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Since the 1979 revolution, relations...

by RAOUF KAMALI in Tehran

13 Nov 2009 14:1812 Comments

marg.jpg[ comment ] Since the 1979 revolution, relations between the United States and Iran have vacillated between outright enmity and degrees of cooperation, from American support for Iraq during its eight-year war with Iran, to Iranian help to the United States in its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran's controversial nuclear program, exacerbated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's bellicose stance on issues, have put a new strain on these relations, so much so that past grievances have become overshadowed. It's as though once the nuclear dossier is closed, the two foes will smile upon each other again.

Up to now, the Iranian government has reaped great benefit from the lack of diplomatic ties with the United States. For instance, the hostage crisis helped Iran's new rulers sideline other political forces involved in the revolution, and to ultimately purge them under the pretext of the 'US-backed' war with Iraq. Once economic reconstruction was under way in the postwar era, this titanic enmity gave license to the government to slap a "US-backed conspiracy" label on any stripe of social movement or public protest -- and therefor to suppress dissent. This has included even a mass movement such as 2 Khordad, so dubbed to mark the birth of the Reform movement, the day Mohammad Khatami was elected president in a landslide in 1997. This was a movement spearheaded by no one less than the President himself.

As the rift between the state and nation deepened over the past twenty years, the same government that rose to power from the heart of a popular revolution, did not fail to notice the loss of that legitimacy in the eyes of its people. That tension came to the fore this June and found its zenith in the formation of the current Green Movement. But instead of restoring that legitimacy, Iran's rulers alienated the public even further with a ruthless crackdown that bore one message: the people have no role in determining their political fate.

Yet because it must keep 'revolutionary' ideals alive to secure the minority support base required for its continued survival, the government, despite its virulent anti-democratic bent, is unable to openly dissolve the legal mechanisms involving the public in the management of the country. This slim core cannot be kept loyal through economic incentives alone. An external enemy needs to loom overhead to unite them behind the regime, such so that their ranks will continue to join the police and basij apparatus used to quash protesters.

Furthermore, the existence of this support base, however slender, bolsters Iran's influence in the region and augments its bargaining power in nuclear negotiations with the West. By upholding an anti-American posture, the regime has thus far succeeded in maintaining loyalty among its supporters and casting its brutal treatment of protesters as "the people's war" against "U.S.-influenced elements."

As signs of repairing U.S.-Iran relations emerge vis-à-vis the administration of Barack Obama, some Iranian analysts believe that striking a deal with America will consolidate Ahmadinejad's power and expedite the suppression of the Green Movement. Based on the logic of the argument stated above, however, a reverse outcome can be predicted.

The homegrown opposition movement in Iran, since its inception, did not receive any help from foreign governments nor does it await such assistance. The movement was formed on the basis of the political power of the people, and must retain this internal logic if it aims to continue its course. The desire of Iran's right-wing faction to improve relations with its longtime nemesis does not stem from deep reflections on foreign policy, but rather is born of desperation that the Green Movement has forced upon the government.

The government's failure to appease public discontent in the wake of the recent elections has pushed Iranian statesmen to conclude they can no longer afford a stand-off with the West and have no choice but to sit down at the negotiations table and even make concessions. This U-turn in policy will render impotent the government's attempt to attach the Green Movement to Western spy agencies. More importantly, it will ring hollow among regime loyalists who view the Ahmadinejad-Khamenei faction as vanguards in the fight against "Great Satan" -- with the upshot of neutralizing their active support for the government or joining the popular movement.

During their struggle against the Shah's dictatorship, Iranians showed that even if America helps strengthen a dictatorial regime, they possess the power to write their political destiny. If the U.S. strikes a grand bargain with Iran now, its only effect will be to dispel the illusion still prevalent among some that the opposition is an agent of America and Ahmadinejad is a champion of the dispossessed.

The author, who is using a pen name, wrote for prominent dailies such as Shargh, Etemad-e Melli, and Kargozaran.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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12 Comments

I'd really like to see some hard evidence that Iran's government support base is "slender". To my knowledge, we only have the two WPO polls, which serve to confirm the hard data provided by the June election result. From what hard evidence does the author base his opinion?

I'd also like to inform the author that during a long period of cold war, it is not at all unusual to see one side's political establishment depict an anti-establishment movement as being manipulated or influenced by a foreign threat. Here in the United States, during the late 1960's and early 70's, it was common for the political right to depict America's own anti-establishment movement as serving its cold war adversaries, the USSR or Red China, as well as branding the movement itself as being communist in nature.

It has been extremely opportunistic and disingenuous of the green movement to reject the validity of Iran's current negotiations with the United States and the West. Mousavi's rejectionist position toward a potential nuclear deal is a case in point. Likewise, the author's position that even if certain negotiations are successful, it's positive effect on Iran's political establishment will be nil. Such wishful thinking exposes the very unrealistic nature of many green movement activists.

At this point in time, the main source of American friction towards Iran pretty much revolves around the nuclear issue. The Iranian source of friction is far more complex, consisting of many layers of sanctions, Israeli aggression and occupation in the region, effective Israel lobby efforts in Washington against the Islamic Republic, as well as US war and military occupation of bordering countries. How to fully unravel that knot appears to be beyond the capability of Obama, let alone the political establishment of Iran.

Pirouz / November 13, 2009 5:49 PM

Leaving aside the discontent over disputed election results and the messy aftermath, in actual fact Ahmedinejad and his negotiators have done quite well considering the original demand by the US and its allies to freeze the uranium enrichment process. This is no longer demanded and what is now being asked for is the right to trade up its stockpile of 3% in exchange for 20%.
Considering the track record of the US and its allies, Iranian negotiators are right to be wary of transferring its full stock in one go. Any sensible government in its position would do the same. What this however proves is that the IRI is genuine in its desire to achieve a peaceful outcome even though this might not be to its full satisfaction and it is its opponents, Israel and its proxies in Western govts, who would like to create an atmosphere of permanent conflict. The fact can also not be denied that even if the election had been conceded to Musawi, the arithmetic would still show many millions of Iranians as having voted for Ahmedinejad therefore simply demonstrating the split in the Iranian electorate between the two factions, translated loosely in the 'Principalists' and 'Reformists'.

rezvan / November 13, 2009 9:38 PM

The only time the USA has been friendly with Iran was when the US exerted its control over that country. In 1953 both the UK and the USA with CIA terrorists deposed of a democratic Iran in favour of imposing the western friendly Shah of Iran.

Following the placing of the Shah the CIA terrorists created, for the Shah, a secret police SAVAK with remained under the control of the CIA.

SAVAK was responcible for people "disappeared" much like they'd done in Central and South America countries, the created a system of torture, the CIA also, created a list of Iranians who they and the Shah's people systematically murdered, they even took many students to the tops of their schools and threw them to their deaths.

How many American murderers got away with these huge crimes in Iraq. There is no statute of limitations for these crimes and the guilty should be taken to court and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Why is the US allowed to commit so many horrod criminal acts and never suffer for them while innocent people are killed by them.

9/11 was nothing, a big zero, compared to the American killing arena around our desparate world.

Danny / November 14, 2009 12:54 AM

Ahmadinejad Initially tried to come closer to Obama by asking him to buy enfrorced uranium,He didn't realize that Obama is smarter than him.

Faraz Amiralaei / November 14, 2009 1:03 AM

The US has committed many crimes in the past but no one can say their president is not democratically elected or Israels prime minister. But Ahmadinijad is as democratically elected as North Koreas' Kim or Egypts' Mubarak or Libyas Gaddahfi. The IRGC not-so'Velvet' coup was not very successful in concealing their bloody tracks. I think they really never realized how unpopular they, Mahmoud and Khamenei are throughout the country, urban & rural. They believed their own press, hence the clumsy fake.
Obama has made US popular again and will continue to do so. Khamenei has achieved the reverse for Iran and will continue doing so.

pirooz / November 14, 2009 1:28 PM

This is an important article, and assuming indeed it is from a major reformist thinker, I think it speaks directly to those like Makmalbaf and K Sadjadpour who apparently seem to think that the greens must have Obama directly supporting them (and rejecting any diplomacy with A/N - as somehow "betraying" the greens)

To the contrary, reaching an accord with Iran on vital nuclear issues, and ratcheting down conflict pressures there, could well redound to the favor of further reform.

picard / November 14, 2009 2:09 PM

The problem with this article is that the base support of the regime are the ones who believe the power of the "Leader" comes from God, and therefore will accept whatever the regime says. If contradictions were ever a reason for the regime's demise, it would have disappeared a long time ago.

Anonymous / November 15, 2009 1:56 AM

danny - and would like to add how many people have been brutally slaughtered by the successors of the "CIA terrorists/Savak" - the savama and the mois and the irgc - far more than under the rule of the shah.

Agha Irani / November 16, 2009 12:09 AM

The Islamic Republic has executed/murdered more people in one night than the total number of people executed during the entire Pahlavi era.To compare the two is simply insane.These people murdered their victims in front of live cameras broadcasting through out the world last summer.They raped,totured and murdered people in their jails.This is a barbaric regime with every intention to become nuclear solely for its own survival.They are hated inside Iran.

Amiri R. / November 16, 2009 2:21 AM

In July 2009 Mr. Obama visited Accra, Ghana, he stood up in the Ghana’s parliament and had the nerve give the Ghanaians a lecture on the merits of integrity. My anger was further intensified when I found that none of the Ghanaian newspapers sought fit to challenge America’s representative on the US’s track on record of their integrity. Aaaaaaah hello Mr.Obama can we spell any of the following word Income Trust, Fanny May, City group, Insider Trading, Deregulation, Monsanto, Cargill, Iran Contra, Dupont, GMC Bill Clinton and Panama sept 11/1973

grant / November 19, 2009 6:40 PM

For the past 400 years the USA has been consistent in its thrust Non American blood.

And all this time no one bother to truly hold The USA and its allies accountable, and whatever you do please do not call them what they they really are “serial killers, rapist, genocidal crazed deviants”
Many people are saying that the USA's election have been democratic this shows how ignorantly unaware it's citizen are. There have been hundreds of credible witness and documented evidence which states to the contrary .All the electronic voting systems in the US can and have been tampered with. USA’s political/military systems during the 1990's orchestrated, promoted zealously prolonged deaths of infants young children, teens, young adult and their parents.
There are documents proving the US led sanctions cost Irac well over 40 thousand death among children 5 years and under each month. These were easily preventable illnesses and were less than 15% of the monthly trauma incurred by Irac due to USA blood lust. The USA has massacred over 2 million people in the last 10 years and an additional 12 million people within the last 60 years these are documented facts, oh bye the way this was deemed ok seeing that none of these death were American lives.

grant / November 19, 2009 7:02 PM

grant.. you are ignorant.. "there are credible wtinesses and documented evidence" proving that US's voting systems are not democratic? .. i dont think anything that you would say is credible.period. and learn how to spell.. it is Iraq not Irac..

doesnt matter / May 17, 2010 11:30 AM