No Minister

A different perspective on Iran

Over the last month I put up a number of OPs on the subject of Iran in the wake of the US killing their top military guy Soleimani:

  1. America “You can’t do anything against us” (آمریکا هیچ غلطی نمی تواند بکن)
  2. USA v Iran: What WON’T Happen.
  3. USA v Iran: What Iran will do.
  4. USA v Iran: What the USA will do
Now over at the Kiwipolitico blog, “Pablo” – aka Paul Buchanan – has linked to two articles he has written for the Australian Institute of International Affairs:
  1. Iran As A Strategic Actor.
  2. The Ideology of Iran.
In both cases Paul brings to bear his qualifications in geopolitics and international relations, plus his experience in the belly of the US military and diplomatic beast and I recommend both of them to be read.
Some key quotes from the first article:

The key strategic concerns of the Iranian state are to ensure the integrity of the nation, preserve the theocratic regime, promote domestic development and economic prosperity, ensure domestic peace and external security and be recognised as a legitimate regional power. 

Iran’s primary external threats come from its western and southern land and sea borders, but cross-national threats emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan are in the mix as well. 

[They have] 523,000 active duty military personnel…., including 350,000 ground troops, 30,000 air force, and 18,000 naval personnel, plus other constabulary and intelligence services) and another 300,000 in reserve.

… it follows the doctrine of plausible deniability by allowing proxies and Quds Forces to undertake decentralised, autonomous operations at the discretion of field commanders.

As a balance, Iran maintains close ties with China, Russia, and Syria as well as Shiite groups throughout the world, and cordial relations with a number of other states, including India.

And from the second:

The ideological element in Iran is twofold: it sees itself as a global defender of Shiia Islam, to include defending against “Crusader” and Sunni Muslim encroachments on traditionally Shiite land and people; and it is anti-imperialist in its rejection of distant (again, Judeo-Christian) great power interference in the Middle East. 

The influence of the ideological element ebbs and flows depending on the level of threat perceived by the regime and the specific policy arena in question. 

Iran wants to demonstrate a nuclear weapons delivery capability so as to deter aggression by its enemies, especially the US and Israel. 

Iran has publicly renounced a first-strike option for its nuclear weapons and has instead spoken of using nuclear weapons only if attacked (unlike the US, which has not renounced the pre-emptive first-strike option). However, the international community fears that an Iranian nuclear weapons capability will precipitate a nuclear arms race with Sunni Arab countries and/or a pre-emptive attack by nuclear-armed Israel.

I don’t agree with some aspects of this, but it’s interesting stuff. Most of all I do not agree with the basic idea that we should treat the Islamic Republic of Iran – a nation that has since its inception explicitly advocated exporting its nutty Shiite Islamic Revolution – as anything less than an enemy of the West, An enemy that should not be fought in an active war with, but an enemy nevertheless.
Like any other nation Iran’s leaders may well want to ensure “the integrity of the nation,….promote domestic development and economic prosperity,…ensure domestic peace” – but just as with the old Communists all of that is subservient to the idea of the Revolution, in this case, a religious one.
To that end Iran is willing to sacrifice much of those other things, including the lives of its own subjects. Ensuring “domestic peace” alone has required a domestic body count that was bad during the 2009 protests against the election and even higher in the 2019 protests (some 1500 deaths by most accounts), let alone over the last forty years – and not counting all those souls rotting in prison and tortured before being released.
My main contention with Paul is that such complex and sophisticated analysis, while necessary, often obfuscates the simple differences between good societies and bad societies and leads to detente with the bad in the hope that it will become less bad over time. So with his his suggestion that the Soleimani killing offers:

….an opportunity to test classic concepts in international relations. Notions of misperception, miscalculation, brinkmanship, bluffing, escalation, and reputation, and how they make for the possibility of war, are all at play in the stand-off.

That’s all true. But I’m reminded that the same sort of analysis was applied to the Cold War, the decades-long struggle between the USA and the USSR, and was held to be the only way forward in living in a world with the USSR. And this basic disagreement can be seen with another quote:

… the “all stick, no carrot” approach adopted by the US under the Trump administration ignores the history of successful diplomacy with Iran and encourages the dominance of hardliners in internal debates about how Iran should engage generally and respond specifically to external events and conditions.

I’m not aware of any diplomacy with Iran that ever bent their ideological trajectory in the direction of behaving better internationally, which is surely what diplomatic “success” should be all about.

In any case I heard precisely that reasoning about the USSR in the 1980’s. US actions would strengthen the power of the hardliners – whereas it actually led to the rise of Gorbachev and his policies of Perestroika and Glasnost that, together with unaffordable military spending and a sheer loss of faith in Communism, eventually broke the USSR, which has improved our world greatly.

It was also the main argument about dealing with Russia that Obama used in 2008/2009; poor old Vlad was just reacting to the frightening warmonger Bush, hence the big “reset” button hit by Hillary. I don’t think any Democrat feels that way about Vlad now. Funny that.

The difference with Iran is that there is not even the closed mechanism of a Politburo and an ideology of earthly materialism to allow the rise of “moderates” in the nation. Their government has cleverly played the “moderate” vs. “hardline” argument in everything from domestic elections to foreign policy. Most of the world continues to fall for it.
It is a sham. There are no moderates in Iran that count; examples include former senior politicians Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi who have been under house arrest for years with no trial. The Ayatollah is the Supreme Leader: it’s why the IRGC and proxies such as Hezbollah ultimately report to him rather than the Iranian President, who can only be elected from a list of candidates approved by the Ayatollah and the Council of Guardians in the first place. That Guardian article revealed the sad truth even as it appealed to “President” Rouhani:

While acknowledging Rouhani’s limited ability to intervene in the affairs of the judiciary, which acts independently of his administration, the academics said the president should speak out to protest what they called a “grave miscarriage of justice”. 

When Ayatollah Khamenei dies he will be replaced by someone like him, just as he replaced the murderous thug Ayatollah Khomeini. That process presents only a faint hope for an Iranian Gorbachev to arise: depending on his age the likely conservative successor will maintain the same theocratic ideas for many years to come and push hard for them throughout the Middle East, with their violent proxy terrorist groups like Hisbollah as the stick.
By contrast, as I noted in an OP celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, The People Win, President Reagan had a different take on the matter of dealing with such enemies:

“I’d like to tell you of my theory of the Cold War. Some people think that I am simplistic, but there is a fundamental difference between being simplistic and having simple answers to complex questions. So here’s my strategy on the Cold War:  

We win, they lose.”

Given the tensions of the day Reagan never said that in public. But it was an absolutely necessary idea in order to shake up an establishment that had, like the rest of us, grown used to the notion that Communist nations were forever.
Same with Iran. My take is also simplistic in that the Iranian people will be much better off once the current theocratic regime is destroyed and that the US and other nations should enable that to happen via sanctions and other non-military methods. Just as an aside, after all the gays they’ve publicly hanged from cranes over they years it would be justice to see the same thing happen to a few of the Mullahs and senior IRGC officers.
After Iran, Saudi Arabia and company come next, starting with cracking down on their export of the Wahhabist theology to the West as a way of keeping the fundamentalist knives from their own throats at home.
But with the same ideological objective to be kept at the forefront: we win, they lose.

Written by Tom Hunter

February 9, 2020 at 4:28 am

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