Obstacles on the Way of Iran New President
Ali Asghar Kazemi
June 30, 2013
Iran president-elect Rohani is gradually becoming more and more explicit on various positions he took during the presidential campaign. In his last speech on June 29 he alluded to almost all critical issues facing the nation and gave a clear-cut picture on his approach to tackling with them. Albeit he was silent on one important point, that is the “revolutionary nature” of the Islamic regime and implications of that characteristic.
When a revolutionary regime suddenly pledges to become moderate, rationale, tolerant and open, this means that it is no longer a revolution but a civil society with law-abiding
citizens. In other words, it is not possible to be both at the same time which would be paradoxical. A simple explanation for this paradox is that the Islamic revolutionary regime is merely showing a tactical shift that is transitional and temporary.
Four years ago amidst 2009 tumultuous presidential elections in Iran, I wrote an article in which I tried to spell-out fundamental obstacles on the way of the new president, who was optimistically assumed to be a reformist. This however did not happen but the substance of that article is still relevant in the present circumstances. The main argument of the comment at that time was that as long as the Islamic leaders in Iran persist on the “revolutionary nature” of the regime, this country may not be able to peacefully integrate in the international community and legitimately benefit from its advantages while submitting to its obligations.
The present commentary shall paraphrase some principle points of the previous article for those students and readers who had not a chance to read that in 2009.
Among commentators and political analysts inside Iran and on international scene, many express the opinion that Mr. Hassan Rohani will have hard time ahead in assuming responsibility as an efficient president to tackle with horrendous problems on his way. But, none of them, to my knowledge, follow the fundamental line of argument exposed here. To most of them, factors such as economic sanctions, political pressure, galloping inflation, recession, unemployment, mismanagement, intransigence, corruption and the likes are responsible for failure of past presidents leading to further isolation of Iran. While there is no doubt about the impact of these important stumbling factors, the argument here is that all those issues are inevitable byproducts of a more primordial cause which is the “revolutionary nature” of the Islamic regimes. Here are some explanations about this unconstructive trait of the ruling system in Iran.
More than three decades after the ascendance into power of a clergy rule in Iran, the Islamic leaders still insist on the revolutionary character of their institutions. While each revolution has generally a limited lifespan beginning with extreme radicalism to authoritarian rule; Thermidorian period and finally demand for moderation and reconstruction. The Islamic revolution however claims to be “perpetual” until the reappearance of the hidden Shiite Imam. This latter aspect has indeed a tremendous impact on the world view of the rulers and the approach they follow to achieve their goals on the national and international scene.
Despite widespread publicity about the miraculous achievement of the outgoing hard-line president, it seems rather obvious that Iran’s overall international standing has terribly diminished during the arch-conservative rule. With respect to domestic affaires the situation is much worse. An economy in shamble, a galloping inflation, and a general discontent of the accomplishment of Mr. Ahmadinejad who’s various promises simply did not materialize.
Now, almost eight years after the conservative grip to power, with a nation at the brink of social and economic crises, the reformists are embarking for a new comeback under the patronage of Hassan Rohani who is neither a reformist nor a hard-line conservative but supposedly somewhere in between. His election was backed by former president Khatami and the powerful Rafsanjani. He was clever enough to choose platform that people expected to hear. Slogans such as moderation, rationality, transparency and constructive interaction with the world for the sake of saving the country from total collapse, war and insolvency, indeed pleased majority of people voting for him.
What are the chances of the president-elect and his reformist comrades to succeed in their promises? Will he be able to restore the lost public confidence and to respond to the widespread expectations of the people suffered from economic hardship and political restraints? What are the prospects for normalizing relations with the world in general and the United States in particular?
As was stated in the commentary in 2009, in order to evaluate the performance of a high position office-holder such as the president in Iran, one must consider the facts against the religious-revolutionary natures of the Islamic regime and its worldwide objectives reflected in its constitutional provisions and ideological aspirations. In present Iran, no one individual can trespass the red lines predetermined either by Shari’a, as interpreted by the appropriate body instituted for that purpose, or by the “supreme leader of the revolution”. Even the leader who has the final say in matters of “high politics” such as the nuclear issue or other “strategic decisions” is bound to follow those revolutionary demands. Of course, he has the prerogative to assess the situation and decide according to his evaluation of a particular issue. This is to say that the chief executive and other legislative and judiciary bodies are subordinate to the “supreme leader.” This means that nothing substantive can take place in the country by “general will” of the people without the consent of the leader.
With that assumption in mind, one of the major impediments of the Islamic regime overall conduct in running the business of the state seems to be the continuing persistence on its revolutionary slogans. In fact, this feature has created a strong barrier before Iran’s national objectives and aspirations in setting clear criteria for determining for example friends and foes in national and international scene. Perhaps many unfortunate events and vicissitudes during the lifespan of the Islamic regime so far are geared to this very important dimension of the revolutionary Iran.
Nevertheless, when states choose to engage in interactions with their peers, they must have a lucid definition of their ends and means, a realistic assessment of their partners and above all a faithful commitment to certain primordial standards (rules of the game) in international relations. Indeed revolutions have their own peculiarities and manners and do not necessarily follow conventional norms and expected behavior. They usually have a tendency to challenge the status quo and even alter those rules. Thus, many states prefer not to be in love with revolutionary regimes which by nature have a propensity to be repelling rather than receptive.
The problem of not being able to distinguish between its ideological concerns and vital national interests has impeded the revolutionary Iran in identifying friends and foes and this has almost paralyzed Iran’s diplomacy especially during recent nuclear crisis. While international pressure was gradually increasing in order to push it to stop all nuclear activities, Iran was helplessly looking for friends here and there in order to get some support for its intransigent position. To this end, a number of lucrative deals were offered to some potential partners, but, at the critical moment when Iran needed their help, they turned to its opponents in the UN Security Council.
Iranian leaders should not be surprised by this unfortunate experience. Indeed, this is the golden rule of the game in international relations; states only have permanent interests and no permanent friends or enemies. Yet, an intelligent and rational foreign policy should put the right emphasis at any particular moment on the means and leverages it has on its potential friends in order to neutralize or bypass the negative impacts of its presumed foes’ actions and decisions. When a state puts all of its eggs in one basket, it may soon end up with unpredictable situations in which it should sacrifice all at once. No diplomacy that would stake everything on mere rhetoric and intimidation or concessions deserves to be called intelligent.
While the radical and conservative hardliners in Iran persist on a return to revolutionary slogans of the regime and do everything to show this feature, the international community seems quite alarmed with the development. Thus, most states are reluctant to engage in deep interaction with a nation defying the prevailing norms. This is not to suggest that those norms and rules of the game are necessarily ethical, just or fair.
Recent American offer by President Barrack Obama to open direct talks with Iran may simply be regarded as a calculated move in order to disarm the conservative groups from their revolutionary slogans and push Iran to the corner to comply with accepted norms in international relations. While Obama is pursuing his strategy through soft power and diplomacy, the neo-conservative war-mongers pursue the same objectives by threatening Iran by hard power. However, for the Islamic leaders, compromising on principles means giving bitter unnecessary concessions which would devoid the Islamic regime from its fundamental revolutionary and ideological drives and values.
While the new-elected president has good chances to open dialogue with the West, it is faire to suggest that he alike other personalities in that capacity is not powerful enough to make substantive changes in the structure or religious-revolutionary nature of the Islamic regime. They may be all pursuing the same goals with different styles. They can merely act within a limited boundary determined to them either by law or by the authority of the leader. The difference is purely that of approach reflecting individual character, social background and philosophical outlook.
In the typology of political leaders, as classified by Harold Lasswell, Ahmadinejad represented the “agitator” type with extreme intransigence who sacrificed immediate gains for abstract principles and always sought to instigate the emotional response of the public. While Khatami was a “negotiator” with more concerned on acceptable solution to a conflict than a just or perfect resolution. Now, the new president- elect Rohani pretends to be open-minded, moderate and rational. This means that he does not mind to enter into dialogue and compromise with his opponents for the sake of improving national interests and eliminating the clouds of animosity over the sky of the nation. Nonetheless, solutions to important issues such as: relations with the United States, the nuclear project, the Middle East problems and the likes are only dependent variables geared to the “revolutionary nature” of the Islamic regime in Iran. /
The deal on liquefied gas with China, which amounts to an overall value of $100 billion, is one such undertaking which would tie Iran’s political fate to China’s growing needs for energy over the next 25 years. Russians on the other hand, are very happy about the current nuclear plant in Bushehr and the prospective other nuclear plant deals with Iran and seemed not to be ready to forego this lucrative business just for the sake of giving a hand to American plan to contain Iran’s ambition to use nuclear technology, which in their view, is not harmful. But, as we have seen, both of them voted against Iran at the IAEA. India was also supposed to support Iran for promoting its interests in the prospective gas line project, but this did not happen either.
See: Ali Asghar Kazemi, “US Democrats are Pushing Iran to the Corner”: Strategic Discourse February 3, 2009.