(ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Middle East Strategy
A Deal with Iran?

History shows why revolutionary regimes cannot be propitiated.

Published on: March 9, 2018
Josef Joffe is a member of TAI’s Executive Committee and a Fellow of Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
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  • D4x

    “Once [Iran’s] revolutionary fires burn out,” ? Got a timetable on that Mr. Joffe? Being NOT-Sunni is all Iran has in 2018. The Safavids adopted Shi’ism as their state religion to counter the Sunni Ottomans, in 1502 CE. The revolution in 1979 was a counter to nationalism, from the Baathist version to the monarchy model. Yes, they are still Persians, the core of a shrunken Empire physically ringed by rebellious Sunni and Shi’a vassals, intent on expressing their nationalistic self-determination: Ahwazi Shi’a Arabs, mostly Sunni Kurds, Shi’a Azeris, Sunni Turkmen and Baluchis. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/05418253c6d8d3f4c5db6554c5d974e26e0ad928d651b2a5dac29409d0acd285.jpg
    During the JCPOA negotiations 2014, Iran’s FM was caustic about ‘French diplomacy’, because, the Persians believe they invented diplomacy. How does anyone get the clerisy to unlash their inner Persian? Not likely, not even the return of the Koh-i-noor Diamond will end the Identity Politics that is Shi’a Iran.

    • Ellen

      Thanks for the information and great map above.

      You are right about what they have today, not much other than Shiism, which is why that has become the central feature of their Islamic Revolution in 1979. Khomeini originally tried to spin it as an “Islamic” revolution, with emphasis on generic Islamism as an alternative to communism (from the East) or capitalism (from the West). His slogan was “Neither East, not West, only Islam.” The problem is no Shiite ayatollah or Shiite country could plausibly claim to lead an Islamic revolution, given that 87% of Muslims worldwide are Sunni. The House of Saud, therefore, as leaders of the Sunnis, can make a much more convincing claim to being the leaders of all worldwide Muslims. That is where the vicious rivalry comes from, it’s not just about politics, as Western commentators like to claim.

      Qassem Soleimani correctly complained recently about those who want the Revolutionary Guards to pull out of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, and allow the regime to focus on domestic concerns that Iranians really care about. He asked, what will be left of Shiism, or Islam, or our Revolution, if we are focused only on the pedestrian problems of a mid-size national state? He is right. Not much would be left of any of those things. Islam is a failure in the modern world as a civilization, as are the Shiites, as a subset of Islam. There are only 2 Muslim countries that are really semi-developed and able to project power – Turkey and Iran. Saudi is a rentier state attempting to become developed with power projection. This is the goal of Mohammed bin Salman. A rentier state living off of infidel foreign labor and infidel foreign military power cannot really claim to be the leader of the Umma. Unfortunately, he is destined to fail. Saudi Arabia will prove to be unreformable most likely.

      Iran could have become a major power, even on a global scale, if Reza Pahlavi had come to power and modernized the monarchy. Maybe someday he will return to Teheran and do exactly that. In the meantime, Iran under its imperialistic, theocratic, kleptocracy is headed for the garbage bin of history. Soleimani is wasting untold billions on imperial overreach in Syria, and will end up with nothing to show for it, at the end of the day. A counter revolution will come to Iran, while he is fiddling around in Syria.

      • D4x

        Thanks for the dialog. I have been so deep in following American foreign policy the past year that it approaches a post-grad seminar in the history of empires who repeatedly clash between the Tigris and Euphrates 🙂 In 2018, there are three aspirants to the Caliphate of the Umma: the Saudis as Guardian of Mecca and Medina, Shi’a Iran,and the openly neoOttoman Sunni Islamist Erdogan, who has brought Turkey to a dangerous place in it’s history.

        Since I write about Turkey elsewhere, let me just champion the Saudis, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is on his way to the USA, after his significant visits to Egypt and the UK. Demographics are behind his 2030 Vision. Female literacy went from 2% in 1970 to 79% in 2012, with 97% literacy in women under the age of 40. Driving cars is just the beginning of a remarkably positive transformation Erdogan is openly threatening the Saudis, and the alliances are in view. The under-reported strength of India* in KSA/GCC is powerful, and Egypt and Jordan are steadfast. MbS and al-Sisi were working on NEOM, with Israel quietly in the room. I did not know about NEOM until tonight, but it was unveiled last fall. NEOM, (Neo-Mostaqbal; new future) is the planned mega-city across from Sharm-al-Sheikh. Ten degrees cooler than the Gulf. https://newatlas.com/neom-saudi-arabia-future-megacity/51893/ “Introducing Neom, the 500 billion-dollar, ultra-high tech future megacity of Saudi Arabia” Loz Blain October 25th, 2017
        Nothing but ambitious!

        * Yes, India, third most populous muslim nation, and #1 in expats in the Gulf: 3.5 million workers, which is why Dubai has the Bollywood Theme Park. My bet is that Indian expats will be building NEOM. KSA just approved overflight to India’s direct flights to Israel.
        As for Turkey? Watch their economy crumble as tourists go elsewhere, and consumer boycotts spread. Most Sunnis do not want political Islam, and Erdogan’s open signaling of the MB four-finger hand is now viral.
        Near term? Monday March 12 is a big day – too many Navies about to face off from Latakia to Haifa. I detailed that elsewhere- and really need some sleep before the rockets red glare, and, Day 52 of the assault now siege of Afrin.
        Apologies for the shorthand, and what I intended as polite disagreement. My perception of KSA has changed as I learn more.
        Iran? wait for Iraqi and Lebanese election in May, and northern Syria next few days or weeks.
        If I can, will come back and edit, although TAI not worth the time anymore.

      • Monkish ن

        “Islam is a failure in the modern world as a civilization, as are the Shiites, as a subset of Islam.”

        This is a perplexing assertion. According to the most rigorous demographic projections Islam is set to outstrip Christianity in most Western European countries by mid century. Islam fulfils basic criteria (viz. cultural and demographic “reproduction”) by which a set of beliefs, norms and institutions are deemed to constitute a “civilisation”, whereas the Western European nations that have given so much to humanity no longer do. In strictly Spenglerian terms, Islam is a remarkable success. What do you make of this?

        • Ellen

          Islam will not outstrip Christianity in Europe except in the trivial sense that the number of practicing Christians in Europe is so small that even a few million Muslims in a country of 60 million Europeans would produce more faithful believers. The largest group in all European countries will be “no religion”, and that group will include many lapsed Muslims who are 2-4 generations in Europe. Germany is an example of that trend today with its Turkish population.

          Spengler (meaning D. Goldman) views Islam as not only NOT a successful civilization in the modern world, but in fact a dying civilization. This accounts for the suicidal tendencies of so many of its followers, visible today in all the crises across the Middle East. Success in his Spenglerian sense means not only reproducing oneself biologically and as a culture, but actually producing a culture of accomplishment and significance. The Muslim world today does not have even one successful country to brag about, in these terms.

          The most advanced and “successful” (by objective considerations) Muslim societies today are Turkey and Iran, and both of them have European demographic trends. This means a below-replacement fertility rate combined with a rapidly aging population. They are following the suicidal behavior of the Europeans in terms of demographics. However, unlike the Europeans, they haven’t produced productive welfare states with stable political systems. Hence, they suffer from the worst of both worlds – the poverty and backwardness of a typical Muslim society combined with the suicidal demographics of Europe. The rest of the Muslim world has more vital demographic statistics but combined with no meaningful economic or political development. The result of this toxic combination will be more Syrias. A youthful and disenchanted population that descends into a Hobbesian war of tribalism and sectarianism.

          Islam therefore, is a remarkable failure in the modern world, not a remarkable success. Recycled oil wealth and foreign aid helped to obscure this reality for 50 years. The obsessive focus on Israel, by the Muslim societies and the European ones, also helped to distract people from the fatal pressures building up in these societies during this period. The cork has now blown off the bottle, and the Arab world is falling to pieces. Most Muslim societies will follow this pattern unless they change or reform their religion. Neither of these outcomes is likely.

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  • FriendlyGoat

    Freedom of religion is freedom from religion. The reverse is also true. A nation naming itself for a religion is hopeless for rationality of the governmental level.

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