Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Oddest of Bedfellows

The question of the moment remains: why would the Islamic Republic steal 15 British sailors? The controversy surrounding the particular circumstances of the kidnapping (actual location of ship, details of capture, etc) is exciting, but not particularly edifying. So, lets look to motive.

A Matter of Survival

Preservation of the Islamic Revolution and freedom from foreign influence are the sine qua nons of Iranian policy. In order to guarantee that, Iran fixates on foreign targets provoking conflicts tailor-made for domestic consumption. Xenophobia boosted by Islamic nationalism is the only common denominator in Iranian society; without it, the regime will disintegrate. The recent spat with Britain is only the most recent reflection of a lengthy trend.

Britain: The Other Great Satan
Why attack Britain and not the US? Iran has a strong historical beef with Britain, starting with direct Limey intervention in Iran’s affairs starting at about the turn of the 20th century working its way through Musadagh’s nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (they survived the process; today we call them BP, btw). At any rate, after Britain’s role in the 1953 overthrow of Musadagh, Britain sealed their fate and became popularly reviled throughout Persia. Hell, Whitehall wouldn’t send a full ambassador between 1979 and 1998 (Iran actually had the gall to call ambassadorial appointee David Reddaway a ‘spy’ and PNG him in 2002). Besides, Iran has been sticking it to the Brits for years; have a look at the short list. So, the better question is: Why not attack Britain?

Mullahs, Mayors, and a Last Name I Still Can’t Say Correctly
Ahmandinajiad is not in control of the Islamic Republic but he does play that role on TV. Real power lies with Ayatullah Khatami and the 12 members [six Islamic jurists (faqih) and six clerics (imam)] of the Guardian Council. These men have long known one simple and immutable way of controlling the Persian water boiler: release the pressure valve on foreign threats. Rabid xenophobia remains the hallmark of Iranian policy, both foreign and domestic. At times of domestic turbulence, Iran finds a foreign adversary. To wit: Sure, Saddam started the Iran-Iraq War, but Khomeni refused to end it in 1982, insisting on reparations. When the war ended 7 years later, he gained nothing he wouldn’t have walked away with in ’82—unless you count a relatively united domestic front. Then the Rushdie Affair in ’89. Fingerpointing during Desert Storm. Iran stayed a bit quiet (though not entirely as efforts to export the Revolution proved unsuccessful) during the mid-90s but then started ramping up support of the likes of Hizbullah and other terrorist groups. After the crackdown on students in 1999, Tehran has pointed its eye to the West once more in search of scapegoats.

You Can Call Him Al
Ayatullah Ali Khameini is confident that the EU will do nothing because the EU will do nothing. He can also be fairly certain the UN will do nothing because they will do nothing (China and Russia would never allow it). Does anyone want to argue otherwise? That forces Britain to move closer towards the only game in town: America. Since the US is still poised to swing on Tehran over her nukes, Iran seems to be heaping up the causi belli with this latest spat. I think the Guardian Council suspects that it needs a fight to stay relevant and legitimate. Taking American servicemen would have provoked serious and immediate retaliation. The Brits, however, will try talking first. But what happens in a week, a month, a year? If Iran continues down this path, Britain and the US will be compelled to act unilaterally. Iran needs this to check internal dissidence and they’re eventually going to run out of non-confrontational Westerners. All that remains is a spark.

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