Saturday, November 28, 2009

Gary Sick and Juan Cole believe there has been a Revolutionary Guard coup in Iran

Gary Sick seems to believe that there has been a coup that has toppled Iran's Supreme Leader from power. Sick goes further to assert that because he and other Americans do not know who leads this coup, Iran has no address - there is nobody in Iran with whom Americans who want to make a deal are able to negotiate.
I am personally convinced that the Revolutionary Guard Corps is now rapidly becoming the dominant force in Iranian politics—greater than President Ahmadinejad, and greater even than Ayatollah Khamene`i himself, though the pasdaran and others continue to pay lip service to his “leadership.” I base this judgment, among other things, on the fact that senior leaders of the pasdaran no longer have any compunction about taking positions that differ from those of the President or the Supreme Leader; yet neither the President nor the Supreme Leader ever dare disagree with the pasdaran. But if that is true, who exactly is calling the shots?
I'd be curious as to what positions he's talking about. I have not seen any public disagreement between Khamenei and members of Iran's security establishment. I can't even imagine what they would disagree about.

Gary Sick is claiming the coup was completed in Iran's June election. Really, that's just what he wants to believe - he's seen the most recent poll of Iranians who say they voted for the person who was reported as winner and they believe the results were fair, he doesn't have any indication that the reported results in the election are different from how Iranians actually voted. He thinks it is a coup because for some reason he finds the idea that Iran is a dictatorship or military junta comfortable.

Juan Cole makes a somewhat similar claim that the Supreme Leader was over-ruled by the Revolutionary Guard on the issue of the October proposal to export Iran's LEU in exchange for fuel for a medical reactor to be delivered at least a year from now. The idea that Iran's Revolutionary Guard understands the value of nuclear-capability but Khamenei and his negotiators do not is indefensible. Something happened in October, but definitely not a Revolutionary Guard veto over policy favored by Iran's Supreme Leader.

While we're here, I'd like to take a second to acknowledge that Juan Cole's explanation of the issues around Iran's reach for nuclear capacity are the clearest I've seen from any member of the mainstream US foreign policy establishment.
My own position is that, in addition, Iran's leadership is seeking what is sometimes called the "Japan option" or a "rapid breakout capability." Unlike North Korea, India and Pakistan, I think Tehran genuinely does not want to actually construct and detonate a nuclear device. India and Pakistan are such large and important countries that they defied the First World nuclear club successfully and so joined it. North Korea, much smaller, weaker and poorer, has made itself an international pariah in this way, and is suffering more and more severe UN sanctions. I think most senior Iranian leaders wish to avoid those heavy sanctions, having seen what they did to Iraq.

But having a rapid breakout capability-- being able to make a bomb in short order if it is felt absolutely necessary to forestall a foreign attack-- has a deterrent effect. So Iran would have the advantages of deterrence without the disadvantages of a bomb if it could get to the rapid breakout stage.


I personally suspect that most Western officials involved in this matter know perfectly well that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program and does not want an actual bomb. I think the Western leaders do not want Iran to have nuclear latency, either, because it would change the balance of power in the Middle East and would take forcible regime change off the table as an option for the West.
But Cole and Sick are both vastly overcomplicating a fairly simple issue with their beliefs that Iran's Revolutionary Guard has taken power in some secret way. If there was a coup, Barack Obama also came to power in the US though a coup, and the word coup no longer has any meaning.

The Balochistan separatist attack on Iran's Revolutionary Guard was a major event. At least six high-ranking Iranian officers were killed. It is clear that the US has provided resources to the Balochistan separatists in the past. It is not clear that the US ever stopped providing resources to this armed anti-Iranian organization. That is enough to both rationally convince the Iranians that the Americans are not trustworthy and to create an environment of hostility and anger among Iran's decision-makers that did not exist before the attack.

Iranian behavior did change over the course of October. Not because of the June election, but because of the October attack that killed several ranking members of Iran's security establishment. Certainly personal friends of some of the people who would weigh in on making a deal with the Americans over the nuclear program were killed.

There's no reason to think the decision of the Supreme Leader was overruled in October, or that he has been removed from power. In the post-Balochistan environment, Khamenei is just as distrustful and angry at the West as everyone else in Iran's leadership. If the United States is looking for someone to negotiate with as if Balochistan had never happened, Sick is right that the US will never figure out who it can negotiate with.


Rostam said...

Arnold, good article but you might want to correct the Republican Guard references - in the heading and several times in the body. I'm sure you know it's Revolutionary Guards, just a typo.

Arnold Evans said...


Lysander said...

This just occurred to me. If IRGC policy differences are a sign of a coup, does that mean Gen. McCHrystal's disagreement with Obama re: Afghanistan escalation is also a sign of a coup?

Actually, I'm not certain the answer is no.

GeneralOreo said...

One thing links to another and here I am at a post from November trying to convince my OCD mind not to reply and move on. But better to post this here then bash my head at a wall. The recent comments column at the right at least rescues this post from complete oblivion.


IRGC policy differences aren't sign of a coup, it's their influence in the iranian economy and politics that is, and their recent role in the 2009 elections.

The US military on the other hand can only exert pressure as one institution fighting many for the advice of the President, and that's it. They can play their hand better because they're popular with the people and the president is perceived to be weak and whatnot, but that's it. A third of congress isn't from military background. The US military doesn't control communication companies like verizon. It doesn't maniuplate elections or threaten the american people should they decide to protest.

I was leaning to thinking the point about McChrystal was a joke, but you never know with some people.