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September 24, 2007

My Commenters Is Smarter Than I: Iran Edition

Jim writes:

Ahmedinejad has a constitutionally weak role in the Iranian government. He has no control over the Army/Navy and nuclear development. There is an ongoing conflict between the religious moderates and conservatives in the Islamic hierarchy which actually controls the levers of power. Ahmedinejad appears to be losing actual power in Iran, not gaining it. But we seem intent on unifying the government and people by our constant attacks and threats on Ahmedinejad and Iran. This is not in our interest.

I have no brief for Ahmedinejad or Iran, but I do have a brief for rational, national interest (without ideological blinders), US policy.

It is in our interest to reduce tensions in the mideast and south asia, not increase them.

This is worth repeating: There's a very substantial case to be made that we are the only force propping Ahmadinejad up. There is an almost ironclad case to be made that our overt hostility to Iran is leading to retrenchment among their political elite, crackdowns on moderates, and problems for reformers. There is very little of a case to be made that our actions towards Iran are in any way weakening Ahmadinejad, save insofar as our sanctions are making the Iranians miserable enough to hate everybody, us included. This is a very stupid way to make policy.

September 24, 2007 | Permalink


There's a very substantial case to be made that we are the only force propping Ahmadinejad up.

You say that as if that is a bad thing. After all, there is very little force propping up Bush these days other than Ahmadinejad. Seems like a fine relationship.

Posted by: Mark | Sep 24, 2007 3:26:15 PM

What Mark said.

Also, have you noticed the Cuba policy we've had for over 40 years? It's true that if we keep it up for a little while longer Fidel Castro will be gone, but I'm not sure it can really be said that the policy hastened his departure.

Posted by: KCinDC | Sep 24, 2007 3:42:22 PM

It is in our interest to reduce tensions in the mideast and south asia, not increase them. - Jim

Is it? It almost seems to me that it's in the interests of the people (the military-industrial complex, fundies trying to bring on Armegeddon, et al.) in charge of our foreign policy to increase tensions, and they're doing a fine job of it, aren't they?

This is worth repeating: There's a very substantial case to be made that we are the only force propping Ahmadinejad up.

It almost seems like it's not a bug but a feature, don't it? Maybe there is a legitimate reason to prop up Ahmadinejad: e.g. remember how people questioned Feingold's support of Ashcroft until Gonzo became the AG? it could be that whomever would be likely to take the reigns from Ahmadinejad may be a genuine threat to us rather than being a mere blowhard. It could be some folks with power are "friends" of Ahmadinejad from the Iran/Contra days or something. Mark might have just given us the explanation. We don't know ... but it doesn't seem to far fetched to wonder what our game vis-a-vis Iran actually is.

I certainly, though, would feel a lot more comfortable if (1) we didn't have so many troops next door and within target range in Iraq and (2) we didn't have an admin that has at times been lousy with former Iran/Contra figures.

Something's rotten, if y'all ask me.

Posted by: DAS | Sep 24, 2007 3:45:23 PM

It is in our interest to reduce tensions in the mideast and south asia, not increase them...This is a very stupid way to make policy.

Yes, and most Americans agree. But we're not in control of our Government, a few knuckle heads with Cheney presiding are in control and they would like nothing more than a completely unstable mideast.

Posted by: tom.a | Sep 24, 2007 4:06:52 PM

I sincerely think that a large number of people in the Republican hierarchy and/or defense industry have made the conscious decision to keep fanning the flames of war as much as possible for as long as possible. If one uses this lens to consider all of the Bush administration's actions for the past six and a half years, everything makes sense. They have no "strategy for victory" because they are not trying to win. They view military strategy entirely based on the political impact it has on people back home.

Or at least, that's what they think they are doing. The fact that "all war, all the time" is ultimately a losing strategy is either something that has eluded the attention of Republicans in high places or they figure that they have already inextricably tied their fortunes to this strategy, so they must stick with it no matter how badly things turn. Or they are simply delusional. I count Bush and perhaps Cheney among the delusion, most of the Presidential candidates among the committed, and Gingrich as the sole exception who seems to have realized that Bush is destroying the Republican party.

The United States has had two dominant parties for so long that there is an assumption that both parties are going to endure no matter what happens. History tells us this kind of thinking is inevitably flawed. Right now the number of partisan Republicans has shrunk to a small minority of the electorate, while the base of the Democratic party is utterly disillusioned with their leadership.

Posted by: RickD | Sep 24, 2007 4:16:48 PM

James Surowiecki, in the Feb. 19, 2007 New Yorker, argued that all of the saber-rattling by the Bush Administration (and by Iran's president) actually helps Iran. War talk makes the markets nervous, which bumps up oil prices, allowing Iran to sell their product at higher prices. The cost to extract the oil, however, does not change much when Bush gives a war-mongering speech.

Surowiecki wrote that a higher price for oil "helps Ahmadinejad enormously, because Iran has made huge commitments to government spending that can be kept only by relying on oil revenue. Last year, Iran spent more than forty billion dollars on things like subsidies for gasoline, bread, and heating fuel, and to keep money-losing enterprises in business. High oil prices also help protect Iran against the woeful state of its oil infrastructure. Getting a barrel of oil out of the ground can cost Iran three or four times what it costs Saudi Arabia, and a recent paper by Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Johns Hopkins University, argues that Iran’s lack of investment in its oil fields has reached a point where the country may be unable to export oil within the decade. Iran, in short, may well be running itself into the ground. But higher oil prices defer the day of reckoning."

Posted by: meander | Sep 24, 2007 5:21:57 PM

So when one of the democrats takes over in 08 and stops the anti-Iran rhetoric, are you guaranteeing that Ahmidinejad will lose power and/or start being "nice" to everybody?

harty har har har.....

Posted by: joe blow | Sep 24, 2007 5:39:11 PM

are you guaranteeing that Ahmidinejad will lose power

Ahmadinejad neither has much temporal power with respect to the military, nor is he any kind of "dictator for life." I can, in fact, guarantee that he will no longer be in office that he will no longer be in office in 2013, and that will only be if he wins re-election in 2009.

Presumably his ability to be reelected depends in large part on the state of the Iranian economy. High oil prices certainly serve to increase the likelihood of his reelection in 2009.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 24, 2007 5:48:49 PM

Joe, Ahmadinejad might not be in power now if it weren't for the fact that Bush decided to more-or-less do campaign commercials for him by denouncing him during the Iranian election -- much as Osama bin Laden did that campaign commercial for Bush in 2004.

Posted by: KCinDC | Sep 24, 2007 5:49:37 PM

What joe blow said. A lot of wishful thinking and evasion of responsibility in these viewpoints. If only we controlled the world by our attitude things would be alot easier - we change our attitude and everybody else changes. What view could be more comforting and self-absorbed?

What attitude should we take toward him and his country? Or is the unreserved scorn reserved for Bush alone? What makes you liberal in your approach to foreign policy beyond pacifism?

Are the mullah's more liberal and less belligerent than Ahmadinejad?

Posted by: slickdpdx | Sep 24, 2007 5:52:22 PM

Are the mullah's more liberal and less belligerent than Ahmadinejad?

Well, I don't hear the right wing throwing a fit about the mullahs or their agendas. I do hear a lot about "Ahmadinejad is a lunatic!" all the time, though.

It's really hard to take the opinions of the right seriously when they talk about Iraq when their statements about the country are so completely detached from reality. They are congenitally incapable of separating the head of state from the state itself. If you want my personal opinion, I think the strategy is coming to some kind of detente with Iran regarding their pwoer-broker status in the gulf, perhaps as a hedge against the saudis. Iran is like China-- a powerful rival, but one whose power we have to learn to deal with. Personally, I think our American Foreign Service is intelligent enough to outmaneuver the Iranians. Don't you? Or do you think the State Department is too stupid to take on the Iranians?

Or is the unreserved scorn reserved for Bush alone?

Well, Bush does work for me, and he does have quite a bit of temporal power in the country, particularly with respect to the military. I tend to have a lot of scorn for my employees when they abuse and mishandle their authority. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, is a huey-long-like demagogic figurehead.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 24, 2007 6:10:52 PM

"There's a very substantial case to be made that we are the only force propping Ahmadinejad up."

You'd have loved Kremlinology. It was usually wrong, btw.

Posted by: ostap | Sep 24, 2007 6:27:34 PM

Kremlinology. It was usually wrong, btw. - ostap

Don't tell Prof. Dr. Condi Rice that.

Posted by: DAS | Sep 24, 2007 6:32:01 PM

Tyro: Huey Long was not a powerless figurehead. But that's a different topic. When did liberal foreign policy become equivalent "realist" foreign policy? Are power brokers good, as long as they aren't us? As for the State Department, Iranians and "realist" policy, they all played out in the 1970s. Great outcome there.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Sep 24, 2007 6:35:59 PM

On meander's point: the cycle is completed by the whole issue of nuclear technology. Pursuit of nuclear power simultaneous raises the prospect of more oil to export, while perpetuating a political tension conducive to high oil prices. In some respects, that can be considered a more tangible 'nuclear threat' than weapons acquisition, given that it negates the usual effect of increased supply on prices.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Sep 24, 2007 6:40:54 PM

It seemed to me that a lot of the hysteria at the Columbia event was endogenous to the Jewish community-- clearly heightened by the fact that all the "mainstream" right-wing Jewish organizations are based in New York. As a Jewish person, I find that rather embarrassing, but not much of a surprise at this point.

It's sad that the two things he's most loudly accused of are gross mistranslations. If people want to shout down the ceremonial leaders of underdeveloped, moderately repressive, theocratic regimes everywhere, fine, but this kind of browbeating can only make AIPAC's accountant happy.

Posted by: Aaron | Sep 24, 2007 7:25:19 PM

slickdpdx, I wouldn't call it "realist," in the sense that I'm personally compromising some "ideal" in favor of "realism." I'm just saying there's no point in treating Iran like some enemy that poses some existential threat to us.

While one of my early memories is of the Iranian hostage crisis, I've gotten over it. The alternative seems to be that everyone wants to treat Iran like Cuba-- like a nation we're in a state of war with and harboring a decades-old grudge over. That really hasn't worked out well for anyone but Castro.

Almost invariably, when you get right down to it, the right-wing's policies seem to be based on the premise that American negotiators are too stupid to finagle a deal to our advantage in places like NK and Iran, so that we need to resort to bombing. Meanwhile, nothing gets done.

I confess, of course, that most people in Bush's inner circle, particularly Secy. Rice, are too stupid to deal with Iran and NK, but I'm sure there are plenty of members of the Clinton administration, like Richard Holbrooke, who could be helpful.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 24, 2007 11:55:13 PM

Yeah and these stupid-ass protesters angry at the Iranian guy kept calling him a "dictator" on TV today. The guy is not a dictator, he's a puppet, just like the idiot in our White House.

If you're going to protest, you might as well know what you are protesting!

Posted by: Tony | Sep 25, 2007 1:19:42 AM

Whatever happened to Khatami? The man knew how to wear a دولبند

Posted by: Suleiman the Magnificent | Sep 25, 2007 5:01:26 AM

We could probably dispose of this fool by driving oil prices down. You could put a dent in the oil price merely by having the President urge people to use gasoline sensibly. Fat chance.

Posted by: bob h | Sep 25, 2007 7:54:27 AM

I second your suggestion and blogged on it (with some extra anger directed at Bollinger's crude intro) at http://thoughtandtheory.blogspot.com

so did the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/24/world/middleeast/24iran.html?ex=1348286400&en=5fc22b145a4fd93a&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

btw, Ezra, I went to Uni too! You graduated a year before I came in.

Posted by: Navid | Sep 25, 2007 8:34:24 AM

Can't you be opposed to a military strike in Iran AND to the odious regime in Iran at the same time? I can. Those comments lionizing Ahmadinejad (or even finding him a reasonable spokesperson) and demonizing Bollinger (for speaking truth to power!) are a little surprising to me. So is the lack of perspective in weighing the faults of the respective governments. I wish I was more surprised.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Sep 25, 2007 11:40:04 AM

demonizing Bollinger (for speaking truth to power!)

With all due respect, it wasn't as if Bollinger was giving his introduction in Tehran. It was all rather pompous shooting-fish-in-barrel stuff, as you might expect from a university president.

Here's the thing: in Saddam's Iraq, you had a fair sense of who was in charge. Same in Saudi Arabia, more or less. Iran has an opaque, complex power structure, and while it might be politically convenient to cast it as a 'one scary bad man' regime for an incurious American public (and Congress), it's ever so much counterproductive bullshit.

Tyro's right: Americans have to get the fuck over the hostage crisis. It was an opening salvo in a popular uprising against a US-backed authoritarian regime, which was followed by a long bloody trench war against Iraq, in which the US played both sides, but openly favoured Saddam. Remember that over half of Iran's population today wasn't even born during the revolution; sheer demographics are on the side of those who want reform.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Sep 25, 2007 1:17:57 PM

Bollinger's intro would be bolder in Iran, to be sure. The Emperor's new clothing: an opaque power structure. Ahamadinejad is unrepresentative of his governments views? It didn't sound that way to me.

Posted by: slickdpdx | Sep 25, 2007 3:40:40 PM

Ahamadinejad is unrepresentative of his governments views? It didn't sound that way to me.

And how precisely did you come to that conclusion? Please show your working.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Sep 25, 2007 4:03:26 PM

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