Thursday, November 20, 2008


My senior year of college, Dinesh D'souza, resident of the loony-bin Hoover Institution at Stanford University, spoke about Iran at a lecture funded by the Young Republicans Club. He presented a torqued image of the nation in which a fascistic president led squadrons of young Iranians into gainful employment as suicide bombers and future executioners of The Great Satan. I worry that is still how many Americans see Iran, too. I want to talk about Iran in a fashion similar to how I addressed Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The 1950's

How Iran got to where it is today would also require 6,000 years of history that I'm not going to go into. But I do want to go back to 1951. In 1951, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh was elected Prime Minister of Iran. Mossadegh was a Western educated leader; he'd attended the Sorbonne and a graduate university in Switzerland. In Iran, he became Prime Minister on a platform of democratic reform and, most significantly, nationalization of Iranian oil and revenues.
Since the discovery of large oil fields in Iran in 1908, the British owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company controlled Iranian oil. As the British were want to do, they worked the Iranian's who tended their drilling/processing infrastructure hard, paid them little, and shared few of the profits. In an address shortly after his election, Mossadegh stuck this bit in the collective British eye:

"Our long years of negotiations with foreign countries… have yielded no results this far. With the oil revenues we could meet our entire budget and combat poverty, disease, and backwardness among our people. Another important consideration is that by the elimination of the power of the British company, we would also eliminate corruption and intrigue, by means of which the internal affairs of our country have been influenced. Once this tutelage has ceased, Iran will have achieved its economic and political independence. The Iranian state prefers to take over the production of petroleum itself."

Foolish Mossadegh. He thought his country was entitled to the profits from a natural resource located within its borders. But, as the relentless pursuit of profit is the White Man's Burden, the British felt obliged to end Mossadegh's experiment with democracy. So the British enlisted the aid of the United States and its new Republican administration (Eisenhower) by "convincing" us that Iran was drifting towards communism and the Soviet Union.

Eisenhower handed the thing off to the CIA and eventually a confluence of events including; a defacto oil embargo that shut down Iranian oil sales; a CIA propaganda campaign against Mossadegh in Iran; a statement by the Shah of Iran that declared his support of a coup against Mossadegh; and the inability of Mossadegh to enact any reforms due to a dearth of oil revenue, resulted in a succesful coup that left the Shah in power and oil money in British/American pockets. Close one.

Of course all this ended with far more downside than upside for the West as, 25 years later, Iranians nonplussed by the rule of the puppet-Shah carried out that whole 1979 Iranian Revolution and taking of hostages at the US Embassy thing leaving us with the Ayatollah-led leadership we have today.

So if you want to trace the roots of our standoff with Iran back to a seminal turning point, I would say the American-British coup that deposed Mossadegh is that point. In 1951, Iran was led by a secular, progressive prime minister with a Western education who hoped to enact democratic reforms. What are we hoping for in Iran today? I forget...


Demographically speaking, we have every reason to engage Iran diplomatically and not militarily. From Wikipedia: "More than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30, and the literacy rate is 82%. Women today compose more than half of the incoming classes for universities around the country." This is a country with a young population that we have the ability to work with or fight against. We can win them over.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a nut, yes. But when we call him a new Hitler, or some such bullshit, we prop up his standing internationally to an extent he does not enjoy in his own country. Ahmadinejad is powerless in Iran. He enjoys the support of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but if that support wanes, then so does Ahmadinejad. All indications are, Ahmadinejad is in rough shape in-country.

The Economist published a piece on Ahmadinejad's tenuous political situation yesterday. They wrote: "Iranian economists have taken to bombarding the president with letters excoriating his policies. In the most recent, 60 academics accuse his administration of 'excessive idealism, haste in action… and tension-creating interaction with the outside world'. Iran has underperformed its neighbours in growth, lost competitiveness and failed to tackle high unemployment, the letter says."

Iran's economy is pegged to oil trading at $80/barrel and, just like Russia, their economic outlook has gone from "Solid" to "Screwed" now that oil is below $50/barrel. Iran holds presidential elections in June of 2009. If oil prices stay low, and Ahmadinejad is unable to turn the economy around (he's never seemed to have much economic prowess, just luck with high oil prices) then Ayatollah Khamenei may see the incumbent as a liability and throw his support behind someone else (or no one). One of the possible candidates is reformist Seyyed Mohammad Khātamī who served as president from 1997 - 2005 and is far more moderate than Ahmadinejad.

American Options

Barring any significant developments in the geopolitical climate in/around Iran, I don't see any reason why Obama should rush a sit-down with Ahmadinejad - or whoever is the president - until after the June elections. It will be more difficult for Ahmadinejad with, presumably, a far less bellicose administration in the United States, to prop up his popularity with anti-American rhetoric. The less we give him to grab onto, the less he is able to make us the boogeyman, inflate his own ratings, and distract Iranians from their weak economy and high unemployment. Bluster works against us.

With Obama, a military strike led by the US seems less likely barring some fanatical move by Ahmadinejad in which he forces the military to do something on his orders and not Khamenei's (not likely). Obama will not be able to sway Iranian opinion, I wouldn't think, but if he tacitly advances a sentiment that he's not meeting with the Iranian leader until after the election, it might help to get the world and Iranians anticipating that Ahmadinejad won't be around much longer. Then again, if Ahmadinejad wins, that plan might backfire.

The real threat to a good future with Iran is Israel. Israel does not want another country in the region to hold the ace card of a nuclear weapon. I think Israel will wait until the elections in Iran are over before making any big decisions, but it was only a couple months ago that Israel was at the brink of war with Iran. Ehud Olmert was in the midst of his scandal and went to Bush for the green light to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities (wag the dog-like - distract from your impeachment proceedings with a good ol' bombing run or 200) but Bush said no-go, thankfully.

As for the absurd, I'm-on-acid-and-hallucinating-this-shit scenario advanced by Tim Russert in the video in my previous post - a scenario that he was/is not alone in thinking possible - in which Iran invades Israel... It's total bunk. Forget it, throw it out, don't acknowledge it, smack anyone who takes it seriously in the face until they talk sense. As Ron Paul said, Israel has 300 nuclear weapons. No one is going to touch them. The best Iran could hope for is a nuclear weapon that they could smuggle into Israel and detonate. Even so, all fingers would immediately point to Iran and they'd wind up wiped off the map. If they launched a weapon, they'd be wiped off the map. If you think that Iran is run by apocalyptic muslims trying to hasten the return of the Twelfth Imam, then run wild with that theory. But Ahmadinejad is not apocalyptic. He just wants money, power, and to stand up to the bully Americans.

An attack on Iran by us or the Israelis would be a tragedy. Iran is a country of 70 million people that we can deal with through diplomacy. There is absolutely no reason that every ounce of our effort towards Iran should not go into convincing the 40+ million people under 30 years of age that a working relationship with the Western world is both a real possibility and a valuable one for both of us. Of course, we have history against us - thank you very much Dulles brothers, Eisenhower, and 1950's British Petroleum incarnation - but fortunately we have the most ahistorical American president we've ever seen.

1 comment:

Ike said...