Thursday, April 27, 2006

Who Rules Iran??

A famous Iranian cartoonist, Nikahang Kosar, drew this popular cartoon mocking Iran's confused forieng policy. You hear something surprising coming out of Iran every day: first, that Iran's supreme leader is offering nuclear know-how to Sudan! Then that Iran is ready for a nuclear deal; then that Iran is vowing to attack US interests all over the world if provoked; then that Iran rules out using oil as weapon.

In 2003 Iran decided to voluntarily suspend uranium enrichment. In 2005 it decided to defy the world by breaking agreements and corssing red lines. Iran's foreign policy just seems to be moving back and forth, from one extreme to another.

Who rules Iran? Why such contradictory foreign policy?

The answer is to be found in the Islamic Republic's unique institutional configuration. Unlike most other Middle Eastern regimes (which are personalistic autocracies) the Islamic Republic is an institutionalized theocracy. The mullahs learned the shah's lesson: they created a vast network of intertwined and overlapping institutions. There are numerous institutions in charge of foreign policy, for instance: the office of the supreme leader, the foreign ministry, the national security council, the expediency council, and so on.

An offshoot of this over-institutionalization has been the escalation of factional politics in Iran. While he was in power,
Khomeini often maintained the balance of power among various revolutionary factions by putting them in charge of different institutions, many of which had overlapping functions. So you often get contradictory statements from two similar-ranking officials on any topic: one organization says that the rate of youth unemployment is 25%, another puts it at 33%, another at 14%! One organization says the rate of inflation is 12%, another that it is 15%, another 40%! And they are all official statistics!

You are, in essence, dealing with multiple centers of power in Iran. What measures you take, as the international community, is going to determine the ultimate outcome of the power war inside the country. There is no one overarching figure, no one leader, no one policy-maker ruling Iran; there are various factions with ties to various segments of society. The Ahmadinejad faction has the support of religious zealots and security apparatus; traditional conservatives have a base among Iran's baazari community; and pragmatists and reformers are backed by the middle class. Neither faction is strong enough to completely overpower the others. Where Iran will be headed in the next 20-30 years will be determined by what measures the US will take against it.

Sanctions would weaken the middle class, and hence the pragmatists. Military action would empower Ahmadinejad and the fundamentalists (and the security apparatus) - and so would surgical strikes.

Negotiating with Iran, on the other hand, would weaken Ahmadinejad's faction and empower the pragmatists, who have called for reestablishing ties with the US time and again (read an excellent article on this issue from Mother Jones by clicking on the link).

The outcome of factional politics in Iran is determined in large part by the international community's reaction to Iran's nuclear program. What will it be?

- Assareh

Comments:
Great Post. Very informative.
 
My question is: what do you want Iran to be? Is an Iran with nuclear weapons an option on the table...if so, no negotians. But if we are negotiating to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran's hands, then negotiate.
~ Ty
 
I believe regime does know what it does.

They try to confuse the westerners on their actions and policies but the mullahs know what they are doing!
 
I think most sensible people would agree that there's no way back now. The US can delay Iran's program for 5-10 years but a nuclear Iran is inevitable just because all elements necessary for it are home-grown.
- Assareh
 
haha so only sensible people have your viewpoint huh? douche
 
yeah only nonsensible people would talk about nuking a country to the ground, because thats the only way you can stop Iran from going nuclear eventually.
- Assareh
 
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