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The Dilemma of Iran and US relations has put Iranian-Americans in a Quandary


David N. Rahni, Ph.D.


Abstract. There is compelling evidence to conclude that the US administration, while avoiding direct negotiation so far, is preparing for an "oil-driven" confrontation with Iran that could range from imposing universal sanctions, to military interventions.  Remember Vietnam and Iraq Quagmires? It is deja-vu all over again, as those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat the same mistakes. Whereas noone denies the repressive nature of the current government in Iran on domestic matters, and the belligerent rhetorical tone of its government leadership on foreign policy and nuclear technology issues, these imperfections must not give pretext to a superpower to inflict pain and sufferings on a whole nation. The seventy million people of Iran, since the 1906 Iranian Constitution and as evidenced by the only democratically elected Prime Minister Dr. Mossdegh of the fifties who was overthrown by the in part US sponsored Coup D'etat, and particularly since the 1979 revolution, have repeatedly expressed their longings for democracy and freedom through ballot boxes and civilian unrests. The majority of the four million Iranians in Diaspora, especially the one million Americans of Iranian heritage, are unequivocally opposed to any level of military action against their motherland where they still possess strong family and cultural ties. Conversely, they by and large envisage direct multi-lateral negotiations anchored on mutual respect in which the US takes a strong leadership role, as the alternative to yet another war that could lead to the possible loss of lives of tens of thousands American and allied soldiers, economic loss in the hundreds of billions, and catastrophic loss of Iranian lives and infrastructures unprecedented in modern times. The Iranian-Americans from all walks of life, one of the most vibrant, educated and affluent immigrant communities of the twentieth century and recognized for their substantial contributions to the betterment of America, reaffirm their allegiance to the US first and foremost. In fact, it is due to such conviction that they, similar to the majority of their Americans aspire to uphold the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights by opposing those government policies that result in waste of our human and material resources on the one hand, while tarnishing the US stature and credibility in the international community, on the other. By the same token, they yearn for homegrown fundamental democratic reforms in Iran through critical multi-lateral engagement that does not involve meddling by outsiders. Finally, it is anticipated that the US Government safeguard the full protection of its Iranian-Americans under the code of law when it comes to their security and realization of personal and professional aspirations. (You may sign a petition on the above statement at and, or read the comprehensive article on the subject herein.)


Recent speculation about US military intervention in Iran has created a heated debate worldwide. One community that finds itself caught in a unique dilemma is the estimated one million Americans of Iranian descent. While this community feels strong allegiance to the US, and whereas they have contributed substantially to the advancement of the economic and social infrastructures of the US, they, nonetheless, feel strongly connected to their ancestor's land where many still have extended family and cultural ties.


The US-IRAN stalemate, twenty-seven years in the making since the revolution of 1979, lingers on. Iran has become a US foreign policy priority ever since President Bush categorized Iran, Iraq, and North Korea in an "axis of evil" and cited "crusade" during his first State of the Union speech. Iran's predicament has been further exacerbated post September 11, 2001 when the US administration opted for unilaterally and "preemptively" taking the battle to the "Middle East", first by military intervention in Afghanistan, and then with an all out occupation of Iraq. The nationals responsible for the 9/11 attacks were said to be Saudi Arabian, Pakistani and Egyptian, and none were Iranians. Despite the repressive nature of the Iranian regime inside the country and its intermittent irrational behavior in the international community, there has never been any proof of Iran-sponsored terrorist activities on US soil.


The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have turned into costly propositions for the Americans, firstly in terms of the loss of American soldiers and civilians, soon approaching 3,000, and secondly, in terms of economic loss soon approaching one trillion dollars incurred on the US alone. Some military and foreign analysts believe the US will remain in the Middle East for the long haul, perhaps many decades, and that the projected human loss and financial cost could run to as many as tens of thousands of Americans and allied forces, and as much as a few trillion dollars, respectively. These estimates do not even mention the catastrophic heavy causalities of the indigenous people, which have thus far run to over one hundred thousand civilians in Iraq alone and economic and productivity losses estimated at another trillion dollars. The US administration's cry to root out terrorists in Afghanistan uncompleted, was changed to destroy weapons (never-to-be-found) of mass destructions in Iraq, and has now been modified to "democratize" and reform the region, a "democracy" that has yet to be realized. Regardless of how one interprets the situation, the control of the natural resources of gas and oil remain at the center of the US foreign policy of intervention in the Middle East. With respect to international laws and international agencies, the US takes a dual apporach to these laws and organizations: when they serve its stated goals, the US resorts to them and expects them to serve its purpose, and when such laws or the agencies dare object to US global actions, they are ridiculed, discounted, branded by name calling and their budgets and thus existence are undermined.


The US administration finds itself agitated by the baseless symbolic rhetoric of Iran's new President Ahmadinejad on Israel, and the alleged ulterior motives of his administration to seek nuclear technologies with ultimate possible dual applications. This has increasingly led the US to turn toward the Iran stage, presumably as a way to expand "democratization" outside of Iraq and Afghanistan. Upon close examination of the Middle Eastern countries, Iran, notwithstanding its dismal record in human rights, lack of transparency in socio-economic equity and fundamental internal problems, nonetheless, seems to be the only country that has not yet submitted to becoming "democratized". One can hardly identify another country in the region where American military presence and, strong economic influence is not already pronounced. One can only yearn for a true, independent democratic Iraq, Afghanistan and/or Iran that would actually take the prime interest of the indigenous inhabitants into consideration and then hopefully be emulated by other countries in the region. However, every indication shows regressive trends when external aggression is imposed.  In the case of Iraq, an incipient civil war is only intensifying, with the possibility of the country disintegrating into at least three smaller countries- a Shiite base in the center and south, a Sunni base in the west, and the Kurds in the north. Scholars specialized in the historical perspectives of the region acknowledge the critical constructive role Iran could play in the region if they are taken seriously in a multilateral negotiation where the US is directly engaged. The common ethnic (Indo-Iranian), religious (Shiite) and cultural (Persian) values have tied the Iranians with their Kurdish, Iraqi Shiites, and Afghani brethrens for centuries.


One may rightly argue Iran has the legal right, as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other pertinent international laws and conventions, to develop non-military nuclear technologies for civilian peaceful purposes (energy, medicine, product development). Iran's lack of transparency in its conduct of international relations, mistreatment of its 70 million Iranians, its dubious behavior in dealing with the "words of dissent" by nearly four million Iranian expatriates abroad, and other covert activities in Lebanon, Iraq and perhaps the Occupied Palestinian territories have been seized upon by the US administration to beat the drum for yet another war in the region, and through media to prepare the court of American public opinion, "should all other options fail."  There is increasingly a strong sentiment among Americans that taking on yet another all out military intervention in Iran will be counter-productive to long term US geo-political and economic interests. That said, it would probably not deter another pre-emptive unilateral aggression, when the time is right.  Ironically, the US has been instrumental in removing two of the staunchest enemies of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein's B'aath government in Iraq that had invaded and swiftly occupied a major part of western Iran in 1980, leading to a war dragging on for eight years, a million dead including some from biological and chemical weapons licensed by the US, and hundreds of billion dollars of economic loss imposed on Iran.


The one million Iranian-Americans find themselves in a quandary. On the one hand, they have left their homeland for the US due to lack of socio-political and economic reforms in Iran. On the other, although they have pledged allegiance to their adopted land, they cannot see the US going down a pathway of destruction that would be detrimental to both their adopted, and their ancestor's, countries. They vividly remember 1953 when Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, the only true democratic elected prime minister of Iran, who nationalized the oil and gas in the country and was successful in achieving a favorable verdict on this matter in the International Court in The Hague, was overthrown, in part by the covert operations of the US administration. The Iranian-Americans recognize the danger of US intervention, which may go far beyond covert propaganda operations and instigations, into any magnitude of military interventions [tactical (nuclear or conventional) strikes and/or occupation).


Having listened to exhaustive discussions on the Iran-US circumstances in various academic, community and internet-based forums, there seem to be an emerging consensus that has developed in the Iranian American Community, as follows:


A. The Iranian-American Community of one million strong reaffirms its loyalty to the US and its constitution and laws. It further anticipates that the American Constitution, the Bill of Rights especially the 1st amendment, and the Rule of Law continue to apply to ALL Americans, including naturalized citizens and permanent legal residents regardless of their country of origin.


B. The Iranian-American Community anticipates that the US will remain strong both domestically and internationally, and believes that our strong foreign policy should not be driven by military aggressions or pure economic dominant objectives before all possible rational and peaceful negotiating avenues-as verified by the international community of nations and global non-governmental organizations-are exhausted.


C. That the US foreign policy adopt a long-term, more balanced and less belligerent foreign policy anchored in American ideals respecting the independent aspirations of other nations for democracy, human rights, freedom and security, and will engage in serious multi-lateral direct negotiations to prevent and resolve conflicts. Such options, if and when diplomacy fails should include in progression: direct negotiation and positive genuine persuasion, diplomatic isolation, restriction of travel for government officials of the adversarial government, freezing of alleged government staff personal overseas assets, freezing of the country's assets, followed by progressive intelligent sanctions, and perhaps finally sanctions that exclude the essential day-to-day commodities such as food and medicine. The use of conventional military confrontations, although philosophically immoral as it always yields reprehensive human tragedy, may only be exercised against proven aggressions and only after all other options are truly exhausted.


D. That with respect to Iran in particular, the Iranian-American Community's majority opinion is to oppose any level of military actions including the so called tactical bombing, and emphatically nuclear strikes. Such a position is now substantiated by more than half of Americans according to most recent polls as well as the unanimous majority of citizens of other countries, especially the Europeans.  Therefore, the US must devise innovative, i.e., non-interfering ways of empowering the Iranian people to ultimately achieve their longing for democracy, the rule of law, freedom, and security and progress, while dealing with the Iranian government in such a delicate fashion that the historical role of the Iranians and their unique cultural values, almost 10,000 years in the making, and the human resources and current infrastructure of the country, is not jeopardized under any pretext.


E. The Iranian-American Community aspires to facilitate a homegrown, independent process inside their former homeland that will lead to the institution of infrastructure, culture and education. Such a paradigm shift in approach for all Iranian peoples should bring about a fundamental change to exercise their franchises at the ballot box and decide the direction for the country as a whole. The Iranians worldwide nostalgically reminisce about the aspiration of Iranians for democratization that actually began in the mid to late nineteenth century and continues to the present day.


F. The Iranian-American community expects the transformation of the Iranian society. It specifically envisages a day soon where people's voices are truly heard and acted upon through ballot boxes and the court of justice, when the society includes all sectors of its population including women, and members of all religious and ethnic compatriots on equal footing, and when the environment and natural resources, according to the concept of sustainable development and intergenerational equity, are safeguarded and preserved. Any solution to the problem of Iran must have at its core the plights of the Iranian people.


Although the community believes that according to international conventions, a sovereign country such as Iran, that has been the signatory to NPT is entitled to the development of nuclear technology for civilian purposes, it, nonetheless, understands the apprehension of the US and the west for the possible dubious use of such technology as Iran had continued its program in secret and through acquisition of parts and know-how via clandestine sources. The fact still remains that in the past few years alone, nearly 2000 inspections of dozens of Iranian sites have been carried out by the IAEA, where the surveillance cameras are in operation around the clock. Notwithstanding the country's legal right for the development of civilian nuclear technologies, the Iranian-American Community, following the advice of the scientific community, believes that renewable, non-nuclear based sources (solar and wind) are the answers to meeting the energy needs of Iran.


Therefore, taking advantage of "democracy" as the slogan now used by the US to galvanize the Middle Eastern countries is in the right direction so long as the institution of democracy occurs from within these respective countries. When the theological establishment in Iran are impelled through non-confrontational means to allow the seed of democracy planted over a hundred years ago to take root and grow, it will yield a much better ambiance that is conducive to mutually beneficial exchanges of goods and services and socio-economic development between the US and the west on the one hand, and the Middle Eastern countries as typified by Iran, on the other.


Historically, a mass exodus of Iranians from the greater Persian plateau has occurred presumably for fear of religious persecution, by people of the Zoroastrian faith emigrating to Gujarat and Mumbai, India. From the mid-19th century, Iranians of mostly Assyrian and Armenian (Christian), Baha'i, Jewish and Zoroastrian faiths, have sporadically emigrated to the west, including the US. It was not until 1979 that the new government with its fundamental socio-political changes caused the most recent mass exodus of three million from all walks of life comprised mainly of Moslem faith; one million are in the US alone. They are duly recognized as being among the most educated, affluent, law abiding and productive US citizens. They are contributing immensely toward the US economy (in education, scientific research and development, medicine and healthcare, business and manufacturing, the arts and civic service) and to the advancement of the quality of life of the nation as a whole. Despite such vast, by and large individually based contributions, the community as a whole has not yet fully achieved the representation it truly deserves in government and the socio-political arena.


The Iranian-American families and their Community strive to reach an equilibrium between assimilation and loyalty, to the US, while selectively instilling the many noble aspects of their Persian heritage in the children. There is an emerging consensus in the community advocating opposition to military intervention and pre-emptive selective strikes against their homeland where they still have close family and cultural ties. They envisage the urgent need for a homegrown, independent democratization of their homeland leading to freedom, justice and security. The Iranian-American Community continues to move forward on the path of progress that is anchored in an outward and upward bound outlook. This involves community and civic service, and grass roots political activism in the broader American society whereby their personal and professional aspirations in the US will be more effectively heard, and better served. The second and soon third generations of Americans of Iranian ancestry are increasingly playing a vital role in their highly visible professional leaderships as well as their altruism, volunteerism, and civic and political engagements, as typified by a large number of professionals in the legal and political fields.  In much the same fashion, there is a social evolution in the community that is more conducive toward working together for common causes.  While the primary loyalty of this Community is vested in their new home, the US, they are very much connected to the land of their ancestors through family, culture and history. As subject to laws of the US, they feel a pivotal role in safeguarding the sovereignty, security, and integrity of their ex-compatriots in Iran as their paramount responsibly. Any ultimate solution for Iran, to them, must have at its foundation, the aspiration of the Iranians and the country of Iran.


About the Author:  David Rahni, (, a naturalized Iranian-American, is professor of chemistry and adjunct professor of dermatology in New York. Having prolifically written across a wide spectrum of disciplines, he has also served as adjunct professor of environmental law.


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