Mearsheimer: Iran’s Sphere of Influence Outside U.S. Control
IndraStra Open Journal Systems
IndraStra Global

Mearsheimer: Iran’s Sphere of Influence Outside U.S. Control

A report on two speeches delivered by Prof. Mearsheimer in Tehran – December 2017

By Ramin Nadimi

Image Attribute:Professor John Joseph Mearsheimer in Iran (December 2017) / Photo: Khodabaksh Malmir /

Image Attribute:Professor John Joseph Mearsheimer in Iran (December 2017) / Photo: Khodabaksh Malmir /

Professor John Joseph Mearsheimer is a professor of international relations at the University of Chicago. He is the founder of the offensive neorealism theory. His education started in 1964 at the United States Military Academy at West Point. After graduation in 1970, he served for five years as an officer in the US Air Force. While serving in the Air Force, Mearsheimer earned a Master’s degree in international relations from the University of Southern California. He then entered Cornell University and in 1981 and 1982, earned his doctorate and post-doctorate degrees in international relations, respectively from Cornell University and Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs. Mearsheimer’s scientific work was mainly focused on national security and perhaps it was due to that scientific background that he finally offered his theories of international relations based on the paradigm of neorealism. The theory of offensive neorealism offered by Mearsheimer was based on realism, which holds that the anarchic nature of the international system is responsible for aggressive state behavior in international politics. Therefore, governments do not seek a specific amount of power, but in their effort to acquire absolute security, they always try to boost their power with the main goal being to turn into a hegemonic power. The most important books written by Mearsheimer include: 1. Conventional Deterrence (1983), 2. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001), 3. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007), and 4. Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (2011).

Professor Mearsheimer delivered two public speeches during his trip to Iran in December 2017.

The first speech was delivered by Mearsheimer on December 10, 2017 at the Iranian Institute of Research Foreign policy of Europe & America (EURICA) as part of a specialized seminar themed the “Outlook of Desirable Regional Order in West Asia from Viewpoints of Iran and the United States.” The meeting was presided over by Seyyed Hamed Mousavi and was also attended by Mohammad Jamshidi and Nasser Hadian, two professors at the International Relations Department of the University of Tehran's Faculty of Law and Political Science. Moreover, more than 300 academics, university students and other interested individuals attended the meeting as well. During that speech, Mearsheimer argued that during the 20th century, that is, from 1900 to 2000, meeting the strategic and vital interests of the United States was dependent on protecting the country’s interests firstly in Europe and then in Northeast Asia and the Persian Gulf.

In his opinion, revolutionary changes have come about in the United States’ grand strategy and the way it looks at the world. At the present time, East Asia has tuned into the most important region of the world for the United States due to the rise of a powerful China. As a result, Europe is now Washington’s third priority. At the same time, the Middle East is the second region, which enjoys strategic importance for the United States. Mearsheimer added that importance of the Persian Gulf for the United States is not simply because of the fact that this region has abundant oil and gas reserves, but it is important because China is badly in need of imported oil from the Middle East. Mearsheimer also explained how change of political regimes has turned into one of the most important goals of the United States’ foreign policy in the Middle East from 2001 up to the present time (2017).

Mearsheimer noted that in his opinion, measures taken and efforts made by the United States with the goal of regime change and establishment of liberal democratic systems that would be Washington’s allies have invariably failed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Egypt and have been followed with mostly catastrophic consequences. He noted that pursuit of this failed policy by the United States has had four untoward outcomes for the Middle East region and the entire world. Those outcomes, he explained, include: 1. Worsening of the terrorism problem; 2. Extreme suffering of innocent people and civilians in the region; 3. Intensification of differences between Shias and Sunnis; and 4. Uncontrollable flow of refugees and asylum seekers toward Europe. Explaining about the policy of the incumbent US President Donald Trump, Mearsheimer noted that before coming to office, Trump had no experience with regard to foreign policy and has been making many unexpected and rash decisions since he took the helm at the White House last January. In addition, Trump keeps changing his mind about important and crucial global issues, he said.

From Mearsheimer’s viewpoint, Trump’s foreign policy in the Middle East is characterized with five important elements: 1. The United States movement toward “offshore balancing” and reduction of its forces in the region; 2. Discarding the regime change policy; 3. Bolstering the alliance that exists among the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia; 4. Increased hostility toward Iran; and 5. Supporting the Greater Israel plan.

He noted that the United States is currently drawing down its forces in the region in line with the offshore balancing policy. He added that at the present time, the United States has 15,000 forces in Kuwait, 10,000 in Qatar, 7,000 in Bahrain, 5,200 in Iraq, 5,000 in the United Arab Emirates, 1,500 in Jordan and 2,000 in Oman.  Mearsheimer opined that the policy followed by the Trump’s administration toward Iran is not regime change anymore, but the US president seeks to contain the Islamic Republic within its borders. He emphasized that the United States cannot dismantle Iran’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of countries, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in a unilateral manner, noting that Washington has no plan to attack Iran either. Mearsheimer added that even a possible military strike by the United States against Iran would be limited to aerial and missile attacks, rather than a full-fledged military war. He said that any such attack by the United States on Iran would boost the Islamic Republic’s motivation to acquire nuclear weapons.

He concluded his remarks with a prediction. He noted that in view of the current conditions in the Middle East, the region is expected to be dealing with more problems in the future and it is difficult to find a way out of the current state of death and destruction, which has been plaguing the region since 2001.  Mearsheimer delivered his second speech at the University of Tehran's Faculty of Law and Political Science on December 11, 2017. He started his remarks by reminding the audience that Iran is considered as a big country in the Middle East, because it enjoys good human asset and this asset is source of Iran's power, which is a real cause of fear and concern on the part of the United States.

Mearsheimer then mentioned China and Russia as big global powers and major political and economic rivals for the United States. He added that intense competition is going on in the world over sources of power and one of the most notable of those competitions is taking place between the United States and China. He emphasized that the world has been moving toward multipolarity in recent years during which the United States, China and Russia have been three dominant global powers.

Meanwhile, he described human asset and material wealth as two important components of power in the world. He said that out of the three previously mentioned powers, Russia would be in decline, because its population growth will be negative and its population will be lower than the current figure by 2050. Therefore, the country will gradually lose one of its power components while the Russian economy, which is heavily dependent on oil and gas, will also go downhill if no measure is taken to modernized it. Mearsheimer, however, believed that on the other hand, the United States enjoys good human asset and there is no sign that its economy is in decline. Nonetheless, he said, the United States will be facing a serious threat due to increasing power of China and China will be the main challenge facing the United States. The academic noted that China could potentially become much more powerful and even surpass the United States in this regard.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Mearsheimer noted that the United States and China will form two main poles of global power in coming years and Beijing will make an effort to dominant the entire Asia. In addition, China is not happy about military presence of the United States near its borders. Mearsheimer stated that China would, therefore, try to be considered as a power in the Middle East as well, because its growing economy will be heavily dependent on the Persian Gulf and the region’s oil and gas reserves. In his opinion, the Persian Gulf will remain highly important to the United States as well, because Washington has been present in this region for long years. Since Iran is also considered as a regional power, it is easy to predict that the rivalry over power in the Middle East region will be intense, he said.

Mearsheimer went on to note that the United States is not able to determine which country should be powerful in this region and which country should not be. What the United States can do, he added, is not to allow any country in the Middle East to dominate the entire region. He added it is a reality that the United States cannot have any effect on this issue and determine, for example, whether Iran should be the strongest country in the Middle East or Germany be the most powerful country in Europe. These, he added, are realities that are outside the United States’ control and the only thing that the United States can do is to prevent the rise of a specific hegemonic power in a special region of the world.

In another part of his remarks, Mearsheimer, who is a former member of the United States Council on Foreign Relations, highlighted the importance of security, noting that in order to boost its security in the world Iran must turn into the most powerful country in the Middle East. Referring to the current U.S. administration and the latest measures taken by Trump, he said Trump’s decision to recognize al-Quds (Jerusalem) as Israel's capital and transfer the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to that occupied city was taken under pressure and influence of radical figures in Washington. Mearsheimer also described Trump’s decision on al-Quds as a grave mistake.

This article was originally published at 
All rights reserved by the original publisher. Reprinted with permission.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the IndraStra Global or its team members or the organizations they represent.