongly support a change of leadership in both countries. Furthermore, leading officials have continually declared that all options including the unilateral use of force are on the table when it comes to dealing with the Iranian and Syrian regimes.

On the issue of Iran’s uranium enrichment  activity ,In May 2012 the IAEA and Iran indicated that they are moving in the pathway of an agreement on cooperation in Iran's clarifying the allegations that it has been carrying out nuclear weapons related work for some years, particularly from 2001 to 2003. However, if US pressure Iran to relinquish its right to enrich for peaceful purposes, no real agreement is conceivable. IAEA near Iran Inspection Deal but will US Insist on End to Enrichment? (Gareth Porter the Real News May 2012)

While In Syria, United States of America executed the Salvador Option, modelled on US covert ops in Central America, the Pentagon's "Salvador Option for Iraq" initiated in 2004 was carried out under the helm of the US Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte (2004-2005) together with Robert Stephen Ford, who was appointed US Ambassador to Syria in January 2011, less than two months before the beginning of the armed insurgency directed against the government of Bashar Al Assad. The US Ambassador to Syria (appointed in January 2011), Robert Stephen Ford had been part of Negroponte's team at the US Embassy in Baghdad (2004-2005). In this regard, "The Salvador Option" for Iraq laid the groundwork for the launching of an armed insurgency in Syria in March 2011. In connection to recent events, the carnage of 108 people including 35 children in the border city of Houla on May 27 was, in all possibility, committed by US sponsored death squads under the "Salvador Option for Syria". The deaths of civilians have been casually blamed by the Western media on the Al Assad government and the incident is being used as pretext for a "humanitarian" R2P intervention by NATO. Outright media fabrications, including the manipulation of images by the BBC suggest that the Syrian government was not behind the massacre: "The Salvador Option" is a "terrorist model" of mass killings by US sponsored death squads. It was first applied in El Salvador, in the heyday of resistance against the military dictatorship, resulting in an estimated 75,000 deaths. The Salvador Option for Syria": The Central Role of  US Ambassador Robert S. Ford  (Global Research, May 31, 2012) And yet Washington, in all its strident arrogance, imperiously demands that the Syrian government implements the impossible – a unilateral ceasefire in the face of mass murder and mayhem orchestrated in part by the US.  SYRIA’S "ROGUE ISLAMIST OPPOSITION": US-NATO’s New Lie in its Bid for Regime Change (Global Research April 10, 2012)

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The Middle East remains the most turbulent of all world regions. The U.S. entangled itself in escalating conflicts. The U.S. remains disturbingly ignorant about the mutuality of the conflicts with Iran and Syria. Conventional and popular accounts of the conflicts between the U.S. on the one side and Iran and Syria on the other often frame the situation as one in which contentions and hostilities originate overwhelmingly from Tehran and Damascus. The leaders of these regimes are moreover often depicted as simply hostile and insane, basing their foreign policy decisions on an ideology ill-disposed towards the U.S. Such a frame defies the realities of the situation with Iran and Syria and should be subjected for reflection and analysis.

There is no doubt that the U.S. legitimately perceives Iran and Syria as a threat to regional and global stability. What is missing is a realistic appraisal of the threat in particular and the situation in general. Since 9/11, fear and not rational discourse have become a seemingly constant factor of the political debate and the foreign policy decision-making process. However, foreign policy cannot continuously be based on continuous worst case scenarios, the fallacies of which the U.S. is now condemned to have witnessed in Afghanistan. Ahmadinejad and al-Assad perceive U.S. actions towards their respective countries as highly hostile and threatening. These fears may very well not be baseless. Washington’s war on terrorism has not only shattered the regional status quo, but has also threatened the very survival of the regimes in Tehran and Damascus. The new urgency with which Middle East transformation is discussed in Washington causes great unease in Tehran and Damascus.

The Obama presidency turns out to be a return to a “hegemonic” conception of liberal internationalism, with a sense of the limits of America’s power as well as of the limits to the alleged “universal appeal of democracy?  Since his presence in the White House, Obamas administration move forward in the crusading, imperialist mode adopted by the administration of George W. Bush and cheered on today most notably by the neoconservatives reorganized in their Foreign Policy Initiative and championing “democratic globalism”? What seems certain is that either way American leaders are improbable to abandon their language. Despite the defeat in Iraq and the reversals in Afghanistan, the faith in the promotion of human rights and democratic government abroad for the sake of the national security and world peace remains deeply embedded in Washington. Just as significantly, despite the melt down of Wall Street and the suffering of tens of millions of Americans thanks to the logic of the “Washington Consensus” that sponsored economic globalization under the trinity of concepts named privatization, deregulation, and openness, the hold on the elite mind of a commitment to economic globalization based on open and integrated world markets remains quite clearly in place and likely to remain so given corporate power in the nation’s capital.. Whatever the tensions among the partisans to the mind-set, whatever the evidence from abroad that the hopes of the American ambition to redeem the world from History have resoundingly failed such that History is back wreaking its vengeance on those who thought they might escape it grasp, American liberal internationalism and imperialistic interventions endures, and with it the danger that the peace it promises may well be the source of eternal war.