Sample Essay on Historical Background of the Conflict


Throughout history, the United States and Iran have been in a state of conflict. This has been attributed to diverging security interests that have characterized the political and the socioeconomic environment between the two countries. Since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, Iran has experienced a series of changes in its political environment. The United States has not only been active in curtailing Iranian nuclear program but has been advocating for an end of the nuclear programs through a series of legislations. The desire of the United States to limit Iran nuclear activities and the unending desire by Iranian administration to implements and improve on its nuclear program can be said to be part of the reasons why the United States would wage war against Iran.

Keywords: Iran, nuclear program, war, United States, foreign policy, diplomatic relati


During his campaign period for the United States presidency, Donald trump was quoted on numerous campaign rallies asserting his intention of revoking United States agreement with Tehran on its nuclear program. The decision by Iran to conduct its nuclear tests was fueled by the supposed insults that Trump had directed towards Iranians. This in the view of Tehran was perceived as an attempt by Trump administration to put them at the same level with jihadist related activities. The immigration order introduced by Trump administration has also contributed to continued tension between Iran and the United states considering that this order introduced a temporary 90-day ban on people entering the United States from Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, and Libya. From the perspective of Trump’s administration, Iran falls under the category of countries governed by hostile jihadist government. Through its Foreign Minister, Iran has continued to condemn this assertion by the United States arguing that it has openly opposed the activities of the Islamic States and therefore it cannot be perceived as fueling jihadist ideologies. Throughout history, the United States and Iran have been in a state of conflict and theories have been developed in an attempt to explain reasons for the existence of the conflict. Through an analysis of these theories, debates, and available data, this paper will assess the possibility of war between the two countries considering recent events. In addition, the research will also evaluate the possible reasons why the United States and Iran would be fighting if the war were to occur.

Historical Background of the Conflict

The overthrow of Mossadegh (Operation Ajax) – 1953

In 1953, a section of the Iranian army with the support of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overthrew a democratic government in Iran under the leadership of Mohammad Mossadegh. This was followed by the reinstallation of the Shah into the leadership of Iran. Prior to the coup dubbed Operation Ajax, a British oil company had since 1951 gained control of majority of Iranian oil fields (Gasiorowski 1). There was a wide held belief among the Iranians that their engagement with the oil company (AIOC) was disadvantageous to the country’s economy and this led to the development of a political controversy. Mossadegh and other parliamentarians in Iran demanded for the renegotiation of the terms of the standing agreement and Iranian citizens supported him. Through the efforts of Mossadegh parliament became the primary government and the Shah, who had ruled Iran as an authoritarian monarch lost their power. The political situation in Iran led to the first democratic elections in Iran, which saw Mossadegh elected as the President (Gasiorowski 2).

For the United States, the leadership of Iran was perceived as troublesome. This led the United States into orchestrating a boycott of Iranian oil in 1953 and this led to a decline in oil revenues hence negatively affection the Iranian economy. Mossadegh also attempted to nationalize the AIOC while denying the United Sates an opportunity of establishing lasting and mutual economic relationships (Abrahamian 267). The United States was afraid of the possibility that Iran under Mossadegh could join the Soviet Union. As a result, the United States organized a coup with the objective of reinstating the Shah to political power. The first phase of the coup was unsuccessful and the Shah fled Iran. The second phase, which was characterized by engineered CIA protests and bribing of political officers in Iran, was successful. This saw reinstatement of the Shah. The Shah ruled Iran for more than two decades as a dictatorship with the support of the United States government (Gasiorowski 10). Operation Ajax was considered a success until 1979 when the Iranians revolted against the United States in what became to be known as the Iranian Hostage crisis.



American response or provocation? – Supporting the Shah (1954-1979)

From the perspective of the United States, Operation Ajax was successful because it ensured the overthrow of Mossadegh and the reinstatement of the Shah into political power. In 1954, the Shah was able to solve the perceived oil crisis in Iran through the establishment of an international consortium that included three United States oil companies and the AIOC (Crist 44). This consortium was charged with the responsibility of distributing the output from oil wells and refineries that were to remain under the control of Iran.

In 1955, the Shah, with the support of the United States agreed to join the Central Treaty Organization, which was perceived as an anti-Soviet pact. Through this pact agreed to help Iran in the establishment of electronic surveillance posts along the country’s border with Russia. With the support of the United States, the Iranian government under the Shah established the SAVAK (State Information and Security Organization) which was used in ensuring the systematic silencing of the opposition, imprisoning, and torturing of anti-Shah activists. Through continued support from the United States, the Shah was able to seal his partnership with the US government in early 1960 characterized by an alignment with Israel with the aim of curbing any Soviet influence in Arab countries (Crist 55).

Throughout 1970s, the United States was able to bankroll Shah’s military buildup. This was characterized by an agreement to sell billions worth of sophisticated weaponry to Iran, these weaponries were perceived by the United States as important tools of promoting its foreign policy in the Middle East. By the time the Iranian revolutionist overthrew Shah, the United States had already delivered billions worth of armaments (Crist 74).

Islamic revolution- 1979

In 1978, infuriated by what was perceived as slanderous remarks against Ayatollah Khomeini, in one of Tehran’s local newspapers, thousands of young religious students organized and engaged in protests. They were joined by thousands of Iranian youth who were frustrated by failure of the Shah administration to provide employment opportunities. The ill health of the Shah and the sudden outpouring of hostility against the government led to the death of thousands of protestors since the Shah assumed that the protests and repressions were part of an international conspiracy against the Iranian government (Abrahamian 497). The Shi’ite community formed majority of the protestors. Among the Shiite, martyrdom was considered a fundamental aspect in religious expression and this explains why every fatality was followed by demonstrations in commemoration of customary 40-day milestone of mourning. Despite all government efforts to stop the protests, a cycle of violence was developed in Iran in which each death fueled more protests. The protests were subsumed under the cloak of Shi’ite Islam with a cry among protestors for political and religious liberation in Iran (Abrahamian 500).

One of the leaders of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, was able to coordinate an upsurge of the opposition while in exile. Through his efforts, the protestors demanded the abdication of the Shah’s. In 1979, while fleeing the country, the Shah established the Regency Council to run the country. This council was unable to establish a compromise with the protestors demanding for the establishment of a Shi’ite government under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini. In April 1979, through a national referendum, Khomeini declared Iran an Islamic republic (Abrahamian 530).

Rise of the Mullahs (1980- present)

Under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Islamic State of Iran was considered highly competitive and authoritarian. Through this approach to leadership, the country enjoyed significant stability despite the presence of an armed opposition, the challenges of war, and the difficult economic situations. The stable political climate enabled by the Mullahs, the revolutionary guards was charged with the political responsibility of controlling the disenfranchised masses (Crist 78). Their political position of the Mullahs, under Ayatollah Khomeini, was also secured by an understanding that it was important to allow at least two competing factions of the political elite to compete for political power and policy control. The Association of Militants Clerics, popularly known as the leftist clergy and their allies formed one part of the political factions. This group advocated for the establishment of a state run economy and trade (Crist 80).

There was also the Society of Militant Clerics, popularly known as the rightist’s clergy and their allies. This group advocated for privatization of the free market economy. Competition for political power by both sides of the political divide was characterized by denouncing each other. In order to maintain the relevance of the Mullah in the competitive political environment, Khomeini was engaged in a constant shift of the weight of his support from one group to another to ensure that neither gained absolute control (Baer 90). Until the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, the Mullahs ensured that both factions of the political divide coexisted and competed in every election, while the opposition was subjected to violent suppression. The death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 changed the political landscape in Iran. Furthermore, the Iran-Iraq war also made the Mullah increasingly reliant on the revolutionary guards for their survival. However, through the Supreme leader, the Mullah has always ensured that they occupy positions of power and vet presidential candidates. This has been characterized with violent suppression of any opposition (Baer 97).

Contemporary Iran under Ahmadinejad and beyond 

The historic elections of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the president of Iran in 2005 was perceived as a conformation that Iranian politics was still under the effective control of the totalitarian leadership of the supreme leader and the clergy. This election was perceived as historic because all the candidates involved were veterans who were engaged in the Iran- Iraq war. While launching his campaign for the presidency in 2005, Ahmadinejad operated on an anti-corruption populist ideology that targeted the established political and economic elites in Iran (Baer 112). Through the populist ideology and the support acquired from the revolutionary guards and the Supreme leader, Ahmadinejad won the elections and began his presidency with absolute loyalty to the revolutionary guards and the supreme leader. This was reflected in the economic policies that supported the ideas of the Supreme leader. The economic polices developed by Ahmadinejad generated a significant increase in the involvement of active and veteran officers of the revolutionary guards in numerous business initiatives. In doing so, the economy was militarized and this led to an increase in oil revenues and availability of more jobs for the Iranian population (Crist 100).

Ahmadinejad while implementing his populist ideology his central consideration was the establishment of a domestic hegemony. This was based on the assumption that through specific foreign policy the international arena upon which domestic rivalries could be played out. This was a phenomenon largely ignored by the west because they did not realize the essence of the international platform in consolidating domestic control (Crist 167).

Since assuming power in 2005, Ahmadinejad emphasized the implementation of a revolutionary foreign policy in Iran. Inasmuch as the West, especially the United States had contributed to domestic development of Iran under Khatami administration, in an attempt to improve the relations with the west Ahmadinejad Waa inclined towards the adoption of a moderate foreign policy based on co-existence and mutual respect (Baer 120).

On the nuclear issue, Ahmadinejad argued that just like any other nation, Iran had the right of initiating a nuclear program despite opposition from the United States and other western allies. While showing support for this revolutionary ideology that was against the US and Israel, Ahmadinejad was willing to engage the US in some form of dialogue as part of establishing mutual diplomatic relations. This move saw the conservatives and reformist in Iraq accusing Ahmadinejad of inclining the country’s policies towards the imperialist United States (Crist 120).

Throughout his tenure, Ahmadinejad developed a highly confrontational nuclear policy towards the US. The objective was to prevent the intervention of foreign nations on matters of nuclear policy. This explains why, while aligning his policies to those of the Supreme Leader, Ahmadinejad escalated the nuclear program through uranium enrichment and an increase in the installation of centrifuges. The confrontational foreign policy led the international community under the leadership of the United States to introduce economic sanctions against Iran. This contributed to numerous economic and socio-political challenges in Iran and led to a serious of protest against Ahmadinejad regime. The economic crisis also generated differences between the presidency and the Supreme Leader who blamed Ahmadinejad for the crisis and insisted that the Mullah regime was willing to agree on a deal with the United States on the nuclear issue (Baer 211).

September 11, 2001 and the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq

Following the 9/11, the United States under President Bush decided to pursue perceived terrorist in Afghanistan and Iraq. The attack on Afghanistan was aimed at preserving international peace and limiting the possibility of another attack in the United States or any other country in the world by terrorist. After the 9/11 attacks, the factional elites in Iran began, debates on the issue of preserving the national interests of Iran based on the extent to which they should establish a relationship with the United States. These debates intensified between the Iranian political elites following the preparations by the United States to wage war against Afghanistan (Baer 150).

The war was of interest to Iran because the Taliban, which posed a significant threat to Iran, was the main target of the United States. In this context, the foreign policy of the Iranian administration was inclined towards offering support to the United States during the war. This explains why Iran was successful in supporting the United States overthrow the Taliban. This is because the Iranian state had influence in the Northern Alliance, an insurgency that had been battling the Taliban since 1990. Iran used this influence to help the United States in securing an agreement with members of Afghan opposition on the possibility of forming a new government, which assumed power in Kabul in 2001 following the defeat of the Taliban (Benjamin and Jodie 188).

The defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan improved on foreign policy relations between Iran and the United States. Through continued dialogue between the US and the Supreme leader in Iran, the two countries cooperated in US intervention in Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein on claims that his administration was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, Iran was also active in assisting US because of the perceived threat that Iraq posed and the existence of sectarian divide in Iraq (Benjamin and Jodie 190).

Theoretical Construct

Level analysis

Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the United States and Iran have been unable to ensure the establishment diplomatic relations. This has been attributed to diverging security interests that have characterized the political and the socioeconomic environment between the two countries. Since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, Iran has experienced a series of changes in its political environment (Baer 66). From 1989, different Iranian presidents have attempted to normalize their relations with the United States through numerous political, economic, and social initiatives. Inasmuch as the efforts by the Supreme Leader and the presidents have been perceived as improving on the relation, the relationship has been affected by differences in political understanding of these administrations. Through the emergence of highly controversial and populist leadership in Iran, such as Ahmadinejad, there has been a complete reversal in the years of diplomatic progress between Iran and the United States (Crist 120).

The values and ideologies of Iran have always clashed with those of the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution that saw the ousting of the western friendly leadership with a radical religious theocracy. Numerous American administration s have taken a stance against the nuclear program proposed by the Iranian administration. Subsequent United States administrations have always pressured European nations and uprising powers such as China to stop cooperating with Iran in its nuclear program. Insufficient help led Iran into seeking the help of Russia in mid 1990s (Baer 100). Through numerous initiatives and several decades of cooperation, Russia helped Iran in the construction of two nuclear reactors that provided fuel fabrication technology. The relationship was improved by the understanding that Russia was active in providing Iran with uranium enrichment centrifuge plans. The close relationship between Russia and Iran remains a point of contention in the relations between Russia and the United States (Crist 200).

The United States has not only been active in curtailing Iranian nuclear program but has been advocating for an end of the nuclear programs through a series of legislations. The desire of the United States to limit Iran nuclear activities and the unending desire by Iranian administration to implements and improve on its nuclear program can be said to be part of the reasons why the United States would wage war against Iran (Crist 211). This would be on the claim that through the development of the nuclear program Iran will be a threat to the regional and global security situation. The tension between Iran and other Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and the need for the United States to establish itself as hegemony on the global scene can also be cited as reasons for the possible war between the United States and Iran with both parties seeking to protect their political and economic interests (Crist 213).

Diversionary theory of war 

Inasmuch as both Iran and the United states have been involved in numerous diplomatic efforts towards the establishment of lasting peace between the two countries, the possibility of armed conflict cannot be dismissed. In order to explain the dynamic of the conflict situation between the two countries, the diversionary theory of war provides a description of the factors that lead to both peace and war between two conflicting states. Proponents of this theory argue that the possibility of war between any conflicting parties is dependent on the dwindling popularity of the leadership. These include a failing economy, and poorly executed social policies. The economic performance of a country is the most significant factor in the determination of conflict with an adversary. In any political environment, a leader loses the faith of his populace when he fails to create and sustain economic prosperity (Malici 100).

For any leader to evade domestic discontent arising from his unpopularity he must initiate a conflict to distract the populace from their domestic problems. When a leader is successful in dealing with a conflict situation his popularity rises. In the United States when the country is faced with a crisis the popularity of the president tends to increase regardless of his wisdom. This can be used in understanding the nuclear program in Iran (Malici 101). Nuclear power is a vital necessity in propelling Iranian national interests. Attaining nuclear power is not only the goal of Iranian government but also the nation. This means that American condemnation of the Iranian government for failing to abide by internationally recognized nuclear guidelines creates a rally around the flag effect. The conflict situation occurs because the Iranian nation feels like an outsider, the United States, threatens its interests. When perceived from the diversionary theory of war, there is an expectation that Tehran will become hostile towards the United States especially when the government will be faced by an internal crisis and there is need to divert the attention of the populace (Malici 118).

Diversionary theory of war has been criticized on the understanding that it does not operate on the understanding of the behavior of that targeted states. This is because from a logical perspective, it is possible to assume that when a state is threatened with war it will do everything in its power to avoid the conflict especially if it is with a powerful aggressor. According to the strategic conflict avoidance theory, a weaker state will develop policies and strategies of avoiding conflict with a militarily superior state (Malici 120). This is often through an observation of the domestic situation to prevent a crisis and possibility social unrest, which provides a platform for war. In order to safeguard its inters, Iran has been able to apply the conflict avoidance strategy by employing a combination of effective international diplomacy strategies and manipulating the united states in its favor. The Shah for instance designed his foreign policies by accentuating American fears and gaining greater access to American weaponry and developed a nuclear capacity. This skillful manipulation has been used by successive Iranian administrations such as Khomeini who employed divide and rule tactics at both local and international levels (Malici 121).

By supporting the United States in the war against Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran was perceived to be an ally of the United States. However, the development of the nuclear program against the desires of the United States may have contributed to the current stalemate between the two countries. However, through nuclear pact with the Obama administration on the nuclear program Iran has been able to ensure it progresses with the program while at the same time preserving its position with it perceived international adversaries (Malici 123).


Data from the film Iran Is Not the Problem

From the film, it is possible to understand that there has been a series nuclear program undertaken by the Iranian government. This is an assumption that has been supported by various heads of American intelligence agencies. Inasmuch as these allegations may be true, the film blames the media and the American politicians for fueling propaganda hence leading most Americans into developing insufficient understanding in judging Iranian actions with regard to its nuclear program. This has also resulted in an erroneous conclusion by those pursuing individual ideological and political ends and the intrigues of foreign governments.

By the end of the Cold War, the United States through its foreign relations, military actions, and defense mechanisms focused its attention on terrorism. Through the efforts of presidents such as George Bush, the United States has been able to develop policies targeting countries with weapons of mass destruction and terrorism led to September 11 attacks and US invasion on Iraq. With the destruction of Iraq and ousting of Saddam Hussein, the United States and its allies such as Israel turned their attention to Iran’s nuclear research program.

The film provides a description on how the government of Israel exaggerated the threat of Iran to rationalize their expansionist ambitions supported by the United States. From the film, Iran has so far satisfied the demands by the International Atomic Energy Agency and American intelligence that it is not pursuing nuclear research for the development of weapons of mass destruction. However, the United States administration and the media continue to insist on unverified claims. Iranian nationals have felt persecuted by the United States through economic sanctions that have resulted in inflation, shortage of medical supplies, isolation of Iranian financial institutions and a reduction of exports.


From a historical perspective, the relationship between Iran and the United states has been characterized by tension arising from the need by he former to realize its national interest by gaining economic and political dominance in the Middle East. Since the Shah and the subsequent leadership Iran has been able to develop manipulative foreign policies seeking to protect its resources from exploitation by the United States and its allies while at the same time protecting its national and international interests. The nuclear program in Iran seems to be the main point of conflict between the two nations. This is despite the ability of Iran to provide evidence on the security mechanisms on its nuclear program and the fact that its nuclear program does not intend to produce weapons of mass destruction. Recent remarks by President Trump targeting Iran have continued to fuel the tension between these countries. If the two countries were to go war, it would be on the Iranian nuclear program and the desire   by the United States to establish its authority in the Middle East. However, from the strategic avoidance theory, the US is militarily stronger compared to Iran and therefore the former cannot resort to war. Instead, it will continue to use manipulative polices to protect its interest in the presence of the tension.

Works cited

Abrahamian, Ervand. Iran between Two Revolutions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,


Baer, Robert. The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower. New York: Three

Rivers Press, 2008.

Benjamin, Medea, and Jodie Evans. Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence

and Terrorism. Maui, Hawaii: Inner Ocean Pub, 2005

Crist, David. The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Year Conflict with Iran. London: Penguin Books, 2013.

Gasiorowski, Mark J. Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran. Syracuse: Syracuse

Univ. Press, 2004. Print.

Malici, Akan. Role Theory and Role Conflict in U.S.-Iran Relations. London: Routledge, 2016