By: Bahman Aghai Diba
It is not difficult for any Iranian to see why Iran’s national interests and the public good call for the immediate restoration and expansion of ties with the United States. To cite only some of the things that relations with the USA may bring for Iran, I could refer to:
1- Disengaging Iran from senseless hostilities with the most important country in the world.
2- Stopping other countries from exploiting Iran – US hostilities to their benefit, and against the benefit of Iran and the USA (a clear example of which is the manner in which Russians and also all other littoral states of the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf are treating Iran).
3- Give Iran’s economy space to begin the slow and painful process of recovery after years of state control, corruption and mismanagement.
4- Roll back and eventually end international sanctions against Iran
5- Ease the political tension, unabated for the past 30 years, with the world’s major powers.
6- Invite a surge of investment from abroad and help remove unemployment, high inflation, living under poverty line, and the many other symptoms of a sick economy.
7- Stop the brain drain from Iran and even create a reverse trend for this.
8- Afford Iranians a chance to travel to the US and familiarize themselves with a country that their leadership and media frequently misrepresent.
9- Allow the large expatriate Iranian community in the US to reconnect with families and friends in the home country, and bring money and expertise home, and help their families in Iran
10- Improve Iran’s standing in international forums
11- Lower tensions with neighbors, most of which are US allies
12- Save Iran from Russia’s hegemonic influence
13- Give Iranian opportunity to be in the course of the latest developments in the scientific areas.
14- Stop the trend of isolation of Iran and Iranians.
However, there is a strong resistance in the present regime of Iran improvements in Iran – US relations. Strong interest groups within the Islamic Republic’s political system do not share the aspirations of the Iranian people, whether in terms of relations with the US, or many issues. These forces are aware that an opening could very well lead to the loss of several valuable things:
1 – Political power
2 – The ideological “high ground”
3 – Economic monopolies
Unfortunately, the trend of internal and external politics of the regime ruling Iran at the moment is towards strengthening these forces and suppressing even the softer side of the extremists.
Who are these forces in Iran that feel threatened by relations with the US?
1 – The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The leader of Iran has assigned himself as the sole decision-maker on important matters, among which, relations with the US ranks at the top. He will accept such relations when he is convinced they will benefit “Iran”—by which he means the regime. In other words, he has no personal stake in better relations with the US, only a concern for strengthening the regime and its pillars of power. He believes that relations with the US will harm the Islamic republic as it is. He is worried that such relations deprive the Iranian regime of leadership in what he considers as fighting against world arrogance. He has constantly opposed any overtures inside Iran for improving relations with the US. His stance has many other reasons, which he does not say but could easily be understood as:
A – The US is the whipping boy for the so-called Supreme Leader of Iran. Although the country has a political establishment and things like a president and parliament and cabinet and so on, everybody is well aware that the Supreme Leader is responsible for everything that happens there. Therefore, if everything is not working in the country, there should be a culprit. The Supreme Leader thinks it is the US that is to blame for all that is bad (not his mismanagement or the fundamental flaws of a system based on religious tenets or the lack of statecraft skills in the present regime of Iran).
B – The Leader of Iran, being the leader of a fascist system (according to the definition of fascism in political dictionaries) needs an external enemy. He finds it in the US.
C – The Leader thinks that the US has preserved Israel and the US is blocking the way of Iran for dominating other places. But the reality is that the bad experience of Iran after the revolution (which was hijacked by the Mullahs and branded as the Islamic Revolution), has reached other places far from the Iranian regime, and this lesson has kept them away from the Iranian regime.
2 – The household of the Supreme Leader. These are individuals that work closely with the Supreme Leader, including politically active members of his immediate and extended family. They enjoy special privileges and a high level of political and economic power in Iran’s present system, operating without official and unofficial scrutiny. In many ways, better relations with the US would not serve the interests of this class. They lose the opportunity to consider people as “immature minors” who need the supervision of the Guardians. In so many ways they look like the privileged group of the senior communist party members in the former USSR.
3 – The upper echelons of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)- Almost to a man, these veterans of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) lack military skills or academic credentials. Those that do claim to have degrees from dubious or fraudulent sources. These are the remnants of the unorganized human waves who fought in the war and, in fact, lost against superior Iraqi firepower and chemical weapons in the last year of the war. Now they have swarmed the administration, capturing key posts and managing them as they did the war. They account for the rise in militarism in Iran, with troubling implications for the future ability of the Islamic Republic to live in conditions of peace, either with regional neighbors or with the West. They are bellicose both in posture and rhetoric, care nothing for good relations with the US, and have no commitment to peace, human rights or any other hallmarks of a civil society.
4 – The foundations (bonyads). These institutions operate outside of government control, serving as the regime’s channels for under-the-radar activities. They fund terrorist cells and regime supporters abroad, and mullahs and their relatives inside and outside of Iran. They benefit from opportunities created by sanctions against Iran, serving as intermediaries in government transactions from which they collect lucrative commissions.
5 – Prominent right-wing mullahs and their households. Acting as “guardians” of the Iranian masses, these clerics seek to limit the scope of people’s lives to the dictates of “Islam” as they interpret it. Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi-Amoli, a prominent Shiite cleric and a mentor and teacher of other mullahs, said recently: “Those who seek good relations with the US or Israel are politically sick.” Aside from a possible swipe at President Ahmadinejad’s deputy (Rahim Masha’i), this is the expression of a representative view among those who see the US as the personification of everything wrong in the world. Good relations with the US would inevitably pressure the government to grant greater freedoms, which is anathema to these people.
6 – So-called hardliners. With the US no longer available as a convenient whipping boy, they would have to look for other ways to explain the political and economic failures of the system.
7 – Directors and beneficiaries of the state companies. Several companies enjoy monopolies in the making and marketing of inferior products and services. Any opening of Iran to foreign countries and competition is a threat to their business interests.
8 – The “artificial private sector of Iran.” There is no real private sector in Iran. Almost all private companies are subsidiaries of the bonyads and other unaccountable sources (such as the households of prominent mullahs). Relations with the US would threaten to put them out of business.
It seems that sources that do not care about the national interests of Iran and put their own interests above the interests of the Iranian people, and are seeking to keep Iran from having better relations with the West in general and the USA in particular.