Iran’s Dashed Hopes

Four years ago, Iran was the authoritarian Middle Eastern country readiest for democratic change. It had had a fundamentalist government for 23 years, making the fundamentalists the corrupt, authoritarian rulers rather than the populist agitators against corruption and authoritarianism. It had an educated population, with the third lowest fertility rate in the Middle East (since then it’s dropped to lowest). And a significant fraction of its population even agreed with Bush’s statement that it was an Axis of Evil country – Thomas Friedman cited a survey saying 49% did, in late 2002.

And Bush has singlehandedly blown it all away. Instead of keeping the pressure rhetorical, he first invaded Iraq and then started harping on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Most importantly, he signaled that trash talk constituted serious foreign policy.

I know that it wasn’t in 2003 that statements like,


Top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said work would start as early as today on installing 3,000 uranium enriching centrifuges at a key nuclear plant, in defiance of the resolution over Iran’s contested atomic programme. “Our immediate response to the UN SC is that, as of today, we will start the activities at the site of the 3,000 centrifuge machines in Natanz and we will go ahead with full speed,” he said.

“We have said repeatedly that if the West wanted to exploit the UN Security Council it will not only have no influence but make us more determined to pursue our nuclear goals even faster,” he told the hardline Kayhan daily.

were born. Khrushchev didn’t need Bush to say “We will bury you.” But there was a significant uptick in in-your-face rhetoric after 2003 in the Middle East; under Khamenei, Iran never made statements rising to the level of the pro-Western Shah’s, “You buy our crude oil and sell it back to us, redefined as petrochemicals, at a hundred times the price you’ve paid to us…; it’s only fair that, from now on, you should pay more for oil. Let’s say 10 times more” before 2003.

In normal diplomacy, these statements are an unmitigated disaster. All politics, from office politics to geopolitics, is based on getting allies who are willing to make you more powerful. In-your-face statements that scare the world are never good for that; unfortunately, they are great in making a belligerent politician sound strong at home. Bush created a climate that encouraged these statements, enabling Ahmadinejad to portray his enemies at home not as democratic populists but as American stooges.

6 Responses to Iran’s Dashed Hopes

  1. SLC says:

    Unfortunately, the opposition in Iran to the Ayatollahs has little chance of succeeding in overthrowing them. The best chance was in the early 1980s when a number of the Ayatollah Komeniehs supporters were assassinated by the opposition. However, good old Saddam Hussein, inaccurately sensing weakness in Iran, bailed Komenieh out by launching an invasion which immediately rallied Iran behind him. Since then, the ayatollahs have consolidated their power by purging the military, the only force strong enough to oust them. Thus, Saddam bears more responsibility for the situation in Iran then do any of James Earl Carters’ successors.

  2. The best way to defeat Iran would be to a.) begin a major push develop alternative fuel technologies and implement them and b.) to stop international saber-rattling which drives up the price of oil. These actions will devalue oil, by far their primary export, eventually driving them to the point of internal collapse. That way, even if Iran remains some sort of a theocracy, they won’t be potent enough to effect the security interests of the U.S.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Actually, in the long run I expect oil prices to fall, as technologies develop to extract oil from tar sands and oil shale cheaply. The problem is that Keynes’ adage that in the long run we’re all dead may very well apply literally to this situation.

  4. SLC says:

    Attached is an article from todays’ Washington Post which indicates that Irans’ oil revenue may be drying up.

    Mr. Levys’ view that extraction of oil from tar sands and oil shale ignores the environmental problems with producing oil from these resources. A much better alternative is extraction of natural gas, which has a much lower carbon profile then oil, from these resources and possibly from coal. For example, here in the Washington DC metro area, the local bus company is purchasing natural gas powered buses for its transit fleet. My observations from a bicyclists point of view is that these buses appear to put out much less polution then the diesel busses they replaced and are also much quieter running, and, as an added bonus, appear to have better acceleration characteristics.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    First, the newest tar sand extraction technique is relatively eco-friendly. And second, even if it’s not, the US and Canada are two of the developed countries least concerned with doing anything about global warming. It’s especially true in Alberta (not so much in Colorado, though).

  6. Axel says:


    the very interesting analysis mentioned in the Washington Post article (“The Iranian petroleum crisis and United States national security”) is freely available on the net:

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