Soob

Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Khamenei Primer


He of Oz, the illustrious Wizard Shane introduced a correspondence to myself and others on Newsweeks most controversial op-ed in some time written by the prince of blustering rhetoric, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Shane highlights a reaction to this piece of glossy toiletry at Not A Sheep:

It is 1938 and the 5 year old news magazine Newsweek magazine publishes an article by the German Chancellor Herr Hitler explaining how the problems in his country are due to the Jews, how the world is threatened by the might of the British Empire and how he only desires to live in peace with the Czechs, the Poles and the French. Not very likely is it, indeed not. However this week in 2007 Newsnight has published a "SPECIAL GUEST COMMENTARY - An Arrogant Approach - The danger of unilateralism— for the United States and the world"...


An interesting take, but I think it falls short. The comparison of Ahmadinejad to Hitler ignores several realities in Iran. Contrary to Hitler's Germany in 1938, Iran is facing both economic and demographic decline. Further, social cohesion is anything but strong with growing domestic dissent in light of Ahmadinejad's failed promises for economic reform and blow back for his stifling of popular resistance. Last, the mainstream assumption that Ahmadinejad is truly holding the reins of power in Iran is simply not true. The man steering the ship is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who served as Iran's president under the infamous Ayatollah Komeini. This Washington Post article serves an excellent "primer" for the who and why of Iran's Supreme Leader. Some excerpts:

The supreme leader is an enigma even to most of Iran's 70 million people. In fact, he's far more cautious, conservative and pragmatic than the bellowing Ahmadinejad. Khamenei wants a "Goldilocks" kind of Islamic Republic -- not too hot, not too cold. He's reluctant to tilt too far in any one direction and keen to keep squabbling factions on board. He says that nuclear weapons are un-Islamic but heartily approves of the knowledge and fuel required to build them. And he is even willing to work with the United States to bring stability to Afghanistan and Iraq -- as long as Iran gets to expand its regional influence by keeping its feeble neighbors under its thumb...

Khamenei was a very different type of president from Ahmadinejad, a turbanless layman. Khamenei also gave fiery speeches before the U.N. General Assembly, but unlike Ahmadinejad, he never regaled the world body with mystical tales about the return of the "Hidden Imam," a messianic figure whose reappearance is said to herald the apocalypse. In government circles, Khamenei was known as a policy wonk with a keen interest in defense matters, budget reports and administrative details...

For Iran's top cleric, 0Khamenei also has scant religious authority -- a surprising deficiency for the chief of a theocracy and a stark departure from Khomeini. Most Shiites in Iran and abroad now look elsewhere for spiritual guidance, to a handful of bookish ayatollahs or to neighboring Iraq's most respected Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. All this has made the supreme leadership into an office that's far more political and Iran-focused than had been intended by Khomeini, who wanted to run not merely a country but a pan-Islamic revolution...

In the past, Khamenei has not been averse to talking to Washington. He gave tacit support to an ill-fated memo offering direct U.S.-Iranian talks in 2003, and a year later, he publicly endorsed discussions over Iraq. But times changed after Iran dug in its heels over the nuclear issue and found itself looking down the barrels of U.S. guns. The threat of war has abated after this dramatic week, but for the man who rules Iran, two overriding concerns linger: ensuring that his regime survives and ensuring that he remains at the head of it. As the National Intelligence Estimate itself put it, "Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs." But Tehran's decisions are also guided by one man, and anyone serious about understanding the sources of Iranian conduct needs to keep an eye on him.


Read the entire article as it's the finest piece in the mainstream I've read in a while regarding Iran. The bluster of Ahmadinejad is just that, bluster. The article illustrates one very important point. The nihilism of Iran's true ruler simply isn't up to the task of being an existential threat to Israel much less an overt threat to the US. Khamenei bears watching but basing policy on the rhetoric of an essentially powerless political puppet while ignoring the realities that the true "Decider" entails is, to put it politely, myopic.