May 21, 2007


Those pesky puppies of war (Spengler, 5/22/07, Asia Times)

Thanks in part to reporting by Sami Moubayed (The two 'kings' of Iran, May 19) and Kaveh L Afrasiabi (Iran courts the US at Russia's expense, May 16), we know that Iran is steering away from confrontation with the United States.

With a newly elected pro-American president in Paris and an Atlanticist chancellor in Berlin, the Iranian leadership cannot count on discord in the West. Russia also seems less willing to play the spoiler where Iran's nuclear ambitions are concerned, not surprising given the fact that Russia and its Muslim minority are in the first line of any potential conflict. Moubayed reported on May 18 that Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants to "rein in" the country's bumptious President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, especially after the ill-fated seizure of British sailors and marines turned against Iran's advantage.

Tehran signaled its shift in a number of ways; one is the fact that Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad's rival in the 2005 presidential elections, gave the important Friday sermon two weeks in a row. Rafsanjani has close links to the Europeans, particularly the Germans, and German diplomats have been working hard behind the scenes to promote Rafsanjani as the prospective arbiter of a compromise solution to the nuclear issue. Another signal was an Iranian gesture toward Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, on whom Washington has placed much of its hope for stabilizing Iraq. That is the background to Washington's new willingness to speak officially with Iran about Iraqi stability; high-level talks are scheduled for June 28.

So much for the silly thesis that messianic visions of the imminent return of the Twelfth Imam motivated Iran's aggressive stance of the past year. Whether Ahmadinejad actually believes that the Mahdi will arrive shortly is a moot point; if he is mad, there are others in Tehran who are not.

...yet think Iran is a unity.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 21, 2007 9:55 AM

My brother-in-law Vahid just returned from 2 weeks in Iran. We talked briefly and here are a few of his observations:

Ahmadinejad is loathed and the mayor of Tehran is his well respected likely replacement.

People are upset for several reasons. Inflation is rampant. The gas subsidy is now only 3 liters per week and anything beyond that is extremely expensive. Traffic and pollution are big problems. They don't understand why so much money is being spent on things unrelated to the Iranians well-being. They don't like the current administration dragging them into international confrontations or his focus on things not related to the improvement of the Iranian economy.

He doesn't understand how people are making ends meet with the inflation and lack of good jobs, but at the same time he saw many more new and expensive cars than when he last visited a few years ago. He also thought it strange that he didn't see the usual beggars in their normal locations.

The normal citizens don't seem to have any political will to force change or protest. Only the students seem to be motivated to do so and most others are too pessimistic to do much for themselves.

He despairs of anything changing much in the near future.

Japanese contractors are nearly finished with a total overhaul of the Tehran sewage system.

The government is building hundreds of dams on the countries rivers. I'm assuming it's to generate hydropower.

He was offered a bootleg copy of "300" for 50 cents and while not many people had seen it, they asked if they were portrayed fairly. Heh.

Posted by: Patrick H at May 21, 2007 10:52 AM

You just have to be careful that the mad one doesn't have the saner ones killed to get his viewpoint across. wouldn't surprise me if a few of the more restrained ayatollahs received a visit from some of the more rambunctious Revolutionary Guardsmen.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 21, 2007 11:49 AM

OJ, I pretty much share your view of Iran as a natural US ally and agree there are factions we could work with. I also share your wish that our communications policy was designed to better reach the Iranian people, who in my experience are much more pro-American than we might expect.

However, this optimistic view is based on theory. As Patrick H notes, it is not a foregone conclusion that things are going to break our way. We may end up in a bloody confrontation with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

If so, it's not our fault for not 'getting Iran'. It's their fault for having both the capability to and intention of destroying Israel and preventing navigation in the Straits of Hormuz.

We are trying not to get to that point, but Amadinejad might force us there if he is not restrained.

Posted by: JAB at May 21, 2007 12:42 PM

Amadinejad has achieved the rare "success" of getting Juan Cole and Noam Chomsky seriously annoyed at him as well, thanks to kidnapping and illegally imprisoning a leftist feminist Iranian-American academic advocate of dialog with Iran.

Posted by: John Thacker at May 21, 2007 2:00 PM

Of course it's a forgeone conclusion. Islamicism doesn't work.

Posted by: oj at May 21, 2007 4:40 PM