Mohammad Mossadegh

Iran and the Obvious Question

In this picture released by an official website at the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sits under a portrait fo the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini prior to his speech in a meeting with Iranian ambassadors in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014.  Khamenei on Wednesday dismissed the value of direct talks with the U.S., his first comments touching on meetings that officials from the Islamic Republic had with Americans dating back to secret talks that began in 2012.  (AP Photo/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

There is, of course, much going on with the P5+1 that really doesn’t have anything to do with the #GOP47 except for their determination to meddle and even tank the deal. That said, the larger American discourse can be a bit thin on details.

I think a realignment is happening in Iranian politics. The 2000s were a period of right wing populism under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Khamenei had his hands burned by the Ahmadinejad faction of hard line populists. They provoked all that trouble in 2009, and mismanaged the economy with massive subsidies. By 2012 Khamenei was openly slapping Ahmadinejad down. Then the US kicked Iran off the bank exchanges and took Iran oil exports down from 2.5 mn b/d to 1.5 mn b/d. Since prices were high, it didn’t hurt the regime that much, but must have been concerning given what was done to Mosaddegh in 1953, when similar int’l oil sanctions prepared the way for a CIA coup.

Khamenei hates the reform camp but seems to have realized that he can’t count on simply being able to crush them. He can, in contrast, live with a centrist like Rouhani. Domestically, Rouhani is his way of deflecting what’s left of the Green Movement (which really shook Khamenei, perhaps even moreso after Mubarak et al were toppled by the Arab youth 18 months later). Internationally, Rouhani holds out the possibility of escaping the severe sanctions but keeping the nuclear energy program, which is Khamenei’s baby and which he sees as a guarantee that Iran can’t be held hostage by the international energy markets and great powers. But deploying Rouhani means slapping down Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) hard liners, which he did in February.

Hard liners are jumping up and down mad about what Rouhani & Zarif are alleged to have given away to the West, and my suspicion is that Khamenei’s demand for immediate end of sanctions is a way of tossing them a bone for the moment. If you read the whole speech he comes back and is still supportive of the process at the end, saying he is not for or against the deal since there really is no deal yet, just a framework agreement for negotiating the deal. But then that means he did not, contrary to the headlines, come out against the deal today.

(Cole)

In those brief paragraphs, Juan Cole gives basic questions about the Iranian perspective more consideration than most Americans would think to give. To the other, one such analysis is hardly definitive.

Still, though, the problem facing the American discourse is that so few acknowledge Iran’s reasons for distrusting our government, and there is also a larger question about the implications of what we have done. Jon Schwarz offers a look into some of the―well, this is the part where we are supposed to say “complicated”, but that really is a way of euphemizing―insidious history of how the United States and other Western nations have gotten along with Iran over the years.

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