Halliday on Iran

Interesting article by Fred Halliday in OpenDemocracy about Iran as a revolutionary power in it’s “third phase”. Here some excerpts:

Much is made of the fact that Iran is an ancient imperial power, one of the four countries in the world – along with China, Egypt and Yemen – which can claim continuity as a state over 3,000 years.

It may also be some satisfaction to Iranian leaders that with their influence in Lebanon and Palestine, Iran now has a military emplacement on the shores of the Mediterranean for the first time since the Achaemenid empire (c 550-350 BCE). Moreover, Iran’s aspiration to nuclear capability, in whatever form, is as much due to the aspiration to be a major power as to military factors, just as is the retention of what are in practice useless and expensive weapons by Britain and France.

(Oil production) (First,) The problem is that these expenditures do little to alleviate the long-term problems of the economy and are usually, is the Iranian case, and also that of Venezuela, accompanied by much waste, corruption and factionalism. In this regard, Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chávez are two of a kind: intoxicated with their own rhetoric, insouciant about the longer term economic development of their oil industries and economy as a whole, and wilfully provocative, towards the United States and immediate neighbours alike, in foreign policy.

The second and indeed the most important (and neglected) factor explaining contemporary Iran, however, is a fact evident in its historical origin, policy and rhetoric: that the Islamic Republic of Iran is a country that has emerged from a revolution and that this revolution has far from lost its dynamic, at home or abroad.

Like the French revolutionaries, the Iranians proclaim themselves to be at once the friend of all the oppressed and “a great nation” (a phrase Khomeini used that echoed, whether wittingly or not, the Jacobins of 1793). Like the early Bolsheviks, the Islamic revolutionaries began their revolution thinking diplomacy was an oppression and should be swept aside – hence the detention of the US diplomats as hostages. Like the Cubans and Chinese, they have combined unofficial supplies of arms, training and finance to their revolutionary allies with the, calculated, intervention of their armed forces.

All of this has its cost. The gradual moderation of Iran under the presidency of Mohammad Khatami (1987-2005) reflected a sense of exhaustion after the eight-year war with Iraq and a desire for more normal external relations with the outside world, like the period of the Girondins in the France of the late 1790s, or the policies of Liu Shao-chi in China of the early 1960s: but as in those other cases, and as in the USSR of Stalin in the 1930s, there were those who wanted to go in a very different direction, and proceeded to tighten the screws of repression, and raise confrontational rhetoric once again. A comparison could indeed be made with the Russia of the early 1930s or the China of the 1960s, and say that Iran under Ahmadinejad is now going through its “third period” or a mild replica of the “cultural revolution”.


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