Iran and Restructuring of the Middle East
(shahrivar e 1320 Revisited)
For over a year, the conflict of the US with the Iraqi government has been in the news, and there are all kinds of explanations as to what is the underlying clash. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were actually the major issue of the West with Iraq, when the UN-led resistance to Iraq' s invasion of Kuwait happened ten years ago, although in the popular press, Iraq' invasion of Kuwait was highlighted as the cause of the war. Late Karl Popper, in his excellent 1993 interview on Kantian concept of war against war, actually was very specific to note that the nuclear weapons were the real issue at stake for the intervention in Iraq at the time:
Many on the right mention avoiding Chamberlain's mistake and his appeasement of Hitler as the reason for advocating preemptive strike on Iraq, and many on the left try to show that all the talk about weapons of mass destruction are excuses for an "imperialistic" invasion of Iraq and they try to show the motif of the West as the thirst for Iraq's oil. And they repeat the writings of Lenin in describing the world of early 1900's as if that explains the world of early 2000's.
Are the weapons of mass destruction an issue? Certainly they are. Regardless of all the rhetoric of the leftists, it is beyond any doubt that nuclear weapons are a reality in the conflict and the West is afraid such weapons to be used to take the Western interests as hostage by states such as Saddam's regime.
Does oil play a role in the conflict? It certainly does but *not* in the sense that the leftists depict it as colonialism or neocolonialism. The issue of the oil is that unfortunately oil is still the main source of energy in the world and energy is the main backbone of all industrial production. Energy to the industrial society was what information is to the post-industrial society. The world moving to the post-industrial society cannot afford to have the main source of its industrial production to remain the most inefficient source.
If one looks at how microchip in the last 20 years has increasingly reduced price and increased performance and compare it to how energy production during the same period has been, one can get a grasp of what inefficiency means. Is remaking the political structure of Middle East going to solve this problem? Certainly not. Oil by itself is an inefficient source of energy and no matter how the production and distribution of oil improves, the final solution is to find alternative sources of energy to replace oil to achieve high performance.
How are the prospects for such a change? Unfortunately such solutions still are very far-fetched and currently there are hopes that research in using nanotechnology in the energy field may create such an alternative, but there is no visibility as to when such breakthroughs will happen. So the world is faced with the reality of inefficient and polluting energy options such as the fossil based fuel.
Is the above the main reason for the US-Iraq conflict and other issues of the Middle East? The answer is "no" and "yes". As noted it *is* a reason in the sense of its current inefficient production. At the same time, it is not the reason, because the issue is not just oil or as some think cheap oil. In fact, the West for almost a century had ignored any corruption in political systems of the Middle East as long as economically they had good relations with the West. So this meant that the West had its say in setting the oil prices, and OPEC was not that much of a threat, contrary to what is depicted by popular media.
Both the West and the oil producing countries knew that the way the oil is produced is not really overpriced by OPEC, and the prices could not be brought down even if the Western countries were directly controlling the oil fields, as long as the production was the way it was. So if the West could not change the oil as the main option of energy for the world, its production had to become more efficient. And leaving the social organization of oil-producing states intact, where the governments control the oil, and just having economic relations with those states, is not enough to improve the production efficiency, and social organization of work in the Middle East has to be overhauled, from Iran to Saudi Arabia to Iraq.
The current ways are too backward. If the West is OK to leave China to have a political system which is backward and dictatorial, and concentrates on economic relations with China, in the Middle East such a path cannot be pursued, because the efficiency of production of energy is very critical to the global world production.
Thus both the inefficiency of oil production and weapons of mass destruction have been issues that the West has been concerned about in the region, especially in the last 15 years, but what broke the camel's back was the terrorist attacks of Islamists on Sept 11th of 2001. Sept 11th suddenly showed the West that one cannot just focus on economic relations in the Middle East and ignore the political structure.
The West has actually treated some countries and regions in the world in a manner of ignoring their political structure. The best example has been the main land China. In contrast, the West has treated some regions with a clear pronouncement of the need for political change. The best example was Eastern Europe, where the West for a long time, ever since formation of NATO, had a clear goal of restructuring that part of the world following the model of Western democracies. Why?
I think the West was aware that Eastern Europe was critical to the integral development of the whole Europe, and thus would either be a partner of the US, or else would be in the sphere of influence of its rival Russia. Even when Russia dropped communism, it was obvious that Eastern Europe as a conglomeration of democracies would side with the U.S., which had worked for half a century, on shaping that region modeled after the Western democracies.
I think the same plan has dawned on the U.S. about the Middle East after Sept 11th, that they the region will either be the sphere of influence of the Islamists or will be siding with the Western democracies, and what is at stake is the political restructuring of the Middle East along the western democratic path. In other words, the US can no longer ignore the political system of these states, and just focus on their economics, because the end result will be Islamists taking over the economic power that has been created in these oil-rich countries, and Islamists will use this strength against the West, the same way Osama used his money against the West in 9-11. In fact, sending of troops to Middle East may have the same goal of forming something like NATO in the region, as new states similar to Eastern European democracies get formed, something that the past regional pacts in the Middle East never achieved.
I believe that the Middle East is in a very similar situation as that of the Eastern Europe before the fall of the Soviet Union, and the West is very clear that the future of this region will have to be a full-fledged democracy, or the region can witness a take-over by Islamism, as in Iran of 1979. Even in the Kuwait, that was directly rescued by the US from Iraqi invasion, the Islamists are a strong faction, who openly in its parliament, are fighting for an Islamist state.
Why attacking Iraq rather than Saudi Arabia? I think it is because the mindset of the allies of the West is that whoever is keeping their politics out of their economic relations is considered an ally, thanks to the past Western strategy in the region, and it is hard to challenge the likes of Saudi Arabia, head to head, at this time. But Saudi and Jordanian states have already sensed that changing them is part of this whole new strategy. Nonetheless the US feels they have the most legitimacy to make their move in Iraq, because of both the nuclear weapons issue, and also because adventurism of Iraqi government is the best example of where the political system is blocking the economic cooperation in the global economy.
It is obvious that the issue in the Middle East is to change the political structures of the Middle East to new structures that can have political participation with the Western democracies within the new economic reality of globalization. The Iranian mullahs like Rafsanjani have been very smart to see the resulting changes in the Western strategy. Reza Shah missed the change in the Western strategy in the Middle East in 1320, and thus lost his reign, and instead his successors had to quickly play the role of "bridge of victory", to have a chance in the new Western strategy of the time.
Rafsanjani has helped the IRI to avoid a shahrivar e 1320, and so far has been successful to save IRI. All the recent concessions of IRI to free Montazeri and to ban stoning and to free some of the Nehzat e Azadi members and allowing them in the elections of City Councils, are unfortunately more related to this semi-shahrivar e1320 situation. The regime hopes to get something from the Iraq bounty, but that is secondary. The IRI national security council which comes to the rescue of Monatzeri is the same state organ that makes war plans, and strategic alliances. I think IRI leaders such as Rafsanjani have even shown more adaptability than the Saudis in their handling of the situation, and not only did not make a mistake like Mola Omar of Afghanestan, but were very aware of the political remapping of the region, and have played it very well, not only with Europe, but also with the U.S.
As I had noted in my article last year, after President Bush's last year's State of the Union message, as far as Iran was concerned, the U.S. government wanted to use the Iranian people's movement, and particularly the monarchist faction, to get more concessions from IRI, and they succeeded in their goal:
The US was able to get the concessions without sending Rafsanjani to jazireh maurice:) Does the US want to keep IRI intact? Well, it depends on IRI. If IRI gives more concessions, such as the freedom of Montazeri and allowing Iraqi opposition and US operations to use Iran as pole-e piroozi (bridge of victory), the U.S. will find them a better ally than even Jordan. So it is hard to say from now what will be the final relation of IRI and the U.S. And IRI also thinks the Iraqi Shi'a clergy can replace part of the power vacuum that will get created by Saddam's removal and sees it as an opportunity to deal with the U.S.
Moreover, one thing is for sure. The U.S. knows very well that they do not want to get directly involved in any change of regime in Iran. The experience of CIA coup of 1953 has proved it to the U.S. that Iran, contrary to all other countries of the Middle East, which have been colonies at one time or another, has been more like the France of the Middle East. which has had the strongest political factions and groups, even as illegal political parties and groups, and thus any influence of the Western states in Iran, can only be achieved by the relationship of the US with various political factions of Iran, including Rafsanjani or Khatami or the opposition.
Thus Khamenei knows it very well that he is playing for internal consumption, when he brings up the threat of U.S. invasion, or when he attacks the U.S. in religious sermons. At the same time, he knows that not playing it right, considering the current changes of the U.S. strategy in the Middle East, can put IRI out of the future of Middle East, and their isolation can cause an internal uprising, where already the isolationist policies of the Islamists have given rise to great levels of discontent inside Iran.
Now the question is for the Iranian opposition, and what the opposition can do to replace IRI in light of the current regional situation, a situation which is not so bad for IRI. IRI is one of the worst regimes in the region, blocking the development of post-industrial society in a very strategic region of the world, a region which happens to be rich, thanks to the situation of energy sources in the world today, but the main issue of the West in the region, is the Arab countries and this situation helps IRI. I believe the Iranian opposition should not put any hopes in the US conflicts in the Middle East, as if the U.S. is going to give Iran to the IRI opposition, on a silver platter.
If the war with Iraq drags on, U.S. and IRI will become closer allies, because that friendship with IRI will help to keep the Shi'a opposition of Iraq as the U.S. ally. And if the war ends quickly, IRI may become a partner with the U.S., because the main business of the U.S., for some time, will be changing the Arab states, which is not a a small task, and all those Arab countries are interrelated, and for the U.S. keeping IRI as an ally, or neutral, is to lessen the number of issues US has to face in a primarily Arab region.
So is there anything working to the advantage of Iranian opposition in this situation? Of course. This is like the time of shahrivar e 1320, where the regime because of its regional and international alliances, will have to act more in semi-democratic ways. The opposition has the choice of spending its energy like a lot of idle work that was done in the ten years after the shahrivar e 1320, or the democratic forces can be serious about taking power in Iran and not waste all their time on nagging about injustices of the regime, which everyone knows, and instead to focus on how to take power and run a secular state.
The job of journalists is nagging, negh-zadan:) but the task of political parties *is* to take power, if they are serious about their platform, and if they believe their programs and plans to run the state, are better than the party or clique currently holding power. In the US, New York Times is also with the Democratic Party, but the big difference between NY Times and the Democratic Party is that the first one is a paper and its job is to negh:), criticizing the shortcomings of those running the state etc, just like any other journal, but in contrast, the Democratic Party, does not see its role as nagging about shortcomings of those holding power.
The Democratic Party works to take power, and once having it, it works to exercise power, because they think they can run the government better than their opponent. The same is true of the Republican Party or other parties in the West that they see their role as that of taking power and running the state, and not just nagging about shortcomings of their opponents running the state.
In Iran, we have had parties like Nehzate Azadi that thought of their role as negh-zani, rather than seeing their role as taking power and exercising power. Mohandes Bazargan would complain of numerous centers of power, and would talk just like a journalist, not noticing that he *was* in power, and instead of exercising power, when he was actually at the helm of the state in the first year of post-1979 semi-democracy in Iran, he kept acting like a journalist just complaining of the situation.
My conclusion is that in the next year or so, if the situation in Iran and the Middle East continues like the post-shahrivar 1320, the Iranian opposition better not use the situation for more negh-zani, and hopefully would go for taking power. Taking power does not necessarily need to be done by guns. Many countries like South Africa and Eastern Block countries have shown that power can be taken by democratic forces, even without blood-shed.
Those forces should want to take power and not just be complainers. I hope that if my guess is right, and a semi-democratic situation develops in Iran, the opposition takes advantage of it to take power to form a secular government in Iran.
Sam Ghandchi, Publisher
February 1, 2003 (Updated Feb 27, 2003)