I have chosen to analyze Donald Trump through the lens of realism. Realism’s use in international relations is fairly new. The basic ideas of realism can be traced back to classical texts such as Thucydide’s History of the Peloponnesian War. Realism essentially says that people are afraid and try to self-preserve by obtaining power. Within realism are two sub-theories which are classical realism and neorealism. Classical realism believes that it is human nature which is responsible for conflict and war. Neorealism posits that it is the anarchic system that is responsible.
Realists’ main concern is the accumulation of power. They believe that states try to gain power in an attempt to either deter other states from engaging in war, or have the greatest advantage when war does occur. Power can be expressed in many ways. It can be having the most, and most powerful and advanced weapons. It can be having access to natural resources such as oil. Strategic location of a state can also be a source of power; how many states share your borders or what percentage of your borders are land or water. Population size can be a source of power as well.
Realists focus mainly on the international level of analysis. They believe that states always act in their own self-interest. Also, that the international system is anarchic; there is no governing force that regulates international relations. Realists believe that when a state goes to war, that state will not be swayed by any individual or sub-state actor.
I decided to research the Trump administration’s relationship with Iran. For many years the US had a great relationship with the country. Iran was an important ally for the US in the middle east during the Cold War. The relationship between Iran and the United States has been turbulent since the end of the 70’s. Iran has had a very anti-American stance and supported groups widely considered to be terrorist organizations. Also, their pursuit of nuclear technology has had many countries around the world worried.
Prior to the Cold War, the US had little interest in Iran. During the Cold War, the then Shah of Iran’s desire to increase its military capabilities and national defense, and the United States’ desire to fight communism led to an important alliance between the two countries. The US played a key role in the 1953 coup d’?©tat which overthrew the Prime Minister of Iran. Over the next few decades, much military and financial assistance was given to the Iranian government. Ironically, the US also gave Iran the nuclear technology that has become the main issue today.
Much of Iran’s population resented the United States for their role in the 1953 coup. In 1979, a revolution removed the Shah and replaced him with an anti-American ruler Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Shortly after, a group of students who feared that the US was planning another coup, overtook the US embassy and took 52 American diplomats hostage. The hostage situation greatly devastated US-Iranian relations. In 1980, President Carter cut ties with Iran.
In the early 2000s, it was discovered that Iran was enriching uranium and was attempting to develop nuclear weapons. Over the next few years, the US and its allies imposed sanctions on Iran in an attempt to deter them from continuing to try and produce nuclear weapons.
In 2015, the US along with China, Germany, France, Russia, England, and the EU helped sign the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) which was supposed to prevent Iran from developing the technology to create nuclear weapons. It also lifted sanctions on Iran. Iran almost immediately violated the agreement and began testing long range ballistic missiles. Iran continued to violate the agreement multiple times although they deny that their actions were in violation of the plan.
President Trump has been a very harsh critic of Iran and the JCPOA. He believes that paralyzing sanctions were removed and replaced by a weak deal that failed to stop Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or address Iran’s activity in countries such as Yemen or Syria. He believes that the sanctions gave the US bargaining power and a strong grip on Iran. In May of 2018, President Trump pulled out of the JCPOA and re-imposed sanctions.
The policy decisions President Trump has made towards Iran greatly reflect those of a realist. He views Iran as a threat to American power and to the safety of American service members, citizens, and it’s allies. In a speech, Trump said essentially that Iran is a major contributor to conflicts in the middle east, is a supporter of many terrorist organizations, and that their quest to develop nukes is a major threat to the world. He also believes that the JCPOA was weak and did little to curb Iran’s bad behavior in the region.
Iran has been seen for a long time as a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. In May, Trump removed the US from the Iran deal. He saw the deal as weak and putting the US in a bad position. He wants an agreement where Iran fully abandons their nuclear and ballistic missile development, allows regular inspections of important locations such as military bases, and halts their involvement in other conflicts in the middle east. Trump sites documents seized by Israeli forces from a storage facility in Tehran. He claims that the documents provide sufficient evidence that Iran has been violating the agreement and either has been or intends to continue their pursuit of nuclear weapons. According to other sources though, there is nothing in the documents that says that Iran has been pursuing the development of nuclear weapons since the deal was made.
Trump has stated that he doesn’t feel that the deal is strict enough to prevent Iran from continuing their research. He believes that allowing the regime to continue any enrichment of uranium is dangerous and that they will continue to attempt to create weapons grade uranium.
Iran has violated the deal in other ways though, multiple times since it was made. Iran has test fired long range ballistic missiles that could carry multiple nuclear warheads. The UN had banned Iran’s import of ballistic missile technology for up to eight years.
The deal also doesn’t help stop Iran’s poor behavior in supporting terrorist groups or brutal wars in the middle east. Iran is a supporter of groups such as the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al Qaeda. Iran has supported the development of these groups and some of their attacks against American military personnel and citizens.
Trump’s strategy against Iran is to use sanctions rather than military force to cripple the regime. The US alone has pulled out of the JCPOA, to the dismay of its European allies, and implemented sanctions in an attempt to strong arm Iran into compliance. Trump is attempting to cut off all Iranian oil exports, and threatening to implement sanctions against any state that continues to buy oil from Iran. He believes that if he continues to implement sanctions against Iran, that they will not continue their research into nuclear fuel, European allies will eventually join in on the sanctions as well, and ultimately the regime will submit and negotiate a new deal with the Trump administration. And the end goal is to oust the current regime and reinstall democracy in the country.
Tensions between the US and Iran have definitely gotten worse since Donald Trump was elected into office. His position towards Iran has been hostile and he has given them no wiggle room. Other states that were part of the JCPOA believed that the deal was sufficient and they were against the US pulling out. President Trump seems to pay little attention to the advice of others. It’s hard to say what Trump’s true intentions are because what he says, and what he does many times do no align, and what he says is frequently not quite the truth.
Trump clearly displays behavior that classifies him as a realist. He has made little to no effort to establish diplomatic relations with Iran and has been harsh with his sanctions. His actions appear to be attempting to place the US in a more powerful position in the world. It could be said that Donald Trump might be a constructivist as well. He appears to be trying to change ideas about how government should be run. None the less, he has made it very clear that he believes that the previous deal with Iran put the US in a very weak position and that the US had a lot of leverage on Iran prior to the deal being made. He wants to create a deal that will keep a nuclear arms race from happening in the middle east and put the US in a more powerful position in the international system.
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