February 27, 2007


Iranian Leaders Criticize President (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 2/26/07, The Associated Press)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced a new round of sharp criticism at home Monday after he said Iran's nuclear program is an unstoppable train without brakes. Reformers and conservatives said such tough talk only inflames the West as it considers further sanctions.

The criticism came even as new signs have arisen that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is growing discontented with Ahmadinejad, whom he is believed to have supported in 2005 presidential elections.

Last week, Khamenei voiced rare criticism of the domestic performance of Ahmadinejad's government, and the president was notably absent when a group of Cabinet members and vice presidents met with Khamenei, who has the final word in all political affairs in Iran, including the nuclear issue.

Except, of course, that the Ayatollah didn't support Mahmoud in 2005 either, setting up what he thought would be a run-off between the Reformist Mostafa Moin and the mullahs chosen reformer, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.

MORE (via Kevin Whited):
Persian Shrug (EDWARD N. LUTTWAK, February 27, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

Back in the 1970s, détente with the Soviet Union was criticized on the grounds that it actually propped up a regime in irreversible decline, and whose power could be confronted successfully. In the 1980s, the critics of that détente led by Ronald Reagan had their opportunity to challenge the Soviet Union, which did not outlast the decade.

There is every reason to believe that history is about to repeat itself. Iran does not resemble the Soviet Union in any other way and certainly does not have even a fraction of its military power, but it too is a multinational state in an age when nations are everywhere asserting their separate identities. In arguing that there is universal support for the nuclear program, regime spokesmen and even many Persians in exile speak of Iran as a unitary state inhabited by "Iranians" who are very nationalistic, even if they oppose the ayatollahs.

None of this remotely corresponds to Iran's ethnic realities. Persians only account for half the population, and the other half includes many different nationalities increasingly resentful of Persian cultural imperialism.

Kurds account for some 7% of the population, and their nationalism is Kurdish and not Persian, having been much strengthened by the successful example of virtual Kurdish independence in Iraq. Their demands for autonomy have become sufficiently forceful to start an insurgency. The same is true of two smaller nationalities that are even more violently disaffected with frequent fire-fights and bombings: the Arabs and the Baluch, which account for another 3% of the population. But the largest of Iran's subject nationalities are the Azeris. While many have been assimilated, at least 20 million still speak an entirely different Turkic language, and increasingly form the core of a united Azeri nation that extends beyond western Iran to include the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

The religious extremism of Iran's regime creates its own divisions. The bloody persecution of the Bahais, the new persecution of the Sufis and the institutional subjection of Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians have attracted greater attention, but the ill-treatment of the 9% of the population that is Sunni is more important politically: In Tehran where more than a million Sunnis live, there is no Sunni mosque as there is in Rome, Tel Aviv and Washington, D.C.

If Iran's economy were more successful, ethnic divisions and even religious resentments would matter less. As it is, with at least 20% unemployment and an annual inflation rate of some 30%, Iran's economy is scarcely a unifying force, especially because most of its minorities are distinctly poorer than the dominant Persians.

Viewed from the inside, Iran is hardly the formidable power that some see on the outside.

The recognition that only genuine economic growth can save the Republic is what made Khamenei and Rafsanjani privatizers and reformers, even if reluctant ones.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2007 7:24 AM

Will Ahmadinejad have the stones to fight back? Will he kill the old man?

You are right about Moin - he is different. But Rafsanjani is just another clerical barking seal. He had his chance (from 89-97) and did nothing. And his rhetoric about Israel has often been more strident than Mahmoud's, and certainly more so than Khameini.

Posted by: jim hamlen at February 27, 2007 9:16 AM

They didn't realize they needed Rafsanjani to reform then. The seal barks when his trainer feeds him fish. Rafsanjani does what he's tld to do.

Posted by: oj at February 27, 2007 12:48 PM