Wednesday, April 19, 2006

My views on Iran

After my last post on nuclearization in the Middle East, I have been asked to clarify my views on Iran. I will do as such in this post.

Iran is a multicultural, multiethnic country with 70 million citizens. The current Iranian state draws upon the teachings of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni for its moral foundations. The guidance of Ayatollah Khomeni is summarized in the Wilayat-e-Faqih and this document along with a number of supervisory religious councils carefully defines the policy structure of the Iranian state.

In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeni's followers were catapulted to power in Tehran on the back of a severe public confrontation with the United States. The notable aspects of this confrontation were as follows.

The Khomeniities threatened the supply of oil from the Middle East, and cut US access to the Iranian landscape and airspace. They tested the atmosphere of cooperation that existed between Iran and Israel, and displaced US friendly narcotics producers to Afghanistan's Helmand area. Additionally the Khomenities also threatened to attack the US currency with perfect 100 dollar bills, printed on the Intalgio machines supplied by the US to the Shah of Iran and they questioned the Al Saud dynasty's claim to being the guardians of the Holy Harams of Mecca and Medina.

As the long standing agreements between Iranian, Israeli and Western intelligence agencies dissolved a number of conflicts materialized in the Middle East, most notable among these was the rise of Iranian influence in the Lebanese Civil War. American support for the Sunni Ikhwan terrorists had already alienated the Alwaites of Syria and the Khomeniites joined up with the Alawaites when it came to denying the Americans access to Lebanese territory. Israel's attempts at establishing a stranglehold on Beirut were also strongly resisted by the Syrian and the Iranian combine. Through Hamas and Hezbollah, the Iranians came to have an extended footprint in the terrorist world.

The US leveraged against the Khomeniites by projecting military force into the Gulf and surrounding region and holding out the prospect of a US invasion. This threat was never actualized. The US also pushed Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, both Sunni countries as the real leaders of the Islamic world. The US also supported Saddam Hussein's Iraq in its battle against Iran, provided he secured the Iranian refinery complex at Abadan. When Saddam failed in his task, US support waned visibly. The US also officially cut off arms supplies to Iran and restored them only when Iran made similar concessions on the matter of currency counterfeiting and western hostages. Via proxies (Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) the US also engaged the followers of the cult of Masoud Rajavi as they conducted terrorist attacks on Iranian soil. The followers of Rajavi espoused a marxist ideology. The US also used its influence in the financial world to block Iranian held accounts in various banks and publicly opposed Iran on every platform in the world.

Ayatollah Khomeni had conspiciously avoided the nuclear issue in all his pronouncements against the US. Throughout the period of Khomeni's rule the emphasis in the revolutionary government was on consolidation of the clergy's hold on Iranian society. Iranian rulers have always posed a challenge to other regional empires, and in Khomeni's time this challenge was articulated by support to radical Muslim causes in these countries and by strengthening Shiite minority groups in the Middle Eastern region. This strategy is no longer as effective due to a variety of reasons but the death of Ayatollah Khomeni caused the iconic value to fade considerably and new thinking was required. Also the Iran-Iraq war which dragged on throughout the 80s drained Iran's capacity for fomenting trouble outside its borders.

After the death of Ayatollah Khomeni in 1989, Iran's foreign policy became decidedly more inward looking. The quest for a working nuclear deterrent gained momentum. Iran sought out deals with Pakistan for purchasing Uranium refinement technology. Domestically this period was marked by a relaxation of the stifling rules and regulations that the Khomeniites had imposed on the war ravaged Iran. Iran moved ever so slowly out of a war economy towards a modern republic. The biggest challenge at this time was retrenching veterans of the war and ensuring that the capital made by war profiteers and war-driven industries was successfully re-invested into Iran's peace-time economy.

As with any war, the conflict economy spawned by the Iran-Iraq war was immense, and a sudden reduction in war spending was not possible. Additionally there were tremendous conflicts over the sharing of the profits of the conflict economy among the elite. This post-war restructuring was marked a number of complicated financial transactions, all underwritten politically by the Khomeniites. In order to ease this transition period politically, the Khomeniites delicately crafted two factions within themselves and created sharing formulas to ensure that a stable polity and predictable social structure could survive into peace time. The retrenchment of war veterans - many of them cripples proved extremely hard and discontent among young Iranians was high. To top everything off - the war was followed quite naturally by a baby boom.

The apparently ad hoc shifting of economic patterns and re-routing of financial channels by the Khomenites created a culture of ad hocism that came to prevail as the 90s gave way to the new millenium. This ad hocism contravened many of the core principles laid down by Ayatollah Khomeni and I term this attitude as "corruption". If ever there was discontent in Iran, it was most severe among the "new" Iranians (those born after the revolution) who were now expecting quite a bit from their government. This resentment was all directed against the culture of corruption which was all blamed on the clergy who put it in place. The political authority commanded by Khomeniites began to dwindle and even with the clergy fissiparous tendencies arose.

As this period progressed Iranian rich and poor began to hunt for moral alternatives and it was in this vacuum that the teachings of Ayatollah Mohammed Taghi Mesbah Yazdi gained a following. I term the views of Ayatollah Yazdi as a variation on the general themes introduced by Ayatollah Khomeni. To date there is little in the text of Ayatollah Yazdi's views that can be seen as a contradiction of the words of Ayatollah Khomeni. Ayatollah Yazdi quickly collected a small but influential circle of followers among the intelligence and security ministry in the Iranian government. This group came to be known as the Haqqani (sometimes spelled Haghani) Circle. Throughout the 90s this group carefully muscled its way into the corridors of power in Iran and I would prefer to characterize the election of President Mahmoud Ahmednijad as the pen-ultimate step in this group's rise to complete power in Iran.

This rise to power has not come without cost. The second rung Khomeniites who are steadily being displaced by this event are unhappy. A number of business groups that supported the incumbents are now under pressure and their mouthpieces in the Iranian press are being subject to a lot of heat. A visible indication of this sub-surface anger is the behavior of the direct descendants of Imam Khomeni. It may be recalled that a certain Iranian president is related to this clan through marriage. The Yazdiites will also find themselves in a struggle against certain people in the IRGC. Sections of the IRGC are profitting immensely from a blackmarkets in various goods. It will be political suicide for the Yazdiites move against this segment of people.

A state of confrontation with the US will help the Yazdiites - the Haghani Circle - stamp their authority on the Iranian state and cement their spiritual leadership of Iran. The path of confrontation will be along the broad contours of the nuclear issue. The US too will seek out this confrontation as it will permit a wide range of contact with the Haghani circle and quite possibly allow US access to energy deposits that it has been denied thus far.

It remains to be seen if the Yazdiites can successfully manage this transition.

Much attention has focussed on the threat of American air strikes against Iranian nuclear weapons facilities. Quite a bit of bandwidth has been devoted to Israeli statements in this regard also, but fundamentally I fail to see how the air strikes help either to contain the Iranian nuclear threat or how they help to keep the Iranian political situation predictable.

One is told that if Pervez Musharraf is deposed then Al Qaida will get a hold of nuclear materials. Won't the same thing happen if the Mullahs in Iran are bombed by the Americans? There are few answers to the question of how Iran will be administered after the clergy are ousted from power. It may be recalled that similar questions were asked by people before the invasion of Iraq. Ofcourse at the time, these questions were dismissed by Secretary Rumsfeld with a wave of the hand. The results are now in plain sight.


At 7:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is such a problem as overanalysis. How much will it take to realize that a nuke in the hands of yet another Islamic country is bad for India? Period!

Today we have convoluted statements about how India and Iran have common interests and this and that- all these extend only so far. After a point of time, if India decimates Islamabad and sends a fair # of Shias upward or downward, and some nutter in Iran decides on retaliation, or hurting India in turn, then what?

B Raman is now talking of Iran using the Shias in India to drum up support, just because of the brouhaha over the deal.

For decades, India sat and lazed while Pakistan got the bomb- Israel and US arent prepared to do that, neither is as callous about its national security as the Indian elite have been with India's..and its obvious what the results will be if Iran pushes them too hard.

The Islamic world does not deserve the bomb, period. They have been guilty of the worst religiously motivated genocides, and while the rest of the world has moved on and is willing to indulge in realpolitik over rel-politik, the Islamic world looks upon the Islamists as "they are bastards, but our bastards". Dhimmitude is already bad enough without having the lunatics in the Middle east (whom the Pakis..sooo admire)..having Ns also. India should just wait and watch and be happy that someone had the b@lls to stop Irans N program or at least delay it.

At 11:55 PM, Blogger mukunda said...

Hi maverick,
valid for this commentary too.
1)Interesting comments concerning the developments in Iran. Your commentary places all the onus on Iran, simoultaneoulsly leaving American administration unscathed. All along we have been believing that it is the American admin. who are intent on having a showdown, your commentary effectively reverses that.

2) Our policy should be such that prevents Iran from heading for a showdown with USA or vice-versa. Oil from Iran is far more important than nuke deal with USA.But at the same time we cannot ignore the sole superpower. It will be beneficial if Iran & USA are played against each other, milking both of them in the process. One did not notice the visit of Iranian Vice-Foreign minister or Vice-PM to india just before or after the visit of G.W.Bush. We are moving in the right direction. This is clearly remeniscient of the old days of Raj when British used to open the left door for a mughal whereas as keeping the other door open for a Hindu king. Similarily this should be our policy , mercifully it has been all the time. Remember both USA & Iran will not deliver fuel supply to us without driving a tough bargain. Hence we also should do that same with both the nations.

3) Regarding the nuke deal, it is more & more apparent that the present dispensation is more alligned towards amplifying the fissures between the US president & US congress on one hand , on the other hand between the current US administration & other nation opposed to the nuclear deal led by china.

At 1:23 AM, Blogger s c r a p s s t u f f s said...


I'm curious as to what would be the reaction of the beards in Pakistan were the US to attack Iran. Would they be secretly happy? Would they take this opportunity to try and gain more overt power or will they be content to let the PA continue to be in the foreground?

At 8:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy that Iran is getting smacked around, worried that they could be next. Expect the military junta to roll over and wag its posterior for the Great Satans pleasure, whilst ISSI and all other commentators scream themselves hoarse over the "murder of more Muslims". Much of the same from the Jihadi groups too. Afghanistan will be a bigger problem though, given how many warlords and people there share ties with Iran.

At 7:24 AM, Blogger Gokul Padoor said...

Hope you guys read "confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins. You all would appreciate that all trouble starts and ends from US of A . They create allies for a specific purpose, they kill them when they defy US commands. Its really reactions toward Neo-Imperialism, nothing else. In the whole of this business the negatively affected are the bottom 95% percent of the worlds population, the beneficiaries the 5%(Or lesser)- super rich.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger maverick said...


If India decimates Pakistan, I think Uncle Sam will be more upset than Iran. Uncle Sam has more to lose than Iran if Pakistan goes down in flames.

Iranian influence among Indian shias is nothing new. This is what kept the Mughal Emperor up at night.

Uncle Sam's history with Pakistan is murkier than Iran's involvement.


The Americans do not need a showdown with Iran to keep their presidency in power. In the words of President Bush "Who the heck wants to be a war president, I certainly don't."


B. Raman opines that a US attack on Iran would provoke an Islamist backlash in Pakistan quite possibly one that would bring the Musharraf regime to its knees.


When you have a lot of money, you have to figure out ways to use it. So yes sometimes what seems like an unexpected problem, is actually the result of a long and convoluted chain of events that started in another place.

At 5:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But can India smack Pakistan around now? I think not. The generals play with Cold Start to keep themselves occupied. Their political masters know, that there is nothing to prevent a war from spiralling out of control.
And with that, the idea of smacking Pakistan around (apart from the usual back and forth sniping across the LOC at best), lies in tatters. We have to keep cutting deals with Pak, they will keep screwing us over- a few temples, a couple of riots, and a couple of thousand Indians a year. Manageable.

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having said that- whats worse than one crazy religious nutcase near our borders (or on it) with nukes? Two of them. India should do all it can, as covertly as possible, to prevent Iran from getting the nuke.

At 9:19 AM, Blogger maverick said...

In response to the first anonymous comment,

I think you are correct. The language of military posturing against Pakistan now has limited returns, I would go so far as to say that military posturing as a tool in our Pakistan policy has been largely exhausted. If the Musharraf government falls as result of something we did - we will be blamed for the consequences and we will have to clean up the mess inside Pakistan.

The broad military strokes that would cause Pakistan to capitulate are now more a means of preparing onself for the onerous task of occuping a hell-hole no one wants to have anything to do with.

In response to the second anonymous comment,

We have nothing to gain or lose by Iran going nuclear. It is Saudi Arabia that I worry about, their nuclear options is highly opaque.

Even if more Islamic countries go nuclear it will only be on the back of serious assistance from Pakistan.

It is important to understand how this assistance will be repaid in Pakistan.

A simple scenario is a situation where the Pakistanis emerge as a shadow government in each of these Islamic states and overwhelm the local elite by leveraging their nuclear assistance.

Perhaps I should write a scenario with this sort of thing in my next post?

I shall call this scenario "Moonstone".


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