“The US empire of client states against a strong, independent Iran”
Hakimeh Saghaye-Biria, Assistant Professor at Tehran Univ.
“The United States is against a strong Iran. The United States is against an independent Iran.” These are the words of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khamenei, on October 3, 2022, addressing the joint graduation ceremony for the cadets studying in the academies of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Armed Forces.
The question is what evidence leads us to such an assessment of the current globally orchestrated US hybrid war against Iran. Also, what is the relationship between a strong Iran and an independent Iran? To address these questions, one must first address the meaning of independence for the Islamic Revolution and then tackle the United States’ approach to independent nations.
A strong, independent Iran
Considering the situation in Iran in the years between the coup d’état of August 28, 1953, and February of 1979, one of the most important achievements of the Islamic Revolution was the dismantlement of a client-patron relationship with the United States. What happened in the Islamic Revolution was not merely the overthrow of an authoritarian monarchy, but the overthrow of an authoritarian client of the United States. Imam Khomeini’s movement became an inspiration for all Muslims around the world. Imam Khomeini in a message conveyed this point to the Muslims of the world:
Muslims all over the world! Since you are experiencing gradual death under the domination of foreigners, you must overcome the fear of death and take advantage of the presence of passionate and martyrdom-seeking youth who are ready to break the lines of the infidel front. Do not worry about maintaining the status quo; Rather, think of escaping from captivity, of liberation from slavery, and of attacking the enemies of Islam; know that dignity and life in the shadow of struggle is dependent on the will and then the decision to forbid the sovereignty of infidelity and polytheism, especially that of the United States.
As such, one of the main principles of the Islamic Revolution of Iran is independence. Article 152 of the Constitution reads, “The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is based on the rejection of any kind of domination, both its exercise and submission to it; the preservation of the all-inclusive independence of the country and its territorial integrity; the defense of the rights of all Muslims; non-alignment in relation to the domineering powers; mutual peaceful relations with non-aggressive states.”
In this context, independence is seen as a multi-layered process, not a product. On the first layer, the achievement of independence involves the decolonization of the mind in such a way that a nation not only wants to be truly sovereign, but that it sees dependence on outside powers as contrary to Tawhid (the belief in Monotheism). Thus, independence is not viewed as an option; it is an obligation. On the second layer, the achievement of independence entails a full-fledged attempt at national empowerment; i.e., working toward the goal of a strong Iran. As an example, a peaceful nuclear capability is viewed in the context of achieving scientific progress and technological independence. Economic, political, cultural, and military empowerment is also seen in the context of independence. On the third and final layer, the achievement of independence involves the management of foreign relations in such a way as to achieve a unified global front from among independent-oriented nations against the domineering global powers. Thus, coalition-building would happen with a broad goal in mind; i.e., the creation of a “resistance front.”
In this coalition building, two goals are involved: 1) building a coalition in the region to resist US presence and interference in the affairs of West Asia and 2) building a global coalition to resist US global hegemony. Working toward the first goal has been put under the responsibilities of the Quds Force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. In the decades after the Iran-Iraq War, the Quds Force has been able to successfully expand Iran’s influence in the region toward the achievement of an active resistance front. Working toward the second goal; i.e., building a global resistance front, falls under the responsibilities of the executive branch, including the foreign ministry.
The Islamic Republic’s role, as the leader of the resistance front, in bringing about the failure of US military projects in the region is a key reason for US hybrid warfare against the Islamic Republic. The reason for the deep hatred of US and Zionist regime leaders towards the martyr General Qasem Soleimani should also be found in his role in causing the failure of the United States in the West Asia region. As a result, US’s reputation in the world was seriously damaged and its ability to create an American order based on military and political power was put to disarray.
The United States: An empire of client states
To understand why the United States might wage a hybrid war against Iran because of its independence, one could look at the history of US foreign relations over the past century. This is exactly what David Sylvan and Stephen Majeski did in their 2009 book titled US Foreign Policy in Perspective: Clients, Enemies, and Empire. According to Sylvan and Majeski, US foreign policy for at least the last one hundred years has centered around the creation of a network of client states which results in a particular kind of domination or what they call “an empire of client states,” a peculiarly American form of imperialism (14). In this context, a client state is defined as a country that allows the United States to have complete surveillance and control over its internal affairs and that works toward the fulfillment of US interests in its foreign policy. Iran under the Shah after the 1953 US-backed coup was one of the most important US clients in the West Asia region as Saudi Arabia is today.
According to Sylvan and Majeski’s findings, the history of American foreign relations also shows that the United States begins to develop hostile relations in response to a client state’s withdrawal from the puppet relationship. “For U.S. officials, an enemy is a nonclient whose regime is seen as choosing systematically to differ with the U.S. on key issues of foreign, domestic, economic, and political policy” (45). In this context, the Islamic Republic of Iran is considered an enemy by the United States because of its systematic independence from the United States.
The United States uses “routinely hostile activities” against enemies including the following: refusing diplomatic recognition, economic sanctions, opposing multilateral loans, blocking the movement of citizens of the enemy country, granting asylum to immigrants from the enemy country, supporting opposition leaders, instigating propaganda and covert psychological operations, and accusing the enemy country of violating basic norms (such as human rights) (Sylvan and Majeski 179).
At times, the United States uses tools of engagement such as negotiations to manage enemy countries. What is important is that “only temporary agreements are possible with them, and routine relationships involve a significant amount of mistrust and perhaps obsessiveness” (Sylvan and Majeski 177). This means that in many cases, when Washington has entered into an interaction with the Islamic Republic, this has been done with a purely instrumental view and in the direction of managing an enemy state, and not as an interaction based on mutual respect. “If the enemy negotiates an agreement with the U.S. on a specific matter of disagreement, that is usually seen in Washington as a sign that its policy is paying off and hence as grounds for continuing or even escalating most forms of pressure except for the points on which accord was reached” (Sylvan and Majeski 180).
While the above-mentioned routinely hostile activities are the standard way the United States attempts to destabilize enemy states, when the situation warrants it the United States uses military hostile tools including coups, attempts to restrict the transfer of weapons and military technology, assistance to domestic armed opposition forces, full-scale military warfare, sustained and asymmetric attacks, combat operations alongside local insurgent forces, assassinations, and eventually military occupation. This is what Sylvan and Majesky call “hostile interventions” (180).
Another important feature of the US empire of client states is the role former colonial powers such as Britain and France play in the system. While these powers now dominate a network of clients of their own, these networks are usually hierarchically lower with respect to the empire of American clients, and in this sense, they can also be considered within the American client system.
In this context, one could argue that the United States has been at war with Iran ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. This has taken different forms: military warfare in terms of instigating Saddam Hussain to attack Iran and supporting him all along the eight-year Iran-Iraq war and war by other means including economic warfare. In more than 40 years of warfare, one thing that has remained constant is the use of propaganda. The decision to start regime change operations against the Islamic Republic was made as early as December 20, 1979. According to a declassified document, former president Carter issued a presidential finding on December 20, 1979, instructing the CIA to work toward bringing down the Islamic Republic, in which case the first tool mentioned was “to conduct propaganda.”
Why is propaganda so important? First, Iran had just experienced an unprecedented social revolution. So, the most important obstacle in the face of regime change were the Iranian people. Second, as is seen in Sylvan and Majeski’s research, the United States needs to attack the global legitimacy of a country it opposes for it to be able to conduct overt activities toward creating instability and working toward regime change (Sylvan and Majeski, 235). In the propaganda war, the United States uses all available means at its disposal within its client system.
Understanding the US client system is essential for understanding the current orchestration of anti-Iran hybrid warfare. Based on academic studies that look at the history of US foreign relations in the past century, the United States views countries that are systematically independent in their domestic and foreign policies as enemies. The specific definition of independence in the Islamic Revolution which looks at the concept as a three-layer process consisting of independence of mind (i.e., linking independence to Tawhid), independence as internal empowerment, and international independence as resistance-based coalition building, makes Iran a specific target of US animosity. At the short term, the United States uses all means available to create instability in the enemy country. The long-term goal is regime change. To encapsulate the argument, “the United States is against a strong Iran. The United States is against an independent Iran.”
Hakimeh Saghaye-Biria is an assistant professor at the University of Tehran, Faculty of Islamic Knowledge and Thought. She holds a PhD in American Studies from the University of Tehran, a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from the University of Houston.
 Khomeini, Ruhollah. Sahifeh-ye Imam. vol. 21 pp74-100
 Nabawi, Sayyid Muteza and Seleh Eskandari. Abdol Hossein Khosrow Panah, editor. Islamic Indepedence in Imam Khomeini’s System of Thought. Research Institute for Islamic Culture and Thought, 2016
 Sylvan, D. and Majeski, S. (2009). US Foreign Policy in Perspective: Clients, Enemies, and Empire. London: Routledge.
“Foreign Relations of the United States, 1977–1980, Volume XI, Part 1, Iran: Hostage Crisis, November 1979–September 1980 – Office of the Historian.” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1977–1980, Volume XI, Part 1, Iran: Hostage Crisis, November 1979–September 1980 – Office of the Historian, 27 Dec. 1979, history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1977-80v11p1/d110.