The Iranian riddle

Trita Parsi writes:

Iran is the 21st century equivalent of 1930s Russia — a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. The Iranians haven’t stumbled upon this mystifying state coincidentally, and the enigma isn’t the result of outsiders’ failure to try to understand them. Rather, the Iranian government has a deliberate policy aimed at confusing the outside world about its goals and decision-making processes. “There is an intention out there to confuse,” a noted Iranian professor told me in Tehran a few years ago. The rulers in Tehran think that opacity and the perception of unpredictability buy them security.

Given that intent, it is hardly surprising that Washington has had such a difficult time formulating a successful Iran policy. Right now, the Obama Administration is embarking on the sanctions track, pursuing both a U.N. Security Council resolution, as well as measures by a coalition of the willing that would go beyond anything imposed by the U.N. The idea is that a tough sanction regime would hit the Iranian government — and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guards — while sparing Iran’s population.

Yet despite what they say, few in Washington believe sanctions alone will alter Iran’s behavior. They have never worked as well as they might in Iran; rhetoric has only served to raise tensions further. The experience of the Bush Administration shows that the combination of sanctions and rhetoric about regime change — remember the “Axis of Evil?” — helped strengthen the hands of Iran’s hard-liners. It vindicated Tehran’s paranoia and reduced options available to the U.S. If the Iranian regime thinks that the real aim of U.S. policy is to topple it, it is hardly likely to make the conciliatory policy changes — for example, on its nuclear program — that the U.S. seeks.

So what should Washington do? A starting point should be to recognize that the U.S. is no longer dealing with an Iran that merely simulates indecisiveness. On the contrary, Iran seems genuinely irresolute and paralyzed by the Khamenei government’s loss of legitimacy and continued conflicts both within the élite and between the government and the people.

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One thought on “The Iranian riddle

  1. Lysander

    Given that there have been multiple polls showing that Iranians overwhelmingly view the June elections as valid and given that, as of now, no proof at all has been given of fraud, stuffed or stolen ballot boxes, etc. it is surprising that many people base there analysis on the assumption that the Iranian government is reeling and confused.

    Especially, when Iran’s actions have been crystal clear from day one. Either swap Uranium on our soil under conditions where we can be sure we will get it back, or we will make it ourselves.

    Almost certainly Iran’s plan from the beginning was to put the west in that position. Either agree to the trade and give defacto recognition of Iranian enrichment, or refuse and provide the excuse Iran needs to step up its enrichment program.

    Faced with that predicament, the US choose poorly. Constructing a swap proposal wherein Iran has to rely on French, Russian and American good will to get the Uranium it needs and thinking it would appear reasonable and help them get sanctions in place.

    How’s that working so far?

    By contrast Iran acted resolutely. Not with confusion and division. They have advanced their program and have paid no cost for doing so. That doesn’t look like indecision to me. Next, they will offer to buy the fuel plates. If no one sells, guess what? They will fashion it them themselves. And don’t believe the hype that they can’t do it. They said the same about 20% enrichment.

    In fact it looks like Iran has a plan and the west has yet to find an effective counter.

    Arnold Evans gives a very good analysis here;

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