Sunday, July 12, 2009

Alastair Crooke is about exactly right on Iran

The LA Times publishes an opinion piece "Misreading Iran's Unrest" which argues that we are seeing a power struggle between Hashemi Rafsanjani's political faction, which is associated with Iran's clerical establishment and a faction more associated with Iran's military/security establishment. In this power struggle it is possible that Rafsanjani's faction overreached critically by promoting the post-election demonstrations and attacks on the legitimacy of the Iranian system that are associated with those demonstrations.

Mousavi's casting of his mission as one of restoring the revolution to its original ideals was not only an internal message; it was also replayed widely in the Arab media. But the West seemed to be hearing and hoping for something else: that he was challenging the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and would seek to flout the institutions of the revolution. In other words, that he was seeking to ignite a "color revolution" -- such as Ukraine's Orange Revolution -- to change the system.

The extent to which Mousavi intended to send this signal and benefit by leveraging Western support is unclear. But that perception has opened Mousavi and his prominent backers to the risk of severe repercussions internally in the wake of the postelection turmoil.

There is a question that I have not seen well answered regarding which power faction is more corrupt. In other words, is the clerical establishment or the security establishment more responsible for directing public resources toward private purposes. I've read accusations against both. Ideally, the security establishment will work to expose and punish corruption in the clerical sphere while the clerical establishment will do the same in the opposite direction.

My take is that while Ahmadinejad and the Republican Guards are serious about addressing the notorious issue of corruption among Iran's clerical oligarchy, the clerical political faction may have been so discredited by the post-election conflict that it will take time before it regains enough credibility to effectively address corruption in the security establishment.

Crooke is also right that the election has strengthened hard-line factions in Iran and in the United States and Europe, while clearing the way for tighter integration between Iran, Russia and especially China. I have not seen enough yet to think this move towards confrontationalism on both sides of the Iran/West conflict will actually result in violence anywhere. The power balance that led both sides to favor a calm coexistence on June 11 still exists. But in this calm coexistence that I still expect to prevail, China and Russia will find Iran more cooperative than they would have before the election.

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