My father is a news junkie. He monitors pretty much every source of Iranian, American, and Iranian-American dialogue online and on the airwaves–fueled by an intense desire, shared by so many people exiled in his generation, to see the end of the Islamic Republic.
So, with Clinton’s hearings this past week and Iran’s ever increasing presence in national dialogue, I thought I’d check in with him on his read of what’s going on. I don’t agree with him on a lot of points–particularly his sympathetic views toward the Shah’s regime–but I appreciate his wealth of historic and current knowledge.
Sara: In her confirmation hearing this week, Hilary Clinton stated she would revive key international nuclear-disarmament initiatives targeted towards Iran. How do you think Clinton’s approach will be different from Rice’s actions during the last 8 years?
Salman: I think the Obama administration will be very astute and steadfast in its approach in dealing with the Islamic Republic. The Bush administration essentially had no clear Iran policy, and whatever little Iran policy it had, was very fragmented and inconsistent. The clash of personalities and philosophies among the major players in the Bush administration, such as the National Security Advisor, Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense on the one hand and the Vice President, the neo-cons and the military and intelligence officials and advisors on the other hand were certainly a major reason for the lack of a clear and consistent policy, but ultimately it was President Bush’s lack of vision and analytical and leadership skills that was at the root of the problem. Rice was probably the most intelligent of the bunch and by walking a very fine line managed to at least present a modicum of clarity and consistency. Assuming that the dynamics of Obama’s national security and foreign policy team will be just right or at least not as troublesome as those of Bush’s, Hillary Clinton could prove to be a much more effective Secretary of State by virtue of having a clear and well-planned foreign policy as well as being part of a diverse, knowledgeable and vastly experienced team under the leadership of a president that understands the problems and is willing to do something abut them.
Sara: How do you think the clerics and the popularly elected leaders of Iran will react to the new initiatives of the Obama/Clinton foreign policy team? What trends over the last few years that you’ve seen inform your prediction?
Salman: First of all, I strongly object to the term “popularly elected leaders.” The ruling mullahs and their non-turbaned counterparts in Iran are neither popular, nor elected and nor are they leaders. They are despots, tyrants and potentates that derive their power by claiming that they are Allah’s representatives on earth. Stuffing ballot boxes with votes is not the same thing as elections. The trouble is that the Islamic regime in Iran is a brutally dictatorial regime trying to pose as a democratic regime, and unfortunately the so-called left in the U.S. and Europe are duped by the Islamic regime’s pretenses of democracy. Anyway, going back to the main question, I think it is clear even today as I write this, less than a week before Obama’s inauguration, how the rulers in Tehran will react to the initiatives of the new U.S. foreign policy team. Just yesterday, the Islamic Republic of Iran earned the glorious distinction of becoming the first country in the world to burn posters and pictures of Obama as well as plastering pavements with Obama’s posters for people to walk on. Needless to say, these types of actions do not in any way reflect the sentiments of the people of Iran; these types of actions and demonstrations are invariably organized by the rulers of the country who pay masses of desperate and destitute people to participate in such actions and demonstrations. All attempts by U.S. at negotiations during the whole life of the Islamic Republic have failed, so there is really no reason to think that anything’s going to be different now. During Bush’s second term, the Iran problem was outsourced to the Europeans and the so-called 5+1 group, and all of those attempts at negotiations failed as well. I think Obama’s offer of negotiations without preconditions is a very smart move, because he is now calling their bluff. It is now the Islamic regime that is setting preconditions such withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region, removing sanctions, etc. By calling their bluff, no one can accuse Obama of not trying all possible avenues of diplomacy before resorting to a military confrontation as a last resort.
Sara: Yes, but isn’t one of the reasons negotiations with the Europeans failed because the Iranian government asked them for protection against the US and Europe refused? The US is a big bully. I think the Iranian government is trying to figure out a way to not be threatened and controlled by the US. This leads to my next question, which is–is there anyway out Iran’s current position which allows the country to be independent of the US still, but also overthrow the Islamic Regime? Or do you think at this point, they’re going to have to join the rest of the region in opening themselves up to US/Western control?Question: Iran is having an election late this spring, one that could have drastic geopolitical effects that will ripple throughout the region. How do you feel recent events such as the new Obama administration coming into power and the brutalities in Gaza will affect this election?
Salman: The negotiations failed because the Islamic Republic turned down the incentives package offered by the West. The Islamic Republic was asking for something that neither the U.S. nor the rest of the free world could give it; it was asking for security guarantees. I don’t know how the U.S. or any other foreign power could give the Islamic Republic security guarantees. The Islamic Republic has to earn its security guarantees by being on the side of and defending the interests of the people of Iran, not by oppressing the people of Iran. If the Islamic Republic regime were a democratic government which derived its power from the people, it would have the strongest security guarantees possible and wouldn’t have to ask the U.S. or any other world power for security guarantees. When a government is of the people, by the people and for the people, it can have a lot of power to get things done and it won’t have to use force to oppress the people. There is a lot of difference between power and force; they are almost opposites. In any case, I object to calling the U.S. a big bully. The Bush administration might have done some things to tarnish the image of the U.S. in the world, but I think it would be unfair to regard the U.S. a big bully. If a country less powerful than the U.S. has a good and friendly relationship with the U.S., it does not mean that it has lost its independence. A country can keep its full sovereignty and still be a very close ally of the united States. In today’s world, no country can claim to be truly independent. All countries are dependant on each other in today’s post-globalization setting. U.S. is very dependent on China for cheap manufacturing, but no one can claim that the U.S. is less of a sovereign country because of that. Under the Shah’s regime, Iran and the U.S. were the closest of allies and enjoyed a good, healthy and mutually beneficial relationship for many years and it didn’t make either of them less independant.
Salman: I think I have already expressed my view of what passes as elections in Iran. I don’t think the presidential “elections” in Iran will really have any significant effects domestically, regionally or internationally. In the Islamic Republic, the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamanei calls all the shots. He has the last word on everything even though there may be a lot of disagreements and infighting among the various factions of the regime. The escalation of the situation in the Gaza Strip may strengthen his hand to keep Ahamadi-Nejad for a second term or pick an even more hardcore anti-Israel replacement. The other side of the coin is that due to the dire straits that Iran’s economy is currently in, due mostly to the economic policies of Ahmadi-Nejad, and those problems are expected to get much worse, Khamanei might decide to bring back the former so-called reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, or find a similar figure to become president. In either case, whether a hardliner or a so-called reformist is picked, the end result is going to be the same. Not much is going to change until the Supreme Leader is eliminated either by natural death, a revolution, foreign intervention or some unusual turn of events.