Since the 1979 revolution, relations...
by RAOUF KAMALI in Tehran
13 Nov 2009 14:18
[ 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