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The Islamic Republic's Inner Mossaddegh

by ARYA REJAEE in New York

06 Jul 2010 16:5412 Comments
mosadegh-1.jpg[ comment ] Since the 1979 Revolution, Iran has been a pariah in the community of nations. The regime's unqualified support of Hamas and Hezbollah, penchant for political repression, and reluctance to end the Iran-Iraq conflict has won it few friends. In recent years, the Iranian leadership's defiance in the face of international concern over the opacity of its nuclear program has only resulted in further economic and political isolation.

Early last month, the United Nations Security Council approved its fourth round of sanctions against Iran, and more recently, the United States and the European Union stepped-up their own measures restricting foreign investment in Iran's energy and financial sectors. Even the Islamic Republic's influential allies share the international community's concern over Iran's nuclear program. Though stopping short of adopting unilateral sanctions, China and Russia both voted for Security Council Resolution 1929 and effectively blocked Iran's bid for membership to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization regional security bloc. Russian Prime Minister Valdimir Putin has also promised to freeze the previously-anticipated delivery of missile-defense systems to Iran.

The purpose of these and other coercive measures employed by the world powers is to demonstrate to the regime of "the growing costs that will come with Iranian intransigence," to borrow a phrase from President Barack Obama. This policy, however, has failed because it is premised on the assumption that the Iranian leadership adheres to a materialistic interpretation of cost-benefit logic on the nuclear issue.

While it is true that Iranian policymakers act pragmatically on a variety of foreign policy issues, the calculus changes when powers pressure Iran to abandon a populist policy. When faced with the choice of painful resistance or capitulation, asceticism dominates decision making. By sacrificially subjecting itself to deprivations, Iran rejects the logic of consequences that guides traditional political decision making. In doing so, a new politics is created in which the dignity of individuals as represented by the nation-state is the core issue. To put it succinctly, Iran anoints itself the global representative of the rights of nation-states. As Ahmadinejad said at the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, "the logic and will of the Iranian nation is a reflection of the logic and will of all nations."

This rejection of concrete interests is not limited to the Islamic Republic -- it can be traced to the nationalist era. In the early 1950's, Iranian Prime Minster Mossaddegh outraged the British by unilaterally nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company with popular support. In an attempt to coerce the prime minister into a revenue-sharing agreement, Britain levied sanctions (which effectively became an international restriction on the purchase of Iranian oil), instituted a naval blockade, and initiated domestic subversion. Moreover, nations both strong and weak distanced themselves diplomatically from Iran following British persuasion.

The effects of these actions were substantial. Halfway through the standoff, the treasury was hemorrhaging nearly $4 million a month and nearing bankruptcy, the currency was inflating rapidly with price of meat doubling each month, and civil servants and the army went unpaid. By the end of dispute, Iran had lost $180 million in oil revenues, maintained a $61 million operating deficit in their oilfields, and $30 to $40 million was required for the Abadan refinery -- then the largest in the world -- to return to its full capacity (figures unadjusted for inflation).

Despite these measures, Mossaddegh rejected increasingly reasonable compromise offers. He declared that he would "seal the oil wells with mud" before entering into an agreement with the British and, even as American mediators cautioned Mossaddegh that his actions threatened to undermine the government, the prime minster allegedly rolled his eyes and responded, "Tant pis pour nous" -- "Too bad for us." Other leading politicians echoed the prime minister's sentiment. Muzaffar Baqa'i, an early Mossaddegh supporter, insisted that he would rather see Iran's oil resources destroyed by an atomic bomb than remain under British control.

After two years without results, Britain and America's begrudging patience turned into unrestrained frustration and, on August 19, 1953, the two staged a successful coup ousting the prime minister. Despite the nationalist program's devastating political and economic results, Mossaddegh celebrated the defeat. While hiding in a cellar from his pursuers, a former minister allegedly declared, "How badly it all turned out, how badly!" To which Mossaddegh quipped, "And at the same time how really well it turned out, how really well!" For the prime minister, the issue at the heart of the oil nationalization was not the material benefits it potentially afforded, but its moral purpose of confronting the injustice of resource exploitation in defense of national rights in a post-colonial world.

It is not difficult to draw parallels between the oil dispute and the present standoff. With a defiant and dismissive attitude toward the ramifications of words and actions, the behavior of Ahmadinejad and his powerful supporters are simply a perversion of Mossaddegh's noble asceticism. The persistence of this sacrificial disposition among modern Iranian leaders can be attributed to the rhetorical frame of meaning through which they perceive the world. For centuries tragedy and martyrdom have served as prominent motifs in the nation's cultural discourse, from Imam Hussein's death on the fields of Karbala to the fall of righteous kings in Ferdowsi's epic, the Shahnameh. Within the context of post-colonial nationalism, these narratives incline Iranian leaders to interpret conflicts like the oil nationalization dispute and the controversial nuclear program as Manichean struggles.

The jury is still out on whether the Islamic Republic has military designs for its nuclear program, and it is prudent for the international community to continue pressing for more transparency. Punitive actions, however, likely will not force Iran to capitulate. As with Mossaddegh, sanctions and threats of military action will only strengthen the regime's resolve. The continual emphasis on the materiality of Iran's resistance sends a message to Ahmadinejad and others in the leadership that, contrary to Iran, the United States and its partners are simply acting out of their material self-interests.

In the Art of War, the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu famously wrote, "If you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss." Less well known is Tzu's corollary to the axiom, "If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose" -- and it is in this state of precariousness that the West finds itself concerning Iran's nuclear program. On repeated occasions, the West has acknowledged Iran's right to civilian nuclear energy, but this half-measure fails to accept Iran's right to produce peaceful nuclear materials as enshrined in Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is first and foremost this right and not the benefits it affords that Iran defends. To break Iran's stubbornness over its nuclear ambitions, the West must craft policies taking into account that not everyone, in every circumstance, interpret costs and benefits through the same lens.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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12 Comments

Mr. ARYA REJAEE,

You do have a few valid points, but your timing is way off. Let's see if you can present the same argument with the same validity 6 months from now.
The world is not questioning the Iranian people and their rights, but the Barbarians running Iran. In fact it is high time for the government of Iran (if one can call it that) to explain to the Iranian people the sole reason behind such lack of trust. Their problem is they will have to point the fingers right at themselves.
They cannot murder their own people out in the open and in front of the cameras in real time for the entire world to see and yet claim legitimacy and trustworthiness.
Excuse me Mr. REJAEE, unlike the present leader(s) of Iran, Mr. Mossadeqh was a statesman and not a murderer.

The Neda(voice) from within Iran clearly echoes out. Are you listening?

Niloofar / July 6, 2010 4:49 AM

This writer obviously starts with a clear bias. By whose standard and judgement is Iran a 'pariah'. Iran has the support of all 118 members of the NAM in its right to pursue a peaceful nuclear programmed. Despite enormous US pressure, blackmail, intimidation and thuggery, it managed to get two leading members of the the UNSC- Turkey (a NATO member to boot) and Brazil (a potential candidate for a permanent seat at the UNSC) to vote against the unjust sanctions resolution. Normally, in a forum, where odds are heavily against achieving any just resolution, an abstention (as Lebanon did) would be about the best that could be hoped for.
It is IRI that is rekindling hope in many countries of the world of a fairer world order and a genuine expression of the collective will in the UNSC as a protector for all the peoples of the world and wherein all nations will be counted as equal. If any state is fast becoming a pariah, it is the state of Israel under Netenyahu for its extremist and arrogant policies both towards its Palestinian brethren but also towards its once staunch ally, Turkey.
I guess you got paid handsomely for your rubbish. IRI is here to stay and prosper and grow, whether the US and its cohorts like it or not. Eventually they are going to have to make peace with it, better to make a friend now than create an enemy who will increase in its power and stature in decades to come despite the enmity of today's powerful ones.

rezvan / July 6, 2010 5:10 AM

...Or Iranian leaders must stop being so ideologically driven, as if the rest of the World actually care whether or not someone stands up for their rights. It is all well and good for those "oppressed" people in the World to support Iran in its David vs Goliath battle, but as soon as bombs are dropped and people are killed, the "oppressed" distance themselves from David and continue with their daily activities, as if nothing ever happened.

The US and its partners are acting out of their material self-interests; may be Iran should do the same for a change? Why do we care so much about having a comprehensive nuclear energy program anyway? Oh, it is our inalienable right! So what? It is also an inalienable right of every Iranian citizen to live a comfortable, prosperous life, full of opportunity and success; not suffer under sanctions and the threat of war merely to defend rhetoric.

This is a deep, underlying problem in Iran's political culture. Historically, we have been leaders of the World, but this does not give us a god-given right to be a superpower now. Please, let us show some pragmatism and a little less paranoid stubbornness for a change.

Pak / July 6, 2010 6:02 AM

Regret that you are spreading the propaganda, intentionally or ignorantly, about Iran's nuclear threat. The weaponization is a ploy to distract.

The threat is that if Iran develops its own nuclear fuel capabilities, it will be able to produce nuclear desalination plants anywhere there are salt marshes inland or on the Persian Gulf.

I should slow down so you understand. Water is the most important commodity after oil. If a country has enough fresh water, it is "out of control" of the western powers.

Nuclear desalination is the most efficient and cost effective way to produce fresh water from seas or salt marshes. The latter is plentiful in the central desert of Iran.

Imagine the chagrin of Midwestern US and Canadian farmer if Iran was self sufficient in agriculture, the basis of which is fresh water.

When the French started the building of the nuclear plant in Bushehrs (Think why was it on the Persian Gulf, away from all industrial centers?) they planned to control the fuel production and sales to Iran. Thus, they would for ever run AND control the desalination capability in that area, and they would build more, and have even more control over Iran's agriculture (Read: FOOD).

You can walk if you don't have oil, but you can't walk if you don't have food.

Nuclear capability = Fresh water = Self-sufficient agriculture.

If this sounds all too far fetched, then you should study the 11,000 pages of the proceedings from "International Conference on Water for Peace", that was held in 1967 in Washington D.C. with all nations presenting papers. The level of knowledge about nearly every water and irrigation system in every corner of the world is astounding, for that time.

Many papers were presented about Iran's agriculture, irrigation system (and its vulnerabilities to building of dams and damaging the alluvial layers by deep water wells...)

At the same time, many US and French presenters explained the use of nuclear plants for desalination, with the first major one proving the case in southern California at that time.

In short, if you believe people plan on winning (conspire to win) then you can see a clear picture, not just in Iran, but around the world: control of water supplies FOR peace. As the cliché goes, connect the dots and you will get to resolution 1929.

Nobody outside Iran wants it to be agriculturally self sufficient, as it was prior to 1950's. The only way to keep it a food client with pockets lined with oil money is keep it from producing its own fresh water plants.

Buy the oil, and turn around and sell them wheat before you have even paid for the oil. How benevolent.

Anonymous / July 6, 2010 5:55 PM

If anything, the West has finally got it RIGHT!
The writer, Mr. Rejaee fails to acknowledge the effect of the major difference of populist support for or against the government with respect to sanctions.
(1) A majority of Iranians backed Mossadeq, whereas the majority of Iranians do not back the IRI. Even though Iranians have seen America place sanctions on Iran for years, and even though Iranians anticipated more sanctions for nukes, we still heard Iranians on the streets wanting the American President to NOT appease the mullahs as they chanted in the streets, "Obama, Obama, you're either with us or with them."
(2) This major difference makes it null and void to discuss any detrimental effects of sanctions...it is only a detriment if people supported their government (which they don't) and only if the current econonmic situation is good whereas the post-sanction economic situation would be tragic.
During the 1950's economic chaos that resulted from sanctions were truly detrimental because prior to that, people were not gravely suffering economically. Conversely, for the last 30 years, the IRI has killed the country economically (if you can call it that)...millions of Iranians are suffering economically, so even if sanctions make it slightly worse, there is not much real difference.
Iran's true detriment is the Islamo-fascist militant rulers which have killed the country economically, politically, socially, etc.
Comparing the West's negative response to the murderous dictatorship of the IRI is NOT the same as such a response to Mossadeq's nationalistic plight, and the author's failure to acknowledge this is either ignorant or motivated by less than objective agenda.

Azadeh / July 6, 2010 6:52 PM

I agree Iran has the right for peaceful nuclear work. But Iranian leaders keep spouting off their mouths about Israel's right to exist, and Israeli leaders (and US hawks) use this unfortunate bravado to push for the forceful elimination of this legitimate right. IMO the Iranian regime is deliberately provoking the West towards an unjust war against Iranian facilities. I guess they gamble that it will bring about 'the end of time' or something, the arrival of Mahdi, arm in arm with Jesus, who will jointly shame the West for its deceit. Loony.
And I don't agree with Anonymous about nuclear energy = water = agriculture. If the real objective was water, they IRI would spend all the billions spent on nuclear work (and its defense) instead on solar or wind projects--much less risky. In fact, I wish they did.
Given IRI's fantastical thinking, the West (and Israel) should avoid military strike IMO. Containment will accelerate change (from within) much faster than attacks, which will only prolong the lifespan of the regime.

Kaveh / July 7, 2010 2:09 AM

The writer has done an amazing job to bring out the big picture of the twisted political situation in Iran! the critisizems and comments are productive and some how urguable. We all have different opinions and no one has an abosolute right or wrong answer to what is happening in Iran. I beleive Mr Rejaee's writing is based on facts, research and his own interest about the situation in Iran.
I happened to read the book, Art of War. As Arya mentioned, You can not over-come your enemy without knowing yourself and your enemy.
Do we know them? do we really?

Dr Meymand / July 7, 2010 5:25 AM

It seems the point of this article has been lost among all the criticism. If,for a moment we put aside our emotional involvement of the last year’s events, maybe we can appreciate what’s been said here.
What the article shows is a pattern in Iranian history which the regimes and governments jeopardizing or simply ignoring the welfare of the people and the good of the country for their ideology and survival. As evident by the cat and mouse game the Ahmadinejad regime playing regarding nuclear energy.
As valid as some of the criticism may be, why don’t we read the book first and try to understand it before we judge it by its cover.

J.R. / July 7, 2010 8:40 AM

Rezvan, Anonymous,

Down with the criminal IRI regime seeking to arm itself to the teeth to ensure its own survival at the expense of the majority of ordinary innocent Iranians

Agha Irani / July 7, 2010 9:12 AM

Mr. Mosadegh was smart enough to understand that what he was fighting for at the end was a real treasure economically. However, it is clear the cost Iran pays for his so-called nuclear energy generation by any healthy mind is not worth it at all for the nation.

I totally disagree with such comparison that this is a fight for honor as author implies!!!! IRI was and is pursuing isolation policies and outcome is its huge interests for some corrupted military elites.

benny / July 9, 2010 4:51 AM

Mr Agha Irani; i don,t thik the author implies any such thing. Infact the oposit. what the article says is that the present regime is abusing the right of the Iranian people to peaceful nuclear energy for thier own survial/ideology, and do not care about the damadges and the distruction it is doing to the country and the welfar of the Iranian peope.
And in no way comparing Dr.Mosadegh natioalist views and courage's actions to the present coward and ruthless regime.
you may want to read it again, carfuly this time.
you might come to a diffrent conclusion

Respectfuly; J.R.

J.r. / July 11, 2010 12:18 AM

Thanks for the comment JR - I agree the author is saying no such thing but I thought that Rezvan and anonymous were - check their comments

Agha Irani / July 11, 2010 9:22 AM