What are Iran's international policies? What are its goals, strategies, tactics? What have been the results so far, and what are anticipated results?

What policies are other countries pursuing in relation to the Islamic Republic regime in Iran? What are the intended results, what are the anticipated results, and what are the observed results?

Views: 123

Replies to This Discussion

Throwing Ahmadinejad a Lifeline



Published: August 14, 2009

In an effort to squeeze Iran into submission over its nuclear policy, Congress and the White House are edging toward a gasoline embargo. This would do nothing to force Iran into submission. In fact, it would be a blessing for the hard-line government to once again be able to point to a foreign threat to justify domestic repression and consolidate its base at a time when opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is increasing among conservatives.

An effective gasoline embargo can only be implemented through a naval blockade. This would require U.N. Security Council approval — a tortuous process with no certain outcome. An embargo without U.N. approval is an act of war according to international law, and Iran has declared that it would be met with force.

But even if the Security Council were to miraculously unite, success would still be out of reach. The economics of a gasoline embargo simply doesn’t make sense. Iran imports roughly 40 percent of its domestic gasoline consumption at world prices and then sells it along with domestically refined gasoline at a government-subsidized price of about 40 cents per gallon. As a result, domestic gasoline consumption is high. It is also smuggled and sold to neighboring countries.

Over the past 10 years, this policy has cost Iran in the range of 10 to 20 percent of its G.D.P. annually, depending on world prices and the government-mandated pump price. Yes, a whopping 10 to 20 percent of G.D.P. In need of additional revenues, the regime has wanted to eliminate this subsidy, raise the price to world levels and reduce consumption, but has been paralyzed by the specter of a domestic backlash.

Even assuming that a gasoline embargo would be effective, what would be its result? Consumption would decline by 40 percent and government revenues would go up, because no payment would be needed for gasoline imports.

If Tehran allowed the reduced supply of gasoline to be sold at a price that would equate demand to supply, the price would increase to a level that would eliminate the subsidy, meaning no subsidy for imported gasoline and no subsidy for domestically refined gasoline. The government would have more revenue to spend elsewhere. The sanctions would have done what Tehran has wanted to do for years and the government would not be held responsible!

What about the political fallout? Proponents of the embargo believe that increased economic pressure would cause Iranians to revolt against their unpopular rulers. This is a fundamental misreading of the psychology of an embargoed people.

Iranians have suffered tremendous hardships under the Islamic Republic. And while the Iranian economy is in tatters today, Iranians have seen much worse times. During the Iran-Iraq War, they faced unprecedented economic hardships. This did not ignite a popular uprising.

What caused Iranians to rise up two months ago was not economic hardship, but dashed hopes in anger over the fraudulent election.

If the back of the Iranian economy is broken, the first casualty will be hope. Economic misery will kill people’s faith in a better future. The result will be political apathy. And rather than blaming Mr. Ahmadinejad, Iranians are likely to blame the United States.

Moreover, Iran’s ruling hard-liners are in disarray. The politics of fear is their bread and butter; they have long benefited from invoking foreign plots and Washington’s discredited regime-change policy. But now — with President Obama’s new outreach to Iran — the hard-liners have lost their 9/11. President Obama has deprived them of their perennial boogeyman.

This has helped the opposition find the maneuverability to challenge Iran’s vote-robbers. The hard-liners have no credible threat to rally around. Their disgraceful show trials on Iranian TV reveal their desperation. This has not only allowed fissures between various factions in Iran to grow, but also increased tensions among the conservatives themselves.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is desperately in need of a threat to help consolidate his conservative base and lend credibility to accusations of conspiracy against his moderate opposition. Imposing a gasoline embargo could be his last, best hope. Congress and the White House should think long and hard before throwing a lifeline to Iran’s vote-robbers.

Hossein Askari is professor of international business and international affairs at the George Washington University. Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S.
I wonder by what stretch of the imagination can this precise question be considered relevant to anthropology.
I'll quote an anthropologist :

"While moralizing is normal and universal among humans, it is not anthropology. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a moralist, or an activist, or a politician, and many have chosen to be terrorists, but being these is not being an anthropologist. To pretend that doing these is doing anthropology destroys the value in anthropology, as we replace knowledge with moralizing and sloganeering."
(Philp C. Salzman, in the thread "what is open anthropology ?"of the OAC)

In my opinion, this question ("what should (...) Iran?") is a purely political one, and I do not think the OAC is the right place to ask it. But if it is, then I'd like a lot of other political questions to be asked here.
In regard to "applied anthropology," my response was that

"People will use anthropological knowledge, if we are successful in generating it. As Clifford Geertz said, "culture" [and other anthropological ideas] is out "in the street," i.e. in public, and now public possessions. Whether we like it or not, people will "apply" it to advance their various goals and objectives, whether political, economic, humanitarian, ecological, etc. A more formal application of anthropology by qualified anthropologists does exist, although its use in some quarters contested. ... But if we are in favour of "open anthropology," it is hard to see how it is justifiable to say that some people can use it but not others."

The question raised here is obviously a policy question, and thus would fall under applied anthropology. And, yes, it does imply certain goals in which specific values are implicit or explicit. And one could frame such an applied question from a different point of view, with different values and assumptions. Certainly the Islamic Republic is doing exactly such an analysis in aid of spreading Shia Islam and in expanding its sphere of interest. I would say, judging by their success so far, that the Islamic Republic has some pretty good applied anthropologists working for them.
Igor, I was inspired to put this topic up, not because I particularly want to pursue policy questions here, but because I wanted to offer the above article on a gasoline embargo, which struck me as an interesting analysis. If the authors are correct, the embargo would bring about the opposite consequences desired. So this is a useful case of what actions bring what consequences. And also the hazzards of taking initiatives directed at countries that you do not know very much about.
Owen, most folks working on policy have not done research in the societies that they are targeting. Many anthropologists begin their research and complete it without any applied or policy objectives in mind. We are likely to do a better job of ethnographic research if we are committed to understanding local life rather than to importing our ideological concerns and imposing them on local society.

My view of applied anthropology is that you have to have anthropology first.

As it happens, I did a couple years of field research in Iran, and my interest remained strictly anthropological (i.e. rather than applied) for over thirty years. Just recently I have started to think about policy issues, about which I write at Middle East Strategy at Harvard http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mesh/
Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Igor, I was inspired to put this topic up, not because I particularly want to pursue policy questions here, but because I wanted to offer the above article on a gasoline embargo, which struck me as an interesting analysis. If the authors are correct, the embargo would bring about the opposite consequences desired. So this is a useful case of what actions bring what consequences. And also the hazzards of taking initiatives directed at countries that you do not know very much about.

Then the title of this thread is certainly not the most appropriate.

(What would it imply if I was to open a thread entitled : "What should China and all other progressive countries do about the USA ?", or another one entitled : "What policies should other countries pursue in relation to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam ?")
Hillary Says Iran Doesn’t Want to Negotiate.
Will U.S. Iran Policy Turning Into Bambi Versus Godzilla? Guess Who’s Godzilla

Posted: 10 Aug 2009 07:34 AM PDT

By Barry Rubin

This is a huge story if understood correctly. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said—correctly but not necessarily accurately—that the United States has no illusions that Iran will return to serious negotiations over its nuclear program.

In other words: engagement with Iran won’t work. Or, in Clinton’s words, “We aren’t going to keep this window open forever. “ That implies the two countries will be in an adversarial relationship.

The next step is heightened sanctions which means, though no official will admit it, that we are really back to Bush administration policy on Iran. On the positive side, Obama administration people can say that their government is more popular in the region; on the negative side it is perceived as weaker.

The Middle East prefers stronger and less popular.

I said that Clinton was correct but not necessarily accurate. What I mean is that her evaluation is right but may not be shared by many others in the administration, especially in the White House.

For example, National Security Adviser Jim Jones and Terrorism advisor John Brennan don’t talk like this. Jones put the emphasis on saying, "We have to deal with the figures of authority that are in position.” That makes it sound as if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in the driver’s seat.

So there will be meetings in August and September resulting in higher levels of sanctions. That is the administration’s plan. Then it will say to the Iranians: Now what you are going to do?

And, of course, the Tehran regime will ignore the threats and sanctions, continuing to advance full-speed ahead toward nuclear weapons. At which point they will say to Washington: Now what are you going to do?

The Obama administration has no answer to that one. This means that in 2010 we might be saying: Game, set, and match to Iran.

Meanwhile, three U.S. hikers are being held in Iran after they strayed across the border from Iraq. White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters that the administration sent “a strong message” to Iran that it should release them and other Americans being held.

What this administration may not understand is that a “strong” message has more effect if it comes from a government deemed to be strong and willing to do something to back up its diplomatic notes.

But have no fear, the three will no doubt soon be released. The Iranian regime will then stage a propaganda exercise to claim that this “generosity” proves how moderate it is, and there are those who will swallow this bait.

After all, didn’t the North Koreans just do it?

So here’s the new formula for success by radical regimes: build nuclear weapons, betray promises to America but balance that off by releasing a few U.S. citizens now and then.One might call this, in paraphrasing President Theodore Roosevelt's famous line, Speak loudly and carry a few American hostages.

Meanwhile, how is Iranian politics being analyzed generally? That there’s a lot of disorder and in-fighting. Not exactly the main point.

For example, Ahmadinejad is reportedly purging the Intelligence Ministry putting in loyalists. The Los Angeles Times says this “underscores the deep rifts and disarray within the highest echelons of the country's security apparatus since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed June 12 reelection.”

No. I think it underscores how Ahmadinejad is putting his people into place, steadily strengthening his hold on the country. There is no evidence that he is doing so against the will of Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei. The two men seem to have fused into a single entity, at least for the time being.

The most extreme faction is in control of the Iranian regime right now. There are not only no moderates for the Obama administration to deal with, there are no less than 100-percent hardest line of the hardest line.

We will now send six months on futile sanctions’ efforts. What happens when the Obama administration finds out what we already know: it won’t work?

Is the U.S.-Iran rela tionship going to turn into a battle of Bambi versus Godzilla? When Iran gets nuclear weapons will the Obama Administration merely send a “strong message?”
Igor, I have changed the title to a more neutral form.

I am happy to note that, as indicated by your comments, some members are paying attention to this site. Perhaps this exchange will signal more participation and input by members.

Igor Alcyon said:
Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
Igor, I was inspired to put this topic up, not because I particularly want to pursue policy questions here, but because I wanted to offer the above article on a gasoline embargo, which struck me as an interesting analysis. If the authors are correct, the embargo would bring about the opposite consequences desired. So this is a useful case of what actions bring what consequences. And also the hazzards of taking initiatives directed at countries that you do not know very much about.

Then the title of this thread is certainly not the most appropriate.

(What would it imply if I was to open a thread entitled : "What should China and all other progressive countries do about the USA ?", or another one entitled : "What policies should other countries pursue in relation to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam ?")
[This piece, not published anywhere else as far as I know, apart from here, was forwarded to me by Ali Alizadeh. It's Zizek, very recently, on Iran]

Slavoj Zizek

When an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, its dissolution as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over, they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down…

In Shah of Shahs, a classic account of the Khomeini revolution, Ryszard Kapuscinski located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman simply withdrew; in a couple of hours, all Tehran knew about this incident, and although there were street fights going on for weeks, everyone somehow knew the game is over. Is something similar going on now?

There are many versions of the events in Tehran. Some see in the protests the culmination of the pro-Western “reform movement” along the lines of the “orange” revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, etc. – a secular reaction to the Khomeini revolution. They support the protests as the first step towards a new liberal-democratic secular Iran freed of Muslim fundamentalism. They are counteracted by skeptics who think that Ahmadinejad really won: he is the voice of the majority, while the support of Mousavi comes from the middle classes and their gilded youth. In short: let’s drop the illusions and face the fact that, in Ahmadinejad, Iran has a president it deserves. Then there are those who dismiss Mousavi as a member of the cleric establishment with merely cosmetic differences from Ahmadinejad: Mousavi also wants to continue the atomic energy program, he is against recognizing Israel, plus he enjoyed the full support of Khomeini as a prime minister in the years of the war with Iraq.

Finally, the saddest of them all are the Leftist supporters of Ahmadinejad: what is really at stake for them is Iranian independence. Ahmadinejad won because he stood up for the country’s independence, exposed elite corruption and used oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor majority – this is, so we are told, the true Ahmadinejad beneath the Western-media image of a holocaust-denying fanatic. According to this view, what is effectively going on now in Iran is a repetition of the 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh – a West-financed coup against the legitimate president. This view not only ignores facts: the high electoral participation – up from the usual 55% to 85% - can only be explained as a protest vote. It also displays its blindness for a genuine demonstration of popular will, patronizingly assuming that, for the backward Iranians, Ahmadinejad is good enough - they are not yet sufficiently mature to be ruled by a secular Left.

Opposed as they are, all these versions read the Iranian protests along the axis of Islamic hardliners versus pro-Western liberal reformists, which is why they find it so difficult to locate Mousavi: is he a Western-backed reformer who wants more personal freedom and market economy, or a member of the cleric establishment whose eventual victory would not affect in any serious way the nature of the regime? Such extreme oscillations demonstrate that they all miss the true nature of the protests.

The green color adopted by the Mousavi supporters, the cries of “Allah akbar!” that resonate from the roofs of Tehran in the evening darkness, clearly indicate that they see their activity as the repetition of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, as the return to its roots, the undoing of the revolution’s later corruption. This return to the roots is not only programmatic; it concerns even more the mode of activity of the crowds: the emphatic unity of the people, their all-encompassing solidarity, creative self-organization, improvising of the ways to articulate protest, the unique mixture of spontaneity and discipline, like the ominous march of thousands in complete silence. We are dealing with a genuine popular uprising of the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution.

There are a couple of crucial consequences to be drawn from this insight. First, Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a genuine corrupted Islamo-Fascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the majority of ayatollahs. His demagogic distributing of crumbs to the poor should not deceive us: behind him are not only organs of police repression and a very Westernized PR apparatus, but also a strong new rich class, the result of the regime’s corruption (Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is not a working class militia, but a mega-corporation, the strongest center of wealth in the country).

Second, one should draw a clear difference between the two main candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi. Karroubi effectively is a reformist, basically proposing the Iranian version of identity politics, promising favors to all particular groups. Mousavi is something entirely different: his name stands for the genuine resuscitation of the popular dream which sustained the Khomeini revolution. Even if this dream was a utopia, one should recognize in it the genuine utopia of the revolution itself. What this means is that the 1979 Khomeini revolution cannot be reduced to a hard line Islamist takeover – it was much more. Now is the time to remember the incredible effervescence of the first year after the revolution, with the breath-taking explosion of political and social creativity, organizational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. The very fact that this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the Khomeini revolution was an authentic political event, a momentary opening that unleashed unheard-of forces of social transformation, a moment in which “everything seemed possible.” What followed was a gradual closing through the take-over of political control by the Islam establishment. To put it in Freudian terms, today’s protest movement is the “return of the repressed” of the Khomeini revolution.

And, last but not least, what this means is that there is a genuine liberating potential in Islam – to find a “good” Islam, one doesn’t have to go back to the 10th century, we have it right here, in front of our eyes.

The future is uncertain – in all probability, those in power will contain the popular explosion, and the cat will not fall into the precipice, but regain ground. However, it will no longer be the same regime, but just one corrupted authoritarian rule among others. Whatever the outcome, it is vitally important to keep in mind that we are witnessing a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit the frame of the struggle between pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If our cynical pragmatism will make us lose the capacity to recognize this emancipatory dimension, then we in the West are effectively entering a post-democratic era, getting ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.
Two points on the Zizek essay:

Zizek ends by saying, "We in the West are effectively entering a post-democratic era, getting ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi." This is a serious distortion and an insult to Italy. Object, if you will, to Berlusconi's style, policies, and principles, but he was freely elected, repeatedly, by Italians in open and honest elections. This cannot be said for Iran, because all candidates are pre-selected, whether or not the electoral choice among them is fair and honest. Furthermore, Berlusconi does not rule by virtue of a security apparatus, but by parliamentary process. This gratuitous insult to Italy is totally out of place and inappropriate.

I also disagree ith Zizek's analysis of the recent protests. Zizek argues that it is a return to the Khomeini revolution and its "incredible effervescence of the first year after the revolution, with the breath-taking explosion of political and social creativity." He then claims that the protests aim to "return to a genuine liberating potential in Islam – to find a “good” Islam, one doesn’t have to go back to the 10th century." His evidence? No more than the cries of "Allah akbar" in the night. It appears to me that Zizek confuses the anti-Shah revolution and the openness and potential that followed, with the Khomeini Islamic revolution that followed and squeezed all life out of that potential, replacing it with a theocratic despotism that has developed into a police state. The protests used the idiom of "Allah akbar" because the protestors dared not risk an "offense against Allah" which in Iran receives the death penalty. They tried to turn an established idiom against the state apparatus, because they thought it would be most effective. Were they looking to return to the "pure" Islam of the Khomeini revolution? Not at all. The populace is fed up with clergy and with repressive restrictions, and were striving for more freedom, as well as freedom from lunatic fanatical leaders making a mockery of Iran and its culture.
Two brief news reports:

"The problem with Iran is not only the desire to produce nuclear weapons, but also the character of the regime.... From my point of view, a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands has only one meaning -- a flying death camp. The fact that Iran is investing billions of dollars in the development of long-range missiles, in parallel to its nuclear project, is clear indication of its intent." -- Israeli President Shimon Peres, while meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss the sale of Russian weapons to Middle East countries hostile to Israel. (Jerusalem Post, August 18)

IRAN SEEKING BAN ON NUCLEAR SITES -- (New York) Iran has asked the UN to consider banning attacks on nuclear installations, the Fars news agency reported. Teheran has asked a conference of 150 nations to vote on a proposed ban in a letter by Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The vote would take place in the scheduled IAEA September conference. Iran has said its nuclear program is purely civilian in nature. Israel has said that it will not tolerate a nuclear Iran, and that it would take military action if diplomatic efforts fail to prevent Iran from going nuclear. (New York Times, August 14)
Syria and Iran: Together More Than Ever and Confident that They’re Winning

Posted: 20 Aug 2009 08:44 AM PDT

By Barry Rubin

One can learn a great deal by analyzing the visit of Syrian President Bashar Assad to Iran, August 19. Statements made by Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tell a lot about the allies’ strategy which seems to escape Western observers.

The first point is that they indeed are close allies. I would estimate that analyses by Western “experts” and in the media—analyses, not news reporting—that Syria can be pried away from Iran outnumber explanations that this is impossible by about ten to one. This mistaken conception is also the official policy of the United States and France, perhaps Britain as well.

To understand why Syria won’t be split from Iran, read this.


Note that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this recently:

“Given what's been going on in Iran and the instability that appears to be present there, it may not be in Syria's interest to put their eggs into that basket.”


Well, Assad apparently doesn’t agree with her. Perhaps she should listen to what he’s saying and watch what he’s doing in order to draw the opposite conclusion.

Assad says: "I think that what happened in Iran is an important thing and a big lesson to the foreigners, and therefore they are not very satisfied. I believe the Iranian people's reelection [of Ahmadinejad] is another emphasis on the fact that Iran and Syria must continue the regional policy as in the past."

In other words, he correctly views Ahmadinejad and the regime as a whole as even stronger after the election. Dictators respect repression; they aren’t impressed by an opposition which stages demonstrations and then whose leaders get thrown into prison. That’s especially true when they don’t even receive Western support.

Watching the gradual concessions made by the West to the Iran-Syria blok, and its evident fear of confronting them, Assad stated that he was confident the international community will accept Iran and Syria more than it had done in the past.

Note also that the two countries are very consciously coordinating strategy in a war against Western interests and the relatively more moderate Arab regimes, a conflict that Western governments don’t even perceive as existing:

"Iran and Syria are on the same front, and any political event is an opportunity which must be used at the best way possible while helping one another."

Iranian Spiritual Guide (and the real leader of the country) Ali Khamenei agreed: “The result of this unity is evident in the Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq issues and also in the entire region.” The tide is in favor of the Resistance, he added, referring to the combination of Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, Iraqi insurgents, and other members of the radical alliance.

What does this mean?

Palestine: Hamas is entrenching itself further, while European governments seem a bit less willing to isolate it. There is no prospect of bringing down that regime and the West isn’t trying to do so. He probably assumes, though is probably wrong, that Hamas is steadily making gains in subverting Fatah’s rule on the West Bank.

Lebanon: While Hizballah didn’t win the last election, it is clear that the Iran-Syria client increasingly owns the country. The country’s president is fairly subservient to Iranian and Syrian influence; the tribunal investigating Syrian terrorism in Lebanon seems pretty dead itself. Hizballah seems on the verge of re-establishing veto power in the government, and the most courageous opponent of Iran-Syria influence, Walid Jumblatt, has changed sides (or at least gone to neutrality).

Iraq: The U.S. forces are withdrawing. Iran’s money, agents, and clients seem to be able to operate freely, though Tehran is nowhere near taking over the country

Khamenei also said something truly shocking. Remarking that Syria’s improved relations with Iraq (a country against which it is daily sponsoring terrorist attacks), he added that unity [the translation probably should say “alliance”) between Iran and Syria, on one hand, and their neighbors Iraq and Turkey would benefit the region.

What is this? He is showing Iran’s longer-term plan to pull Iraq (under a more friendly faction) and Turkey (currently ruled by an Islamist-oriented regime) into a broad alliance. That statement should send shock waves throughout the West, cause intelligence analysts to pick up the phone and inform someone who has Obama’s ear.

Iran and Syria, along with their clients, are at war with America, and the U.S. government doesn’t even know it.

That’s why Khamenei said, "America’s blade has become blunter in the region."

He’s right. That’s why if anyone is worried about putting all the eggs in one basket nowadays it is America’s Arab partners. The fact that the United States is perceived as weaker and foolish in the region is far more important than the fact that Obama might be more popular in public opinion polls.

With a U.S. government so intent on apologizing to everyone, all but ruling out the use of force or power politics, and apparently—in Iran’s perception—afraid to confront its enemies, they’re concluding in Tehran and Damascus, as Ahmadinejad put it:

“Today the world has realized that Western theories are not working anymore and that is why it needs the help and cooperation of Syria and Iran.”

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).



OAC Press



© 2020   Created by Keith Hart.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service