Babak on Revolution


"Col. Lang:

The "revolutionary change" that US is seeking has already happened – it is called the Islamic Revolution (in Iran).

Khomeini’s amalgamation of the principles of Islam and those of Republicanism has outlined the contours of the future evolution of Muslim polities – in my opinion. Just like the French Revolution in Europe.

What USG is trying to do is "hyper-revolutionary" – it is akin to injecting a heart-attack patient with stimulants in the hope of regenerating the heart muscle.

Babak Makkinejad"


This is profound.  If Babak’s words were taken seriously by Bush/Vader/Blair, etc., they would constitute the basis for a real discussion with the Iranians of a possible future of shared interests and perhaps even shared values.  We have to look "past" Ahmedinejad and his Basij obsessions.  Think of him  as a PTSD case.  That’s popular these days.

In the world of the Imami (12er) Shia, there are many religious scholars of various kinds.  Many are experts in jurisprudence or theology but the Ayatollah Khomeini was not that.  His basic discipline was that of philosophy (falsafa).  He was in many ways a more advanced and radical thinker than many of his Iranian countrymen.  His writings on reform in Islam, the status of women and governance are little understood in the West.  They should be studied so as to understand the world of his ideas.  pl

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37 Responses to Babak on Revolution

  1. Sean-Paul says:

    Col. Lang, a good first start in learning more about Iranian politico-religious thought is the last chapter of Reza Aslan’s book, “No God But God,” and also my interview of him here.
    What Babak wrote is an idea I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to convey since I returned from Iran late last year.
    You are precisely right if we can get past Ahmedinjead we can have a discussion on shared values and ideas. I was amazed at how ‘modern’ Iran was compared to say, Saudi Arabia, that paragon of Medieval, er Middle Eastern progressivism. ūüėČ

  2. John says:

    You have to be kidding. The US study any government religion that it is in a confrontational status with. You must be kidding. I believe it is far more American to charge in and blunder around in the dark.
    I mean if we study them and talked to them some we might actually come to a point of understanding and we could not have that.
    Sorry for the sarcasm but I sometimes can not help myself. The insantity of it all washes over me.
    I am working with a guy right now who has two graduate degrees (one from the University of Texas at Austin and another at the University of Chicago). This guy has been out of the country at least once, but you know it is like he is still back in a small town in Texas.
    He is all for attacking Iran and hates anything that is not Christian. Of course I think one of the reasons he has all of those graduate degrees was so that he would not have been sent to Vietnam.
    The point is the majority of the people in the US are still the same bunch of idiot Joe Six Packs who were running around 50 years ago and think the answer to anything is killing and smashing it.

  3. David E. Solomon says:

    Colonel Lang,
    I endeavored to take your advice.
    I hope this was the book to order:
    Islam and Revolution 1: Writings and Declaration of Imam Khomeini
    In any case, it seemed to be about the best work I could find on line.
    Do you know it? If so, can it be termed a decent place to start for the non-Arabic , non-Farsi reader.

  4. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Sounds like a great place to start. pl

  5. zenpundit says:

    “Do you know it? If so, can it be termed a decent place to start for the non-Arabic , non-Farsi reader.”
    The blogger Raf at the Mideast group blog Aqoul could provide you with a very good reading list on Iran. It might even be up somewhere on the Aqoul site. Leave a comment there for him or eerie, the site administrator.

  6. COLORADO BOB says:

    Remember Pat … Bush is a bumper sticker salesman, no more no less.

  7. anon says:

    If Pat Lang has a good reading list, or has posted one in the past someplace, I would be interested. I will look up the referencess mentioned in the comments. However, if Khomeini was a radical thinker, ahead of his countrymen, an important question is how are the current Iranian leaders (Khameni and other clerics, not the wingnut President who I think will soon lose influence) interpreting and implementing Khomeini’s ieas? Where to go for that?

  8. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    Mr. Ahmadinejad, I suspect, is a product of the infantry war fare – I think like all of those who actually were in the front lines of the infantry troops anywhere in the world, being shot at.
    If so, I should think any one with infantry experience would attest that one’s psyche gets profoundly effected by that experience.

  9. Chris Marlowe says:

    I agree with everything you say. While there are exceptions, this country has largely become a celebration of arrogance, ignorance and stupidity. How else can you account for the Bush administration?
    I had a visitor from China a few days ago, and I explained that, at one time, the US was actually led by people who were reasonably intelligent. “You might not agree with everything they said and did, but at least they were articulate liars.”
    The Chinese visitor said that he thought that after the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans had chosen to elect people they would like to meet in the bar and have a beer with. That was his rationale for our current president’s election.
    I thought his explanation made a certain degree of sense.
    If you think about it, America should be better able to understand other countries than any other; it’s full of immigrants. The problem is that the immigrants and bi/trilinguals which the country needs so much, are denounced by the Tancredo/Lou Dobbs types because they DO KNOW more about other countries, and their loyalty to the US is questioned.
    Can you think of a better definition of arrogance, ignorance and stupidity?

  10. John says:

    Let’s face it, there is very strong anti-intelligence streak that runs through American. People that make fools of themselves on American Idol get far more air time than people who make life saving discoveries. I mean how much coverage do all the Americans who have won Noble prizes get.
    This starts in grade school and carries on. I fear that this actions seems to reinforce a downward cycle that causes the illiterate to be the person that most Americans strive for. Why else did the idiot prince get elected twice.
    In the past, it was the well read and well educated that most people strived to be like.
    Just so everyone knows, I am not some skinny little intellectual either.

  11. BadTux says:

    One thing that all of us are wise to remember is that Mr. Ahmadinejad is basically the Mayor of Tehran (and of other Iraqi towns and cities). Somewhat similar to European Presidents or most Presidents outside of banana republics and the United States (but I repeat myself), his position is largely ceremonial, though the Iranian Constitution does grant him a bit more power than most European constitutions grant their president, giving significant power over domestic governance similar to that of any big-city mayor in the United States (thus my crack about him being the mayor of Tehran).
    The military in Iran is commanded by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who in turn is appointed by the Assembly of Experts, which in turn is basically appointed by the Guardian Council which vets potential members to make sure they are proper clerical Islamic scholars, who is in turn appointed by the Supreme Leader. This little self-perpetuating circle of power is primarily comprised of ayatollahs who came to power with the Iranian Revolution and basically appoint their successors and vet candidates to other offices to make sure they’re sufficiently “politically correct” (as in, agree with the ayatollahs on most issues regarding proper Islamic conduct).
    Ahmadinejad is completely outside this particular circle of power. He is not a cleric and thus not qualified to be a member of the Assembly of Experts or the Guardian Council, and similarly would not be allowed, by the Iranian Constitution, to become the Supreme Leader. He cannot declare war or order the military to do anything because both powers rest with the Supreme Leader. Insofar as foreign relations are concerned, therefore, he is basically a non-entity other than as the ceremonial leader of the Islamic Republic in meetings with foreign dignitaries. Which is why the Bush Administration’s emphasis upon demonizing Ahmadinejad is completely and utterly laughable to anybody who has even the slightest knowledge of the Iranian Constitution.
    Unfortunately, the arrogance, ignorance, and stupidity of the average American citizen (including its politicians) is impossible to underestimate, so it appears that the Bush Administration’s goal of creating a bogeyman in the Middle East is succeeding. Why we should be scared of the Mayor of Tehran still eludes me, but then, I actually took time to look up a little basic information about Iran’s government, which makes me better informed than 99.999% of the American public.

  12. MarcLord says:

    Hyper-revolutionary. Brilliant way to express it, Babak, and great comparison to the French Revolution.
    Islam has been undergoing something like Christianity did during the Protestant Reformation, and its epicentres seemed to have been in Afghanistan and Najaf, where Khomeini was exiled to. His grandfather fought the British, and his father was martyred, and he must have considered very deeply how to use the power of Islam to legitimately serve Iranian and regional nationalism, particularly after Schwarzkopf returned to oust Mossadegh.
    The political strength of Khomeini’s revolution is precisely why Israel and Saudi Arabia, and by extension their clientele, have targeted Iran as the source of all evil. To their way of seeing things, it is, because it makes them think their regimes might “vanish from the pages of history.”
    Democracy, too, was once deemed a blight upon the earth, and was vigorously stamped upon by long-established status quo at the apex of its orthodoxy.

  13. MarcLord says:

    By the way, in saying on the Lebanon thread that there was value in sowing chaos there, I only meant “value as seen from the perspective of the Bush Administration.” They are trying to literally push back the Iranian Revolution and encircle its source. Thus Syria is an enemy so long as it fails to suppress Hizbollah.
    So yes, I agree it would make more sense to encourage trade and all manner of cooperation with Syria. But my leaders do not.
    In their minds, Syria is “red.” Lebanon is mostly “red” from Beirut on south, and mostly “blue” from Beirut north and west. Red in this case would confer status as “Indian Country.” To the Bushies, Lebanon and Syria only have value as functions of Iran.
    The antipathy for all things Hizbollah and Iran is based on the knowledge (and bitter experience) that Khomeini’s social vision is not philosophically laissez-faire. Rather the reverse. No more sweet deals and free rent for Western companies in the region, if Iran’s self-reliance movement spreads.
    While lacking actual brains, companies’ cells have long memories of their losses in Iran, and Iran couldn’t be worse for business if it were communist.

  14. Hal Grossman says:

    I’d like more rigor in the concepts we are throwing around here.
    It’s hardly a new idea that Iran has a more outward orientation, a stronger civil society, and a larger educated class than just about any other Muslim society. There’s also some kind of affinity there for America,, but also lots of (justified) suspicion.
    All of this was true before 1979, and is still true, underneath the weight of an overly zealous government.
    Iran is complex, to say the least. How far does republicanism extend there? Clearly, Iran is a lot more recognizable to a westerner than is Saudi Arabia, but still…
    Iran is also a country that executes two young men for having an affair.
    As for France during the Revolution, it didn’t have allies, only subject peoples. Not the ideal negotiating partner. This was true from 1793 up through Waterloo in 1815.

  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Grade school to High-school are now the most critical areas of education for the public at large. Students no longer learn anything in college (excepting those in Mathematical, Physical, and Applied Sciences). They are there to have an experience but not to learn.
    The Grade School to High School is the only time that the children are in an structured environment that requires them to study and to perhaps learn something. That’s where the educational effort ought to be concentrated.
    You are quite correct about the position of the Iranian President. Mr. Ahmadinejad, for the reasons that you have enumerated, has been more interested in trying to create political space for the Preseidency of the Islamic Republic. He issued an edict permitting women to go to sports arenas – the Ayatullahs shot that down and he had to retract it.
    I understood you about chaos etc.
    There is an organization called the Economic Cooperation Organization ( whose membership consists of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
    ECO ould be what you were alluding too – it could serve as the (economic) basis of creating peace interests in the Levant and the Persian Gulf.

  16. Chris Marlowe says:

    I feel the really important organization will be the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Its members are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ubekistan. Its working languages are Chinese and Russian. The members engage in joint military maneuvers and free trade agreements. For China, Kazakhstan is a major supplier of oil and gas.
    Last year, Iran was invited to join as an observer, but the invitation was withdrawn under heavy US pressure. After the upcoming US attack on Iran, and everything settles down, my guess is that Iran will join.
    As US influence in the ME wanes with the new US president coming in 2009, my guess is that SCO’s influence will expand in the Gulf and ME. My guess is that Chinese construction firms will make good money out of all the reconstruction projects.
    US oil firms will suffer because the US will be detested, and everybody will prefer to do deals with CNOOC, Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation. I would also expect the Russian oil firms to do well.

  17. Peter Eggenberger says:

    I suspect that the Bush Administration doesn’t want to look past Ahmadinejad, as you propose, because the Bush Administration wants war, or at least instability. I suspect that the Administration believes that war or instability will make Israel more secure and allow its expansion; and will also ensure indirect U.S. control of oil. Am I missing something? The Bush Administration policies require U.S. troops and other human resources to be cheap and inexhaustible, like water.

  18. David Habakkuk says:

    Re the posts from John and Chris Marlowe:
    Without disagreeing with either of you in any way, is it not also striking how strong a role people with an academic background have had in shaping American policy?
    However, one might suggest that the wrong academics get heeded.
    The RAND experts who exercised such influence on the Kennedy Administration were, in many cases, genuinely very clever people. However, a major thread at RAND was to try to remodel the study of strategy on the model of the axiomatic sciences, as in much theoretical economics. Very important work was actually done on the mundane business of studying the adversary ‚Äď notably Raymond Garthoff‚Äôs pioneering work on Soviet military strategy. But this was never integrated into the mainstream of RAND strategic theorising, which had a way of constructing models based on the behaviour of an abstract ‘strategic man’ rather than thinking about the actual nature of the specific adversaries being confronted. So the general effect was to take the study of strategy away from the study of history and anthropology, and also to set it at a considerable remove from the mucky realities of actual war-fighting: the world of violence and inherent unpredictability classically described by Clausewitz.
    More recently we have had the Straussians ‚Äď reared in an approach to intellectual history which most non-Straussians think tends to veer over into charlatanism. So in 1989 we found the then deputy director of the State Department‚Äôs Policy Planning Staff, Francis Fukuyama, telling us that history had come to an end. Actually, he said it had ended in 1806, when Napoleon defeated the Prussians at Jena, because at that point the genius of Hegel had established that the ‚Äėvanguard‚Äô of humanity had reached ‚Äėconsciousness‚Äô. This ‚Äėrealm of consciousness‚Äô, Fukuyama told us, ‚Äėin the long run necessarily becomes manifest in the material world.‚Äô All this came from the sometime Stalinist (turned-EEC bureaucrat) Alexander Koj√®ve, who was translated by Allan Bloom, Strauss‚Äôs disciple and Fukuyama‚Äôs teacher.
    Of course the implication is that the odd wars and tyrannies which have occurred since then are really the product of ‚Äėdeadenders‚Äô, who have not quite caught up with ‚Äėconsciousness‚Äô: a view which runs directly counter to much serious recent study of the disasters of European history. Applied to the Middle East, the effect is to bracket figures of fundamentally different views together as ‚ÄėIslamofascists‚Äô ‚Äď of deficient ‚Äėconsciousness‚Äô and waiting to be consigned to the dustbin of history, with the United States playing the role of Napoleon. This hardly makes for the kind of dialogue which the comments by Babak Makkinejad and Colonel Lang suggest is imperative if we are to get out of the mess into which this kind of silly theorising has got us.
    An irony perhaps is that the explosion of interest in Clausewitz which was perhaps one of the more benign results of the post-Vietnam rethinking in the American military points back to notion of the study of history as central to serious thinking about strategy — be it military strategy, or ‘grand strategy’ in a more comprehensive sense. On the website, one finds On War being elucidated enthusiastically with help of non-linear mathematics.and cognitive science. This might be seen as simply another job-creation product for academics, but I think this would be wrong. A fascinating thing is that very recent developments in these disciplines point back to a fundamental principle in Clausewitz. History, critically examined, may not yield general laws ‚Äď but may contribute to judgement, insight, and even indeed wisdom.

  19. COLORADO BOB says:

    David H.
    Last night on Russert’s CNBC show, Jim Miklaszewski reported that the “new” Bush plan came straight out of the AIE. not the pentagon.

  20. Jerry Thompson says:

    For those who have not read or seen it, strongly recommend Shield of Achilles by Philip Bobbit. Exlores the interaction between Strategy, Law and History in the evolution of the nation-state. Argues that we have reached the end of the useful life of the nation state as the consequence of an epochal war (“Long War”) and that we are at the beginning of a transition to a “market state” which will function much more on the basis of regional interests. Many possible branches and sequels from there. His book was written pre-9/11 but it is very interesting to consider the “war on terrorism”, Iraq and Iran in the context of his argument.

  21. Duncan Kinder says:

    “What USG is trying to do is “hyper-revolutionary” – it is akin to injecting a heart-attack patient with stimulants in the hope of regenerating the heart muscle.”
    I’m sorry, but I do not follow this sentence.
    Do you mean that the United States is barging about the MidEast like a bull in a China shop?
    Or that it is a Trotsky to Khomeni’s Stalin?
    Or do you mean that the United States is trying to be a counter-revolutionary force. Like Metternich to the French Revolution.
    Or that it is like the Counter Reformation Jesuits and Council of Trent. That the Iraq Invasion is the United States’ Spanish Armada?

  22. John says:

    J Thompson
    Sounds like an interesting read and if I get a chance I will check it out. As a whole my problem with most futurists is they are very linear thinkers and the world is a very nonlinear place.
    It was not until the early 1900’s that much of western civilization began to have the same benefits that the average Roman citizen had.
    In 2000 I got into an argument with a World Bank official that energy was one of the major problems facing the world. He told me that the world was swimming in energy and was not listed in the 20 problems the world faced in the next 20 years (this conversation is documented on his web site) well oil was at $12 a barrel and now it is at $50.
    I look at the world and see two things. For the last 50 years the world has developed the ability to wreak unbelievable level of damage but it also had the ability to rebuild it due to the rise of the hydrocarbon which stored an unbelievable level of energy and could be extracted cheaply.
    Now these two trends are seperating. Our ability of wreaking damage is continuing to increase while our ability to rebuild has peaked and is beginning to decline.
    In many parts of the world we are now leaving behind big stacks of rubble after the fighting clears and even in New Orleans we are seeing this.
    My question to everyone is “Where is this leading us?”

  23. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Chris Marlowe:
    The reason that I suggested ECO was because it is not a primarily political organization, it is economical. It is easier to get antagonists to agree on economic self-interest.
    Secondly, I thought the boundaries of the ECO states corresponds more closely to Col. Lang’s Concert of the Middle East. Non of the Arab states are members but that could change.
    In principle, even Israel could join.

  24. Chris Marlowe says:

    David Habbakuk–
    The great problem in American academia and think tanks is overspecialization, and its total separation from local cultural and linguistic knowledge.
    Washington DC is full of ME military and economic experts who do not know Hebrew and Arabic, for example.
    Only in America is it possible to have intelligence analysts for the ME who do not know the local languages and culture, depending on their knowledge of military or economic affairs only, and letting lower level workers doing all the translation work.
    The end result of this is that American intelligence looks at a local problem through a lot of straws; stripped of all local context. The American solution to this dilemma is to have lots of “experts” look at a region through a lot of straws.
    This view was summed by The Great Decider when he said “You are either for us or against us.” It never occurred to him that there are many problems in the world where there is no American interest and angle, and that most people don’t give a damn about the US, one way or another.
    Stripped of their local context, American policymakers then see issues from a completely skewed American-centric point of view which has no ground reality. Unfortunately, most Americans have embraced this view, distrusting people with local knowledge, and questioning their loyalty to America. For some reason, anyone who is fluent in another language because of their background is generally seen as being a questionable American. This is the reason why there are only six fluent speakers of Arabic in the US embassy in Iraq, which has several thousand people.
    This is a uniquely American form of stupidity. Most Europeans and Asian grow up speaking two or three languages, yet there national loyalties are never questioned.
    The perfect example of this ignorance is the Project for the New American Century, which was formulated by leading Jewish-American intellectuals, such as Podhoretz, Wolfowitz, Feith, etc. Most of these “experts” are not even fluent in Hebrew, let alone Arabic. The purpose of their policy papers were to completely align Israeli right-wing policy and American interests in the ME region. Of course, the period we are living through now is the implementation phase of this doctrine in the Bush/Cheney administration. Anyone who calls for a discussion of whether Israeli and American interests should be the same, or even whether it is good for Israel in the long-term, is routinely pounced on and denounced by the US corporate media as being anti-semitic.
    This project represents the pinnacle of American arrogance, ignorance and stupidity; no Israeli who lives in the ME would have been dumb enough to come up with this idea. (There are very good Israeli military historians like Martin van Creveld, but he believes that Israel is not viable in the long-term. This is not a message Fox News and the US corporate media want to sell to the American public.)
    However, its ideas have been sold domestically to Israelis by its right-wing politicians, because it was referenced as being developed by American academics, a country which Israel has a special relationship with.
    As I write this, CNN says that a US helicopter has been shot down in Najaf. Sounds like the Shi’ite militias are seeking to confront US forces in the Shi’ite holy sites and the south where they are strong, and are letting the Americans have Baghdad so that they can fight it out with the Sunni militias.
    I am putting together a list of major military confrontations which had the opposite of their intended effect, bringing down the instigator/invader. Examples would be Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Like Martin van Crefeld, I put Operation Iraqi Freedom in this category, an action which he calls “one of the most foolish wars since the Roman emperor Augustus sent and lost three Roman legions into the Teutoburg Forest in 9AD.”
    If Col. Lang would be willing to give us a place on his site, I thought it might give us amateur military historians a place to discuss and compare our notes about these disastrous military campaigns.

  25. Mike G says:

    There have been a some articles in the British press that indicate that Ahmadinidejad is losing favour in Iran both with the clerics and with the working masses at large. Ayatollah Khamenei and Rafsanjani are making it clear to the former mayor of Tehran that they are far from happy with his outrageous and intemperate ravings against Israel and the US; they are in favour of some sort of dialogue with the Americans and the UN and wish he would desist from his constant aggravation. In fact, they regard Ahmadinejad as something of a buffoon. Meantime the mass of people from whom he had got the votes that gave him power are disillusioned by rising prices and inflation and want him to concentrate his energies on dealing with economic problems rather than the wasting scarce money on developing a nuclear capability – which may be many years in the future in any case.
    Perhaps these are signs that Ahmadinejad is on his way out. Were his disappearance from the political scene to take place, would this reduce the likelihood of military action by the US against Iran? Or are America and Israel dead set on war irrespective of whether extremists or moderatess are in power in Tehran? Are the American people being made aware in the press over there of these reported cutailments of Ahadinejad’s power?

  26. Got A Watch says:

    “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
    President John F. Kennedy
    Webster’s defines negotiations as “1. Discuss the terms of an arrangement; “They negotiated the terms”.”
    Negotiations begin when both sides think they have something to gain, or at least losses to be minimised, by negotiating an agreement. Both sides have to enter the negotiation in good faith that an agreement, if reached, will be implemented on the ground. That is a dubious expectation in today’s environment.
    With the Bushies in power, any negotiation would have to be postponed till the next President’s term. The way Iran has been demonised, the political environment has been poisoned against any meaningful contact with the “other side”. It’s easier to be a neo-con and drop bombs now than it is to recognise the other side may have a valid position. Any statesmen of sufficient stature and integrity to implement such negotiations apparently do not presently inhabit postions of real power on either side. Maybe in a few more years of endless war when all sides become exhausted.
    Today, we have far too many who embrace the Hollywood ideal of toughness (without consideration of the consequences resulting from where that road leads):
    “We will never negotiate. We will no longer tolerate and we will no longer be afraid.” President James Marshall (Harrison Ford)- from the movie Air Force One
    Many able posts above have discussed this better than I can like Chris Marlowe, John and others. Some great comments. How can we get those MSM consumers who have never heard of these concepts or this blog to grasp this?

  27. Tom Milton says:

    Colonel Lang,
    Thank you for informing the public that, in addition to serious tactical disadvantages, we also face a significant numerical disadvantage in Iraq. I am astounded not to have seen or read about this before now.
    Our financial leaders (Bush II’s handlers) should realize after 4 years that they must accept somewhat less lucrative oil contracts with a Shia controlled Iraq as opposed to facing a Dien Bien Phu situation with its threat of nuclear confrontation.
    If we get manipulated into a nuclear bluff to save our troops, it just might get called. Then what?
    Setting off a nuclear weapon anywhere in anger will be very bad for everyone’s business. In all likelihood more would follow.
    A way out for our leader is to accept that he must make the first effort to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people for him to win any settlement.
    America needs to figure out how to give the Iraqi people hope. Maybe we should ask THEM how.
    The President and the Coalition of the Wiling could ask the United Nations to organize a “Concert of the Middle East” conference to try to end this nightmare and oversee the rebuilding of Iraq’s financial and physical infrastructure.
    Concert? Sounds familiar. Hmm.
    Methinks I feel the pressure building.
    Good job, Pat.

  28. jonst says:

    Sadly, any policy predicated on selected Americans (never mind the general population)increasing their reading, and understanding of the cultural and history of the ME is doomed to failure. To even contemplate such a policy requirement it is conjure up Nietzsche’s saying, ironically enough on religion, that “were I to believe in nonsense this is the kind of nonsense I would believe in”.
    IOW Babak, the party doing the “injecting” of the “stimulate” in hopes of “regenerating” anything, never mind something so intricate and complex as the human heart (or radical change of a cultural, as the case may be)is nothing more than the equivalent of an air-head burnt-out coke freak. And for the record I am not speaking about our frat boy’s supposed history. I am speaking about a great deal of the decision makers in the USG right now.

  29. Chris Marlowe says:

    David Halberstam is perhaps best-known for his 1972 book on the Vietnam war, “The Best and The Brightest”, which basically focused on how the smartest military and political leaders in the US were getting outsmarted by the Viet Cong and NVA in Vietnam.
    I’d like it if Halberstam wrote a book about the Bush administration’s ME foreign and military policy. (Can’t really write much about the foreign policy; it can probably be best summed up as “Are you with us, or against us?” That would be the whole chapter.)
    Of course, I cannot resist suggesting the title for the book: “The Worst and The Dumbest”.
    This way, Halberstam would have started with The Best and The Brightest, and can end his career with the The Worst and The Dumbest.
    Says a lot about the US, doesn’t it?

  30. FB says:

    Most of the comments on Babak’s initial post cover the US-Iran confrontation, and very good ones they are,too.
    I want to take up his statement : “Khomeini’s amalgamation of the principles of Islam and those of Republicanism has outlined the contours of the future evolution of Muslim polities”. If he had said “Shia Muslim polities”, I would agree, but I must disagree with what he did say.
    Khomenei’s blueprint drew upon established Shia doctrine, especially on the role of the clerics. This is not accepted in Sunni Islam, and carries little resonance in most Muslim countries, which are predominantly Sunni. Even if religious elements were to come to power in one of these countries the system they would establish would not be like the one in Iran. It would probably be a dictatorship disguised as a modern caliphate; there are unlikely to be any elections.
    I would even doubt the longevity of the current Iranian model. There are reports of considerable corruption and nepotism among the Irani clergy. If this, combined with economic hardship, leads to public unrest, the partially democratic nature of the system may well change into something much more authoritarian. Another catalyst for such a change would be a US attack.
    Full disclosure : I am not an Irani, and have no connection to Iran.

  31. ali says:

    As a revolution Khomeni’s has more in common with the Bolshevik coup that seized control of the Russian revolution than the French one. This was a revolution from above where the most disciplined faction triumphed by deceit and then locked down power by brutally terrorizing a population already in revolt. As to what follows it might be more useful to compare regimes dominated by dourly pious theocrats. Florence under Savonarola, Cromwell’s Puritan Protectorate, Falangist Spain or even Eamon de Valera’s bleak priest ridden Saorst√°t √Čireann.
    Khomeni’s model of clerical rule (Vilayat-e Faqih) and evolving Islam is a perversion of the Twelver tradition with its authoritative lawgiving Ayatollahs.
    While Iran does have Sunni admirers and is allied with groups like Hamas this model is not viable outside the Shi’a heartlands. They share an insistence on Sharia and that Islam is the answer but beyond that the Mullahs are the natural enemies of Sunni Islamist levelers.
    The Taliban’s grim Salafi state for instance looked to their sponsors in reactionary Saudi Arabia and General Zia’s Islamized Pakistan rather than Tehran for example. Their method was closer to Maoist peoples war. In Afghanistan like Jesuits and Puritans these contending parties were at each others throats. The same forces are at it again in Iraq.
    Many so called moderates in the Iranian elite like Rafsanjani share Ahmedinejad rabid views on Israel. These are after all popular views across the entire Middle East but even bone headed Saudi Princes know they should be reserved for the faithful. There would be dancing in the street is Israel was wiped from the pages of history but it is a fantasy. Israel is similarly menacing towards its neighbors and has an odds on chance of surviving the century so lets just get over it.
    The Chinese want Taiwan and have the ability to take it but since Nixon sat down with them we no longer go into a headless funk at the mention of it.

  32. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I regret that I must disagree with you in (mis)characterizing the Iranian Revolution as somehow being hijacked by Ayatollah Khomeini and his colleagues. In the Revolution of 1906 in Iran as well as the Tobacco Campaign in the 19-th century the religious scholars played decisive and popular roles.
    Ayatollah Khomeini’s ideas regarding the Guardianship of the Jurisconsult comes straight out of Plato’s Republic – he had broken with Islamic tradition then and also later on.
    I am not suggesting that all these states will follow the Iranian model – just that the approach taken by Iran will be studied and emulated here and there.
    What I suggested was my personal opinion as the future decades and centuries will unfold. I am guided by the firm belief that Muslim polities cannot be secular like the Western countries; their governments have to be based on Islam and the Laws of Islam. Pursuing a secular Islamic order is a chimera – you have to write the (secular) Military into the constitution of such a state (Turkey, Pakistan) and even then it won’t be durable.
    Turkey and Iran are the most successful Muslim states and in both cases you see the centrality of Islam: in Turkey the State is against Islamic influences, in Iran it is for it. In neither case the state is neutral. Then we have all these other despotisms, in the Levant (Jordan, Syria) in the Persian Gulf (all the Arab states without exception), in North Africa despotism with a French face. In Central Asia more despotism. In Indonesia a weak state whose only functioning institution is the Military. Is it any wonder that these people feel so hopeless and are so demoralized? They cannot change their leaders, they cannot participate in the political life of their countries, and on top of it there is the deep schism in their minds and hearts between Islam and Modernity. I just do not see any other hope for a representative system of government in the Muslim polities that is not based on the ideas of the Iranian Revolution of 1906 and 1979.
    About the neo-Salafis I am not in disagreement.
    There were shrewd reasons for Mr. Ahmadinejad to say what he did. Western countries have lost Muslims on the issue of the Shoah – what the President of Iran says is what hundreds of millions of Muslims believe. Now he has become the hero of the Muslim people because he has stood up to the pseudo-Religion kitsch that West has made of the Shoah. And, he is the Champion of the Palestinians.
    Actually, in regards to Israel vanishing: the impossibility of the 2-state solution makes it even more likely that there would be a bi-national state in Palestine. That, by definition, would mean the end of the Zionist Project.
    And the Chinese will go to war if Taiwan declares its independence. And you heard it from me first!

  33. BadTux says:

    Babak: Mr. Ahmadinejad, for the reasons that you have enumerated, has been more interested in trying to create political space for the Preseidency of the Islamic Republic.
    That is an interesting statement. That puts some of his more inexplicable actions into a domestic Iranian politics context. There is a saying that “all politics is local”. That is, that even the most outward-looking of foreign policy work is motivated, in the end, by domestic politics considerations. In that context, Ahmadinejad’s foreign rattlings, while not having any practical effect due to lack of power on his part, might be considered a means to push the other power players in different directions in Iranian domestic politics.
    I do not, however, believe that Mr. Ahmadinejad quite learned the lesson of Saddam Hussein. Saddam was more worried about domestic politics (specifically, being overthrown if he showed any sign of weakness when the Busheviks started sabre-rattling), and got whacked in the end. When one is faced with a rogue superpower on your borders, playing domestic politics regarding how to respond to said rogue superpower is hardly in the best interests of your nation. No wonder that there are reports that Khamenei is displeased and has called Ahmadinejad upon the carpet to berate his ill-fated sabre rattling.
    Regarding what I as an outsider see when I look at Iran, what I see is a political philosophy which is uneasy with the notion of representative democracy yet recognizes that a government must represent the will of the people to a significant extent in order to survive long term. And the ayatollahs are looking long term. The current system, set up by Ayatollah Khomeini, basically looks to me as if the idea was to circumscribe the power of the elected government to the extent that it was unable to take the nation into ill-advised foreign adventures, instead placing those powers into the hands of a cleric vetted by an assembly of other clerics with the power to appoint and remove him. The position of Supreme Leader was basically created for Khomeini in the same way that the position of President was created for George Washington and the Supreme Court was created as the basic equivalent of what Khomeini later modified into the “Guardian Council” — i.e., as a council of elders who would serve as a “moderating force” to basically veto ill-advised laws that violated the constitution.
    But there is one additional power given to the Guardian Council which far surpasses the power given to the U.S. Supreme Court — the power to throw out candidates for office on the grounds that they do not properly uphold Islamic principles or are not theologically sound clerics (in the case of the Council of Experts). This is what differentiates the Iranian split-executive system from the U.S. system on a fundamental basis. Both have a strong executive, albeit in the Iranian system split between the Supreme Ruler and the President. Both have a law-making body. Both have an unelected body that can veto laws with no recourse on the part of the legislature. But only the Iranian system has the additional “safeguard” that only people philosophically correct may run for office.
    To a certain extent the Iranian Revolution is in the same conundrum as non-profit organizations here in the United States. A group like the Sierra Club is set up to protect the environment. It would hardly be appropriate for an oil company executive or lumber company executive to be appointed to the board of directors, thus the board of directors vets candidates for the board in order to insure that they are philosophically in tune with the organization. Someone who says “oh yeah, we should clear-cut all the remaining old-growth in the American West!” automatically gets disqualified in much the same way that an Iranian politician who says “the clerics should have no part in politics” gets discqualified. Yet this fundamentally gives the lie to their statements about being a democratic organization. Similarly, in Iran the dichotomy between pretensions of democracy and the reality that allowing pure democracy could result in Iran evolving away from the principles of the Islamic Revolution similarly results in the clerics clamping down on who is allowed to run for office.
    BTW, for the person who talks about the Iranian Revolution vs. the Bolshevik Revolution, there are some parallels, certainly. For example, there was a short period of blood-letting, after which order was restored, and both revolutions were based around a strong philosophy of governance whereas the French Revolution was more focused on the overthrow of the monarchy rather than on a specific philosophy of governance. However, past that point the parallels diverge drastically. As we now know, the Bolshevik Revolution swiftly moved away from the fundamental egalitarianism of its political philosophy to impose a system of government that was basically your run-of-the-mill dictatorship run by ruthless power-hungry men. The Iranian Revolution, on the other hand, appears to be that odd thing — the revolution that is actually run by true believers. From all accounts the Iranian clerics do not live ostentatious lives and do not flaut their power openly. They by and large do seem to believe in the philosophy of governance that Khomeini set up, and operate primarily to perpetuate that philosophy rather than to enrich themselves or seize additional powers to themselves. They are that most unusual of beasts — the revolutionary who continues to believe in the revolution, and acts accordingly to preserve the Revolution, not for their personal power but because of their dedication to its principles. Given that, it behooves us to learn as much as we can about the principles underlying the Iranian Revolution, and use those principles to detirmine how to best interact with the Iranians to achieve our own national goals. Sadly, that does not appear to be a priority with the “bomb first, ask questions later” crowd currently in power in Washington D.C….

  34. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Thank you for your detailed response with much of which I agree.
    A few points:
    You wrote: “Mr. Ahmadinejad quite learned the lesson of Saddam Hussein.”. I disagree, I think he has learnt the lesson “playing nice is not going to get you anywhere desirable.” so he might have been thinking that war with US is coming and he might as well go for broke and capture the moral, political, and propahanda high grounds. He has nothing to loose.
    The vetting of candidates indeed is a restriction and that is why I have chracterized that system as a “restricted” representative government.
    I think that if the vetting process is liberalized you will see a lot more non-religious candidates could win and gain majority.
    There was an old joke about USSR. That even if they permit free elections still USSR will be a one-party state since everyone will be in the opposition party!
    I am not suggesting that the Islamic Republoic’s political and social dispensations are perfect – what I am suggesting is that there is a hope that over time that system will improve. This is just my personal hope and I have no proof for it. Even that hope will take decaded for its realization.
    You are correct about the tension between God’s Law and Human Law that is in the Iranian Constitution. The writers of that document, in my opinion, are coming out of the Platonic political tradition: only the elect should rule since they have spent years learning the religious sciences and thus God’s Law.
    Same tension exists in Israel but not in an as overt a form as in Iran.

  35. Eaken says:

    I completely agree with you that Ahmadinejad is being cunning when he makes very vocal comments regarding the palestinians, lebanon, holocaust, and so forth.
    When the Saudi leadership comes out repeatedly with comments which seem aimed at assuring itself that Shias stand with the Kingdom and not with Iran, I find it very telling with respect to where they really stand.

  36. BadTux says:

    Babak, I agree with you that
    a) the Iranian government is fundamentally more democratic than any Arab government in the Middle East (not that this is saying much) despite the limitations placed upon democracy by the clerics, and
    b) that the best choice of action regarding Iran for the near to mid term is to allow the Islamic Revolution to continue to develop and evolve towards a system that will resolve the conflict that currently exists between its pretensions and its realities, with interactions with Iran handled very carefully to avoid pushing things in the wrong direction. This will require the international community to more closely study the philosophical underpinnings of the Islamic Revolution, given that Iran’s leaders are that most unusual of breed, the revolutionary that actually believes the principles of his revolution. It is an effort, however, that I think could be very valuable in the long term. An Islamic democracy is unlikely to ever look like a secular Western democracy due to fundamental cultural reasons, and attempting to force Western-style democracy onto the region appears unlikely to succeed (see: Iraq). In that respect, a native-born variant that somehow resolves the conflict between the secular and the religious appears to be in the best long-term interests of both the people of the region and of the world at large. The fact that Iran hasn’t gotten it right yet does not erase the fact that Iran has at least taken a few baby steps along that path, even though there are obvious flaws in what has been accomplished thus far.
    On other issues, regarding the lessons of Saddam and how they apply to Ahmadinejad, we will simply have to agree to disagree. I believe that both Saddam and Ahmadinejad made decisions that make sense in the context of their own culture, but in the context of Western culture do not at all play out the way Saddam intended or Ahmadinejad intends. Ahmadinejad is as trapped in his own culture as the theocrat neo-cons of Washington D.C. are in theirs, with neither capable of properly judging the impact of their actions upon representatives of another culture.
    In any event, I think it is telling that the two nations that are closest to being a representative democracy in the Middle East, Lebanon and Iran, are both in the cross-hairs of the neo-con theocrats in Washington D.C. and Jeruseleum. The causes of that enmity, and the implications, remain subject to speculation. I suspect it is not, however, a coincidence.

  37. ali says:

    Babak I think you are right about the Iranian revolutions perceived place in history just not its actual shape.
    Khomeini re-engineering of 12er traditions was both radical and daring. An architect is needed to take Islam into full engagement with modernity and he may hail Khomeini as a forebear. But I’m afraid most Islamists aren’t interested dangerous innovation but the comforts of stasis.
    My position on the Iranian revolution is somewhat colored by contact with Iranian Marxists. Being a Maoist back then I found their predicament interesting. They thought history was on their side and they could use aged Khomeini as a unifying figurehead, an old fool like Ribbentrop. Khomeini was obviously no such thing.
    Khomeini was a reassuring liar he began with “the religious dignitaries do not want to rule”, he sat down with an initial cabinet of liberals in suits. A few months later his grip firm on power he created a narrow theocracy based “100% on Islam.”.
    Just like the Russian revolution we have two phases: the revolution was broad based at the start a mass rising of disparate idealogical groups united in their distaste for the monarch, this was followed by consolidation of power by the strongest faction and the liquidation of other revolutionary groups. This is the superficial similarity. But Khomeini and Lenin make a particularly interesting comparison.
    Khomeini had built a large support base but like Lenin was not even in the country at the beginning.
    “Particularly astute revolutionary leaders – Khomeini or Lenin, for instance – can take advantage of such a situation to create a new revolutionary state in their own image, before many of their potential adversaries fully understand what is happening or how most effectively to resist. In such a case, there often is no obvious, specific program that could truly represent the coalition as a whole, or even a majority of it. The faction that defines the ideology of the revolution by taking control of revolutionary state formation and suppressing alternatives may forever remain a minority. To take one illustration, while both the Bolsheviks and the Islamic Republican Party redefined political discourse, in both cases voting patterns suggested their minority status even after the seizure of power. The Bolsheviks, outpolled by the Socialist Revolutionaries, remained a minority in the voting for the Constituent Assembly after the October Revolution, and thus disbanded the assembly. As the Islamic Republic was institutionalized as a theocracy, voting participation steadily declined. There remains broad opposition to the clerical regime among many initial supporters of the revolution.”
    Badtux: You really don’t understand Bolsheviks they sincerely believed in the messianic Marxism of their dogma. It’s evident even in their correspondence after their fingernails had been extracted by the NKVD.
    This is were the comparison falls apart the Mullahs share their brutal methods but are grotesquely cynical carpetbaggers in comparison.
    It’s not the steely piety of Robespierre we find in Iran’s ruling clergy. The level of corruption is epic and its not just Rafsanjani who has his nose in the trough.
    The chaotic, expansionist, optimism of the priest strangling Jacobins does not have much in common with Khomieni’s dark will to domestic power. Historically the Jacobins were immensely more dangerous. Their revolutionary energy was the motor of Napoleon’s empire. The Bolsheviks looked back fondly on them. Khomieni would have had them machine gunned from the ground up.

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