Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The fracturing of Iran and the rise of the Revolutionary Guards 

Stratfor's morning "geopolitical diary" addresses the imminent presidential election in Iran; the firm thinks that it is much more important than one might suppose, given the limited attention to it in the West. Brief commentary follows.

Undoubtedly, this is shaping up to be the most important presidential election in Iran’s history, especially because it is a bellwether of what is happening at a higher level: a potential unraveling of the political system that has been in place since Iran’s 1979 revolution. As we have noted previously, the cohesiveness of the Iranian state has been deteriorating, with a rift between the president’s ultra-conservative camp and the pragmatic conservative camp led by Rafsanjani. The United States’ offer of rapprochement has made the situation even more urgent, as Tehran needs to arrive at an internal consensus on the direction of foreign policy and seek economic rehabilitation.

Ahmadinejad’s policies have been exacerbated divisions that have long existed, especially since the 1989 death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Until fairly recently, his successor, Khamenei, kept this internal dissent contained by balancing between different factions that have controlled various state institutions. During Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the internal struggle has shifted: Where it once was a matter of the policy preferences of rival camps within a conservative-dominated political establishment, it has become a situation in which the nature of the Islamic republic’s political system is in question.

Because he is the first Iranian president who is not also a cleric, Ahmadinejad sought to strengthen his position by claiming that his policies were guided by the highly revered and hidden 12th imam of the Shia, the Mahdi. This claim has unnerved the clerics: It undermines their privileged position, not only in the Iranian political system but also in religious terms. The implication of this is that if laypeople have access to the messiah, there is no need for them to rely on clerics — who historically have had tremendous influence among the masses.

Meanwhile, the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is emerging as a powerful player in Iran, currently second only to the clerics. But as the clerical community becomes marred by internal disagreements and the aging ayatollahs who founded the republic anticipate the day when they will be succeeded by a second generation, the IRGC is very likely to emerge as the most powerful force within the state. The ayatollahs have used their religious position to control the ideological force; if they should become weaker, the non-clerical politicians and technocrats will have a tough time dealing with the IRGC.


Shorter Stratfor: Be careful what you wish for.

It had been an article of faith among dovish critics of the Bush administration's unapologetic posture toward Iran that American policy was operating to unite nationalistic Iranians who might otherwise be divided. The belief was that a softer American policy would divide Iranians and strengthen moderates who would push for a less adventurous foreign policy, particularly in Iraq, the Gulf, and the Levant, which in turn would diffuse the "security dilemma" that supposedly motivates Iranian aggression.

If Stratfor is correct, then the doves are getting their wish insofar as the Iranian consensus is breaking down. The clerics might, finally, be losing power along with their frayed credibility.

The question, flagged at the end of the Stratfor piece, is that we do not know who will emerge to take up whatever power the clerics lose. The doves assume that the moderates who win the election will gain in strength, but that is not the only possible result. What if the Revolutionary Guards, the corrupt and brutal organization with the most to lose if Iran becomes less confrontational in its foreign policy, are the ultimate beneficiaries of the fracturing in the Islamic Republic? That would be destabilizing for everybody in the region and put an end to any hope (if there ever was any) for a non-military solution to Iran's nuclear weapons program. Then, the problem with the dovish/apologetic position embraced by the Obama administration will not be that it has failed to divide Iran, but that it has succeeded.


By Blogger narciso, at Tue Jun 09, 10:06:00 AM:

Correct, with Ahmadinejad, and Larijani,and Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, Jaafari, possibly even Fakrizadeh, the mastermind of the Iranian nuclear program,all IRGC veterans, just off the top of my head, they will likely serve a function much like the siloviki in today's Russia, or the FAR in Cuba or the PLA in China. Something Newsweek didn't consider in the
'breathless' profile of the leadership. I think Moussavi's probably the acception  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Jun 09, 10:33:00 AM:

The gist of the whole piece seems to be 'this election might change things,' which is hardly a shocking surprise. If we could all turn our collective memories back to 2005, that election also changed things. If we go back even further to 1989 when Rafsanjani (moderate Iranian President #1) was in power, or when Khatami took over in 1997, that also changed things. That's what elections are for.

But nothing changed very much.

In 1992 and 1994 (during Rafsanjani's term) Iranian intelligence and Hezb Allah (but I repeat myself) bombed Jewish targets in Argentina. In 1996 they aided al Qaeda in bombing Khobar Towers. Iranian interference in Iraq began in 2003, during Khatami's term. The big scary nuclear weapons program was publicly revealed in 2002, also during Khatami's term. Iranian dissidents and 'traitors' abroad were assassinated throughout.

"with Ahmadinejad, and Larijani,and Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, Jaafari, possibly even Fakrizadeh, the mastermind of the Iranian nuclear program,all IRGC veterans..."

Neither Ahmadinejad nor Ghalibaf were ever in the IRGC.  

By Blogger narciso, at Tue Jun 09, 11:05:00 AM:

Cannonfire, is this link from global security.org, enough to disprove that;


The fact that Moussavi, was prime minister, after they ousted Bani Sadr, means little will change, but
they will be more subtle about it.  

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