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The View From Tehran
Department of Political Science
Maxwell School of Citizenship
A Byzantine political structure with multiple nodes of power: Supreme Leader, Council of Guardians, Expediency Council, Assembly of Religious Experts, Parliament, President, Council of Ministers, National Security Council, and others…
A collective leadership highly prone to difficulties formulating a national governing consensus (my estimate is that there is a group of 300 individuals who are the real “political heavyweights”)
Yet among all nodes, Ayatollah Khamenei is the most powerful individual. He appoints close to 100 important political personalities, plus an additional 300-500 Friday Prayer leaders, Leader’s representatives, etc.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader since June 1989
Effects of the revolution: Its utopian stupor, hybrid ideologies, jagged constituencies, and an inchoate grammar of legitimacy have created a myriad of theological anachronisms and political contradictions in the state.
Hyper-politicization, parallel institutions, intense factionalism, and a lack of transparency
Profound cultural, economic, and demographic transformations of the post-revolutionary era have granted the political sphere a degree of sophistication previously unimaginable.
The urban (61%), literate (80%), and young (median age of 24) nature of Iran’s population has precipitated a revolution of rising expectations.
Yet while the challenges generated by the above dynamics have challenged the regime, its 29-year track record indicates it can be flexible and creative enough to ride the waves.
the judiciary and the Guardian Council, accountability;
the civil service, dexterity;
and the press, freedom.
Twenty-nine years: Five U.S. Presidents and Six Iranian Presidents
Are mutual views based on concrete facts … or based on political whims and paranoia? Gary Sick has argued that both sides share a moralistic air of self-righteousness in foreign policy matters; both are inclined to ideological rigidity and a sense of moral superiority; and each perceives itself as the indispensable state.
The nuclear cleavage has obscured more promising approaches to U.S.-Iranian relations.
Ahmadinejad’s raucous diplomacy has again revived the argument that Iranian foreign policy is based on absolutist ideological principles.
Yet, serious analysis shows that Iran bases foreign policy decisions not on religious ideology but on national interest (See Azerbaijan-Armenia, Russia-Chechnya, India-Pakistan, etc.)
The Iranian leadership is not irrational or crazy, nor do they suffer from a martyrdom complex. They are indeed ambitious -- but very pragmatic.
The varied political transformations of many of the students who took over the U.S. Embassy demonstrate ideology’s flexibility.
The “Blame America and Israel Game” hardly resonates on the Iranian street. After three decades, normal life no longer sustains intense revolutionary attitudes.
1) Zero enrichment option
2) Multi-national enrichment option
External pressure can’t bring about a regime change.
You must start talking to Iran unconditionally and must engage the whole spectrum of political power, not just imprudently picking and choosing “moderates” or “pragmatists.” The neglected or presently weaker groups will do their best to torpedo the other faction’s efforts at any type of rapprochement. Spoiling the efforts of one’s rivals, including members of one’s own faction, is common and can take place in the form of managed leaks (i.e., revealing the 1985-1986 Iran-Contra affair) or public criticism.
Iranians don’t necessarily like their regime, but they love their country. You must stress commitment to Iran’s territorial integrity.
Talks with Iran would involve a diplomatic marathon. At least a year would be needed for preliminary agreements.
5) Assess Iran’s rising power in the region realistically. The U.S. can’t create a regional order that excludes Iran: too big in terms of geography, economy, population, and military might to be left out. Iran uses anti-Americanism to combat its exclusion.
6) Sequence the negotiations and opt for incremental confidence building measures:
7) It would be advisable for the next administration to wait until June 2009 to see who becomes Iran’s President.
8)Ahmadinejad’s potential rivals (Karoubi, Khatami(s), Ghalibaf and Velayati) will all be more moderate on the nuclear issue.
Factors working in his favor:
Potent combination of nationalism and populism
Elimination of important potential rivals (Larijani, Haddad-Adel)
Factors working against him:
Deteriorating economic conditions
In addition to the reformists, many influential conservatives (Rezaei, Larijani, Ghalibaf, Mahdavi Kani, etc.) now believe that Ahmadinejad has overplayed his hand with the nuclear issue (this is a generation that still remembers what happened when Iran overplayed its hand in the Iran-Iraq War) and has been reckless in his domestic policies.