Farhang Jahanpour – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 15 Jan 2023 05:02:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.8 Dual Iranian-British national Alireza Akbari’s execution plunges Iranian Relations with the West to a new Low https://www.juancole.com/2023/01/national-execution-relations.html Sun, 15 Jan 2023 05:10:14 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=209450 Oxford (Special to Informed Comment) – On Saturday 14 January, the Iranian regime executed a 61-year old dual Iranian-British national and a former deputy defence minister, Alireza Akbari. The 15th branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, presided over by Abolqasem Salavati who had been the judge of numerous controversial cases and who has been sanctioned by both the United States and the European Union, sentenced Mr Akbari to death on charges of “corruption on earth and extensive activities against national security”.

Prior to his execution, the Iranian official news agency IRNA  released a 9-minute-long series of disjointed interviews with Mr Akbari in which he allegedly confessed to having been a British spy. The news agency referred to him as a “super-spy”, and as “one of the most important agents of the British intelligence service in Iran”.

No fair-minded person who listens to this patchwork of disjointed sentences, clearly recorded at different times and places, can find anything that is incriminating or an admission of guilt. All that he says is that he had met with some British officials and had briefly discussed with them Iran’s nuclear programme.

Certainly, no respectable court of law could find anything in his alleged confessions that would deserve a death sentence. The BBC Persian Service broadcast an audio message on Wednesday from Mr. Akbari, in which he said that he had been jailed for ten months in an unknown place before being transferred to Evin prison. He said that he had been interrogated for more than 3,000 hours, and had been forced under torture to confess on camera to crimes he had not committed.

Maryam Samadi, Akbari’s wife, who had been allowed to see him on Wednesday told the BBC that her husband had been moved to solitary confinement in preparation for execution. On Saturday, The Iranian judiciary’s official news outlet Mizan reported that Alireza Akbari had been hanged, without specifying the date when the execution took place, but presumably early on Saturday.

The British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a tweet said that he had been appalled by Mr Akbari’s execution, adding: “This was a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people.” The British Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, said that the execution would “not stand unchallenged”. Meanwhile, the UK has imposed sanctions on Iran’s Prosecutor General, saying it would hold the regime to account “for its appalling human rights violations”, and has temporarily withdrawn Britain’s ambassador to Iran, Simon Shercliff, “for further consultations”.

Iran-UK relations have been very tumultuous ever since the victory of the Islamic Revolution. The first time that Britain cut off relations with the revolutionary regime was when the so-called “Students Following the Line of the Imam” attacked the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and took American diplomats hostage.

The second time was after Ayatollah Khomeini’s notorious “fatwa”, sentencing Salman Rushdie and the publishers of the Satanic Verses to death for having allegedly insulted Prophet Muhammad.

The third time was in November 2011 when a crowd of Iranian protestors attacked the British diplomatic compound in Tehran and ransacked offices and stole some documents.

In some ways, the current episode could be regarded as the most serious because this time domestic and international issues have combined to form a true storm.

Ever since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s so-called Guidance Patrol on 16 September 2022, the country has been rocked by nationwide demonstrations and protests that have been the most extensive and the most widespread in the Islamic revolution’s 44-year history. Although four months have passed since the start of the protests they show no sign of abating. On the contrary, the protestors’ demands have gone well beyond the issue of ending compulsory hijab and represent a total rejection of the Islamic Republic and the clerical rule. Massive repression, nearly 500 deaths, 18,000 arrests and the execution of at least four demonstrators with many more having been sentenced to death have not cowed the protestors.

On the international level, the nuclear deal (officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of JCPOA) is virtually dead and US officials have openly stated that they do not see it as their priority anymore. The continued deadlock has meant that US and EU sanctions on Iran have continued, resulting in further collapse of the Iranian economy. The hostility of regional states, mainly Saudi Arabia, towards Iran shows no sign of resolution. Meanwhile, new right-wing members of the Israeli nationalist government have openly spoken of preparing for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

MSNBC: “Britain’s PM condemns Iran’s execution of British-Iranian national”

Adding to these problems has been Iran’s turning to the East, new military collaboration with Russia, and the sale of Iranian drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, which have been responsible for many deaths and massive damage to Ukrainian infrastructure. Many Western leaders see this as perhaps the most serious issue in Iran’s foreign policy posture. The British parliament unanimously voted to declare the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps a terrorist organisation, following in former President Trump’s footsteps. Many EU countries are also contemplating doing the same.

Under these circumstances, Iranian leaders seem to have thrown caution to the wind and are openly challenging both their opposition at home and their adversaries abroad. The execution of Alireza Akbari should be seen in this context. The execution of such a high-profile figure is meant to convey the following messages.

The first aim is to send a message to the West, especially to Britain, that their hostility to Iran will not go unanswered, and Iran is prepared to take even more drastic measures to show her displeasure at Western behaviour towards Iran. Of course, such steps will intensify Western hostility towards Iran and will make Iran even more isolated than before. In Akbari’s voice recording that BBC Persian has obtained, he says that Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has been in conflict with the British government and as he had British nationality, by arresting him the Intelligence Ministry “wishes to take revenge” on Britain.

The second aim is to try to link domestic protests that are completely homegrown to foreign intrigue against Iran, and blame the West for inciting the demonstrators. This has been a tactic often used by Iran in the past but, judging by the reaction of Iranian protestors, it seems that this tactic has lost its effectiveness. Many demonstrators openly chant “They’re lying when they say America is our enemy, our enemy is right here”.

The third aim is to settle domestic scores. Iran’s clerical leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, chose Mahmud Raisi as a right-wing candidate in order to marginalize the Reformists and to unify all branches of the government behind someone he could trust. Ever since his election, Raisi has pursued right-wing policies at home and abroad. Domestically, his stricter enforcement of hijab was one example of more hard-line policies, and in foreign policy his turning to the East and adopting a belligerent stance in nuclear negotiations have been in keeping with Khamenei’s wishes.

Ali Shamkhani, the powerful secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, is regarded as being close to the Reformists and not being revolutionary enough. Shamkhani who had engaged in armed struggle against the Pahlavi dynasty prior to the revolution joined the Mojahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organisation after the victory of the revolution, and later on served in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) rising to the position of the commander of IRGC Navy with the rank of rear admiral. In 1988 he was appointed the Minister of the Revolutionary Guards.

However, in the Reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami, he held the post of minister of defence from August 1997 until the end of his government in 2005. During that time, Ali Reza Akbari served as deputy defence minister under Shamkhani.

On 10 September 2013, Shamkhani was appointed secretary of the powerful Supreme National Security Council, a post which he still holds. Although he has been seemingly loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei, it seems that Raisi’s new rightwing government wishes to remove Shamkhani from his powerful post. Akbari’s arrest could be linked to an attempt to weaken and perhaps to replace Shamkhani with a more radical figure.

Apart from serving as deputy defence minister under Shamkhani, Akbari also served a number of years as Shamkhani’s advisor in his current post. On the eve of former President Hassan Rouhani’s second term as president, in a long article for Diplomacy Website, Akbari criticised certain attempts to dismiss Shamkhani as secretary of Supreme National Security Council. He praised his qualities and described him as “the best person” for the job.

Incidentally, Akbari is the second deputy to Ali Shamkhani who has got into trouble. Another former deputy, Ali Reza Askari (who was a brigadier general in the Revolutionary Guards), was also arrested on spying allegations and was imprisoned for 18 months before he disappeared on February 7, 2007 in Istanbul. Therefore, another reason for Akbari’s execution could be domestic settling of scores.

Finally, another reason for his execution could be to intimidate the people at home and tell opposition forces and the protestors that the same fate awaits them if they do not support the regime. In a recent speech, Ayatollah Khamenei complained about some officials and organizations who had not been sufficiently firm in suppressing the protests, especially mentioning the Supreme National Security Council.

Whatever the real reasons behind Akbari’s execution, it is clear that Iran is passing through a very dark period in both domestic and foreign policies, and is facing an uncertain and maybe a violent future.

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Women are the Victors in Iranian Officials’ Trial Balloon on Abolishing the Morals Police https://www.juancole.com/2022/12/iranian-women-victory.html Mon, 05 Dec 2022 05:08:01 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=208586 By Farhang Jahanpour | –

Oxford (Special to Informed Comment) – Various Iranian and foreign news agencies have reported that Iran’s Prosecutor General has announced the shutting down of the. Guidance Patrol (often referred to in the West as the morality police). In response to a question about the dismantling of the Guidance Patrol, Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said: “The Guidance Patrol has nothing to do with the Judiciary. It was dismantled by the same organisation [presumably the Revolution Guards and the law-enforcement forces] that had established it.”

In another meeting held in Qom on the recent protests, he said: “The Majlis [the Parliament] and Supreme Islamic Revolution Council are studying and working on the issue of hijab, and the outcome of those decisions will be announced in 15 days. Such decisions should be based on wisdom.” He added: “After recent events, security and cultural organisations are trying to find a wise solution to this issue. The judiciary is busy working on a bill on the issue of morality and hijab.”

The reports regarding the dismantling of the Guidance Patrol have not been confirmed or denied by other government officials, and it is not clear whether the Prosecutor General was speaking in his personal capacity or whether his remarks reflect the official position of the government, or at least of the judiciary, or whether they are in the form of trial balloons in order to gauge public reaction. There are conflicting reports, with one statement from Iranian state TV denying that the morality police will be abolished.

However, there is plenty of evidence to show that the Iranian regime has been rattled by the protests and is trying to find a way out of the biggest domestic crisis it has faced since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Earlier this month, Ali Reza Hosseini-Beheshti, the son of the late Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, the first head of the Islamic Judiciary, a member of the shadowy Islamic Revolution Council and one of the main architects of the Islamic Republic’s first constitution, called for the election of a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution. He said that the regime has no other alternative: “The system has only two options. If it wants Iran to survive, it has no choice but to give in to this solution, or else it should openly admit that it attaches no importance to Iran.”

The Iranian Students News Agency, ISNA, has reported that Azar Mansouri, the secretary general of a leading reformist party, accompanied by “a number of political activists” met with the powerful Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, on December 4 and offered some proposals to him about how the government should react to the protests. She said: “The ruling establishment must talk to the people, accept its mistakes, and control the microphones that spread hatred and anger the people.” She also called on the government to lift the restrictions on social media, allow peaceful gatherings, free political prisoners and rescind the death sentences. She went on to say that “in order to improve the economic situation, the government must resolve its differences and challenges with America and the West, and must reform its policies in order to make the best use of the capabilities of Iranian expatriates.”

The current nationwide protests started following the tragic death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the Guidance Patrol on 16 September 2022, and they show no sign of abating. Meanwhile, strikes by many labor unions, such as truck drivers, teachers, university lecturers, oil industry workers and even some conservative merchants in the Tehran bazaar in support of the protestors have continued and are even intensifying.

The regime’s brutal crackdown of the protests has had the opposite effect and has intensified the scope and severity of the protests, despite many casualties. Iran’s Security Council (headed by the Interior Minister Hassan Habibi) has admitted that at least 200 people have died, while IRGC Aerospace head Amir Ali Hajizadeh says that “at least 300 people have been killed or martyred in recent weeks.”

Iran’s deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri-Kani has claimed that more than 50 law-enforcement personel have also been killed by protestors. Opposition sources put the number of the dead as over 440, with more than 18,000 protestors being arrested and some of them sentenced to death.

It is clear that the women’s uprising in Iran, supported by many men and by remarkable international solidarity, has reached a critical point and, for the first time, it is possible to realistically imagine the end of the clerical regime. Deep cracks have appeared among the leading members of the regime and even of the security forces, and doing nothing and hoping that everything will go back to square one is not an option. The movement is irreversible, and if the reports about the dismantlement of the Guidance Patrol are confirmed, it shows that the women’s revolution has achieved its first tangible gains. However, what is on offer is too little too late. The main question is which direction the events will take from now on.

Although many opposition groups abroad have jumped on the bandwagon and are calling on the people sacrificing everything inside the country to intensify their activities and prepare the way for one such group to return to the country among universal acclaim, the fact remains that the real change will take place inside Iran and not from outside.

A major problem of the revolutionaries under the Shah was that they only wanted to get rid of him, without any plans for an alternative. During the last days of the former regime, I asked a university friend of mine who was very active in the protests what his ideal future regime was. I asked him if he had even read Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s books and whether he agreed with his views. He answered that even asking such a question was treason to the revolution. The only aim was to get rid of the Shah because, according to him, what replaced him could not be any worse. Of course, given the brutal record of the clerical regime, one can hold that view with more justification about this regime, but this is a very risky course to follow.

Already, many opposition activists have adopted a very intolerant attitude towards any divergent views, but it is at such critical times that cool heads, real debate and dialogue and exchanges of views are needed in order to avoid possible pitfalls. Any serious uprising to topple this unpopular regime is not a game because it affects the future of over 86 million Iranians. The aim should be to establish a democratic system on the ruins of the clerical regime not merely engage in an orgy of destruction.

With its long history, a constitutional revolution nearly 120 years ago, a well-educated and pro-Western population, Iran is perhaps the only country in the Middle East which is totally ready for democracy. The imposed fanatical Islamist regime and people’s long struggle against it has given Iranians a unique experience and a thirst for freedom, as demonstrated in their slogan of “Women, Life, Freedom”.

It is important to avoid the fate of some failed states in the Middle East, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Somalia or Yemen where some US Neoconservatives were trying to establish democracy.
This is why it is important to at least think about the possible alternatives to the current regime. Possible scenarios may include:

1- The slow-motion collapse of the Islamic regime and the triumph of the protestors without much resistance by the regime’s military and security forces. This option is very unlikely, given the fanatical attachment or subservience of some military forces, especially the IRGC and the Basij militia, to the regime. It is possible that if the regime faces serious threats to its existence those forces will unleash a reign of terror worse that we have ever seen.

2- A foreign military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the hope of weakening the regime and strengthening the protestors. This option too is very unwise and may in fact strengthen the regime, as was the case with the Iran-Iraq war. Most Iranians may detest the regime but they love their country. Nothing will unite them more than a foreign threat or a foreign attack on their country.

3- The possibility of a military coup either by the regular Army or more likely some elements within the IRGC. Far from establishing freedom and democracy in Iran, this option will entrench the violent sections of the regime and will produce a military dictatorship as we have seen in Egypt or Syria. Given the state of chaos in the Middle East and the world, especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, any new military action in the Middle East would be catastrophic and would be the last straw to break the back of the global economy.

4- There is some wishful thinking in the West that a different government in Iran would be less nationalistic or assertive than the current regime and would be friendlier towards the West and Israel. Given the extreme hostility of the Neocons towards Iran and the experience of crippling sanctions and maximum pressure imposed by President Trump, and the Israeli record of assassinating many Iranian scientists, it is highly unlikely that any new regime imposed from outside would want or be able to establish closer relations with the West or Israel.

However, this does not mean that there cannot be a constructive path to regime change in Iran. With an ailing leader, widespread protests and even a profound feeling of disappointment and disillusionment among many members of the regime, there is the possibility of evolutionary, rather than revolutionary or violent change. The major fear of many government officials and security forces is either the disintegration of the country or the possibility of severe reprisals by a new government. This anxiety is not helped by the constant threats issued by some opposition groups, especially those in exile.

We have had the experience of a remarkable peaceful transfer of power in South Africa from an apartheid regime to majority rule. Perhaps the most important factor in the success of that revolution was its promise of peaceful change. Iran needs to follow the path of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, promising a general amnesty, combined with the rule of law and the punishment of those who have committed major crimes. A majority of Iranians participated in the Islamic Revolution and it was not imposed from outside. Most people share in the guilt, although the crimes of those who used the revolution for their own personal gain and who introduced a reign of terror cannot be forgotten or forgiven.

While a violent change in Iran can destabilize the country and even lead to its disintegration, helped by some malign foreign elements, a peaceful and orderly transition can save the country and even serve as a model for others in the Middle East to follow. On the other hand, the collapse or disintegration of Iran will have profound repercussions for the region and will destabilize the entire Middle East and the rest of the world.
Of course, it is not for any of us from outside to tell Iranians which path to follow, but at least we can make suggestions and warn of possible pitfalls. The current nationwide protests give one hope that Iranians will choose the option which is more in keeping with their experiences and traditions and to the greater interest of the country. Long-suffering Iranians deserve this.

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Tax Cuts for the Rich, Fracking and Harsh Discipline undid UK’s Liz Truss, in Warning to Conservative Parties Everywhere https://www.juancole.com/2022/10/discipline-conservative-everywhere.html Fri, 21 Oct 2022 04:08:11 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=207698 Oxford (Special to Informed Comment) – The British Prime Minister Liz Truss was forced to step down on Thursday 20th October only after 44 days in office, making her tenure the shortest in British history. It is important to point out that she was elected by only 81,326 Tory members and not by nearly 50 million British voters.

The next British Prime Minister will be the third prime minister in three months, his or her Home Secretary and Chancellor of Exchequer will also be the fourth ministers in as many months, something that is totally unprecedented in British history. James Graham, a British playwright and screenwriter, tweeted this morning: “A Prime Minister may fall today. Soak up the history, guys. Days like today only come around every couple of months.”

In yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time in Parliament, the leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer opened his question with a retort about an upcoming book about Liz Truss’s time in office. “Apparently it’s going to be out by Christmas. Is that the release date or the title?” he joked. Truss came out fighting, insisting that she would continue to remain prime minister because “I am a fighter, not a quitter”.

Her “Prime Minister’s Question Hour” in Parliament went fairly well, and many of her supporters thought that she would be safe for the time being, but early in the afternoon, her right-wing Home Secretary Suella Braverman resigned and, in a blistering attack on her, accused her of having ditched her election promises. This bombshell was followed by chaotic scenes in Parliament over a vote on fracking. The government imposed a “three-line whip” making it mandatory for Tory MPs to vote for it or lose the whip (being expelled from the Party).

Fracking is very unpopular with the majority of the British people, including many members of the Conservative Party. There were unprecedented scenes of some MPs being press-ganged and forced to vote for the bill, which showed the disarray in the party. However, according to the internal rules of the Conservative Party, the MPs could not force a vote of no-confidence on the prime minister for at least a year after her election.

Yet, early on Thursday morning, Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the powerful “1922 Committee” that represents the views of backbench MPs, went to see Truss at 10 Downing Street and informed her that she had lost the trust of the majority of Tory MPs and that it would be more dignified for her to resign, rather than to be forced out. Therefore, she found that she had no option but to resign.

In her short resignation statement, she said: “I came into office at a time of great economic and international instability… And we set out a vision for a low-tax, high-growth economy that would take advantage of the freedoms of Brexit. I recognise, though, given the situation, I cannot deliver the mandate on which I was elected by the Conservative party. I have therefore spoken to His Majesty the King to notify him that I am resigning as leader of the Conservative party.”

Thus ended Truss’s tumultuous premiership. Her departure after only six weeks in office was a rapid and humiliating fall from power that throws her Conservative Party into further disarray. She said she would remain party leader and prime minister until a successor is chosen within a week. This would make the choice of her replacement even less democratic than the way she was elected (selected) following the messy departure of Boris Johnson over the summer. This time, instead of going to the party members in the country, only Tory MPs will choose her successor.

If all goes well (and judging by the events of the past few weeks that is going to be a tall order), one of the prominent Conservative MPs, presumably one of those who took part in the last election campaign, will be chosen to succeed her. The problem is that there are few MPs who are prepared to welcome this poisoned chalice, knowing that their tenure will also be a short one. Among the leading candidates, the former Chancellor of Exchequer who received the highest number of votes by Tory MPs has remained silent and some of his friends have said that he is no longer interested in the job. The current Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is popular with most MPs, but he too has ruled himself out.


British Parliament Building via Pixabay.

The situation has become so bizarre that some MPs have suggested that they should ask the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson who was forced out of office following a number of scandals to return to his former job. In his resignation speech, Johnson who is a lover of the classics intriguingly made a reference to the Roman statesman Cincinnatus, who left power only to be called back to office when his people were in trouble. He had also compared himself to Winston Churchill who was invited to serve as prime minister when the country was facing a major crisis. However, many opposition figures have said that he should be barred from returning to office given his past record.

Whatever happens, it is clear that British politics is passing through a period of the worst crisis since the Second World War. The current problems started with a foolish referendum called for by the former Prime Minister David Cameron on whether to stay or leave the European Union. As a parliamentary democracy, British policies are not decided by referenda, especially on such a complex issue as the EU membership. The vote in favour of Brexit was won by a small majority of voters. It was pushed by a small number of fanatical MPs and political activists who allegedly wanted to make Britain independent and to usher in a brilliant era of economic progress. Brexit was opposed by the majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat voters. It was also opposed by a decisive majority of voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and even by a number of senior Tory MPs.

Brexit has strengthened independence campaigns in Scotland and Northern Ireland and its disastrous consequences have also turned many of its initial supporters against it. Not only has Brexit not led to economic progress, it has acted as a deadly poison in the British body politics, cutting Britain off from the largest single market in the world. Polls show that if a referendum was held today, a big majority of people would vote against it.

The situation has been aggravated by the aftermath of Covid that has brought the National Health Service to its knees, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the highest rate of inflation for 40 years, unprecedented high energy costs, a looming recession, increased interest rates, making life very difficult for old-age pensioners, those with mortgages, and those on low income.

In the midst of all this, Truss and her short-lived Chancellor of Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng introduced a new budget dropping the top rate of tax which would only benefit the super-rich, lifted the limit on bankers’ bonuses and raised the tax for most of the people. These Neo-Conservative policies that were based on extreme economic ideologies and free market fundamentalism that were hostile to workers’ rights and the environment, crashed the pound, raised mortgage repayments and dramatically hyped the cost of borrowing. Kwarteng was forced to resign only three weeks after being appointed to his job.

This shambolic change of government has not only undermined Britain’s standing in the world, it has also weakened the Western alliance at a critical time in the history of the world. The rise of right-wing politicians in Italy, Hungary, Turkey and now Britain has delivered a major blow to Western democracy. If the Republicans manage to gain control of the House and Senate in next month’s mid-term election, the West will be in a much weaker ideological position in its confrontation with China, Russia and other autocracies. These events must be a wakeup call for the West to rethink its policies and put its house in order.

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Who will Britain’s Next Leader Be? 3rd female Prime Minister or the 1st PM of Indian Origin? https://www.juancole.com/2022/07/britains-minister-origin.html Tue, 26 Jul 2022 04:08:26 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=205999 Oxford (Special to Informed Comment) – The two candidates selected by the Conservative members of the British Parliament to replace Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, went head-to-head in their first TV debate organized by the BBC on Monday night, 25 July. The new selection of Conservative Party leader and therefore Prime Minister comes after the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to resign.

After of a series of scandals, Johnson’s opponents called for a vote of confidence in Parliament on 6th June. Although he won the support of 211 Conservative MPs, 148 MPs or 41% of Conservative MPs voted against him. The size of the rebellion against him encouraged his opponents to pile the pressure on him.

A number of new scandals provided an excuse to push Johnson out of office. Last February, Johnson appointed Chris Pincher as the Government Deputy Chief Whip. After allegedly groping two men while he was drunk, Pincher resigned on 30 June 2022. Johnson who had allegedly described him as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”, denied that he had known of the extent of his sexual misconduct, but the intervention of a former top civil servant Lord Simon McDonald who in an interview with the BBC confirmed that Johnson had been informed of the incident sealed his fate.

During Prime Minister’s Question Time on 6th July, a Conservative MP, Tim Loughton, asked “Does the prime minister think there are any circumstances in which he should resign?” Johnson replied that only a couple of years ago he had won a landslide election with the biggest Tory majority since 1987, and that it was his duty to continue and implement his mandate. However, during the day, 51 ministers including some of the most prominent members of his cabinet resigned and by the evening he discovered that he had no government to run. On 7th July, an unrepentant Johnson appeared in front of the black door of 10 Downing Street and announced his resignation. He said that he had wanted to deliver his mandate, “But as we’ve seen, at Westminster the herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves it moves, and, my friends, in politics no one is remotely indispensable.”

According to the British Constitution, the members of the ruling party in parliament, in this case the Conservative Party, select two candidates out of all those who have put themselves forward for election in a series of secret ballots, and then the members of the party in the country select one of them to be the party leader and therefore the Prime Minister.

A remarkable aspect of the race among the candidates vying to be the next British prime minister has been that out of eleven original candidates, five of them were either foreign born or were the children of immigrant families.

Sajid Javid (born 1969), the former Chancellor of Exchequer, Home Secretary and Health Secretary, is the son of Muslim Pakistani Punjabi parents who migrated to the UK in the 1960’s.

Nadhim Zahawi (1967) is an Iraqi-born Kurdish Muslim politician whose parents fled to England when he was 11 years old. He also served as the last Chancellor of Exchequer and a health minister.

Suella Braverman (1980), a lawyer who has served as the Attorney General for England and Wales, is the daughter of Indian parents who migrated to Britain from Kenya and Mauritius. Her mother was born to a Hindu Tamil Mauritius family. Braverman herself is a Buddhist.

Kemi Badenoch (1980) is the daughter of Nigerian parents, who spent part of her childhood in Lagos and the United States before returning to the United Kingdom at 16. She was elected to the House of Commons in 2017 and when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019, he appointed Badenoch as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families, and the following year as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury and in 2021 she was appointed as Minister of State for Local Government, Faith and Communities and served as Minister of State for Equalities from 2021 to 2022.

Rishi Sunak (1980) who served as Chancellor of Exchequer from 2020 until he resigned in protest at Johnson’s policies, was born in Southampton to Punjabi parents, and is a practicing Hindu. Sunak is believed to be the richest man in the House of Commons, thanks to his past career as a banker and his marriage to Ms Murty, the daughter of one of India’s most successful entrepreneurs. The Sunday Times Rich List values Mr Sunak and Ms. Murty’s fortune at £730m (nearly $860m). Before going into politics Sunak worked for the US investment bank Goldman Sachs and had a U.S. Green Card.

This says a great deal about how much the Conservative Party has changed during the past few decades. In the past, Conservative cabinets were mainly staffed by rich and privileged white people educated at Eton or one of the other exclusive private schools, moving almost automatically to Oxbridge. Mrs Thatcher was the first Conservative prime minister to have a relatively large number of Jewish ministers from East European origins. The late patrician prime minister, Harold Macmillan, sarcastically quipped that Mrs Thatcher had filled her cabinet with Estonians, instead of Etonians.

Boris Johnson’s cabinet by contrast was the most diverse cabinet in British history, with some of the most prominent posts in the cabinet, including the Chancellor or Exchequer, Home Secretary, Education Secretary, Business Secretary, Secretary of State for Europe and North America, etc being held by the children of immigrants. It is no wonder that some of the leading candidates for succeeding him also come from diverse backgrounds.

The election (or rather selection) of the next British Prime Minister is rather bizarre. Johnson’s replacement will not be elected by the 47 million adults registered to vote, but by around 160,000 grassroots Conservative Party members who are not at all representative of the British population as a whole. The members of this rather exclusive club can start voting from the beginning of next week, and the winner will be announced on September 5.

According to the most recent research, 63% of Conservative Party members are male, and 37% female. 6% are under 24-years-old, 36% are aged 25 to 49-years-old, 19% are aged between 50 and 64-years-old, and 39% are over 65. 24% backed Remain in the EU referendum, and 76% backed Leave. 56% live in London and the south-east of England, 18% in the Midlands and Wales, 20% in the north of England and 6% in Scotland. 80% belong to the highest social economic groups known as ABC1, with an income of more than £100,000 a year. Therefore, a very small number of mainly white, middle-aged, wealthy, male Brexiters, most of whom live in the affluent London or south-east of England, will select the next British prime minister who will be in office until the next election which is due to be held on 17 December 2024.

So far, there has been little discussion of issues such as inflation, climate change, the cost of living, levelling up, to name a few. Instead, both candidates are competing with each other to see which of them can appeal most to right-wing Conservative voters. Both of them are in favour of Brexit. Although initially Liz Truss was a Remainer, but since joining Johnson’s cabinet, she has been among the most ardent Brexiters. Both of them are in favour of overriding the Northern Ireland Protocol, and deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. Truss has announced plans for a “bonfire” of EU laws retained after Brexit. She has promised to scrap or replace all such laws which she argues hinder growth, by the end of 2023.

She also promises immediate tax cuts, while Sunak who wishes to portray himself as a fiscally responsible candidate believes that tax cuts must start next year, after he has tamed the rate of inflation at 9.1%, the highest for 40 years.

Both Sunak and Truss are staunchly pro-NATO and believe in maintaining close ties with the United States. Both of them will continue British support for Volodymyr Zelensky’s government and believe that Russian forces must be forced out of all the territory they have occupied in Ukraine, including Crimea.

Rishi Sunak has said that he would put the UK on a “crisis footing” on day one as PM. He believes the country is facing a national emergency, including on the economy, the NHS and migration, and therefore radicalism, change and moral courage is needed in order to overcome the problems that Britain is facing.

In an interview with the Times, he said a “business-as-usual mentality isn’t going to cut it” when it comes to dealing with challenges that are “staring us in the face”. “Having been inside government I think the system just isn’t working as well as it should. And the challenges that I’m talking about, they’re not abstract, they’re not things that are coming long down the track,” he said.

It is strange that both candidates are very critical of the government in which they served as Chancellor of Exchequer and Foreign Secretary.

Most polls show that Liz Truss is the favourite among the Conservative voters and the bookies. According to YouGov’s latest poll, Truss is leading Sunak by 62% to 38% among Tory members, a lead that will be difficult to overturn. A sizeable number of Conservatives believe that Sunak stabbed the prime minister in the back, and there seems to have been a concerted effort by Johnson’s supporters to prevent Sunak from winning the vote. A recent YouGov poll showed that even now 25% of Tories wish that Boris Johnson was still Prime Minister, 60% would prefer someone else and 15% don’t know.

With a difficult winter ahead as the result of Covid, a looming recession, high inflation, exorbitant gas and energy prices, an accelerating climate crisis, the now emerging problems of Brexit seen during the past few days in long lines of cars and trucks stuck at border crossing points to Europe, ongoing war in Ukraine threatening to get out of hand, and the unresolved Northern Ireland Protocol, the next prime minister will have a mountain to climb. No matter which of the two candidates wins, it is clear that the next government will be more populist and more right-wing. Whether with such policies they can defeat the Labor Party in the next general election remains to be seen.

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On Nowruz, the Persian New Year: Can the United States and Iran Turn a New Page in Their Relations? https://www.juancole.com/2022/03/persian-united-relations.html Sun, 20 Mar 2022 04:08:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203579 Oxford (Special to Informed Comment) – Sunday 20th March is the vernal equinox, which has been traditionally celebrated by Iranians as Now Ruz (New Day), the Iranian New Year. It is also celebrated in many countries in the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The first recorded mention of Now Ruz dates back to 538 BC under Cyrus the Great, but the festival is older and goes back to early Zoroastrian times. According to Ferdowsi’s epic poem Shah Nameh (completed in 1010), Now Ruz was instituted by the mythical Iranian King Jamshid who defeated the demon of darkness and ushered in light and warmth with the start of the Spring. Iranians see Now Ruz as the time for renewal, regeneration, the end of hostilities and turning a new page in their lives.

Iran-US relations have gone through many ups and downs, and have moved from extreme friendship to extreme hostility. Maybe this year’s Now Ruz is a good opportunity for both nations to start anew. What are the main causes of the current conflict between the two countries, and is there any way to bridge that gap and establish at least cordial if not friendly relations between the two? The following bullet points refer to some of the headlines of this long and complex relationship.

1- One of the problems with these relations has been the fact that they have often been based on emotions and sentimentality, rather than on pragmatism and rationality. Henry John Temple who served twice as the British prime minister in the mid-19th century has a famous saying: “Nations do not have permanent friends or enemies, only interests”. The first requirement for better relations between Iranians and Americans is that they should separate their personal feelings from political relations between the two states and nations.

2- The ancient Iranian prophet Mani (216-274) believed in a dualistic cosmology according to which the world is ruled by two opposing forces of good and evil, light and darkness, day and night. He believed that these two forces are in constant struggle until one of them triumphs over the other. In English, the term “Manichaeism” has come to mean duality and the struggle between good and evil.

Unfortunately, this philosophy seems to have had a lasting effect on the Iranian psyche, right up to the present time. Iranians are often accused of “efrat va tafrit”, namely going to an extreme in one direction or the other. What is so strange is that many Americans also share this trait and often see things in black and white, with little awareness of all the shades of grey in between. When Americans befriend a government, as they did with the late Shah’s government or the current Israeli government, they see no evil and hear no evil, but when they turn against a government they take their hostility to extremes as they have been doing with Iran since the Iranian Revolution. In other words, their relations with many countries are based on a zero-sum game.

3- Relations between individuals are very different from relations between nations. We may form a friendship with someone who shares our views and characteristics. On the other hand, nations are large and complex organisms that contain many different and sometimes contradictory interests and policies.

In some ways, there are many similarities between Iran and the United States. The United States is a nation composed of people from all over the world. According to figures produced in 2020, American society was divided into the following groups:

Population 330 million

White 57.8%

Hispanics 18.7%

Black 12.1%

Asian 5.9%

Muslims 1.1%

Jews 2.4%

According to the figures provided by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2021, there are also more than 1.5 million people of Iranian descent living and working in the United States.

Iranian society is equally diverse. According to figures published in 2019, Iran has the following ethnic divisions:

Population 85 million

Persian 61%

Azeri 16%

Kurdish 10%

Lurs 6%

Baluchis 2%

Arabs 2%

Turkmen 2%

Others 1%

4- Relations between nations are not static, but vary depending on who is in power at different times. Clearly, Iranian relations with the United States under Mohammad Reza Shah were quite different from those under Ayatollah Khomeini, and in recent times the policies of President Obama towards Iran were very different from those of President Trump.

5- Relations based on friendship are different from economic and political relations between governments. Most countries manage to separate their political relations with other countries from their economic interests. India is a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation led by China. At the same time, she is also a member of the so-called Quad, comprising the United States, India, Japan and Australia, with the aim of confronting China. India has extensive commercial relations with both sides.

China has signed a 25-year economic agreement with Iran to invest some $400 billion into the Iranian economy, but she also has equally large agreements for economic cooperation with the GCC states and Israel that are regarded as Iran’s rivals if not opponents.

Iran’s neighbour Turkey is a member of NATO, yet has friendly relations with Russia and China. Turkey bought the Russian S-400 missile defence system in 2019, much to USA’s annoyance, and she has also signed an agreement under which Russia will build a nuclear reactor in Turkey. At the same time, she has major differences with Russia over Syria, Libya and even Ukraine to which she has sold high-precision weapons that have been used against Russia. Nevertheless, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has remained fairly neutral and has even tried to mediate between them. Having an agreement with one side does not prevent agreements with other players.

Friends turned into enemies:

As far as political relations between Iran and the United States are concerned, they have gone through many changes over the past two centuries. The early phases of those relations were very cordial and even friendly. In 1907, Howard Baskerville, a recent graduate from Princeton University, went to Iran and started teaching English and American history to mixed classes of boys and girls at the American Presbyterian-run Memorial School in Tabriz, the capital of Iranian Azerbaijan.[1]

In 1909, when the Constitutional Revolution was facing opposition from the Qajar ruler Mohammad Ali Shah who wanted to reverse the revolution, Baskerville was so impressed by the people fighting for their freedom that he joined the revolutionaries. On April 19, 1909, Baskerville was killed by a sniper’s bullet and was buried in the Christian Armenian cemetery in Tabriz, while over 1,000 mourners took part in his funeral. He was 24 years and 9 days old.

He was eulogised as a patriot and martyr of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution. Right up to the present time, a bronze bust of Howard Baskerville is on display in the Tabriz Constitutional House. Aref Ghazvini, one of Iran’s leading poets, travelled to Tabriz to pay tribute to Baskerville in 1923 and wrote an ode in his honour.

In 1909, after the Constitutional Revolution triumphed, Iran’s Constitutionalists turned to the United States for assistance to reform its finances. When President William Taft took the oath of office in 1909, his inaugural address expressed optimism about the possibility of improved trade relations with Iran. In 1910, the newly-minted Iranian Parliament recruited a 35-year-old American lawyer, Morgan Shuster, to be ‘Treasurer-General’, and gave him broad powers to restructure the country’s finances. Morgan Shuster devised a new taxation system and planned to set up a tax-collecting gendarmerie.

His active support for the Constitutional Movement and his attempts to improve Iran’s financial affairs displeased the two colonial powers of the time, Russia and Britain, forcing the Iranian vice-regent to expel him in 1911. Back in America, he authored a remarkable book, The Strangling of Persia, which still remains one of the best accounts of the designs of foreign imperial powers to suppress the Iranian constitution. In his book, he wrote: “It was obvious that the people of Persia deserve much better than they are getting, that they wanted us to succeed but it was the British and the Russians who were determined not to let us succeed.”[2]

After the First World War, again Iran turned to another American, Dr Arthur Millspaugh, to continue the work that had been started by Shuster. He was a former advisor to the U.S. State Department’s Office of Foreign Trade. He was hired by Iran’s Finance Ministry and served in Iran from 1922-27 and again from 1942-45. He helped Iran become independent of foreign loans, and he was seen by the Iranian public and government as a liberator from foreign dominance.

Back in the United States, he tried to influence the State Department’s policies towards Iran. Following Morgan Shuster’s example, in 1925 Millspaugh published a book about his first assignment in Iran, The American Task in Persia.[3] After his second assignment, he wrote another book, Americans in Persia.[4]

Six main events in Iran-US relations:

In the recent history of Iran-U.S. relations, five events have shaped those relations:

1- The first event was the 1953 US-UK-orchestrated coup that overthrew the popular government of Mohammad Mosaddeq. That event marked a turning point in the popular perceptions of the United States in Iran, and has poisoned bilateral relations ever since.

2- The Islamic Revolution turned Iran from one of the closest US allies in the Middle East to one of its fiercest enemies. The occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran on 4 November 1979, followed by the aborted US attempt to attack the embassy and release the hostages by force, exacerbated the hostilities that have continued right to the present time.

3- While most Americans still hold a strong grudge against Iran due to the hostage crisis, many Iranians hold similar feelings of betrayal and hurt as the result of US support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran on 22 September 1979, which killed and wounded more than a million Iranians. Saddam Hussein’s aggressive war against Iran was supported by the whole world—from the United States to the former Soviet Union, Europe and many regional countries. On the other hand, Iran was isolated and had to fight the war almost single-handedly.

4- The fourth source of Iranian complaint has been the example of double standards regarding nuclear programmes. The West knowingly ignores Israel’s nuclear arsenal amassed initially by even deceiving its closest ally, the United States. Far from imposing sanctions on Israel and demanding that she gets rid of her weapons of mass destruction, the United States has prevented the IAEA from inspecting Israel’s nuclear facilities and has even blocked calls for setting up a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. In contrast to its treatment of Israel’s illegal weapons, the United States has imposed a wave of extraterritorial sanctions on Iran on the basis of Iran’s nuclear programme which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes.

5- The fifth event was the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, which was backed unanimously by the Security Council Resolution 2231 that lifted all sanctions on Iran. The nuclear deal was also endorsed unanimously by the EU Council.[5]

After years of hostility, President Obama finally decided to recognize Iran’s right to have a peaceful nuclear programme under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency to which she was entitled as an NPT member. According to the deal, Iran destroyed most of her nuclear material in return for the lifting of US and UN sanctions.

After the signing of the deal, there were nationwide celebrations in Iran and a widespread feeling of a new dawn in relations between Iran and the West. Iran signed some massive oil and gas deals with European and American companies and Iran put in big orders for US aircraft. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that once the deal was implemented, it could prove to be the floor and not the ceiling of many more ambitious agreements in different fields. Unfortunately, President Trump’s violation of the deal further undermined Iranians’ view of the United States and persuaded them never to trust US governments again.

6- The sixth factor has been the slow pace of return to the JCPOA under President Biden. Despite Mr Biden’s promises during his presidential campaign that he would reverse President Trump’s executive order to withdraw from the JCPOA, and despite the fact that he cancelled a large number of his predecessor’s executive orders, he has dragged his feet regarding the JCPOA. More than a year after taking office, he has not re-joined the deal and has demanded that Iran should return to full compliance with the JCPOA before the United States lifts Trump’s sanctions, despite the fact that it was the U.S. president who violated the deal not Iran.

Six U.S accusations against Iran:

1- Iran is building a nuclear weapon. This claim is manifestly false. Even 14 U.S. intelligence organisations in a joint statement stated that prior to 2003 Iran had made some studies regarding the manufacturing of a nuclear weapon, but she had given up those attempts under President Mohammad Khatami and had not repeated those efforts again.[6] In any case, in its various inspections of different sites, the IAEA had reported that there had been no diversion of nuclear activities towards the manufacturing of weapons.

Furthermore, the nuclear deal blocked all paths to Iran’s access to nuclear weapons. The agreement reduced Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile by 98 percent and restricted the level of enrichment to 3.67 percent. Given that an enrichment level of more than 90 percent is needed to build a single nuclear bomb, the deal makes it impossible for Iran’s uranium to be weaponized. Under the deal, Iran also reduced the number of its centrifuges from 20,000 to a little over 5,000, far below the number that would be needed for manufacturing a single bomb, even if she wanted to do so. Iran closed the Arak reactor, which was capable of producing plutonium, and agreed to severe restrictions on research and development activities in other facilities. In short, the agreement made it virtually impossible for Iran to build a single bomb.

2- Iran has violated the nuclear deal. The IAEA which is in charge of inspecting Iran’s nuclear programme in 15 separate reports has stressed that Iran abided by the terms of the deal until more than a year after President Trump had violated that deal. In response to the illegal sanctions imposed by the United States, Iran went beyond some of the limits for enrichment set out in the JCPOA, but all those activities have also been under IAEA supervision, and there has been no attempt at enriching uranium beyond 60 degrees of purity which is too low for making a bomb.

3- Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. The charge of terrorism has been levelled at many countries, but it all depends on what one means by terrorism. Iran has assassinated a few active opposition leaders abroad, but sadly this is a nefarious practice carried out by many countries, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, to name only two.

Iran helped to establish the Lebanese Hezbollah after the Israeli invasion of that country, but that movement has become a part of the Lebanese government and sees itself as a champion of the Shi’is in Lebanon, rather than as a terrorist organisation. In most of its actions, it seems to act independently rather than taking orders from Tehran.

4- Iran is working with Al Qaeda. The charge of Iran’s collaboration with Al Qaeda is as false as the same charge made against Saddam Hussein. During the lead-up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration levelled two false accusations at Saddam Hussein’s regime. First, that it possessed weapons of mass destruction, and second that it had close relations with Al Qaeda. Those lies paved the way for the devastating war against Iraq. Fast forward nearly two decades and the former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was intensely hostile towards Iran made exactly the same allegations regarding Al Qaeda’s ties with Iran as a parting shot before he left office. Naturally, Pompeo did not provide any evidence in support of his claim, but he knew that this was a highly effective and dangerous charge because the 2001 Authorization for Use of Force passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11 allows the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations.”[7]

5- Iran is intent on destroying Israel. Certainly, the relations between Iran and Israel have gone from correct, if not friendly, relations under the late Shah’s government to extreme hostility. Both sides use very ugly and hateful speech against each other, which only serves to intensify their mutual hostility. Both sides exaggerate the other side’s actions taken against them and refuse to respond to signals of friendship from the other side. While even some Arab regimes that have been implacably hostile to Israel have established relations (under US pressure), there is no reason why Iran which has had a unique relationship with the Jews throughout history cannot move towards friendly relations with Israel. After all, Iranians cannot be more Palestinian than the Palestinians. The best policy for Iran and all Middle Eastern countries is to join the global consensus to help the Palestinians either to acquire their own state alongside Israel or to live in a single state minus the apartheid laws.

6- Hostility with Iran serves US interests in the region. American policy in the Middle East, with non-stop wars with Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc. has been a very sorry chapter in American foreign policy. The United States has sold a huge quantity of weapons to some dictatorial Arab regimes, but as the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown most of them have been unreliable allies. Most of them refused to condemn the Russian aggression and have turned to both Russia and China for purchasing weapons and even nuclear reactors. Persian Gulf regimes have also started mending fences not only with Iran but even with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is visiting the UAE this week-end.

What needs to be done?

1- As the talks in Vienna are reaching their final phase, both countries should draw a line under the Trump era and should move towards closer political and economic relations. Unfortunately, as there is some sign of progress in Iran-US relations, the Israelis have moved beyond acts of sabotage and killing of Iranian scientists to direct attacks on Iranian military installations. There was an attack on an Iranian military base in Kermanshah on 14 February and the Israeli media boasted that six Israeli drones had attacked the base destroying hundreds of Iranian drones.[8] Iran retaliated by hitting an alleged Mossad training base in the Kurdistan region of Iraq near a new US consulate in Erbil.[9]

Meanwhile, in an astonishing move, all Republican Senators, with the notable exception of Senator Rand Paul, in a letter to President Biden, warned him against reviving the nuclear deal with Iran.[10]

2- As the result of a new agreement, Iran should be encouraged to resume her oil exports that were halted following Trump’s sanctions and maximum pressure policy. At a time when oil and gas prices are rising and creating many problems for the European and global economy, Iran’s plentiful oil and gas reserves can make up for the loss of Russian fossil fuel. Iran has tens of millions of barrels of oil in storage which she can release almost immediately, and within a few months can return to exporting more than 2.5 million barrels of oil.

Unhappy about the prospect of Iran competing with Russian exports, during the final phases of the nuclear talks Russia dropped a spanner in the works by demanding that her trade with Iran should not be subject to US sanctions.[11] This threatened to derail the agreement, but after the visit of Iranian foreign minister to Moscow and talks with his Russian counterpart, Lavrov agreed to drop his objections to the deal.[12]

3- After the original nuclear agreement reached in 2015 under President Obama, both sides acted timidly and did not make full use of the agreement. The US Treasury failed to lift all the sanctions that had been agreed and hardliners in Iran also criticised Rouhani’s government alleging that Iran had given up too much in return for too little. This time, both sides should make use of the opportunity and must move fast to expand political and economic relations. The sad history of the past four decades has shown that both sides have lost a great deal as the result of mutual demonization, while their enemies have benefited from Iran’s full participation in regional and international developments.

4- One way to draw a line under the past is for both sides to apologise for past behaviour. In 2,000 when Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami was calling for closer relations with the United States, the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright acknowledged the United States’ role in overthrowing Mosaddeq’s government and called US policy towards Iran as “regrettably short-sighted.”[13] President Biden may not be able to tie the hands of a future US president not to renege on a new nuclear deal as Iran has demanded, but it would be gracious if he could apologise for Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA and the imposition of illegal sanctions on Iran. Equally, many Iranian officials have publicly acknowledged that taking US diplomats hostage was against international law and even against Islamic teachings. Their public apology for that illegal act would go a long way to heal the wounds of the hostage crisis.

After more than four decades of hostility, there is a conjunction of different factors that can bring the two nations together and usher in a new springtime of hope and renewal in their relations. Both sides should seize this opportunity.


[1] For a brief biography of Baskerville see Fereshteh Sabetian: “The American Hero in Iran: The True Story of Thomas Baskerville”, SurfIran, July 17, 2018. https://medium.com/@surfiran/an-american-hero-in-iran-the-true-story-of-howard-baskerville-3953ae752f27

[2] Morgan W. Shuster, The Strangling of Persia: A Personal Narrative, (Mage Publishing, Washington D. C., 1912).

[3] Arthur Millspaugh, The American Task in Persia (New York, Arno Press, 1925)

[4] Arthur Millspaugh, Americans in Persia (Washington D.C., The Brookings Institution, 1946)

[5] “Iran nuclear deal: EU statement on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”, European Council https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2017/10/16/iran-nuclear-deal-eu-jcpoa/

[6] “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities”, November 2007. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Reports%20and%20Pubs/20071203_release.pdf

[7] Public Law 107-40, 107th Congress. https://www.congress.gov/107/plaws/publ40/PLAW-107publ40.pdf

[8] “Hundreds of Iranian Drones Destroyed in Israel-attributed Attack Last Month.” Haaretz, March 15, 2022. https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.HIGHLIGHT-israel-destroyed-hundreds-of-iranian-drones-in-massive-strike-1.10674930

[9] “Deep Dive: Did Iranian missile strike follow ‘unheeded’ warnings?” Amwaj, March 18, 2022. https://amwaj.media/article/erbil-iraq-kurdistan-masrour-barzani-attack-irgc-iran-israel

[10] “GOP senators ramp up pressure on Biden to scrap Iran talks”, The Hill, March 14, 2022. https://thehill.com/policy/international/598117-gop-senators-ramp-up-pressure-on-biden-to-scrap-iran-talks

[11] Trita Parsi, “Already fragile JCPOA talks ‘paused’ over Russian demands”, March 11, 2022 https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2022/03/11/already-fragile-jcpoa-talks-paused-over-russian-demands/

[12] “Amir Abdollahian: Russia to cooperate with Vienna talks until agreement reached”, March 16, 2022. https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/471134/Amir-Abdollahian-Russia-to-cooperate-with-Vienna-talks-until

[13] “Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Remarks before the American-Iranian Council,” March 17, 2000. https://web.archive.org/web/20150707013627/http:/fas.org/news/iran/2000/000317.htm

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Top Nine Policy Recommendations for U.S. in wake of Afghanistan Debacle https://www.juancole.com/2021/08/recommendations-afghanistan-debacle.html Mon, 16 Aug 2021 04:02:02 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=199522 Oxford (Special to Informed Comment) – I do not wish to rub salt into the wounds of US and British officials who are responsible for the humiliating debacle in Afghanistan, but there is no way of sugar-coating this appalling tragedy, especially for hard-pressed Afghans who have experienced war and occupation for over 40 years. In my contacts with various senior Afghan officials and ordinary civilians, especially women, during the past 40 years I had been very encouraged and impressed by how they used a short period of peace to get educated, to establish a civil society, to serve their country and to assume positions of responsibility with relative ease, only for all those hopes and dreams to come tumbling down in a matter of few weeks.

The hasty withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan in the dead of night, the hurried departure of US personnel and a few Afghan helpers under fire from Kabul Airport, and the lightning speed of Taliban victories can only be compared to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975 and for the British to the Suez fiasco of 7 November 1956. In fact, it can be argued that the fall of Afghanistan has been worse than either of those occasions, because both in the war in Vietnam and the invasion of Egypt the other side received powerful support from major powers, while in the case of Afghanistan a bunch of fanatics on motorbikes with no foreign support with the exception of some backing from Pakistan managed to defeat the world’s most powerful superpower.

The Taliban conquered most of Afghanistan in less than two weeks and a day after surrounding Kabul, the Western-backed President Ashraf Ghani who only a day earlier had promised strong resistance fled to Tajikistan with his vice-president and a few other senior officials, leaving the ordinary people to the mercy of the Taliban. It was an act of abject cowardice and betrayal.

No doubt, many articles and books will be written about this great geopolitical failure by the West, but here are some initial thoughts.

1- Already former President Trump and a number of neocons are blaming President Biden for his hasty departure, but this is totally unfair. The problem started with the start of the US venture in Afghanistan, not in the way that it ended. Initially both the Mujahedin and the Taliban were supported by the West and by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and UAE to confront the Soviet forces that had occupied Afghanistan. In fact, it seems that the creation of the Mujahedin predated the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

In a remarkable book, former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates revealed the scale of covert support for the Afghan Mujahedin, even six months prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. [Robert M. Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), pp. 143-49.]

2- The factor that was most responsible for the fall of Afghanistan was President Trump’s decision to announce the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, even without consulting Afghan leaders or Western allies. His decision to hold talks with the representatives of the Taliban in Doha behind the back of the Afghan government emboldened the Taliban and undermined the morale of Afghan leaders and armed forces. It seems in this case, America first became America only.

In his various interviews with the media, Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British Parliament, said that negotiating with the Taliban behind the back of the Afghan government was as if US officials had negotiated with IRA terrorists at the height of the Troubles behind the back of British officials about the fate of Ireland. He complained: “we abandoned the Afghan people”.

3- A clear lesson drawn from the failure of Western intervention in Afghanistan, the same as in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, etc., is that trying to follow old colonial wars in the 19th and the 20th centuries in the current century is bound to fail.

The United States has spent trillions of dollars on these futile wars with a huge loss of life only to leave the situation worse than before. In today’s world most countries and even militia have access to deadly weapons and are not as likely to put up with foreign occupation the way people in the third world were prepared to do in previous centuries.

This does not mean isolationism, but a clear and coherent strategy of working with other countries to achieve common goals. The world is faced with many existential threats, climate change, food and water shortage leading to mass migration, the pandemic, the threat of annihilation by nuclear weapons, etc. None of these problems can be resolved by war or by countries separately. They require collective action and a move away from war to cooperation.

4- One major consequence of the latest failure must be to limit the power and ambition of the neoconservaties and their dream of world domination. The time has come to end the dominance of neocon cabals who have been responsible for distorting US foreign policy and causing mayhem and misery around the world. Millions of liberal Americans who are opposed to the aggressive policies of the neocons must find their voice and must force the neocons to take a backseat in foreign policy.

5- The latest events in Afghanistan must also have a lesson for Israeli right-wing leaders to realise that reliance on brute force and on American backing has its limits. They can ensure their future presence in the Middle East not by non-stop expansion, suppression of the Palestinians and occupation of more and more of their lands. They should seriously start negotiating with the Palestinians in good faith before it is too late.

6- European countries should learn that blind support for US policies is a disservice to them as well as to the United States’ long-term interests. Had they been bold enough to pursue an independent course of action on Afghanistan and other Middle East crises they would have been able to remind some neoconservative US politicians of their excesses and mistakes when they go wrong and prevent catastrophes later. They should act as independent states, rather than as colonies.

7- The resurgence of the Taliban is not only of major importance to Afghanistan but also has many geopolitical ramifications. Without doubt, it cannot be good news for US interests, at least in the short term, but the rule of the fanatics in Kabul can pose many dangers for the neighbouring countries.

There are different scenarios in their relations with neighbouring countries. Pakistan is a clear winner because of its links with its own Pashtun populations and its historical relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Taliban clearly need foreign friends in order to keep their population happy. They could either form an alliance with Pakistan, China and Iran that already have good relations, in which case it will be against India’s interests. Alternatively, they can form an alliance with India and Central Asian states with Russian backing, which would weaken their reliance upon Iran and China. Their best policy, however, would be to have good relations with all their neighbours and with all outside powers, including the West.

8- Finally, understandably, there is a great deal of apprehension in Afghanistan, especially among Afghan women, about a return to the harsh practices of the last time that the Taliban were in power. Despite the promises of some Taliban leaders that they have learned from the past and have moderated their policies, the behaviour of some Taliban fighters in the cities that they have occupied during the past two weeks have been far from reassuring. There have been summary executions, including the dragging the bodies of some of their victims through the streets. In some cities they have expelled women from their jobs and have forced them to go back to the home.

The Taliban must realise that the Afghanistan that they are inheriting is very different from the country that they ruled 20 years ago. There are many more educated Afghans now that there were before. Women have experienced a long period of freedom and social involvement. The whole Afghan society has had a taste of democracy and freedom. They are unlikely to put up with the Taliban’s old, medieval beliefs and practices. For the sake of the vast majority of Afghan people and for the sake of not making themselves isolated as they were before, they must adopt a more progressive and more moderate form of Islam, especially as most of their practices are not in conformity with Islamic teachings. In any case, the world today is not that of 1,400 years ago, and they must move with the times, as Islam prescribes.

9- Now that the West has left Afghanistan and betrayed millions of ordinary Afghans, it is incumbent upon Western governments to at least continue their humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people who will be in need of help more than ever before. It is also important that they take an active interest in the behaviour of the Taliban and will use all the international organisations to ensure that the rights of girls, women, ethnic groups and religious minorities will be respected.

—-

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

ABC News: “Kabul falls to Taliban”

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America wants to be known in Mideast as Champion of Free Speech, so Why is it Censoring Iranian Websites? https://www.juancole.com/2021/06/champion-censoring-websites.html Wed, 30 Jun 2021 04:03:29 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=198630 Oxford (Special to Informed Comment) – The Bureau of Industry and Security, an agency of the United States Department of Justice, in a statement on Tuesday 22 June announced that it had seized 33 websites and news outlets used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), and another three run by the “Iran-backed” Kata’ib Hezbollah in Iraq for allegedly engaging in “disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations”.[1] The list included Press TV, Iran’s main international English-language channel, and Al-Alam, Iran’s Arabic-language channel.

The sites were replaced on Tuesday with notices in English and Arabic saying that they had been “seized” as part of a law enforcement action.[2] Clearly, nobody had told them that Iranians speak Persian, not Arabic.

Whoever was responsible for this gross act of censorship clearly did not know much about various news outlets in the Middle East, because in addition to closing a large number of Iranian news outlets, they also closed down a number of non-Iranian outlets, some of which are even hostile to Iran. They included Forat website that belongs to Amar al Hakim, who is perceived to be one of the best friends of the United States and the Saudis in Iraq.

Additionally, a children’s station, Hud-hud, was shut down, as well as three non-Iranian TV stations, two of which, Al-Anwar and Ahlulbayt based in London and Iraq, belong to the anti-Iranian Shirazi movement. The third, Karbala, belongs to the Imam Hussain Shrine that comes under the supervision of the Iraqi Shia source of emulation (marj’a), Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Lualua TV, an Arabic-language Bahraini channel that broadcasts from the UK, was also taken down.

Several other Shia media outlets, in places as far as Azerbaijan and Nigeria, also displayed seizure notices, prompting some observers to speculate that the crackdown was an attack on Shia sites, both religious and political, in Iran and abroad. Presumably, in the minds of many in the US government, Shia equals the Iranian State.

The seizures have affected only the .com, .org and .net domains that are under US jurisdiction. Some of those websites went back online shortly afterwards under different domains, including Press TV that remains available at the .ir domain.

When Iranian officials block some foreign media that clearly engage in hostile propaganda against the Iranian government and in some cases openly call for boycotting the elections and toppling the regime, US officials are quick to accuse Iran of censorship. During the past few days, Western and especially American authorities and media have been up in arms about the closure of a TV station in Hong Kong. However, as an example of American exceptionalism, the same does not seem to apply to them.

This is despite the fact that the United States claims to be a supporter of free speech, but this grotesque act of censorship is a clear case of double standards and the best example of “do as we say, not as we do”. You cannot establish democracy and free speech in other countries by violating those values so blatantly.

The move also weakens international trust in the independence of US domains and gives credence to the propaganda that the internet is a tool of the empire. It will also strengthen the arguments of Iranian authorities that Western, particularly American, domains are unreliable and even hostile, and Iran has to develop its own National Information Network (NIN), which is an internet nationalisation initiative by Iran.

It is difficult to understand the logic behind this overt act of censorship. One is bound to ask what makes U.S. authorities so afraid. How many Americans watch or listen to the Iranian media that these officials are so worried that they might be misled by Iranian “disinformation”!

Some have argued that the aim of such antics has been to increase leverage against Iran in the nuclear talks. One lesson that we should have learned from President Trump’s violation of the nuclear agreement and his policy of maximum pressure on Iran is that it failed miserably. Not only that policy did not bring Iran to its knees and force it to accept US diktat, on the contrary, it persuaded her to engage in “maximum resistance” and to even increase its nuclear activities.

In January 2020, following the assassination of the commander of Quds Brigade, General Qasem Soleimani, Fars News Agency’s .com domain was blocked. A few months later, the United States seized two websites utilised by Kataib Hezbollah, as well as 92 Iranian domain names. If those measures did not produce enough leverage against Iran, it is unlikely that the closure of 33 other Iran-linked websites would act as a leverage.

The resumption of Iran-US dialogue and the return to the landmark nuclear deal are too important to be subjected to such childish tactics. Furthermore, such hostile actions are contrary to any good-faith negotiations with Iran in the midst of nuclear talks. They will only further alienate the Iranian people from the West and persuade them that the United States has hostile intentions against them, as the Iranian government claims.

It is not clear whether President Biden or senior officials in his administration were involved in or informed of this move. The State Department spokesman Ned Price refused to comment, indicating that US officials working on Iran were likely not in the loop.[3]

If true, this by itself is alarming and shows that neocon influence in all US administrations, Republican or Democratic, is so dominant and widespread that they take major decisions on their own initiative, even against the wishes of their bosses. The same was true of the influence of the neocons under the Clinton and Bush administrations. Even under the Obama administration, the Treasury seemed to pursue its own policy of imposing sanctions on Iran despite the nuclear deal, which was the most important policy initiative by President Obama.

In May 2021, after the United States imposed sanctions against the Islamic Radio and Television Union, the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy praised the move, but called for additional action against traditional media entities and “affiliated television channels, radio stations, websites, and related organizations around the region.”[4] This move seems to be in line with the demands of that think tank and other hawkish pro-Israeli entities.

However, regardless of who has been responsible for this short-sighted and counterproductive action, global public opinion will blame the Biden Administration for it. During the presidential campaign, Biden tried to distance himself from Trump’s illegal acts and unilateral sanctions, and after being elected he announced that “America was back”. However, these moves make it difficult to decide which America is back, because such actions are reminiscent of the illegal and chauvinistic behaviour of the Trump Administration, especially the intensely anti-Iranian campaign waged by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

During his inaugural address, President Biden said: “We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.” We have seen the effects of the US example of power in many disastrous wars fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

After thousands killed and trillions spent over the past 20 years, US forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan in what should be regarded as a humiliating defeat. Even before the remaining US forces have left, the Taliban forces are resurgent and are advancing in various parts of Afghanistan, and the Afghan government is in a very shaky position.

The trip by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah to the White House on 25 June has been described by Afghan officials as most disappointing. Apart from platitudes that the United States was committed to supporting the Afghan people, there was no clear or tangible offer of assistance. The Afghan government could not check the advances of the Taliban when thousands of US forces were stationed in Afghanistan. It is not clear how they can stem the tide when US forces have withdrawn completely.

As for the force of the values, freedom of speech is one of the strongest American values, enshrined in the First Amendment. By censoring foreign websites and radio and tv stations, any pretence of upholding freedom of speech sounds hollow.

All this makes it clear that in its foreign policy the United States under the Biden Administration, as under the Trump Administration, has no strategy, no vision and no imagination for dealing with complex global issues, apart from resorting to force or coercion. Biden is still continuing the illegal sanctions imposed on Iran by Trump, and has been dragging his feet in re-joining the landmark nuclear agreement.

He has failed to reverse Trump’s illegal policies towards the Arab-Israeli conflict and the sham agreements forced on some small Arab states in the name of the Abraham Accords. Not only did it not condemn Israel’s policies of ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and its ferocious attack on besieged Gaza, it is even increasing US military support for Israel. It has not called on the ultra-right new Israeli government to stop the expansion of illegal settlements and annexing more Palestinian territory.

Biden’s anti-Russian and anti-Chinese crusade, resulting in a new Cold War between the East and the West, is making the world much more dangerous than before. In the midst of the pandemic and the threat of climate change, the United States is spending billions of dollars on new nuclear-armed submarines.[5]

What the United States and the world need is a thorough rethink of US foreign policies and a serious attempt to uphold its values, for a change, in deeds and not in words alone. The continuation of the current state of confusion, unipolar policies, neglect of US values, exceptionalism and disregard of international law will prove disastrous for the United States and its relations with the world.

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Fulbright Research Scholar at Harvard. He taught for five years at Cambridge University and for more than 30 years he was a part-time tutor at the University of Oxford.


[1] United States Seizes Websites Used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union and Kata’ib Hizballah https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/united-states-seizes-websites-used-iranian-islamic-radio-and-television-union-and-kata-ib

[2] “US seizure of Iran-linked websites ‘shortsighted’, analysts say”

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/24/how-us-seizure-of-iran-linked-websites-could-lead-to-more-restric

[3] “US seizure of Iran-linked websites ‘shotsighted’, analysts say” Al Jazeera, 24 June 2021. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/6/24/how-us-seizure-of-iran-linked-websites-could-lead-to-more-restric

[4] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/understanding-irans-vast-media-network-arab-countries

[5] “Do We Really need Multi-Billion-Dollar Naval Vessels that can deliver 16,128 Hiroshimas?” https://www.juancole.com/2021/06/billion-vessels-hiroshimas.html

—–

Bonus Video:

Al Jazeera: “US seizes three dozen websites used for ‘Iranian disinformation’”

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Iran: The Election Trump did succeed in Spoiling https://www.juancole.com/2021/05/election-succeed-spoiling.html Wed, 26 May 2021 04:04:03 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=198018 Oxford, U.K (Special to Informed Comment) – Although Iran is one of the few countries in the Middle East that has regular presidential, parliamentary and local council elections, those elections are far from free and fair when judged by the standards of advanced democracies. The June, 2021 polls will be even more flawed, in large part because powerful right wing figures have determined to exclude other candidates even more extensively in the past. But the United States is also partly to blame.

In 2013, the voters had turned to a moderate and centrist candidate, Hasan Rouhani, who won in the first round of the election. Rouhani promised a more open society at home and the resolution of the nuclear dispute with the West. As the result of the energetic efforts of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and President Obama’s decision to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, the landmark nuclear deal was signed. When Zarif returned to Tehran after having signed that agreement, there were nationwide celebrations and many people went to the airport and carried Zarif on their shoulders.

The deal meant that Iran’s nuclear activities became open to IAEA inspections and Iran adopted the provisions of the Additional Protocol. Consequently, the fear of Iran producing an atomic weapon was removed. The lifting of the sanctions meant that the Iranian economy experienced a period of rapid growth and Iran placed billions of dollars of orders for civilian aircraft and for the development of its oil, gas and petrochemical industries.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and imposition of a vast array of illegal sanctions on Iran meant that the Iranian economy went into a nosedive, and the latest chapter of Iranians’ hope of rapprochement with the West collapsed. Many Iranians felt cheated and betrayed, and although Rouhani and Zarif were initially very popular, economic hardships, the banning of Iranian visitors to the United States, and Pompeo’s relentless campaign of the demonization of Iranians turned the people against the moderates.

This time, 590 candidates, including 40 women, registered for election on June 18th, but all of them were eliminated with the exception of seven. Apart from Ahmadinejad, other prominent candidates who were eliminated included Ali Larijani who had served as Majles speaker for 12 years, and was also the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator during the first round of negotiations with the EU-Three.

There are a number of reasons why Iranian voters cannot vote for their favored candidates. The first reason is that the most basic pillar of any democratic system is freedom of expression and assembly, both of which are lacking to a large extent in Iran. Freedom of speech is very restricted and politicians and even journalists often get into serious trouble, including disqualification, jailing and worse, by expressing views that are contrary to the narrow range of views tolerated by the leading figures of the regime.

Even presidents have been censored when they got out of line, as was the case with the first president of the Islamic Republic Abol-Hasan Bani-Sadr who was impeached for opposing Ayatollah Khomeini, was forced to flee and has lived ever since in exile in France. Mir-Hossein Mousavi, former Prime Minister and presidential candidate in the landmark 2009 presidential election that led to nationwide protests and the birth of the Green Movement, has been under house arrest ever since.

Former Reformist President Mohammad Khatami who won the election by the largest margin in post-revolutionary elections has been banned from appearing in public or engaging in any political activity since 2009 when he too supported the Green Movement.

Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the two-term president, was also censored by Ayatollah Khamenei when he opposed Khamenei’s interference in his government by reinstituting the minister of intelligence whom Ahmadinejad had dismissed. The Guardian Council rejected his qualifications when he tried to run for president in the 2017 presidential election and again in the 2021 election.

The second reason why Iran cannot be regarded as a functioning democracy is the lack of an independent judiciary that can enforce the law regardless of political considerations. The current judiciary in Iran is one of the weakest links in the Iranian establishment. Not only is it corrupt and severely politicized, it is clear that many dual nationals that are tried and jailed by the judiciary or by the even the more objectionable revolutionary courts affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) are in practice hostages that are detained as bargaining chips for deals with foreign governments.

The third and the most obvious factor that undermines democracy and fair elections in Iran is the undemocratic role played by the Guardian Council that is in charge of approving the credentials of the candidates. The Guardian Council has 12 members, six of whom are senior clerics appointed directly by Ayatollah Khamenei, and the other six are chosen by the judiciary, whose head is also appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei and answerable to him.

Ahmad Jannati, the 94-year old chairman of the Guardian Council who has been a member of the Guardian Council since 1980 when he was appointed to the post by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, and has been its chairman since 1988, is one of the most rightwing elements in the Islamic Republic. He also occupies the prominent post of the Chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the body charged with choosing the next Clerical (Supreme) leader. By selecting a list of candidates that particularly favors Ebrahim Raisi, the current Head of the Judiciary (Chief Justice), Jannati is practically ensuring Ra’isi’s promotion to the post of Supreme Leader after 82-year old Ayatollah Khamenei’s death.

In all former elections, the Guardian Council made sure to include the names of the candidates from different political groups in Iran, mainly divided into Reformist, Centrist and Fundamentalist (that call themselves Principlists). Therefore, although the voters had a narrow choice of candidates who had been vetted and approved by the rightwing Guardian Council, at least they could choose between the bad and the worse.

In fact, an amazing feature of Iran’s presidential election has been that power has been passed round between one of those three groups and usually when one main party was in power it was followed by a president belonging to one of the other camps. After Khomeini’s death when the then President Ali Khamenei who belonged to the more conservative wing was chosen as the Clerical Leader, Hashemi-Rafsanjani who portrayed himself as “the commander of reconstruction” and belonged to the centrist or moderate wing of the establishment was elected president.

In 1997 after Hashemi-Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami who was the leader of the Reformist Movement asked Khamenei if he would be allowed to run. Wanting to provide a semblance of competition for the establishment candidate Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, Khamenei agreed with Khatami’s candidacy. Once people had a real choice between a hand-picked conservative figure and one who promised to provide greater freedoms at home and better relations with the world, they flocked to him and he won in a landslide with more than 70 per cent of the votes. He lived up to his promises and introduced what could be described as a reformist revolution in Iran and extended the hand of friendship to the West with his Dialogue of Civilizations.

Predictably, Khatami was opposed by the rightwing opponents in Iran who attacked his reformist policies, and unfortunately his approaches to the West were repulsed. He expressed his condolences to “the great American people” following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and his government even helped the United States in its war against the Taliban by persuading the Northern Alliance to cooperate with the Americans. However, the Neoconservatives in the U.S. administration who have always been worried about any rapprochement between Iran and the United States, responded to his friendly gesture by adopting the “dual containment” policy against both Iraq and its enemy Iran, and they even included Iran in the so-called “Axis of Evil”.

The humiliating failure of Khatami’s policy of rapprochement with the West led the voters to move from one extreme to the other, and elect the radical candidate Mahmud Ahmadinejad. The controversial 2009 presidential election, which many Iranians regarded as fraudulent, and the emergence of the Green Movement led to the voters’ disenchantment with Ahmadinejad. As we have seen, his successor, Rouhani, was made to look like a fool when Trump reneged on Western promises of sanction relief, casting doubt in the electorate on the effectiveness of such centrists.

The hard liners have taken advantage of this skeptical mood in the public, as detailed above, to simply sideline anyone outside their tight clique. Another prominent figure who has been rejected is the current First Vice-President Eshaq Jahagiri who was one of the candidates of the Reformist group. All Reformist groups had put Mohammad Javad Zarif’s name at the top of their list, but the leaking of the tape of three hours of his conversation with the Iranian economist Saeed Leylaz in which he talks disparagingly of the excessive power of the IRGC over domestic and foreign policy, and reveals Russia’s destructive role in the nuclear talks put an end to his chances.

The seven candidates who have been approved include Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-line head of the judiciary who was a member of a committee that approved the execution of thousands of jailed members of Mojahedin-e Khalq on Khomeini’s order. So, from the chief executioner and the chief assassin he became the Head of the Judiciary and most probably will be the next president

Mohsen Rezai, the former commander of the IRGC, who ran unsuccessfully in 2005, then again in 2009 and 2013, registered for the June election on May 15, the last day allowed, and was chosen as one of the seven candidates. Saeed Jalili, the hard-line former nuclear negotiator under Ahmadinejad is another approved candidate. Other candidates are minor and little-known conservatives, with the sole exception of Mohsen Mehralizadeh who is known as a Reformist but was not on the list of main candidates by the Reformist groups.

Although Iranian presidents are not the ultimate sources of power in Iran, it is quite wrong to dismiss them entirely. They are in charge of the extensive executive branch and can change the direction the country takes. There clearly was a great deal of difference between a hardliner like Ahmadinejad, a Reformer like Khatami and a Centrist such as Rouhani.

It seems that the next Iranian government will be headed by a radical, right-wing president in close alliance with the IRGC. The lack of any real competition means that the next presidential election is a sham and more an appointment of a pro-regime functionary than a real election. It is predicted that the level of public participation will be the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic. So, the democratic element in Iranian politics will become even weaker.

Although most of the blame for this abysmal situation lies with the fundamentalist, clerical system in Iran, the move to the right can partly be blamed on former President Trump and his policies. If instead of withdrawing from the nuclear deal he had built on it and had brought Iran closer to the West, most probably someone like Zarif would be at the top of the list of candidates and would have had a good chance of winning. So, Trump did a great disservice to Iran, to the United States and to the cause of peace in the Middle East.

——

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

France 24 English: “Iran politics: seven candidates approved to run in presidential polls”

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On 41st Anniversary, has Trump’s Belligerence Strengthened the Iranian Government? https://www.juancole.com/2020/02/anniversary-belligerence-strengthened.html Tue, 11 Feb 2020 05:02:27 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189062 Oxford, UK (Special to Informed Comment) – On February 11, 2020, the Islamic Republic of Iran marks the 41st anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution. Thus, it has defied the Trump administration’s prediction of its demise for two years beyond its allotted time.

In his speech at a conference of the MEK (Mojahedin-e Khalq or People’s Jihadis) in 2017, for which he received huge fees, the former National Security Advisor John Bolton said: “The outcome of the president’s policy review should be to determine that the Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1979 revolution will not last until its fortieth birthday…and that is why before 2019 we here will celebrate in Tehran.”[1]

In 2018 President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani also predicted: “Freedom is right around the corner … next year I want to have this convention in Tehran.”[2]

The Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his neocon allies have tried very hard to fulfill those wishes and to bring about regime change in Iran before its 40th anniversary. To this end, they have implemented a policy of “maximum pressure” and have imposed unprecedented illegal sanctions in violation of the unanimously approved U.N. National Security Council Resolution 2231 that lifted all the earlier sanctions on Iran as part of the nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA).

The nuclear deal was reached between Iran and the United States, and all other permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany (5+1). The deal was also unanimously endorsed by the European Union Commission.

After President Trump violated the nuclear deal (there is no clause in it allowing one side to withdraw unilaterally) on 18 May 2018, Iran continued to abide by it for a whole year. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is in charge of supervising the deal, in 15 separate quarterly reports – five of them since President Trump came to power – has confirmed that Iran had faithfully carried out all her obligations under the deal. As late as last week, the IAEA stated that there had been no violations of the nuclear deal.[3]

A year after US withdrawal from the deal when Iran continued to be deprived of the economic benefits to which she was entitled, the Iranian president announced that Iran would take incremental steps to reduce her obligations under the deal, unless other parties fulfilled their commitments. Although all the steps that Iran has taken so far have been in keeping with the JCPOA, under the IAEA supervision and are reversible, they have been portrayed by US officials as major violations of the deal, and they have continued to increase the sanctions on Iran.

The other signatories to the deal criticised President Trump for his violation of the deal and promised to remain faithful to it. The EU3 (the United Kingdom, France and Germany) tried very hard to keep the deal alive by devising the INSTEX mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran.[4]

However, in view of US pressure and the dominant role that the US dollar plays as an international currency, all their efforts have proved futile. US sanctions amount to a virtual siege or blockade, which is an act of war. Not only have they drastically cut Iran’s oil exports which form a large part of the government budget, they have also prevented Iranian banks and industries engaging in normal business with the rest of the world.

This is on top of the United States blocking Iranian nationals from visiting the United States, and even detaining many Iranian US residents or Green Card holders for hours of questioning at the borders before readmitting them to the United States.

Contrary to the claims of US officials, the sanctions have also blocked the sale of food and medicine to Iran, despite the fact that there is no explicit restriction against them. However, due to the difficulty of banking transactions, in practice, Iranians cannot even import much-needed medicine.

Recently, the Swiss government suggested a new package to sell some $2.3 million worth of medicines to Iran. Even if this plan is implemented it is a drop in the ocean.[5] Before, the imposition of the sanctions, Iran imported more than $3.5 billion worth of medicines a year.

If there were any doubts about President Trump’s real motivation for violating the nuclear deal with all its grave consequences, his remarks at the ceremony unveiling the so-called “Deal of the Century” made his motives absolutely clear. Trump did not violate a truly remarkable non-proliferation agreement that could have acted as a model for other similar deals because it was in any way defective or did not prevent Iran from ever manufacturing a nuclear bomb. The main aim was to help his friend Benjamin Netanyahu in his vendetta against Iran.

When the nuclear deal was being negotiated under President Obama, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress to kill the main foreign policy initiative of a sitting president, and he received dozens of standing ovations for this act of discourtesy. He did not get his way then, but as the Trump administration came to power, surrounded by strong supporters of Israel, including many Christian Zionists, Netanyahu found a unique opportunity to achieve his goal.

Standing next to Netanyahu at that ceremony, Trump said: “As everyone knows, I have done a lot for Israel: moving the United States Embassy to Jerusalem; recognizing — (applause) –- recognizing the Golan Heights — (applause) — and, frankly, perhaps most importantly, getting out of the terrible Iran nuclear deal.”[6] So, it is clear what was the real reason behind violating the nuclear deal.

The US’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran has had a number of other grave consequences. It has put Iran and the United States on a path to war. In May 2019, there were attacks on four ships in the Indian Ocean, and the US said that it was highly likely that Iran was behind those attacks.

When, as directed by former National Security Advisor John Bolton, British marines boarded and stopped an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar for allegedly transporting oil to Syria, Iranian revolutionary guards seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero for alleged violations near the Strait of Hormuz. Both tankers were subsequently released with their cargoes intact.

On June 19, 2019 Iran shot down an advanced US military drone, claiming that it was flying over Iranian territory, and provided the debris of the drone in its waters to prove the point. On 14 September 2019, two major Saudi oil facilities were attacked by 25 drones and cruise missiles, cutting Saudi output by half. The Houthis claimed responsibility for those attacks, but the United States again pointed the finger at Iran.

However, the most serious incidents took place in December 2019 and January 2020. After a US contractor was killed in missile attacks at a US base in Iraq, US officials blamed Kata’ib Hezbollah, which they described as “Iran-backed militia”, for the attack. In retaliation for that killing, US forces attacked three of Kata’ib bases, killing dozens and wounding dozens more. Al-Arabia has put the number of those killed at the bases at 63.[7]

Those killings gave rise to massive protests in Baghdad, including an attack on the US Embassy, which was used as an excuse to assassinate the commander of the IRGC Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani, and the deputy leader of the Kata’ib Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and a few other Iraqi officials who were with them.

Millions of Iraqis and Iranians took part in the funerals of those two generals. In retaliation for Soleimani’s assassination, Iran fired two dozen missiles at two US bases in Iraq. At first, President Trump tweeted that all was well, and no one had been injured. However, gradually it transpired that a number of forces in the bases had suffered traumatic brain injuries. At first, the number was put at 11, then 34, 54, 64, but according to the latest Reuters report more than 100 US troops suffered brain injuries.[8]

Iraqi officials have recently stated that the initial attack on the US base that killed one contractor had been carried out by ISIS, not by Kata’ib forces.[9] So, it seems that the world was brought to the brink of a major war on the basis of either a deliberate lie or a misunderstanding.

It is clear that Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure”, involving crippling economic sanctions and even threats of war has not brought the Iranian government to its knees. On the contrary, it has forced Iran into the position it held prior to signing the JCPOA. Meanwhile, many Majles deputies have demanded that the government should withdraw from the NPT. That will be a very provocative move that will make the situation even worse than it is at present.

But perhaps the worst outcome of Trump’s policy towards Iran has been to undermine the position of the moderates and reformers in the Iranian government and strengthen and embolden the hardliners. On 21 February, Iranians go to the polls to elect a new Parliament or Majles. The current Majles is dominated by moderates with 120 Reformist deputies, 86 hardliners or Principlists, 10 associated Principlists, 66 independents, and five from religious minorities.

However, the hard-line Guardian Council has disqualified a large number of applicants for election, including 90 of the current 290-strong parliamentarians. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has criticised the disqualifications, saying: “We cannot simply announce that 1,700 candidates have been approved and ignore the question of how many political groups those people represent. That’s not what an election is about.”[10] He has called on the current parliament to pass legislation limiting the vetting powers of the Guardian Council.

This issue has opened up a major rift between moderates and hardliners. The West should have supported the more moderate elements who work for reconciliation with the West and more political freedoms at home. Repressive regimes can be changed either through foreign-led military force, and we have seen the consequences of such violent actions in Iraq and Libya; or through a gradual but meaningful change from within. Iranians have shown that they are in favour of peaceful change, but the current policies of the Trump administration have made this almost impossible.

The current impasse in Iran will either result in a much more hard-line government, similar to the one led by President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad, or even in a military coup led by the IRGC. Either scenario will push back the possibility of democratization in Iran by many years, and might even lead to a devastating war. The neocons who have been pushing Trump to pursue these policies have not served him, the United States or Iran well.

The only alternative is for the United States to return to the nuclear deal, lift the sanctions and then try to reach a more comprehensive agreement with the Iranian government. The other alternative is war.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfmLyrQ7E24]

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ouaJ16Lyds

[3] https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-iaea-iran/u-n-watchdog-sees-no-new-iranian-violations-of-nuclear-deal-idUKKBN1ZZ2SU

[4] https://www.dw.com/en/instex-europe-sets-up-transactions-channel-with-iran/a-47303580

[5] https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-02-03/there-s-hope-for-humanitarian-trade-with-iran

[6] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-prime-minister-netanyahu-state-israel-joint-statements/

[7] https://www.zeitoons.com/71386

[8] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-pentagon-tbi-exclusive-idUSKBN2041ZK

[9] https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/02/07/bombshell-iraqi-officials-say-isis-not-iran-likely-behind-rocket-attack-trump-used?cd-origin=rss&utm_term=AO&utm_campaign=Daily%20Newsletter&utm_content=email&utm_source=Daily%20Newsletter&utm_medium=Email

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/09/purge-of-reformists-in-iran-election-could-doom-nuclear-deal-say-diplomats

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