Searching for yet Another Alternative to War with Iran

American political discourse regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran has always had an Orwellian flavor. Escalating economic sanctions are presented as an earnest effort at diplomacy; covert actions and industrial sabotage are pitched as an alternative to war. Now, courtesy of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), we have the introduction of another alternative to the “military option”: the dismemberment of Iran.

According to a letter Rep. Rohrabacher sent to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton last week:

Aiding the legitimate aspirations of the Azeri people for independence is a worthy cause in and of itself. Yet, it also poses a greater danger to the Iranian tyrants than the threat of bombing its underground nuclear research bunkers.

I am not going to dwell on the audacity of this particular call. US politicians have always assumed rhetorical and behavioral privileges that they denounce as outright ugly, even evil, when practiced by others. Imagine a member of a Parliament from another country sending out a letter to their government asking for support to be given to Hawaiian nationalists or for the return of California to Mexico. I guess being a superpower has its privileges.

I am not going to dwell on the history that comes to mind after reading Rohrabacher’s letter either. Nevertheless, 1828 was the year that Iran, under the Qajar Dynasty, was forced to sign the Turkmenchay Treaty, ceding territory to Russia after its defeat in war (along with territorial loss, Iran also lost all navigation rights in the Caspian Sea while the Russians gained capitulation rights and the privilege of sending consulate envoys anywhere in Iran). So, it will be quite a revelation for most Iranians, including most Azeri-Iranians, that according to Rohrabacher’s press release, the Azeri “homeland was divided by Russia and Persia in 1928” ; even if this revisionist history may do good for the Iranian ego by portraying the abysmally weak Iran of 1828 as quite a power.

What is most troubling, though, is the desire – you can also call it a dream or an urge – to harm contemporary Iran in any way possible and without any concern for implications. Rohrabacher’s letter was apparently prompted by recent news stories concerning a budding military cooperation between Israel and the Azerbaijan Republic.

“It would be wise for the United States to encourage such cooperation, as the aggressive dictatorship in Tehran is our enemy as well as theirs,” writes Rohrabacher. “The people of Azerbaijan are geographically divided and many are calling for the reunification of their homeland after nearly two centuries of foreign rule.”

Let’s decode this. In a single sentence, a people and a territory are joined and the separation of one territory from a country so that it can be joined to another country is made simple. Given the desire to pose a danger that is even “greater than…bombing its underground nuclear research bunkers,” there seems to be no need to contemplate the fact that millions of Iranian Azeris live outside of the four Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ardebil, and Zanjan wherein Azeris are prominent, and a large percentage of the population in West Azerbaijan are Kurds and not Azeris. These are apparently irrelevant facts for Rohrabracher and most of the Iran-obsessed US politicians who also cannot be bothered with inconvenient details.

The task of posing “a greater danger” – read destabilizing the Islamic Republic – is all that matters without a second of thought given to the potential costs of fomenting this kind of destabilization in terms of lost lives and livelihoods. Let’s make trouble is the motto and who cares what happens afterwards. Nothing — not even the calamities that the invasion of Iraq and now the unplanned escalation in Syria have wrought – worries the conscience of these US politicians.

It would have been easy to ignore the “let’s do more harm” crowd if their philosophies have not at least in part shaped US foreign policy. Rohrabracher’s call for the independence of greater Azerbaijan will probably be ignored, at least for now, but the urge to make as much trouble for a country that is ridiculously – given its comparatively limited resources – identified as “the greatest threat to U.S. Security” without any thought given to the implications for Iran’s social and political fabrics or consequential further regional instability remains.

Farideh Farhi

Farideh Farhi is an Independent Scholar and Affiliate Graduate Faculty at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. She has taught comparative politics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, University of Hawai'i, University of Tehran, and Shahid Beheshti University, Tehran. Her publications include States and Urban-Based Revolutions in Iran and Nicaragua , Power and Change in Iran: Politics of Contention and Conciliation (co-edited with Dan Brumberg), and numerous articles and book chapters on comparative analyses of revolutions and Iranian politics. She has been a recipient of grants from the United States Institute of Peace and the Rockefeller Foundation and Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She has also worked as a consultant for the World Bank and the International Crisis Group.



  1. Cleaving off the Azeri from Iran or at least fomenting unrest has been wet dream of the NeoCons for a while. Too bad they can’t come to terms with the fact that the Azeri was so well integrated in Iran, and even the Supreme Leader is himself Azeri

  2. For Rep. Dana Rohrabacher: Zoy? S?bet singing the song ‘Ey Iran’ (O Iran! – Iran’s popular national anthem) in Baku, Capital of Republic of Azerbaijan –

    Incidentally, historically the geographical region now known as Republic of Azerbaijan, has never been part of Azarbaijan, which since ancient times has consisted of the geographical region covered by Iran’s present-day East Azarbaijan Province and West Azarbaijan Province. The Republic of Azerbaijan is located in the geographical area historically known as Arr?n.*

  3. It is much more likely that Iran and Russia will divide Azerbaijan between them, because it is the farthest in US base in the Russian heartland, and it is an Israeli base for terrorism, spying, and drones, and to support air attacks on Iran.

    Russia would likely swallow Georgia at the same time, for the same reasons.

  4. I there was nothing of value beneath the sands of Iran this conversation would not be taking place.

  5. @Ripproar

    I strongly disagree with your statement, which unfortunately has become very fashionable in modern times. Iran is an ancient nation with an ancient culture (there are several nations and cultures that fall into this category; think of Egypt – I do not mean to be exclusive here) and Iranians want this to be acknowledged and respected. Ever since the Roman Empire came into existence – specifically its Eastern branch, the Byzantine Empire, in Late Antiquity, Iran has been fighting for the preservation of what it perceives as Iranian, culturally as well as geographically. You may wish to consult the book ‘Sasanian Persia: The Rise and Fall of an Empire’ (by Touraj Daryaee*), and you will realize that Iran and Iranians were “bad” even when oil was not a commercial commodity, and, importantly for today’s political discourse, the state religion of Iran was not Shia Islam, but Zoroastrianism (in fact, this qualification is originally due to the ancient Greeks – Persians, as they called Iranians then, were just good for nothing, except perhaps when dead). What we are witnessing today in regard to Iran, is the continuation of what has been the case since ancient times, specifically since Late Antiquity. Nothing fundamental has really changed since then, except for some names (e.g., what then used to be called Rome or Constantinople, is today called Washington, DC). In short, the fight has always been, and remains to be, about domination, about who sits on the decision-making throne, or at the decision-making table.

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