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Post Iran Saddam or what is going on in there? - Baldar - 05-25-2004

You know, with all this talk of Chalabi and spying, there are interesting aspects to Iranian government that should be considered.

You might wonder why this is important. What has changed in Iran since the loss of Saddam Hussein? It may be due to the fact that Saddam, as Iran’s strongest enemy had a powerful influence on Iran and its people, changing much of their geopolitical strategy. After the US ouster of Saddam, Iran finds itself in a different field fraught with both risk and opportunity.

I recently had the opportunity, through the miracle of close circuit television, to hear a lecture from Anoushiravan Ehteshami, the Professor of International Relations at the University of Durham. He was VP of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies until last year, so he does have some good background and expertise.

We can go back to March 2003 and the series of political fires in Teherans centers of power. These were increased by the pitched domestic political battles of these centers of power. Parliament, the President, the Council of Guardians, the Expediency Council (to name several) and others. Iran is unique from Sudan, Afghanistan and other Islamist regimes. It is the only surviving Islamic revolutionary state in the world today. It is openly anti-American and defies the US. It is the founding supporter of Hizbullah and has acted as the “godfather” for a number of Islamic organizations around the Muslim world. It is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons capability but it does not really resemble such rogue states as Syria, Libya (in the past), or even North Korea as far as domestic politics is concerned. Its political scene is open, it has the vote, there is a great deal of debate in Iran (relative to most other Muslim nations) and it is generally a civil debate (generally). As a matter of fact, if Bush were looking for a good model of Middle Eastern democracy, one could do worse that look at Iran. But Iran still faces a hostile US given the many other issues the government has in foreign policy. Iran is also unique for another reason. Its foreign policy, especially towards the US has to deal with the fact that it is sitting on top of an increasingly nationalistic order that is dissatisfied with Iran’s current foreign relations and that its society is unique in being pro American and for wanting closer ties with the US. An isolated Iran cannot satisfy the appetite of the Iran’s youth (which make up most of the population) and their desire to interact with the outside world and the US in particular.

In the 1980’s, Iran’s main goal was to topple Saddam Hussein. They failed, and they failed miserably. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had to accept an Iraqi cease fire. Mostly because of Iranian mistakes in battle (including the use of WMD chemical weapons) and their failure in the diplomatic arena to isolate Iraq. Iraq by virtue of its alliance with the US and Europe was not going away.

When Saddam Hussein fell Iran was extremely happy. While many centers of power were overjoyed to see Iraq fall, to avoid appearing to endorse the US (ie an American War), Iranian officials publicly adopted a skeptical line of analysis questioning the US motives (wow! Iranian leadership is really allied to the democrats!). So Saddams fall seemed to clear up some basic problems for Iran, but then other problems arose.

To understand this we have to understand there are six key policy realms act as checks and balances for both domestic and international policy.

1-There are several interagency rivalries involved and they impact every policy both domestic and international. They include the Leaders Office (influenced by the theocracy that oversees government), the Presidency (which controls the ministers), the support of the presidency by the National Security Council, the Majihs, the Council of Guardians, the Expediency council (which theoretically makes working between the different councils easier), and finally the Revolutionary Guardian council which is headed by Major General Mohsen Rezai). The Revolutionary Guard actively acts as a counterweight of the Presidency and often criticizes it while defining the presidents limits in foreign policy through it criticism. They work through the Padaran or “ranks of the guard”.

2-The general political factionism as expressed in one also impacts the power. In short each group is in it for their factions and they create temporary alliances (who will be voted off the island next?). The debates between these factions usually take place in the context of “saving the revolution” something the US did in its Federalist papers. The debates are about how the “nezam” or system can be changed to help keep the revolution alive. Everyone quotes the old Ayatollah Khomeini the way we have often quoted Washington or Hamilton or Jefferson. Usually they use the quotes to gain political power. Even by those who want more open relations with the US. To these factions, foreign policy is a tactical weapon used to beat down domestic challenges.

3-That is the third part. They use foreign policy to battle domestic issues. A bit like Kerry saying “the foreign governments, they like me, they really really like me” (a la Sally Fields). Discussion about restoring ties to the allow more conservative elements to attack other less conservative elements on the foreign agenda in order to also squelch their domestic agenda. Politically the US is a political football, nothing more.

4-Since 1991 the Iranian economy has begun to develop into such a level as to affect foreign policy. Iran is a single commodity exporter and mostly exports to Japan and Europe. In the 1990’s Iran tried to create greater foreign investment and even toyed with the idea of “free trade zones”. But the huge drop in oil prices in the 1990’s killed the idea. It is ironic that the more Iran relied on oil to get it out of poverty and give itself control, the less control Iran actually had on their foreign policy and economic considerations began to dominate Iranian foreign policy over ideology. It became more dependent of foreign purchases that less independence in the minds of the old guard. The economic isolationists began to take a back seat.

5-Finally there is a pissed off population in Iran. The masses want jobs AND more political freedom. In Iran 60% of the unemployed are between 15 – 24. 28% of the youth are unemployed and 80% of the youth employed make less than 125/ month. The government has not created more jobs either. The youth expect the government, if not to make jobs, to at least create an environment were jobs can be created. In my opinion it sounds like smart youths that would act as a Prometheus unbound in regard to the future.

OK, its late and I have to hit the sack, will type more on this tomorrow.

- WmLambert - 05-25-2004

It could happen.

- Baldar - 05-25-2004

OK where was I.

Oh yes, Security at home and stability (Iranian stability) in the region dominat Iran's policy agenda. In Teheran for instance people obply view Russia as an unreliable ally and a potential rival of the Islamic Republic in the Trans Caspian region (read Chechnya). Teheran sees Moscows visible shifte towards the US over a wide range of issues. Russia is the sole contractor for Iran's nuclear power reactors and often repeats the US concern of Teherans nuclear program (like they didn't know what was going on?, but the fact that the Russia is willing to speak publically at this level is of concern to Iran). Russia has already stated publically that a nuclear armed Iran would be a threat to their national interests.

Iran's issues are that Teheran hs a diverse number of neighbors that don't trust them. Afghanistan to its east is still in turmoil. Iran barely caught its breath over that one when Baghdad bit the dust on its western doorstep. Both driven by the US. Iran is cognizant that it is not "Arab" (but Persian) and that spill over crisis can occur from the many countries that border them. Iran is very very sensitive to the fact that as the US aquires more influence with Iran's neighbors that Iran itself feels more vulnerable.

In Afghanistan Iran was happy to see the end of the Taliban. Iran, during the Taliban rule supported the Northern Alliance (funny how Iran and the US tend to be at equal ends in some cases). Without Iranian support of the Northern Alliance the US would not have had the option of an Afghan northern alliance force. Now the the Northern Alliance is in charge, one would think that Iran would feel better about itself and the work towards stability in Afghanistan. It didn't work out that way though. Because of US involvement Iran had decided on a more belligerant or in the very least neutral course where Afghanistan is concerned. Weakness in Afghanistan has a direct impact on Iranian relations with Cental Asia as well as the other Persian speaking nation Tajikistan. US encirclement of Iran (from their point of view) is giving birth to an Iranian seige mentality in the upper echelons. In the Middle East Iran can really only count on two entities to be good political allies. Syria and the Palestinian Authority, the rest of the 21 members of the Arab league have not trusted Iran and continue to view it as non Arab, or view it as non Sunni, which are both dominant views among Arab cultures. Iran also fears military backlash from Ankara after Turkey's pro western Islamic stance. Also within the Pakistan with its pro western nuclear power as a vibrant vocal militant Sunni state (rememeber that the Pakistani orginally backed the Taliban as surrogates against Iran) with Salafi movements. Which have no love or the Iranian dominated Shia.

Teheran also looks askance at the possiblility of an Israeli-Turkish partnership in strategic terms (Israel already sells Turkey weaponry). Iran in turn has tried to counter this with closer ties to Greece, Georgia and Armenia, but really couldn't get anywhere since there was no compelling reason to sign up with Iran by any of these countries.

Iran, so that everyone is aware, provided shelter for 500,000 Iraqi refugees. This presents an incredible recruiting tool for Iran in the Iraqi area. In total Iran has three key problems or worries with Iraq.

1-The future character of the state of Iraq (belligerant or an ally).

2-Role of the Shia in Iraq's future.

3-Spillover of Iraq's political future in Iran.

So we see in an overview that Iran's worries are that the US has impacted Iran to the east with Afghanistan, undercutting Irans ties with the Northern Alliance by doing what Iran couldn't do.

Worried about the lack of real allies in the Muslim world who do not trust non Arabs and many who do not trust non Sunni.

Turkish/Israeli/Pakistanis/US pro-western alliances (especially if one of them is nuclear.

Weak Russian support that may undermine Iran's nuclear weapons program leaving it vulnerable to the many elements mentioned.

Spill over from a democratic and more secular Baghdad which can show Shia and Sunni unity and which it possibly pro western and very much Arabic (versus Shia/Sunni divisions).

They have their truckload of worries.

- Baldar - 05-25-2004

Iran is worried about Iraq.

For example, if Iraq develops successfully with its US backed Shia factor, they may interpet the relations with the sate. Will Iran find itself a rival in Najaf. Or may with the Qom/Teheran-Najaf relationship fall abort before Iran can formulate a clear strategy regarding Iraq? It seems Sadr's fall may be showing that very thing. Before the fall of Saddam Qom in Iran was the spiritual capital of the Shia world and Teheran the political capital. With Baghdad overthrow Najaf is replacing Qom. That can change very easily now since there is open transnational travel allowed to Najaf making it a stronger beacon for the Shia than mere political Teheran.

So we have a complex factional series of problems coming from Iran domestically with many different factions vying for power.

We also have an international view of Iranian leadership that shows itself more and more isolated, much of that isolation based on US intervention into the area.

We also have a diminished Iranian presence in the Shia religion based on the openness of Baghdad.

Finally we see that Iran fears a successful Iraq and Afghanistan that might make it move its political stance further towards the west which will lead to even greater internal conflict.

So what should we do? A Nixonesque trip to Teheran by Bush?

- Baldar - 05-25-2004

Whoops, couple of quick edits regarding my notes, Qom is in Iran, Najaf is in Iraq.

- Baldar - 05-26-2004

Someone in Ornery seemed to think that Iran manipulated the US into invading Iraq. Based on what was written here I find it amusing. It is the next to last thing Iran wanted. A US or US led coalition on its eastern and western flanks. Using spies is simply intelligence gathering versus provocateurs.

- Baldar - 05-26-2004

Someone in Ornery seemed to think that Iran manipulated the US into invading Iraq. Based on what was written here I find it amusing. It is the next to last thing Iran wanted. A US or US led coalition on its eastern and western flanks? I don't think so. Using spies is simply intelligence gathering versus provocateurs.