Saturday, June 25, 2005

t r u t h o u t - William O. Beeman | Ignorance on Iran May Lead to an Unwise Attack

t r u t h o u t - William O. Beeman | Ignorance on Iran May Lead to an Unwise Attack

Ignorance on Iran May Lead to an Unwise Attack
By William O. Beeman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 24 June 2005

Tehran - The United States may still attack Iran, and for all the wrong reasons.

Two recent analyses, both appearing a day before the final runoff to determine the Iranian presidency (June 23, 2005) reveal how this may happen, and what the logic behind such an attack may be.

The first analysis, by former United Nations nuclear arms inspector Scott Ritter, distributed through the Al Jazeera website, claims that the United States' assault on Iran has already begun. Ritter asserts that the terrorist organization Mujaheddin-e Khalg (known as the MEK or MKO in the West) is operating as a strike force under CIA direction, and that the United States is preparing to stage military attacks from Azerbaijan.

The second analysis appears in the Boston Globe, by Ray Takeyh, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who claims that the "counter reform" movement has led to the successful candidacy of former mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the first round of presidential elections in Iran - and possibly in the runoff as well - is entirely the doing of Iranian chief jurisprudent Ali Khamene'i. Takeyh's analysis echoes an infamous paper issued by the Committee on the Present Danger - an organization of ex-Cold Warriors that has retooled itself as an anti-terrorist organization. The paper, issued December 20, 2004 was entitled "Iran: A New Approach" and was authored by Mark Palmer and George Schultz. The main point of the paper was to paint Khamene'i as a Saddam-style dictator.

Both of these analyses have inherent flaws, but taken together they spell something quite ominous. I'm not quite ready to believe Ritter's pronouncement that the attack is already underway, despite the fact that Seymour Hersh predicted that it would happen about now in "The Coming Wars," in The New Yorker on January 24 and 31 of this year. However, I do believe that Ritter is reporting on a movement that significant elements in the Bush administration want to happen, and for which they may have laid the groundwork.

There are a lot of random facts that lend credence to Ritter's claims. Last year, there were fake elections in Azerbaijan. The ex-dictator of that country, octogenarian Haidar Aliev, was rumored to have already been dead two months before the election. The installation of his unqualified ne'er do well son Ilham, to applause from the Bush administration, allowed the completion of an oil pipeline from the Caspian region across former Soviet Georgia to Turkey, bypassing Iran.

Additionally, there have been continued contacts between Iranian Azerbaijani separatist Mahmudali Chehregani and the Bush administration. Moreover, there are apparently real plans for the Bush administration to establish a military base in the Republic of Azerbaijan, the better to stage the kind of attack on Iran about which Ritter is writing.

There is continued administration contact and support for the MEK, and support from a number of US senators and congresspeople. Ritter's scenario begins to look probable if not real.

However, Takeyh's piece (along with the paper from the Committee on the Present Danger) is the more dangerous of the two analyses, because of its attribution of a genuine social movement to a single person. This makes it tempting for administration hawks of limited intelligence (of all sorts), susceptible to the avalanche of neoconservative blather on Iranian politics, to think that all one has to do is topple Khamene'i and the whole Islamic Republic will fall like a house of cards. This is truly dangerous thinking, and it is blatantly not in the long term interests of the United States or Iran for the US Government to act upon such a flawed assumption.

The elections took almost all Iranian analysts by surprise, because of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's strong showing. However, this development should not have been unforeseen.

Iran is still engaged with internal revolutionary dialog. The original Revolution of 1978-79 was a drive for purification of the Iranian soul as much as anything else. This need for spiritual and moral purity was the element that engaged the middle and upper classes in the end, encouraging them to oust the shah against their own economic interests (something that should not surprise Americans, given the past two presidential elections).

The pull of the spiritual is obviously still strong in Iran, and Ahmadinejad has been able to embody this in his image of simplicity, humility and spirituality successfully. He further combines his image with an economic message that promises that the fruits of the revolution - namely the elevation of the mostazefin (downtrodden) - can still be achieved.

Ahmadinejad's persona and his message are clearly irresistible to people who see the original ideals of the revolution slipping away, through the increasingly Westernized behavior and sensibilities of the salons and boutiques of North Tehran. In short, the social forces that are driving the Ahmadinejad supporters are real, broad, and clearly very powerful. Any American move to attack Iran, or to try to achieve regime change through the narrow measure of trying to topple Khamene'i or any limited group of individuals, will fail. The Iranian public supporting Ahmadinejad and what he represents will reject any replacement for the current government, and the rest of the Iranian population will consider anything initiated by the United States to be tainted.

The day may come when Washington will finally try to understand Iran on its own terms, but I think the world will have to wait for a very long time for this to take place.

William O. Beeman has been observing the Iranian presidential elections from Tehran. He is professor of Anthropology and Director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. His forthcoming book is The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs": How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other (Praeger).


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Iranians Vote in Tight Presidential Run-Off
By Edmund Blair

Friday 24 June 2005

Iranians streamed to the polls on Friday in a presidential run-off that could toughen policy toward the West and end tentative moves toward liberalization if a hardline candidate beats Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Voters stood in long lines in poor south Tehran, a stronghold of ultra-conservative Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has won over Iran's religious poor with promises to share out Iran's oil wealth more fairly.

"I will vote for Ahmadinejad because he wants to cut off the hands of those who are stealing the country's national wealth. He wants to fight poverty, fraud and discrimination," said Rahmatollah Izadpanah, 41, queuing in south Tehran.

In wealthier uptown parts of the capital, Rafsanjani voters turned out in fear Ahmadinejad would revive the strictures and purges that followed the 1979 Islamic revolution. Some polling stations were busy but many in north Tehran were quiet at first.

"Our freedom is at stake. I have asked all my friends to cast their votes as early as possible," said Somayeh, 23, in a veil but with make-up that conservatives frown upon.

Political analysts say the election result is too close to call, with the contest reflecting deep social divisions apparent in the Islamic Republic's population of 67 million people.

Rafsanjani, a cleric bidding to regain the post he held from 1989 to 1997, has recast himself as a liberal with vows to preserve the reforms of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, who loosened Islamic social rules and pursued detente with the West.

"I intend to play a historic political role ... to stop the domination of extremism," Rafsanjani, 70, said after voting.

Ahmadinejad, 48, a surprise contender in the run-off, says ties with Washington are not a priority. He is a staunch supporter of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in matters of state in Iran's system of clerical rule.

Fears of a Purge

"Today is the beginning of a new political era for the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said when he voted.

Opponents fear Ahmadinejad will purge ministries and other bodies, citing what he did to municipal bodies as Tehran mayor.

The interior, culture and economy ministries are among those held by Khatami-backed reformists. Bijan Zanganeh, oil minister of OPEC's second largest producer, made his loyalties clear by turning up at a Rafsanjani rally this week.

Washington says the election is unfair because an unelected religious body blocked the vast majority of would-be candidates.

Many analysts say the US criticism may have spurred turnout in last week's first round, helping it to reach 63 percent of the 47 million eligible voters.

"The more people who participate in the election, the better it will be for the next president and for protecting Iran, and achieving our goals," said Khamenei, one of the first to cast a ballot in the second round.

The run-off is between the top two of seven candidates from the first round. It is the first time since the 1979 revolution that a presidential poll has gone to a second vote.

The election has exposed deep splits among Iran's mostly youthful electorate. The minimum voting age is 15.

Rafsanjani voters tend to be from upper and middle classes who are tired of Iran's isolation, want more social freedom and back his plans to liberalize the state-dominated economy.

Ahmadinejad, a former instructor of the Basij militia, zealous guardians of the revolution's ideals, has support among the religiously conservative working-class, who struggle to make ends meet and for whom strict Islamic codes are no worry.

To them, Ahmadinejad is an outsider challenging the vested business interests of Rafsanjani's wealthy family and others they believe have benefited most from booming oil prices.

Reformist candidates beaten in the first round and now backing Rafsanjani accuse the hardline Revolutionary Guards and Basij of backing Ahmadinejad, charges dismissed by Ahmadinejad.

Polls are due to close at 7 p.m. (1430 GMT) but may be extended up to 11 p.m. (1830 GMT), as in the first round.