Sunday, December 27, 2009

Raja Kamal and Karim Pakravan think Iran's leadership is afraid of normalization with the US

We see more and more of the thesis that Iran's Revolutionary Guards have increased in power and are militarizing the regime. These days we routinely are informed that Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei has been overshadowed by the Revolutionary Guards. It is a thesis that cannot be verified or falsified. It does not have explanatory power, it does not help in predicting Iranian actions. What it does is give people who are inclined to dislike Iran's regime for whatever reason, an excuse to visualize the regime in somehow an even more menacing way.

Khamenei had never been some Mubarak- or Abdullah-style "moderate" eager to stop funding Hamas and Hezbollah and agree with the US to suspend enrichment. Iran in 2006 funded groups opposed to Israel, asserted that a Jewish majority state in Palestine is incompatible with justice for the larger number of Palestinians in the territories and refugees and refused to suspend enrichment. In 2009, we see Iran pursuing exactly, exactly the same foreign policy but this is being explained by the idea that Khamenei has lost power between 2006 and now.

It is as if someone said Barack Obama isn't making US healthcare policy, Nancy Pelosi is. How would anyone know? Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi agree on US healthcare policy. Obama is still in office, policy is being made that agrees with his inclinations. What would be the point of saying he's been marginalized by people who would do what he's shown he's wanted to do since he got into politics?

The US foreign policy community displays an eagerness to wring any negative interpretation out of any situation in Iran that is baffling to watch. Now when Iran refuses to suspend enrichment, it isn't Khamenei's choice, a choice Khamenei has made consistently since European negotiators told Iran that they wanted the temporary suspension Iran agreed to as a confidence building measure to be permanent, or indefinite at Western discretion. When Iran refuses to suspend today, exactly as it has for years, now the same refusal comes from the military. So the same policy is now more "hard-line", more menacing. The same policy.

There has been no change in policy. Iran is no more hard-line in its relations with the West than it was last year. There is a visceral animosity against Iran felt by nearly the entire US foreign policy community. We are watching that community just jump at a chance to portray Iran every single bit as monstrous as their imaginations will allow. More hard line than Khamenei? What would that even look like? We don't have to see a single policy change for this story to become the consensus view of the foreign policy establishment.

Very quickly I'll look back to the medical reactor deal. The deal was terrible. Iran would never have gotten any fuel. Iran would have gotten more pressure to suspend enrichment - which Iran has said consistently is unacceptable for several years now. Why would the US give Iran fuel rather than invent some pretext to hold it back, or claim technical difficulties in production, once Iran's LEU has been removed? Because the US would never break its word to Iran? It was a terrible deal. Iran's agreement in principle was an agreement that if the details could be made acceptable, the principle of the deal - trading LEU for fuel was acceptable. The details were never made acceptable. Nobody in Iran has ever spoken in favor of the deal as presented by the West.

I just mention that deal because I often read the absolutely ridiculous argument that the Revolutionary Guards overruled Khamenei on the deal. File that under "you can't be serious." I read this again and again, by people who don't seem to be deliberately joking. My mind boggles every time. An analyst who cannot explain what leverage Iran would use to ensure it got fuel once its LEU was exported really should not be surprised that Iran realized this obvious fact and rejected the deal.

But all of this is to get to the other, even more ridiculous assertion that is often made about Iran. I read it, not nearly the first time, but most recently in an opinion piece in the Boston Globe by Raja Kamal and Karim Pakravan.
The militarization of the Islamic regime has also extended to the country’s foreign policy. The increasingly confrontational stance taken by Iran on its nuclear program reflects the security forces’ interests in keeping Iran isolated and defiant - a normalization of relations with the West, in particular the United States, is seen as a lethal threat to the survival of the regime and their powerful role.
We've already dealt with how the exact same stance cannot be increasingly confrontational. Is normalization with the West somehow a threat, even a lethal threat to the Iranian regime?

Is anyone else laughing? Is this serious? Iran has no sanctions against the US. Any Iranian can invest as much as he wants in essentially any US firm or project. Washington must not consider normalization a lethal threat because if it did, the US would drop the unilateral sanctions the US imposes on Iran today. And if the threat was lethal, Iran's regime would die.

Only one side is imposing sanctions on the other. Normalization with Iran is a threat to the US for a tangible reason. The US is determined that no hostile power in the region should become strong enough to threaten Israel. Iran supports groups that oppose Israel, as every state in the region would if their foreign policies were under democratic control, and the US needs to punish that behavior for Israel's sake and to dissuade other countries from doing the same. But in practical terms, non-normalization of relations between Iran and the US goes in one direction.

If Iran was really threatened by normalization, the US would threaten or execute a threat to unilaterally normalize relations. If Iran was threatened by talks, the US would offer to talk, even in public. True, Iran does not want to follow the foreign policy path of the Shah, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but not because the approval the US gives submissive nations is a threat, but because nearly everyone in Iran considers those foreign policies inferior to Iran's current foreign policy. Most people in Egypt and Saudi Arabia likely agree. The idea that Iran fears normalization could not be more senseless.

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