Dariush Zahedi and Omar Memarian on Ahmadinejad's View of the World
Dariush Zahedi and Omar Memarian review the situation in Iran:
A Firebrand in a House of Cards - New York Times: Western leaders would do well to consider what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's bravado really says about Iran's likely posture in the region and at the nuclear talks that are scheduled to resume at the end of January. To continue down the path of conflict could be very costly, both for the regional interests of the United States and most of all, for the territorial integrity of Iran.
Mr. Ahmadinejad is surely motivated by ideology and the desire to solidify the position of the "security" faction within Iran's ruling elite. But he also appears to be acting on the perception that the United States is in a position of considerable, indeed unprecedented, weakness... overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan... focused on monitoring North Korea's nuclear program rather than Iran's.... Iran could wreak havoc in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel. These observations may lead Mr. Ahmadinejad to an incorrect assessment of Iran's strength....
Iran has serious domestic frailties... unemployment and popular resentment... drug abuse and a brain drain. But President Ahmadinejad no doubt takes comfort not only in his belief in divine protection but also in the knowledge that Shiite religious parties aligned with Iran are now the dominant political forces in Iraq, while the American public hardly seems amenable to waging another war in the region. Moreover, Mr. Ahmadinejad very likely believes that the best way to guard against regime change from without is to emulate North Korea by swiftly advancing Iran's nuclear capacity.
[M]eaningful multilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic will most likely be vetoed by Russia or China. Flush with petrodollars, Iran has become a major purchaser of Russian technology.... China, seizing on Iran as a key producer of oil and gas not beholden to the United States, has quickly emerged as one of Iran's largest trading partners. Given this favorable strategic picture, Mr. Ahmadinejad might even welcome an American or Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Tehran could then retaliate against American and Israeli interests.... Ahmadinejad's faction in government would make full use of the war footing to marginalize its rivals at home and crush the remnants of Iran's civil society.
But... [j]ust as Iran can use the Shiite card to create mischief... [m]any of Iran's ethnic and religious minorities see themselves as victims of discrimination, and they have not been effectively integrated into Iranian economic, political or cultural life. Some two million disgruntled Arabs reside mainly in the oil- and gas- rich province of Khuzestan. The United States could make serious trouble for Tehran by providing financial, logistical and moral support to Arab secessionists... [o]ther aggrieved Iranian minorities... Kurds and the Baluchis....
Furthermore, the plummeting Iranian economy will only worsen if the United States succeeds in referring Iran's nuclear file to the Security Council, whether or not meaningful sanctions follow. Such a referral would accelerate capital flight, deal a blow to the country's already collapsing stock market, devastate its hitherto booming real estate market, and wipe out the savings of a large part of the middle class. It would also most likely result in galloping inflation, hurting Iran's dispossessed, whom the Ahmadinejad administration claims to represent.
In light of these ominous possibilities, both Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Bush would do well to avoid overplaying their hands. They should take a leaf from the book not of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini the ideologue, but of Ayatollah Khomeini the pragmatic politician. Like Mr. Ahmadinejad, Ayatollah Khomeini argued that the "Zionist entity" should be wiped off the map. But he chose regime preservation over ideology when he ended the Iran-Iraq war and even bought weapons from Israel.... Iran should accept the Russian offer to process Iranian uranium gas into fuel and voluntarily stop... insisting on its right to do so at home... the United States should lift its unilateral sanctions from Iran. These sanctions, which include a ban on the sale of aircraft and spare parts to Iran, have absolutely no effect on the regime's nuclear capacity, but they harm Iranian civilians. Today the incentive for both sides to step away from the brink of conflict is even greater than it was at the end of the Iran-Iraq war...
I have not met Omar Memarian, but I know Dariush Zahedi relatively well. Dariush Zahedi is one of the people in the United States best qualified to understand and analyze and debate the current state of Iran, and what U.S. policy toward Iran should be. He is very smart, very thoughtful, and very pragmatic. It is a great pleasure to see him participating in the public debate in this way.
We are lucky in the Political Economy major here at Berkeley to have Dariush Zahedi teaching for us. He is a superb teacher. His courses are freshly redesigned to be relevant to the political-economic problems and opportunities of the modern world--and not to the problems and opportunities of 1951 or 1913 or 1848. His enthusiasm for his subjects and concern for his students make him an enormous asset to Berkeley's International Studies teaching programs. And we get him to teach for us at a lecturer's pay scale yet.
From a broader perspective, however, it is not good for the university, the country, or the world that Dariush Zahedi is making money by teaching Political Economy courses at lecturer pay scales. Lots of people could teach his courses well. Very few people in the United States have the background of knowledge and the intellectual skills to think intelligently, coherently, and pragmatically about the dilemmas of modernization of Iran. Dariush Zahedi does. Brookings, CSIS, CFR, JHSIS, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton--and Berkeley--badly need more people who *know* Iran, and should be throwing cushy fellowships and tenure-track appointments at him and people like him so that he can devote the bulk of his time to what is his comparative advantage. I would rather, for all our sakes, that he was spending more time thinking about Iranian politics and less time correcting the essays of students in the major I chair.