Sunday, 27 May 2012

Theocracy to Autocracy: Iran's Sneaky Revolution And Why Its Got Everyone So Twitchy

Much ink has been spilt over Iran in recent months, largely concerning the daunting issue of a nuclear armed Iran. Since Iran's Islamic revolution the west has long considered Iran its cultural and political polar opposite. But where has this rise in tension come from? A quasi revolution is taking place in the Islamic Republic. In its wake it is leaving a less Islamic and a decidedly less Republican Iran. The one man band causing all this kafuffle is the charismatic and unassuming Admadinejad.

The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)  is currently investigating Iranian nuclear facilities, and so far the results look promising. With P5+1 negotiations (UK, US, Germany, France, China and Russia) to take place this week a resolution to the uneasy tension may play out. But why has Iran got everyone so nervous?

Contrary to its stereotype Iran has been gradually shedding its radical garbs since its Islamic revolution against the Shah in 1979. Internally the Supreme Council of Ayatollah's have overtime become increasingly cynical due to the inflexibility of theocratic governance. In the face of a growing sense of foreign economic inadequacy, international pressure to demonstrate political legitimacy and maturity with Israel, in addition to dire bureaucratic gout  have led even radical conservatives to yield to reformist governments. Resulting in recent decades of opening up of multi-party elections, freer media apparatus, and some lack lustre economic horizon planning.

The radical visions of Khomeini's 1979 revolution were curtailed by a secession of liberal reforming governments headed by Khatami and Rafansanji which reduced  political isolation and economic encirclement felt by Tehran. But with Iran's oil revenue propping up an under achieving economy, worsened still by sky high subsidies, the reformist results were agonisingly unimpressive, although admirable. Admadinejad represents a second generation of ideologues that believe Iranian failing's are due to the wavering from Khomeini's radical vision, the liberals have misguided the Surpreme Council off the righteous path. Admadinejad wants to bring back the good ol' radical days of yore, 1979.

Admadinejad, a relative unknown, swooped to power on a wave of military and insidious security service methods. Using underhand and undemocratic methods he regained the municipalities, the parliament and the presidency in 2003, 2004 and 2005 respectively. Regaining much of the executive and legislative power back from the liberal-reformer camp. Admadinejad's radical ideology is well-grounded in his self-appointed cabinet (average age 49), with military and security services echoing his radical fervour.  So much  so  the conservative Ayatollah's fell into begrudging submission, fearful of this new military heavyweight. Admadinejad marks a departure from theocracy and a shift into a more conventional military-based regime.

There has been a large popular opposition to Admadinejad. Since his election in 2005 the 'Green Wave' has been a mass movement opposing his incompetency to govern. He is renowned for installing likeminded inept ministers, and galvanising political patronage through hand-written letters in response to his peoples pleas, a few quid in an envelope, responding in a Jim'll Fix It fashion, without the fix it.

With Admadinejads election the EU-3 nuclear talks set up by his predecessor collapsed. Admadinejads support relies on fear and the heavy influence of Iranian security and intelligence. Not only does he gain populist support from some Arab supporters and radical elements for his anti-Israeli, anti-west rhetoric, but it also fuels Tehran-Washington tension. This tension - real or not - galvanises his military position, the threat of attack impels his conservative followers to want to reach the nuclear arms threshold quicker - The point at which Israel-US forces would refrain from attacking a nuclear armed state. Obama has told Iran that if it unclenches its fist, it will find an extended hand. Something the liberal forces in Iran advocate strongly, but without avail due to Admadinejads military influence.

It can be hoped that like many authoritarian regimes, incompetent and belligerent management will stifle the production of a working bomb. Incompetency Admadinejad has in abundance. The fear is that if he continues with bumptious rhetoric, bomb or no bomb, Israel may lose their patience. Israel can only rely to a certain extent on its Arrow-2 system and nuclear triad; air, sea and land, as it has practically zero strategic depth. An Israeli premptive attack may act to solidify Tehrans pursuit of nuclear arms. The short-term does not look good for Iran with Israel, in the long-term Admadinejad's current trajectory might spark a regional nuclear arms race, a particularly unstable one.

 Another hope is that the Green Wave movement can move from only being an anti-Admadinejad to an anti system movement, signs of which have been apparent since the dubious 2009 elections. But the broad spectrum of political forces in the Green Wave will need to agree to disagree in order to rid Iran of this charming  sabre rattler and his entourage. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

‘A liberal, a moderate and a conservative walk into a bar…’

So begins a joke in yesterday’s Financial Times; it ends with the barman looking up and saying ‘Hi Mitt.’ The candidate who is now all but guaranteed to challenge President Obama in this year’s election is well characterised by this feed line. Certainly the FT seem vindicated in its interpretation that Romney is a candidate unable to make up his mind; Romney has consistently backtracked and bungled his way through the Republican primaries, leaving a heap of ammunition for Obama’s campaign to cut into hard hitting adverts indicating his indecisiveness.

This is partly true, but in essence Romney’s dithering is reflective of a wider trend in American conservatism that has been evolving since before Reagan. The growing dominance of neo-Conservatism within the Republican Party and their support base is having a telling effect on Romney, who is instinctively a moderate. In effect Romney is being forced to adopt more Rightist policies than he would like since neo-Conservatism has triumphed in taking over the American right: As a result, social issues have been pushed to the fore in the primaries, and Romney has had to adopt a belligerent and aggressive foreign policy outlook based on American exceptionalism and the aim to bring American values to the world.

As the FT has highlighted, it is with foreign policy that he is most easily able to assert that he was a true conservative, since as Governor of Massachusetts he had no foreign policy and so has had no precedent to diminish his claims. This neo-Conservative influence has been guaranteed by his foreign affairs team, which contains less realists and less diversity than under George W. Bush.

However Romney is not a natural neo-Conservative, and his domestic record highlights this. Whilst labelling Obama’s healthcare plan (‘Obamacare’) as ‘socialist’, he pre-empted Obama’s plan by introducing something similar in Massachusetts. His domestic record also indicates his willingness to debate tax rises, and on the moral front, his Mormon faith does not sit well with many Christian voters.
Essentially, Romney is being pushed right by voters who are reacting to the black, ‘socialist’ Obama. However the propagation of moral issues and the right shift of the Republican Party, who on the face of it are just reacting to this public move, has been an agenda pushed by neo-Conservatives for over two decades.

The two American parties are further apart now than they have ever been but it has been the Republicans who have most vehemently pushed ideology over pragmatism. The use of brinkmanship tactics that ultimately resulted in the downgrading of America’s credit rating is one fiscal example. Perhaps more dangerously it has been the triumph of the radical-Right agenda in the social and foreign sphere that is forcing Romney to make promises he is not keen to keep, but may have to if he is elected.