In this article the author presents an analysis of the perils and costs that the United States is likely to incur if it enters into a grand bargain in general with the Islamic Republic of Iran or into a specific grand bargain based on the proposal advanced by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann.
Among other factors, the American failure to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan has fueled Iran’s attempt at regional supremacy to the consternation of many in the region and beyond. The failure of the containment policy, fear that the Islamic Republic will develop nuclear weapons, and the bellicose rhetoric and policies of Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have given rise to urgent discussions about how best to counter the threat of the fundamentalist regime. The main policies under discussion are regime change; surgical strikes; reconfigured containment; limited, issue-based dialogue; and a “grand bargain.”
The most detailed proposal for a grand bargain is articulated by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann. Dr. Leverett served as a senior director of Middle East affairs at the National Security Council (NSC), Middle East specialist on the secretary of state’s Policy Planning Staff, and a senior analyst at the CIA. He left the NSC in 2003. He is currently a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Hillary Mann Leverett engaged in extensive negotiations with Iranian officials during her service at the Permanent Mission of the United States to the UN and the National Security Council.
After the White House demanded redaction of parts of their op-ed article for The New York Times, much controversy ensued. The New York Times published the redacted version of the original op-ed article on December 22, 2006. It is based on a larger study by Leverett entitled “Dealing with Tehran: Assessing U.S. Diplomatic Options Toward Iran,” published on December 4.1 In this article, I present some of the perils and costs of a grand bargain in general and the grand bargain proposed by Leverett and Mann in particular.
The United States previously pursued containment of the fundamentalist regime that came to power in 1979. Initially this was conducted awkwardly via balancing through Iraq, which was closely allied with the Soviet Union and France. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait and the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed the Clinton administration to attempt to contain both Iran and Iraq, a policy aptly named “dual containment.” Intermittently there have been attempts at rapprochement with the fundamentalist regime.
President Bush’s overthrow of Saddam caused great anxiety among Iran’s rulers. Concerned that a similar fate was awaiting them, in May 2003 the supreme leader agreed to send the Bush administration a roadmap, developed by Iran’s ambassador to France and the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, to resolve U.S.-Iran differences.2 Initial reports that the roadmap was initiated by all of the regime officials are false. In addition, the reports that the supreme leader agreed with all of the serious concessions are false as well.
The actual text of the accompanying notes by Swiss Ambassador Tim Guldimann indicates that the roadmap was his brainchild and that of Iran’s then Ambassador Sadeq Kharrazi (a nephew of the foreign minister and a former deputy foreign minister, whose sister is married to the supreme leader’s son). Moreover, the text states that the supreme leader only agreed with 85 to 90 percent of the proposals. In other words, the supreme leader was opposed to 10 to 15 percent of the proposals. In his fax to the State Department containing the text of the roadmap, Guldimann wrote:
1. On April 21, I had a longer discussion with Sadeq Kharrazi who came to see me . During this discussion a first draft of the enclosed Roadmap was developed. He said that he would discuss this with the Leader and the Foreign Minister.
2. On May 2, I met him again for three hours. He told me that he had two long discussions with the Leader on the Roadmap. In these meetings, which both lasted almost two hours, only President Khatami and FM Kharrazi were present; “we went through every word of this [sic] paper.” (He additionally had a series of separate meetings with both). The question is dealt with in high secrecy, therefore no one else has been informed. (S.Kh. himself has become also very discreet in our last contacts). S. Kh. presented the paper to the Leader as a proposal which he had discussed ‘with a friend in Europe who has close contacts with higher echelons in the DoS’; The Leader explicitly hat [sic] asked him whether this is a US-proposal and S.Kh. denied this, saying that, if it is accepted, this friend could convey it to Washington as the basis for opening the bilateral discussion.
3. Then S.Kh. told me that the Leader uttered some reservations as for some points; the President and the Foreign Minister were very positive, there was no problem from their side. Then he said “They (meaning above all the Leader) agree with 85%-90% of the paper. But everything can be negotiated.”3
The roadmap calls on the fundamentalist regime to stop providing material support to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) from Iranian territory, put pressure on Hamas and PIJ to stop violence against civilians within 1967 borders, take action on Lebanese Hezbollah to become exclusively a political and social organization within Lebanon, accept the two-state approach, help stabilize Iraq, make the nuclear program transparent, and take decisive action against Al Qaeda in Iranian territory. In exchange, the roadmap asked the Bush administration to give the regime a security guarantee (“The United States will refrain from supporting changes of the political system by direct interference from outside”), respect Iran’s interests in Iraq; recognize “Iran’s legitimate security interests in the region with the accompanying defense capacity,” abolish all sanctions, release Iran’s frozen assets, and take “action against MKO and affiliated organizations in the United States.” Some of these have been further elaborated as immediate steps such as “U.S. commitment to resolve MKO problem in Iraq” and “Iranian commitment to decisive actions against Al Qaida members in Iran.”4
A slightly different version of the roadmap has been provided by the fundamentalist regime.5 In this document the regime spelled out what it meant by “security guarantee.” The fundamentalist regime expected the United States to “halthostile behavior and rectification of the status of Iran.” The U.S. government must make a public statement that the fundamentalist regime “did not belong to ‘the axis of evil'” and must take the fundamentalist regime off the State Department’s “terrorism list.”
Before analyzing the perils and costs of the grand bargain, it is necessary to discuss the wider political situation and the policy debates within both the American and Iranian sides. I begin with the Iranian side (both opposition and supporters), then proceed with the American side, and finally present my analysis of the grand bargain.
On the Iranian Side: Who’s Who Among Iranian Opposition Groups
Opposition groups to the Islamic Republic can be divided into five categories: (1) democratic republicans, (2) monarchists, (3) the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, (4) Communists, and (5) ethnic parties.
The democratic republican groups want to replace the system of clerical rule (Nezam Velayat Faqih) with sovereignty of the people, that is, democracy.6 They advocate civil liberties, pluralist democracy, rule of law, separation of religion and the state, a republican form of government, and free and fair elections. They argue that all citizens should have equal political rights and thus oppose special privileges for any strata (Shiite clerics) and individuals or families (monarchy). They can be divided into two broad categories: established democrats and young democrats.
The established democrats trace their roots to the 1905 Constitutional Revolution and the 1950s oil nationalization movement under Dr. Mossadegh. The most prominent include Iran National Front (Jebhe Melli Iran), National Movement of Iranian Resistance (NMIR), Iran Nation party (Hezb Mellat Iran), and Liberal Democrats of Iran.7 The oldest and arguably the largest prodemocracy group operating inside Iran is the Iran National Front (INF), which also operates abroad. The INF was founded in 1949 and led by Mossadegh as prime minister between April 1951 and August 1953, when a CIA-engineered coup overthrew his cabinet. After the 1979 revolution, about one-third of cabinet posts – including foreign minister, defense minister, labor minister, and minister of treasury – were held by INF members. On April 15, 1979, Dr. Karim Sanjabi, INF leader and foreign minister, along with other INF ministers, resigned in protest against arbitrary arrests, gross violations of due process in revolutionary courts, and mass executions by revolutionary courts operating outside the provisional government’s authority and under the direct control of Ayatollah Khomeini.8
In June 1981 INF was declared apostate by Khomeini and consequently was severely repressed. Between 1997 and 2005, the regime reduced its repression of the activities of the INF, although officially the INF remained illegal and under constant surveillance, harassment, and intimidation, including several hit-and-run attacks. The INF advocates a gradual, step-by-step transition from the incumbent clerical dictatorship to democracy. Issuing communiqués and pronouncements has become the hallmark of the INF. Members of the INF are secular liberal democrats and secular social democrats.
National Movement of Iranian Resistance (NMIR) was led by Dr. Shahpour Bakhtiar, the second highest official of INF. An old nemesis of the shah, Bakhtiar agreed to assume the prime ministership 37 days before the collapse of the monarchy in order to prevent Khomeini’s rise to power. Bakhtiar formed NMIR shortly after the revolution. Bakhtiar was assassinated in Paris by agents of the fundamentalist regime on August 6, 1991. Earlier, on April 18, 1991, his deputy, Dr. Abdorrahamn Boroumand, was assassinated in Paris by agents of the fundamentalist regime.9 By and large NMIR members have been social democrats and secular. They have also tended to be more active and action oriented than INF members. In 2007 many members of NMIR, including its third and fourth highest ranked officials (Dr. Homayoun Mehmaneche and Dr. Ali Shakeri Zand), joined the Iran National Front-Abroad.10
The Iran Nation Party (INP) split from the INF in April 1979 when INP members decided to remain in the provisional government’s cabinet. The entire cabinet resigned on November 4, 1979, in protest against the fundamentalist takeover of the American embassy in Tehran. In June 1981, after fundamentalists purged President Bani Sadr and captured all levers of power, INP founder and leader, Dariush Forouhar, was imprisoned and severely tortured. In November 1998, “rogue” agents of the Ministry of Intelligence assassinated Dariush Forouhar and his wife, Parvaneh Eskandari-Forouhar, the eminent feminist, prodemocracy activist, prolific poet, and university lecturer. It is widely believed that the official behind the operation was Hojatolislam Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi who became minister of interior in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s cabinet in 2005.11
There is an emerging category of young democrats who are in their 20s and 30s. The most famous and said to be the most representative is Ahmad Batebi. Other leaders in this category are Manuchehr Mohammadi, the late Akbar Mohammadi (who died in prison in July 2006 after enduring a combination of severe torture, hunger strike, and lack of medical attention), Ali Afshari, and Akbar Atri. Impatient with the gradualism and cautiousness of the INF leadership, the young democrats tend to engage in actions such as civil disobedience and rallies instead of merely issuing endless communiqués. Compared to the established democrats, the young democrats tend to be more action oriented, more hostile to the regime, less hostile to monarchists, and friendlier toward the United States.
The prodemocracy student uprising of July 1999 was organized by this group. They have embraced Mossadegh as the symbol of their desire for a secular democratic republic. Several student organizations have grown inside Iran, but by and large, as a result of repression, they have not been able to organize themselves into strong organizations. Despite severe torture and an initial sentence of execution, Ahmad Batebi has continued his resistance to the regime. He has emerged as the iconic leader of the young democrats. Two organizations that have been formed by members of this category and express the sentiments of some but not all of the members of this category are the Alliance of Iranian Students and Glorious Frontiers party of Iran (HMPG).12 Both of these organizations had to go into exile after the July 1999 uprising.
In addition to the aforementioned categories, there are large number of individuals and intellectuals, both inside Iran and abroad, who are not members of any organization but are democratic republicans. They usually sign open letters and petitions on various issues such as human rights violations. There are also civil society organizations, both inside and outside Iran, such as human rights organizations, labor syndicates, and women’s groups that may be classified as democratic republicans. One of the most interesting developments has been the gradual transformation of Daftar Tahkim Vahdat (Office for Fostering Unity), the official umbrella fundamentalist student organization created in 1979 as a federation of various fundamentalist students at universities to counter antifundamentalists students and faculty. Today the majority of Daftar Tahkim Vahdat (DTV) members have embraced democracy.13 In an unusually brave action, its members heckled President Ahmadinejad and burned his portrait when he delivered a speech at Polytechnic University in Tehran on December 11, 2006.14 One student held a sign stating “Fascist President, Polytechnic is not your place.”15 Several dozen leaders of the DTV have since been imprisoned and beaten. In July 2007, in order to prevent celebrations of the July 1999 uprising, more officials of DTV were imprisoned and beaten.16
Iranian monarchists are supporters of the Pahlavi dynasty and want to restore Reza Pahlavi, the son of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, to the throne.17 Monarchists are divided into constitutional monarchists and absolute monarchists. Both subcategories condemn the 1979 revolution. The constitutional monarchists state that they want to have freely elected parliamentary democracy with Reza Pahlavi as a constitutional monarch. The main group in this category is the Constitutionalist party of Iran.18
Reza Pahlavi has repeatedly stated that he embraces this position. The absolutist monarchists support the reestablishment of dictatorship.
People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran
People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), also known as the MKO (Mojahedin Khalq Organization) or MeK (Mojahedin e Khalq), or NCRI (National Council of Resistence of Iran), is led by Masoud Rajavi and his wife, Ms. Maryam Azadanlou-Rajavi.19 The PMOI was established in 1965 as the result of a split from the Liberation Movement of Iran, which itself had split from the INF in 1961. The PMOI’s ideology, “Classless Divine Society,” combined a Maoist socioeconomic and political system with an egalitarian interpretation of Islam. In 1972, Masoud Rajavi described the PMOI’s notion of freedom as that existing at that time in the Soviet Union and China. According to the U.S. State Department and many other sources, the PMOI assassinated several Americans in Iran in the early 1970s, although in the 1980s the PMOI denied this in order to gain U.S. support for its struggle against the fundamentalist regime.
The PMOI has been and remains highly disciplined and very well organized, although it is today only a fraction of what it was in the early 1980s. In the 1979-1982 period, the PMOI grew to become a large, mass-based movement. In June 1981 the PMOI called for armed struggle against the regime after Khomeini’s removal of President Bani Sadr. The armed uprising failed to topple the regime. Rajavi and Bani Sadr went into exile in France. In 1986 the PMOI’s headquarters moved to Iraq. The organization became closely allied with Saddam Hussein thereafter. By 1986 the PMOI had been transformed from a leftist guerrilla organization into a terribly dictatorial cult.20 The PMOI has carried out assassinations of the regime’s military, intelligence, and political officials, as well as numerous mortar attacks on the regime’s military targets.
In 1997 the U.S. State Department included the PMOI on its foreign terrorist organizations list. The British and the EU soon followed and added the PMOI to their terrorist lists. It is widely argued that the reason PMOI was declared a terrorist organization was to reward the newly elected President Mohammad Khatami for his moderation. The PMOI has been lobbying and litigating to have the terrorism label removed. About 4,000 PMOI fighters in Iraq were disarmed by American forces after the invasion of Iraq and remain under American protection in their camp. The PMOI also has about 5,000 highly committed supporters in Europe.
Iranian communists are dispersed among more than two dozen organizations. The largest Communist organization in the 1980-1991 period, the Organization of Iranian People’s Fedaian (Majority), has ceased to be Communist.21 Smaller groups remain committed to Marxism-Leninism. Today the most active Communist groups are the Workers’ Communist party and the Union of People’s Fedaian of Iran.22 Iranian Communists were very strong on university campuses in the 1970s and 1980s. Today Communists are very weak because of a variety of reasons, including their strong ideological support for a dictatorial form of government. Today’s students and intellectuals crave freedom of thought, expression, and elections – all lacunae in Leninism that have undermined the appeal of communism among university students and intellectuals.
Many ethnic communities in Iran feel oppressed by the fundamentalist regime. They include Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Balochis, Arabs, and Turkomen. The regime’s de jure and de facto discrimination against Sunnis (i.e., all Balochis and Turkomen and about half of Kurds and Arabs), which has gone so far as to destroy Sunni mosques in Mashhad and prevent the construction of even a single Sunni mosque in Tehran, has made these minorities especially enraged at the regime. Increased violence in Balochistan, Khuzestan, Kurdestan, Kermanshahan, and Azerbaijan provinces has occurred in recent years.
The oldest and most powerful ethnic party in Iran is the Democratic party of Iranian Kurdistan (DPIK).23 The DPIK was a typical pro-Moscow Communist party before the 1979 revolution. However, under the able leadership of Dr. Abdo-Rahman Qassemlou, the DPIK became independent of Moscow, embraced democratic socialism, and became affiliated with the social democratic organization “Socialist International.” It also moved away from separatist demands and called for autonomy within a federal Iran. The agents of the Iranian government assassinated Dr. Qassemlou and two of his lieutenants in Vienna on July 13, 1989. His successor, Dr. Sadegh Sharafkandi, along with his two lieutenants and another democratic socialist Iranian, were assassinated in Berlin on September 17, 1992, by agents of the Iranian government (and three members of the Lebanese Hezbollah).24
Neither Qassemlou nor subsequent leaders of the DPIK made clear exactly what they meant by autonomy and federalism. The DPIK usually uses the term “federalism based on nationality” [federalism bar asas meliyat]. The DPIK refuses to use the term “ethnicity” [ghomiyat] to refer to Kurds and other minority groups in Iran (e.g., Azerbaijanis, Turkomen, Arabs, Balochis) and instead uses the term nationality [meliyat]. Such usage has led many to believe that by “federalism” the DPIK really means “confederalism” where sovereignty resides in an ethnically demarcated unit. Some statements seem to suggest that the DPIK regards the Kurds in Iran as primarily Iranians, whereas other statements seem to suggest that they are primarily part of the Kurdish nation spread in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. Many believe that the ultimate goal of the DPIK is the creation of one Kurdish nation-state joining all Kurds (in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria) in one state. Reading between the lines, it appears that there is a debate among the DPIK on exactly what their ultimate goal should be.
The leadership and cadres of DPIK operate both inside Iran as well as in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the past seven or eight years, the DPIK has become very close to the United States. In an unprecedented move by any Iranian party, the DPIK congratulated President Bush on his reelection in November 2004. The DPIK can count on the support of several million Kurds in Iran as well as many thousands of guerrillas in Iran and in the Kurdish regions of Iraq.
The second most powerful ethnic party in Iran is the Komala, a Kurdish group.25 Komala used to be a radical Marxist-Leninist party, but it moved away from communism several years ago. It engages in armed conflict with the regime’s coercive apparatuses in the Iranian Kurdish region. In the past five to seven years, Komala, like DPIK, has developed a more positive view of the U.S. role in the region. Komala has several thousand guerrillas who operate in the border Kurdish region of Iran and Iraq. In the past few years, Komala and DPIK were able to resolve their earlier differences and have begun to work and coordinate closely.
In 2006 a small Kurdish group (PJAK) surfaced. It has been allied with the PKK, the radical militant Kurdish party in Turkey. The regime’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps has exchanged fire with PJAK on numerous occasions.
Several Baloch groups compete among themselves and the central government. The Balochistan United Front of Iran (Republican Federal), Balochistan Peoples party, and Balochistan National Movement – Iran support a republican federal system. Like the statements of DPIK, their statements on “federalism” are vague, and it is not clear whether they mean a federal system like that of the United States or a confederal system. One group led by Amanoullah Khan Riggi has been accused by other Baloch groups of being monarchist.
The Jondollah Organization of Iran carried out military operations against the regime in early 2007. The regime accused it of being allied with Al Qaeda, but the group immediately denied and condemned the accusation. The organization has stated that it supports a democratic, federal, and secular system in Iran. It is imperative to seek information directly from the various opposition groups themselves because the fundamentalist regime has used proxies to spread false information on opposition groups. The most egregious example may be the regime accusation that Jondollah, a Sunni Baloch group, is Wahhabi and is connected to Al Qaeda. To counter the regime’s propaganda, the group changed its name to Jonbeshe Moghavemat Mardomi Iran (Peoples Resistance Movement of Iran).26
Policies of Iranian Opposition Groups
All opposition groups, including social democrats, liberal democrats, Marxists, monarchists, and ethnic minority parties, have been pursuing regime change. Although they have not succeeded in toppling the fundamentalists, they have delegitimized the regime. Today the regime has lost its ideological hegemony and political legitimacy but not its ability to coerce and subdue. This political bankruptcy stems, in large part, from the resistance of the opposition groups and populace to the regime.
The opposition groups regard the fundamentalist regime to be among the most repressive, brutal, reactionary, and misogynist regimes in the world. Many have categorized it as a form of fascism. A few months after the revolution, Ali Asghar Hajj Sayyed Javadi published a series of newspaper articles criticizing the new system as fascistic. These articles were soon published as a pamphlet titled Az sedaye paye Fashism ta ghoole Fashism ke dar hale tassalot bar sarasar-e Iran ast [From Early Steps of Fascism to the Specter of Fascism That Is in the Process of Taking Over All of Iran].27 Hajj Seyyed Javadi was one of Iran’s most respected and courageous intellectuals and Iran’s most prominent social democrat who had played a prominent role in the anti-shah revolution. Soon he had to go underground and then into exile when the fundamentalist forces were able to crush liberal and leftist forces that had participated in the revolution.
As early as May 1979, the INF leaders condemned the fundamentalist regime as reactionary and fascistic. In the words of Dr. Sanjabi, the number one leader of the INF:
We believe that a monopolizing and reactionary force is taking shape in this country. This force cannot ignore and deny Iran’s past history. It cannot negate Mossadeq or the significance of the oil nationalization movement. It cannot ignore the importance of pluralism and the freedom of the press. Accusations and intimidations are the manifestations of this fascist and reactionary tendency. The National Front of Iran has the responsibility of resisting reaction and dictatorship.28
When it was announced that the Assembly of Experts had written a constitution giving Shiite clerics monopolistic powers, the INF issued a strongly worded 10-page analysis. The document repeatedly calls the system religious dictatorship and repeats the earlier warning about emerging “fascism.” The document states:
Individual and social liberties and rights that have been the goals of the revolution have to be respected in practice. Today, all of these liberties are in serious threats, and our country is being taken towards a form of fascism. The offices of political parties and societies have been attacked and shot down. Such meetings have also been attacked and closed down. Safety and security of political and social activities of other groups have been eliminated.29
Today most opposition groups regard the regime as fascist or fascistic. The Liberal Democrats of Iran regards the fundamentalist regime as fascist.30 The Green party of Iran calls the regime religious fascism.31 The Workers Communist party of Iran also calls the regime fascist.32 Amir Taheri, a prolific conservative commentator in the Iranian media and a frequent contributor to this journal, has described the regime as fascist.33 Even Mohsen Sazegara, a former fundamentalist, a founder of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and the man who wrote the constitution of the IRGC, has used the term “fascist” to describe the system created by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamanehi.34 Akbar Ganji, another former fundamentalist and current dissident, regards the hard-line faction as fascist.35 Most interesting, even former President Mohammad Khatami recently referred to some of the hard-line fundamentalists who have been criticizing him as fascist.36
Describing Islamic fundamentalism as fascist or fascistic or a form of fascism is not limited to political actors in Iran. Many scholars have also described the system created by Khomeini in the same way.37 Like fascism, Islamic fundamentalist ideology is explicitly corporatist and organic (i.e., society is conceived of as an organic body in which all of the parts have to cooperate in order to ensure the healthy functioning of the system). Such a political system regards its leader as the brain of the polity that has the right to order others and others have to obey. This form of corporatist ideology explicitly denies civil liberties and the right of dissent. Thus individuals are crushed for the sake of the Islamic state. Like fascism, Islamic fundamentalism attempts to create a cult of personality of its leader.
Islam enjoys a rich tradition that includes both mercifulness and peace as well as violence and aggressive war. Moderate and liberal Muslims regard the merciful and peaceful aspects of Islam to constitute Islam’s primary message and soul, whereas violence is interpreted as exceptional and historical. Islamic fundamentalists, on the contrary, regard jihad and violence to be primary aspects of Islam, whereas peace and mercifulness are interpreted as minor aspects practiced only after infidels have been vanquished and dominated.
Islamic fundamentalists excel in manipulating prejudices (usually against religious and ethnic minorities) and xenophobic fears of the masses. Islamic fundamentalists have succeeded in mobilizing the masses not through appealing to their best and most noble desires (e.g., tolerance, coexistence, amity, compassion, mercy) but rather to their basest (e.g., hate, prejudice, revenge, envy) feelings.
Like fascism, Islamic fundamentalism views political violence not as a necessary evil but as a desirable tool to subjugate and intimidate domestic and foreign opponents. Religious rituals and liturgy have been manipulated to create a cult of violence that glamorizes violence. Like fascists, Islamic fundamentalists violently attack ethnic and religious minorities, feminists, liberals, leftists, labor unions, professional associations, and homosexuals. Like European fascists, Islamic fundamentalists tend to pursue an extremely bellicose foreign policy.
Iranian opposition groups (prodemocracy, monarchists, PMOI, Communists, and ethnic parties) oppose appeasement of the regime in general and a grand bargain in particular. For Iranian prodemocracy forces, appeasement of such a brutal dictatorship is immoral and unethical on idealist grounds and counterproductive, on realist grounds.38 The opposition groups have not criticized the Bush administration for calling the regime evil. For Iranian opposition groups, calling the fundamentalist regime evil is like calling a spade a spade.
Some in the opposition support imposing sanctions on the fundamentalist regime similar to the sanctions imposed on the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Iranian state, under both monarchy and the fundamentalist regime, is a “rentier state,” which means that it is highly dependent on oil. As long as oil income flows into the coffers of the state, the ruling regime enjoys a great deal of autonomy from domestic social classes and domestic pressures. If the oil income is stopped, however, the regime could face serious difficulties remaining in power.39 One of the main reasons that the shah was forced to leave power was the successful strike by workers in the oil fields and oil refineries. Because repression is far more severe under the current regime, which executed several thousands in a matter of weeks (e.g., June-December 1981 and September 1988), a level of repression that simply was not in existence under the monarchy, oil workers cannot be asked to go on strike under a regime that has no reservations about executing thousands of them and thus breaking the strike. Because the oil income cannot be stopped at the point of production, it is necessary to stop it at the point of exchange.
According to the Islamic Republic’s Central Bank, oil accounts for about 80 percent of foreign earnings, about 60 percent of government revenues, and about 30 percent of GDP.40 The government received $55 billion from the export of oil and natural gas in the 2005-2006 fiscal year in comparison to $23 billion in the 2002-2003 fiscal year.41 All of this income goes directly into the hands of the fundamentalist regime. It is this income that allows the fundamentalists to pay for their coercive apparatuses, provide subsidies to maintain the allegiance of their social base, coopt nonfundamentalists through financial largesse, and prevent the economy from collapsing. By purchasing oil and natural gas from the fundamentalist regime, the outside world is helping it to remain in power. In other words, by purchasing oil and natural gas from the regime, the outside world is producing an impact on the internal struggles in Iran. In effect it conduces to the benefit of the fundamentalists and to the detriment of the opposition. Economic sanctions would deprive the fundamentalists of billions of dollars and thus weaken them substantially. This would in effect enable and empower the Iranian people themselves to undermine the fundamentalist regime. The recent riots after the price of gasoline was raised from about 40 cents a gallon to 50 cents are indications of popular discontent with the economic situation.
Some opposition groups advocate close cooperation with the United States, whereas others have taken a neutral position. The monarchists, DPIK, Komala, and PMOI have welcomed the Bush administration’s strong stand against the fundamentalist regime. The PMOI, in particular, has lobbied hard and openly to be taken off the terrorism list. Several prominent groups in the United States have advocated that the United States unleash the PMOI to fight the fundamentalist regime.42 The most articulate think tank that has taken this position consistently is the Iran Policy Committee headed by the former senior member of the National Security Council staff during President Reagan’s administration and several prominent national security experts.43 The Iran Policy Committee has argued that the United States should expunge the name of the PMOI from the terrorism list and provide it with support so that it can overthrow the regime.44
Weaknesses of Opposition to the Regime
Although any of the main opposition groups (democrats, monarchists, PMOI) could conceivably provide a political system and leaders far superior to the incumbent regime, a variety of factors have prevented the success of the opposition. One of the main characteristics of Iranian political culture is excessive self-centeredness. Another characteristic is the inability to cooperate with others for the greater good, punctuated by total obedience to a leader.
All indications are that if there were free and democratic elections, the democratic republicans would win. However, the democratic forces lack a strong party and a charismatic leader to unite and organize the various parties and their social base. Their nonviolent method of struggle has proved to be incapable of convincing a tyrannical and violent oligarchy to accept free elections. Although many in their social base would gladly vote for the democratic forces, they believe that such methods would not succeed and are not willing to sacrifice their jobs, wealth, liberties, and lives in a futile and idealistic struggle against the violent fundamentalists. The personal ambition for power shown by too many individuals, each one believing that all others have to follow his or her leadership, has further dispersed and weakened the democratic forces.
The monarchists have one leader, which is an advantage in Iranian political culture. Monarchy, by its very nature, however, demands special and permanent powers for one person and family (who inherits those powers without periodic elections). Monarchy has provoked intense and irreconcilable opposition from all other opposition groups in Iran. The monarchists’ social base is too small to overthrow the regime by itself. Reza Pahlavi has failed to build any coalition. The intense hostilities between democratic republicans and monarchists have prevented any alliance between the two. Monarchists blame the democratic forces for cooperating with Khomeini and overthrowing them, whereas the democrats blame the monarchists for their dictatorship and repression. Moreover, democrats fear that monarchists wish to reimpose their dictatorship and simply do not believe Reza Pahlavi’s repeated pledges to respect the vote of the people. Great amounts of time and energy have been spent by republicans and monarchists in debating and attacking one another instead of concentrating their activities on the fundamentalist regime. It appears that the only way to generate trust would be for Reza Pahlavi to renounce the monarchy and mobilize his supporters into a conservative republican party. Only such a creative and courageous move would unequivocally prove his commitment to democracy and virtually guarantee a broad based coalition capable of mobilizing the masses and undermining the fundamentalist regime.
The PMOI is by far the most organized and disciplined group in Iran. It is capable of carrying out military operations inside Iran and mobilizing many thousands of its supporters abroad. Because of its ideology, history, and leadership, it is resented and feared by the vast majority of Iranians. It is clear that PMOI neither could win any major election nor overthrow the regime. It is also clear, however, that it has enough muscle, organization, and committed members to be a significant player in Iranian politics. Its dictatorial leadership has alienated it from all of the major opposition groups.
Ethnic minority parties have proved that they are able to cause a great many problems for the regime, but they have not succeeded in making alliances with national parties. If a formula could be found that would both safeguard the civil rights of ethnic minorities and preserve the territorial integrity of Iran, a broad coalition would be possible. As long as ethnic parties demand “autonomy,” it will be virtually impossible for national opposition parties to make coalitions with them.
In addition to the aforementiond factors, a number of cleavages exist among as well as within opposition groups and the society at large. Such opposition groups
- engage in armed struggle or nonviolent methods of struggle or a combination of the two;
- advocate the establishment of a unitary system or an American-style federal system or a confederacy based on ethno-sectarian autonomy;
- advocate economic sanctions or oppose them or remain silent;
- cooperate with the United States or remain neutral in the confrontation between the United States and the fundamentalist regime;
- enter into overt or covert relations with the United States;
- call on the people to vote for reformist members of the fundamentalist oligarchy under certain circumstances or advocate a boycott of elections.
These cleavages have led many opposition elements to spend a great deal of time debating and attacking other opposition elements instead of attacking the fundamentalist regime. The primary beneficiary has been the regime.
In sum, although the vast majority of the Iranian public opposes the fundamentalist regime and strong opposition groups exist, several serious issues divide the opposition groups. The failure of one leader (or a handful of leaders cooperating with one another) to emerge and present a formula capable of uniting the opposition has prevented the widespread dissatisfaction with the regime from coalescing and coming to fruition. This kind of divisiveness has enabled the regime to contain and suppress numerous actions by students, women, workers, writers, journalists, urban poor, human rights activists, and minorities.
On the Iranian Side: The Fundamentalist Regime
Great amounts of ink, paper, and byte have been devoted to analyzing the regime. Thus only a few sentences will be added to this subject here. All fundamentalist officials – hard-line and reformist alike – strongly resent President Bush’s description of the regime as part of the “axis of evil.” Limited, issue-based dialogue has been conducted numerous times between regime officials and the United States. Former Presidents Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and their supporters have advocated a grand bargain. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his followers are thought to be pushing for war.45 The Supreme Leader Ali Khamanehi has taken different positions at various times depending on the circumstances.
On the American Side
In an excellent article Kurt Campbell and Derek Chollet have described various foreign policy “cliques” in the post-September 11 period without mentioning their policy proposals toward Iran.46 In this section the policies of some of these groups will be discussed in order to provide the context within which to elucidate the grand bargain proposed by Leverett and Mann.
American neoconservatives and liberal hawks advocate regime change.47 For the neoconservatives and liberal hawks, the fundamentalist regime is truly evil and bent on undermining pro-Western governments in the region and can be toppled. Specific policies proposed include providing moral and political support to the opposition; providing financial and political assistance to opposition groups; imposing economic sanctions; sabotaging nuclear facilities; carrying out surgical strikes at nuclear facilities; conducting massive military strikes at coercive apparatuses; unleashing full-scale invasion; or a combination thereof.48
Rapprochement with the Fundamentalist Regime
Several groups promote rapprochement with the regime. Some are realists, whereas others are idealists. The most influential include “Oldsmobile Conservatives” in the Republican party and “Globalists” in the Democratic party.49 James Kurth has referred to the perspectives of Oldsmobile Conservatives as “conservative/realist.”50 This group includes prominent Republicans such as General Brent Scowcroft (national security adviser to President George H. W. Bush), Richard Armitage (deputy secretary of state under President George W. Bush), and Richard Haass (director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff from 2001 to 2003 and president of the Council on Foreign Relations since 2003). Prominent Democrats are increasingly promoting a similar position. The National Interest has emerged as the main journal that publishes the views of prorapprochement realists.
The most detailed and sophisticated policy proposals promoting rapprochement with the fundamentalist regime are advocated by Ray Takeyh, Anatol Lieven, John Hulsman, and Gary Sick.51 Dr. Ray Takeyh was a professor at the National War College and the National Defense University. He is currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing editor to The National Interest. Dr. Anatol Lieven is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, a contributing editor to The National Interest, and a former senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Dr. John Hulsman was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He is currently a contributing editor to The National Interest and a scholar in residence at the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Studies in Berlin, Germany. Dr. Gary Sick served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan. He is currently affiliated with Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs as adjunct professor and a senior research scholar.
Their argument is based on the following beliefs: (1) the fundamentalist regime is here to stay for the foreseeable future; (2) the United States simply is unable to invade and overthrow the regime; (3) mere military strikes on nuclear installations would provoke retaliation on the United States and its allies with grave economic, strategic, and political consequences that they could not absorb; and (4) the regime can be convinced to play by the norms of international conduct by a combination of carrots and sticks. The last belief is based on the assumption that the rationality that worked with Communists (which formed the foundation for containment, deterrence, and mutual assured destruction [MAD]) will also work with Islamic fundamentalists. They dismiss the fundamentalist ideological principles of mass martyrdom (e.g., guaranteed entrance to paradise) and rapture as determinants of the foreign policy of the fundamentalist regime.
For the realists in this group, interests, not ideology (communist or Islamic fundamentalist), play the main role in the making of foreign policy. For them, stability is the primary if not the sole concern. Issues such as democracy, human rights, and forms of government should be ignored for the sake of stability. For the realists in this group, dialogue, detente, and rapprochement do not constitute appeasement. For them, American power is very limited, as has been made painfully clear by the war in Iraq.
For the idealists in this group, the main fear is that President Bush will take America to yet another war in the Middle East based on a false pretext or exaggerated evidence and before all diplomatic avenues have been exhausted. Some are willing to accept the possession of nuclear weapons by the fundamentalist regime.52 Globalist democrats are not against the use of force; nor do they maintain that issues of human rights are irrelevant. After all, many in the Clinton administration did use force on many occasions, including massive force in Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo and surgical strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This group includes prominent Republicans and Democrats such as Senator John McCain (R.-Arizona) and R. James Woolsey (director of the CIA under President Clinton). The most detailed and sophisticated policy proposals by antiappeasement realists were articulated by the late Fereydoun Hoveyda, James Kurth, and Peter Brookes.53 A frequent contributor to this journal, Ambassador Hoveyda was prerevolution Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. Dr. Kurth is the editor of Orbis. Dr. Brookes is senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Brookes served as the deputy assistant defense secretary in the George W. Bush administration, in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, and in the State Department.
The most prestigious scholarly and policy oriented journals that publish the analyses of antiappeasement realists include American Foreign Policy Interests and Orbis. It is imperative to add that both of these journals publish analyses of various realist traditions. Think tanks that include analysts that could be classified as antiappeasement realists include the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP), Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), the Heritage Foundation, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP).54
This group of realists views the fundamentalist regime in Iran as a serious threat to the United States. Some in this group argue that talking with one’s enemy is necessary. Diplomacy is part of containment that was carried out with the former Soviet Union. Diplomacy, for example, has borne fruit in confrontations with North Korea and Libya. As a matter of principle, all realists, including antiappeasement realists, advocate diplomacy as a tool that should always be on the table. What distinguishes this group of realists is that they advocate that the United States should neither give in to the illegitimate demands of the fundamentalist regime nor be perceived as though it were willing to appease the regime. Unlike liberal hawks and neoconservatives, who oppose holding talks with a regime so odious that one ought to be trying to overthrow it, antiappeasement realists do not oppose talks and diplomacy with Iran.
Some in this group argue that dialogue with a hostile regime should be entered into only after a careful cost-benefit analysis. Put another way, engagement could be worse than containment or rollback. According to David Rivkin, American engagement with the Iranian regime would bestow legitimacy on the regime and would undermine the multilateral sanctions at the United Nations Security Council.55
The problem with the particular case of Iran has been compounded by the oligarchic nature of the regime’s rift with factions and individuals, not one of whom seems to be able to speak with authority for long periods of time. In other words, the obstacle to talks with Iran has had more to do with Iran’s lack of a leader with authorization to carry out talks with the United States than with its slogan of “Death to America” or its policies of assisting those who have carried out terrorist acts against Americans. One day Supreme Leader Ali Khamanehi condemns any one who proposes talking with “the Great Satan” as a traitor or a person of dishonor, a few days later he allows a person to carry out such discussions, and a few days or weeks later he dismisses the official who had engaged in the talks.
The perceptions of the antiappeasement realists about the wisdom of holding talks with the fundamentalist regime can be plotted along a continuum. At one end of the spectrum, Woolsey, Brookes, and the Heritage Foundation oppose holding talks with the fundamentalist regime. In their view, under current circumstances, such talks would be more harmful than beneficial. At the other end, the NCAFP is willing to consider talks if an official with authority were available to undertake that responsibility. Hoveyda was located in between, as is Kurth.
These realists view the fundamentalist regime as essentially an expansionist power and regard concessions made to it as appeasement. They argue that the actual policies of the regime since coming to power have repeatedly shown its determination to undermine pro-Western governments and install violent extremist, anti-American proxies and clients in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Palestine. Moreover, they argue, the regime is committed to the destruction of Israel.
The realists have a point. Iran’s export of the fundamentalist Islamic revolution to the entire world via violent jihad is a constitutional mandate. The constitution created by the fundamentalists in 1979 states:
With due attention to the Islamic content of the Iranian Revolution, the Constitution provides the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the Revolution at home and abroad. In particular, in the development of international relations, the Constitution will strive with other Islamic and popular movements to prepare the way for the formation of a single world community (in accordance with the Koranic verse “This your community is a single community, and I am your Lord, so worship Me” [21:92]), and to assure the continuation of the struggle for the liberation of all deprived and oppressed peoples in the world.
An Ideological Army
In the formation and equipping of the country’s defense forces, due attention must be paid to faith and ideology as the basic criteria. Accordingly, the Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are to be organized in conformity with this goal, and they will be responsible not only for guarding and preserving the frontiers of the country, but also for fulfilling the ideological mission of jihad in God’s way; that is, extending the sovereignty of God’s law throughout the world (this is in accordance with the Koranic verse “Prepare against them whatever force you are able to muster, and strings of horses, striking fear into the enemy of God and your enemy, and others besides them.” [8:60])56
These realists argue that appeasement did not work with Hitler in 1938 and it will not work with fundamentalists today. Any concession would not only further embolden them but would also provide them with additional resources to carry out their expansionism. The interests of the United States and those of the fundamentalists are irreconcilable. Appeasement would allow the fundamentalist regime to choose the time, place, and manner of confrontation. Of most significance, additional time would enhance the fundamentalist regime’s capability to acquire nuclear weapons, thus dramatically altering the balance of power in the region and increasing the likelihood that war and nuclear exchange would produce a far more devastating outcome than the stronger early policy. Unlike the Soviet and the Chinese Communists, whose ideology was materialist and rationally bounded and who believed that time was on their side, Islamic fundamentalists combine expansionism with an irrational metaphysical zeal for mass suicide, a combination that will not respond logically to concepts of MAD.57 In such hands, nuclear weapons would not bring Clausewitzian restraint for the sake of preserving the state58 but would provide the means for bringing Armageddon and the hoped for Shiite rapture.
This group of realists regards the prorapprochement realists as suffering from a prostatus quo bias. Such a bias has been responsible for overestimating the strength and legitimacy of many regimes and for underestimating the fragility and crises of legitimacy, thereby discounting the likelihood of regime change and rollback as a realistic policy. Antiappeasement realists share with neoconservatives and liberal hawks the belief that it is necessary to oppose appeasement and stand up to expansionist aggressive powers.
The high costs of regime change (at least in the short term) and the high, long-term costs both of limited issue based dialogue and the grand bargain seem to have given impetus to two new options involving low, short-term costs. One can be called tripartite containment and the other ethnic destabilization. Some postulate that a new strategy is emerging for a tripartite containment of Iran by the United States, Israel, and Sunni Arab states (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, an organization composed of the littoral Arab states of the Persian Gulf).59 This policy can be described as containment, although it is more a short- term tactic than a long-term strategy. If in fact the Iranian regime is developing nuclear weapons, such containment would neither change the regime’s behavior nor its nature. It may, however, reduce its ability to expand its influence in the region. Such tripartite coordination may be particularly effective in Iraq and Lebanon if augmented by increased forces and resources on the ground.
The least discussed policy option is assistance to ethno-sectarian minorities in Iran. Although the fundamentalist regime discriminates against all Iranians who are not fundamentalist, including those from the majority Persian ethnicity (slightly more than half of the population), non-Persians and non-Shiites feel especially oppressed merely because of their ethnic or religious or ethno-religious backgrounds.60 Iran’s minorities such as Azeris, Kurds (half are Sunni), Balochis (almost all are Sunni), Arabs (half are Sunni), and Turkomen (all are Sunni) live primarily in the sensitive border regions. Some suffer from de jure or de facto discrimination. Sunni Kurds (unlike Shiite Kurds) exhibit irredentist aspirations that have only increased in recent years.61 In the past few years, mass demonstrations by Azeris as well as major violent clashes between the regime’s coercive apparatuses and the Arabs, Kurds, and Balochis have taken place. The result has been hundreds of deaths on all sides.62 The policy may be designed to put pressure on the regime in order to frighten it into compromising or to create enough trouble to compel the regime to redirect its forces from expansionism into internal security (containment)63 or to prepare for an invasion (regime change)64 in the not too distant future. Thus depending on their ultimate objective, many groups may promote this policy.65
Many have advocated surgical military strikes on the nuclear facilities. If the fundamentalist regime did not retaliate, this tactic would postpone the nuclear program. But if the regime did retaliate, such action would begin a major war. If the regime were able to close off the Strait of Hormuz, it would be able to cut off oil shipments, thus crippling the world economy. There is no reason to believe that merely striking nuclear facilities would serve as a trigger for mass uprisings, as some in Washington seem to hope, the reason being that with coercive apparatuses intact, the regime would not only have the power to crush any uprising but would also have the added motivation and anger to do so. One could only expect a mass uprising if the military strikes target coercive apparatuses such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Basij militia, the Ministry of Intelligence, and so on.
Many believe that because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States lacks the capability to make massive military strikes; therefore, the United States has to give in to the fundamentalist regime. Others believe that the Air Force and Navy have remained pretty much intact; therefore, the United States is capable of using massive missile and aerial attacks on the nuclear facilities and coercive apparatuses of the regime. Whether there will be a mass uprising resulting in the overthrow of the regime or, conversely, whether the masses will support the regime cannot be known beforehand. The behavior and public statements of top officials of the United States, the fundamentalist regime, and the opposition groups leading up to military strikes could have a determining effect on the reaction of vast numbers of the Iranian people. There is little doubt that there will be fundamentalists who will put up a fierce fight. There is also little doubt that the United States could arm and unleash a number of groups against the regime.
The belief among many in Washington that there is no military solution has caused many to advocate a grand bargain. The most detailed proposal has been the one advanced by Leverett and Mann.
A Grand Bargain
The Iraq Study Group (ISG), chaired by two prominent statesmen, James Baker and Lee Hamilton, promoted a limited, issue-based dialogue with the leaders of Iran and Syria in order to help the United States exit from Iraq. In their December 22 op-ed article in The New York Times, Leverett and Mann took aim at the ISG and argued that the policy of a limited, issue-based dialogue is doomed to failure. It reiterated the proposal of a grand bargain that Leverett had made in a longer study. In the earlier study, Leverett opposed the policy of regime change and harshly criticized the Bush administration for not accepting the May 2003 grand bargain.66
Leverett articulated a new grand bargain.
Leverett is aware that a grand bargain may be regarded as appeasement by many. In an op-ed article published in the January 24, 2006, edition of The New York Times, Leverett wrote: “Moreover, Ahmadinejad’s execrable rhetoric about Israel and the Holocaust threatens to make future Western engagement look like appeasement.” Then he proceeded to describe his proposal: “Such a framework would offer all parts of the Iranian political spectrum-even the hard-liners around Ahmadinejad – something they want: recognition of Iran’s leading regional role.”
Leverett and Mann have continued to promote a grand bargain despite the fundamentalist regime’s more bellicose policies and rhetoric such as supporting the Lebanese Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 and holding an official conference on the Holocaust on December 11-12, 2006.67 It is significant that the conference was organized by Mohammad Ali Ramin who is a top adviser to President Ahmadinejad and is the secretary of “Rayeheh Khosh Khedmat,” the electoral list of supporters of Ahmadinejad for the 2006 elections.68 In a lecture at the University of Gilan on May 30, 2006, Mr. Ramin said:
Among the Jews there have always been harmful and wicked elements who killed God’s prophets and stood against justice and rights, and this ethnic group has done the most damage to the human society throughout history, and another group among them has engaged in conspiracies, inflicting harm and cruelties on other nations and ethnic groups.There are many accusations against the Jews throughout history, among them that they are the cause of spreading of diseases such as plague and typhus, because the Jews are very dirty persons.69
A Fatal Flaw in Any Grand Bargain
The essential component of their grand bargain (or any grand bargain) is the assumption that the fundamentalist regime will honestly declare all of the sites and the dimensions of its nuclear weapons program. This assumption goes against the actual history and behavior of the regime. The regime kept its nuclear program secret for 18 years until it was disclosed by the PMOI. Far more significant is the fact that the regime explicitly deceived the EU-3 (Britain, France, and Germany).
In the October 2003 meeting among regime officials and the foreign ministers of the EU-3, the regime explicitly agreed to provide full disclosure to the foreign ministers and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for the EU-3’s agreement that it would oppose the American policy of referring Iran’s case to the UN Security Council. In February 2006, during intense intraelite fighting, Hassan Rouhani revealed that Ahmadinejad and his hard-line colleagues had attacked Rouhani and the previous team as both incompetent and weak and claimed that their policies were responsible for undermining Iran’s position in the nuclear conflict. Rouhani responded by publishing his remarks to the High Council of the Islamic Cultural Revolution.70 Rouhani said that in October 2003, after serious deliberations that included all of the main leaders of the regime, they collectively decided not to reveal all of the secrets to the Europeans and the IAEA because doing so would have caused Iran’s file to be referred to the Security Council. One such case was the P2 centrifuge case. The regime was not aware that the Libyan government had disclosed all of its nuclear programs to the United States and Britain. Thus the fundamentalist regime decided not to reveal that it had secretly purchased the highly sophisticated P2 centrifuge plans. Because of the Libyan disclosures, the EU-3 and the IAEA were aware of the person who had sold P2 centrifuge plans to Iran. Rouhani stated that the exposure of Iran’s explicit deceptions caused the EU-3 to mistrust Iran.71 This disclosure led the EU to support the American policy of referring Iran to the Security Council. It is imperative to add that engaging in deception about its nuclear file is not an exception for the Iranian regime. It has a long history of explicit lies such as its public denials of the assassinations of dissidents abroad despite the fact that its agents have been arrested, convicted, and imprisoned in many Western European countries. Although the regime has successfully lobbied for the extradition of the imprisoned assassins to Iran, it denies that those agents were sent by the regime.72 Lying is allowed in Shiite Islam under the practice of “taghiyeh” [lying, deception, dissimulation].
The belief that the regime has not declared all of its nuclear facilities is widespread. It involves the so-called problem of known and unknown nuclear facilities. In Leverett’s words: “Numerous analyses have raised serious doubts that U.S. military strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would delay significantly its nuclear development because of profound uncertainty about the reliability and comprehensiveness of target selection, the possibility that ‘unknown’ facilities are at least as close to producing weapons-grade fissile materials as ‘known’ facilities.”
There is an internal logical inconsistency in Leverett’s argument. On the one hand, Leverett uses this belief to argue against military strikes. On the other hand, Leverett’s grand bargain is based on the belief that the regime will honestly provide a complete list of its hitherto “unknown” nuclear facilities and programs to the United States and will agree to dismantle them. In addition, the regime has the added incentive to continue to lie rather than to change its pattern of lying. Continuing to keep the “unknown” facilities “unknown” could enable the regime to take advantage of collaboration in the “known” facilities to advance its technological acquisitions in the “unknown” facilities. Once the regime developed nuclear weapons in the “unknown” facilities, it could then suspend the grand bargain.
Fatal Attractions of the Grand Bargain
In addition to the fundamental flaw in any grand bargain, the grand bargain that Leverett proposed in the longer study includes principles that would cause the fundamentalist rulers to reject it. The Leverett grand bargain includes implementing internationally recognized human rights conventions,73 recognizing Israel via accepting UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and stopping assistance to Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas. If the regime were to respect the basic human rights of the Iranian people, it would not last long. The fundamentalist regime needs massive coercion in order to remain in power, a fact obvious to regime officials but one that Leverett fails to take into account. It was one thing for Khatami in 2003 to say that if the Palestinians accept a deal with the Israelis, Iran would not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians; it is quite another for Khamanehi and Ahmadinejad today to accept Security Council resolutions officially recognizing the existence of Israel, a nation they want to wipe off the map. It is imperative to add that even in May 2003, Khamanehi did not accept all of the features of the roadmap.
The roadmap offered by the regime in 2003 reflected the interests of the fundamentalists ruling Iran at that particular moment. But would any grand bargain be in the interests of the United States?
The long-term interests of the United States involve cultivating and maintaining the good will of the Iranian people. The United States was intensely hated in Iran because of the CIA-engineered 1953 coup (which overthrew Iran’s democratic government of Dr. Mossadegh) and the support the United States gave to the dictatorial regime of the shah. Since the early 1990s, however, Iranians have been one of the most pro-American populations in the world.
What Do Iranians Think?
Because of the highly repressive and brutal nature of the regime in Iran, one cannot expect respondents to give honest answers to sensitive questions, especially when they might lose their jobs or be imprisoned, tortured, or executed. Thus scientific polling, in which interviewers go from house to house or conduct interviews by telephone, is not a reliable indicator of genuine attitudes. A better indication of public sentiments may be various Internet polls in which the respondents believe that they can express their opinions safely. However, such Internet polls are not scientific and have to be taken with great caution.
In early 2003 a large Internet poll of students of the Amir Kabir University (the second most prestigious university in Iran) was conducted by the Daftar Tahkim Vahdat, the official student umbrella group. The result was posted on the university’s student Web site until they were ordered to remove it. In the poll only 6 percent of the students said that they supported the hard-liners, whereas 4 percent said they supported the reformists within the regime. A mere 5 percent said they supported the return of the former monarchy. Of most significance, 85 percent of the students said that they would support the establishment of a secular and democratic republic.74 Although one cannot extrapolate from the sentiments of university students the attitudes of the entire population, one can appreciate the extent of the unpopularity of the fundamentalist regime among important segments of the population.
Based in the United States, Iranian.com is the oldest and one of the most widely read Iranian e-magazines. In one poll respondents indicated that they believed that Iranians are the most pro-American group in the Islamic world.75
President George W. Bush is popular among Iranians because he has repeatedly condemned the fundamentalist rulers while praising the Iranian people and their culture and history.76 This explains why Persian speakers were the only group in an October 2004 BBC World Service online poll that supported Bush over Senator Kerry.77 The various languages of the respondents were Arabic, English, Spanish, Persian, Russian, Urdu, Hindi, Portuguese, Chinese traditional, and Chinese Simplified. The number of total respondents was 73,547. Whereas 71 percent of all of the respondents voted for Kerry, only 20 percent voted for Bush. Among the 5,492 Persian-speaking respondents, 51 percent voted for Bush, 42 percent voted for Kerry, and 7 percent voted for Nader.
Similar sentiments were evident in another Internet poll at Iranian.com. Although in one poll the respondents in large proportions (54% to 17%) supported the Democratic party over the Republican party,78 in another poll at the same site respondents supported Bush over Kerry for the 2004 election.79 Senator Kerry’s perceived failure to distinguish between the Iranian people and the ruling regime and his repeated calls for rapprochement with the fundamentalist regime were the main reasons for his lack of support among Iranians, including many Iranian liberals.
These Internet polls vindicate what Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times. According to Friedman,
Funny enough, the one country on this side of the ocean that would have elected Mr. Bush is not in Europe, but in the Middle East: it’s Iran, where many young people apparently hunger for Mr. Bush to remove their despotic leaders, the way he did in Iraq.
An Oxford student who had just returned from research in Iran told me that young Iranians were “loving anything their government hates,” such as Mr. Bush, “and hating anything their government loves.” Tehran is festooned in “Down With America” graffiti, the student said, but when he tried to take pictures of it, the Iranian students he was with urged him not to. They said it was just put there by their government and was not how most Iranians felt.
Iran, he said, is the ultimate “red state.”80
Why have Iranians who had so intensely hated the United States between 1953 and the late 1980s become so staunchly pro-American since the early 1990s? By extension, why is there no such positive sentiment toward other countries that have had friendly relations with the Iranian government? The answer to these questions could help guide American policy toward Iran.
The overwhelming majority of Iranians hated the shah’s dictatorship. U.S. support for that dictatorship caused Iranians to hate the United States. Similarly, the overwhelming majority of Iranians have come to hate the fundamentalist regime, whose human rights record is far worse than that of the shah’s. Those governments that have friendly relations with the fundamentalist regime are viewed negatively by the Iranian public. The Iranian public has high regard for the United States because the widely held perception is that it has stood by the Iranian people and has opposed the ruling fundamentalist dictatorship while Europeans and Russians have put profits before concerns over human rights and democracy in Iran.
A grand bargain would be in the interests of the United States only if one accepts the assumption that the regime is legitimate in the eyes of the vast majority of the Iranian people. If that assumption is valid, then one would expect that Iranians would continue to hate the United States and have positive feelings toward those who have had friendly political and economic relations with the regime. However, the well-known pro-American sentiment among Iranians casts doubt on that assumption.
The United States has won the hearts and minds of a new generation of Iranians. A grand bargain, which is regarded by vast sectors of the Iranian public as appeasement of their tormentors, would undermine that hard-earned positive sentiment.
This article was first published in American Foreign Policy Interests, Vol. 29, No. 5 (September-October 2007), pp. 301-327. I thank Dr. George D. Schwab for his kind permission to re-publish this article on iranian.com.
About the Author
Masoud Kazemzadeh is associate professor, Department of Political Science, Sam Houston State University.
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