January 21, 2006


Containing Tehran (David Ignatius, January 20, 2006, Washington Post)

In crafting their Iran policy, administration officials don't want the nuclear issue to be isolated from the more basic problem of Tehran's erratic and potentially destabilizing role in the Middle East. The message to Iran is that while the United States opposes Iranian nuclear weapons, it supports a technologically advanced Iran that, as it matures, can play a leading role in the region. A shorthand for the administration's policy aim might be: No to Ahmadinejad, yes to the Iranian people and a modern Iran. [...]

A key question for U.S. officials is how to assess Ahmadinejad's radicalism. Many were surprised by the belligerent tone of his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last September, and worries deepened after his reckless statements denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel's destruction. The toxic spirit of the 1979 revolution seemed to have returned.

An intellectual benchmark in the Iran debate was a briefing given to officials last fall by Jack A. Goldstone, a professor at George Mason University who is an expert on revolutions. He argued that Iran wasn't conforming to the standard model laid out in Crane Brinton's famous study, "The Anatomy of Revolution," which argued that initial upheaval is followed by a period of consolidation and eventual stability. Instead, Ahmadinejad illustrated what Goldstone called "the return of the radicals." Something similar happened 15 to 20 years after the Russian and Chinese revolutions -- with Stalin's purges in the late 1930s and Mao's Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Goldstone explained. He argued that Iran was undergoing a similar recrudescence of radicalism that, as in China and Russia, would inevitably trigger internal conflict.

The gist of Goldstone's analysis gradually percolated up to Rice, Hadley and others. What has intrigued policymakers is the argument that Ahmadinejad's extremism will eventually trigger a counterreaction -- much as the Cultural Revolution in China led to the pragmatism of Deng Xiaoping. Officials see signs that some Iranian officials -- certainly former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and perhaps also the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- are worried by Ahmadinejad's fulminations. Unless the Iranian president moderates his line, wider splits in the regime are almost inevitable, officials believe. They also predict that his extremism will be increasingly unpopular with the Iranian people, who want to be more connected with the rest of the world rather than more isolated.

Sort of scary that our foreign policy team needed to have that explained, but now that it has been they understand Iran better than they did Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 21, 2006 7:42 AM

There will be no 'counter-reaction' from Khameini; even if he kills Ahmadinejad, he is not going to suddenly look to the US for understanding, forgiveness, and a real relationship.

Why is this so difficult to understand? - the new President is the front man, the lightning rod, the face. He can take the heat, and dish out the insanity. The mullahs are hidden, ostensibly unknown, and safe from most criticism. They can be treated with kid gloves and happy talk, the way Andropov was. But everyone knew what Yuri's job was before he became chairman.

Khomeini was a messianic figure who delivered squat. The current crop are more political, a bit more clever, and far more dangerous. By the time the smoke clears, the Middle East will look quite different, unless....

The revolution has not lost its 'toxicity' - it never did. The poison was just below the surface for a while (when the public face was Khatami, supposedly a gentle soul). Why do you think all the Iranians who left in 1978/9 never went back? If they thought there was hope, they would return. They have the resources and the connections and the 'patriotism' to make their nation better. But not before the Guardians are dead, all of them.

My Persian friends here in the US visit home sometimes (every other year or so), and are almost always profoundly depressed when they return. Most of them have lost their sense of Islam because of the insanity back in Iran.

Cuba has Castro, and when he dies, there will be no shortage of men/women from Florida who will go (immediately) to restore their country. Iran is different, as this piece mentions. The whole country is demoralized. Our best policy is to encourage and then find their Scharansky, but we are going to have to kill the mullahs and their goons first. The USSR collapsed from inside, but it took 70 years and untold death and suffering. Iran will collapse, too - are you willing to wait even 20 years?

Posted by: jim hamlen at January 21, 2006 10:00 AM

I've still got a hedge bet on his being crazy like a fox.

Posted by: ghostcat at January 21, 2006 1:36 PM

Bush should take a meeting with him and look into his soul to see what's cooking in there.

Posted by: erp at January 21, 2006 4:07 PM