Thursday, January 19, 2012

Hooman Majd--Top 5 U.S. misconceptions on Iran (Politico)

Top 5 U.S. misconceptions on Iran

By: Hooman Majd
January 17, 2012 10:09 PM EST | POLITICO

Commentary by William O. Beeman: Hooman Majd has consistently been a realistic voice on Iran. His article below should be required reading for all persons purporting to claim expertise on Iran or giving advice. I concur with each of his assertions. Ask yourself if you are hearing this information on NPR, PBS, the New York Times or other "reliable" outlets. (Hint: you are not!). 

Top five, 10 or 100 lists are standard at the end of the year. Though the Iranian year doesn’t end for roughly two months, given the escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, with threats and counter threats over the Strait of Hormuz — to say nothing of most GOP presidential candidates’ views on what to do about Iran — it might be useful to compile one on the growing Iran crisis, early 2012 here and late 1390 there:

1) More severe sanctions will eventually cause the regime to blink.

Um, no. Thirty-plus years of sanctions have had no effect on Tehran. None. The regime can’t blink — even if it wanted to. Not after it has spent energy, money and every tool it has convincing its people that the nuclear program is a matter of national pride, that the West wants to prevent Iranians from enjoying the fruits of technological advancement and that their suffering under the sanctions is for the country’s greater good.

The regime’s credibility has already suffered because of the opposition protests in 2009 and 2010. So what would it have left if it caved to foreign demands that even the opposition describes as unreasonable?

2) Increasing sanctions will cause the Iranian people to hate the regime
 even more, leading to an uprising against the ayatollahs.

No. The Iranian people may blame their government for economic mismanagement, as well as human-rights abuses — but most won’t blame it for U.S. actions. Similarly, Iranians may blame President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for exacerbating domestic problems or creating problems with the West because of his rhetoric. But they don’t blame him for, say, sanctions that prevent Tehran from buying parts for its aging airplanes, which fall out of the sky with alarming frequency.

Think about it: When a nation is attacked, or under severe external pressure, it usually blames the external enemies, not its own leaders. If you factor in the assassinations of scientists on the streets of Tehran and mysterious factory explosions, sanctions and threats may make life miserable for Iranians but are unlikely to cause them to overthrow their rulers.

3) A spark is all that’s required to ignite protests and a revolution. We
 will “stand” with the Iranian people.

Perhaps. And no, we won’t. But the spark cannot be a foreign one.

Iranians have never, in their more than 2,500-year history, taken the side of a foreign invader. Not even the Arabs, who invaded Persia and forced Islam on its people — which they later altered. Guess who hates the Persians more than anyone else? That’s right, the Arabs.

No, if there is change in Iran, it won’t be brought about by foreigners — or wealthy and well-connected Iranians in exile.

Most Iranians don’t believe that Washington “cares” about them or “stands with them.” After Washington’s long friendship with the shah, they’re not naive.

If America cared, Iranians reason, it wouldn’t be so cozy with dictatorships. It “stood” with Hosni Mubarak — until it decided it should “stand” with the Egyptians in Tahrir Square. It “stands” with Saudi Arabia — while Riyadh oppresses its people and sends troops to put down a popular uprising in Bahrain. Iranian TV fetishized the demonstrations and brutal suppression on that island, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, much as the Western media fetishized Iran’s Green Movement.

4) Iran is incapable of reaching an agreement with the West over its
 nuclear program or its support of terrorism, for it would threaten the
 regime’s existence. And Iran is too politically divided to make this
 deal.

Many of the West’s Iran analysts and experts, both Iranian and American, assert this. Some purport to know what Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s motivation is. Curious, given that in Iran, few people make that claim — even Iranians I know who actually speak with him.

Iran has repeatedly said that it would negotiate in good faith — as long as it was respected and its rights acknowledged. Tehran’s negotiating style may be radically different from the West’s, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want talks.

Iranians are far slower and more methodical. They maneuver to stall, divide their opponents and extract the maximum concessions from rivals. But Khamenei has repeatedly said that he is not opposed to relations with the U.S. — they just can’t be solely on Washington’s terms. If they were, that would indeed threaten the regime’s credibility — and survival.

Iran’s internal opposition is also not opposed to a d├ętente with the U.S. This could empower civil society — since it would remove the government’s major excuse for crushing dissent. But Iranians, including any viable opposition, won’t be dictated to by foreigners.

As to the deep divisions among conservatives, including the Ahmadinejad-Khamenei split — it’s still the supreme leader who makes the call on relations with the West and the nuclear program. All Iranian politicians, some of whom hate each other, fall in line.

5) All options are the table.

Let’s stop kidding. No, they’re not. War is neither a joke nor an option. It’s astonishing that politicians and presidential candidates talk about it cavalierly. If the U.S., unilaterally or with allies, attacks Iran, it will be reviled by almost all Iranians — and many others. It doesn’t matter if the attack is “surgical” — designed to minimize collateral damage. Any attack will most likely be viewed by Iranians as an attack on their sovereignty.

They will surely respond — and the response will likely be ugly. Tehran could put nuclear weapons development on a faster track while whatever opposition exists could be extinguished. Any idea of reform will disappear.

There really is only one option in dealing with Iran: negotiations and a deal that allows Iran to maintain its dignity while it de-incentivizes the building of weapons of mass destruction.

But it is difficult to negotiate with Iranians in good faith while increasing sanctions, seeking to block their source of income, assassinating scientists (though the U.S. denies any involvement, Iranians in the regime and the general public remain unconvinced) and announcing that war is an option.

As one high-ranking Iranian official said to me, “We are allergic to threats.”


Hooman Majd is the author of “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran” and “The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge.” He just returned from a yearlong stay in Tehran and is writing a new book about Iran.

William O. Beeman Commentary on "The Case for Regime Change in Iran" Foreign Affairs January 17, 2012

The Case for Regime Change in Iran


Commentary on The Case for Regime Change in Iran by William O. Beeman

The Case for Regime Change in Iran
Jamie M. Fly and Gary Schmitt
Foreign Affairs 
January 17, 2012


I was struck dumb with incredulity at Jamie Fly and Gary Schmitt's pronouncement favoring regime change in Iran in Foreign Affairs. First, what do these two gentlemen know about Iran? Apparently nothing. The Iranian public is already primed and on a hair trigger expecting that the United States is going to pull another coup like in the 1952 C.I.A. led overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddeq, building on despised neo-colonialist moves from Russia and Great Britain going back to the 19th Century. That perception of American hegemony is what precipitated the hostage crisis of 1979-80.

Anyone who came to power now with the help of the US would immediately be cultural poison to the Iranians. They might endure for a little while, but they would eventually be toppled themselves. This is why the Iranian opposition tells U.S. sympathizers: "Keep your hands off!" They know that the taint of U.S. involvement will doom anything they might do to eventual failure.

This doesn't even address the absurdity of trying to effect "regime change" in the first place in Iran. This Cold War fantasy is unrealistic on a practical level. The Iranians were well aware of the dangers of having a narrow power structure at the top at the time of the Revolution of 1978-79. Therefore they ensconced the most intricate set of interlocking leadership positions one could ever imagine in their constitution. Clearly the authors of this piece have not done minimal homework to ascertain this basic fact.

There is not one Iranian supreme leader in Iran, there are about 150 power brokers at multiple stages of government. Knocking off a few of them will never topple the government.

This article would be laughable if it weren't so dangerous. The right wing will be touting it tomorrow as "proof" of the value of a military strategy against Iran. When the hawks are out screaming for attacks on Iran on the campaign trail as a cheap sop to naive voters, this is very dire indeed. That a respected journal would print such unmitigated nonsense is a sign of the depths of ignorance to which we have fallen in our assessment of Iran.