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THE DANGERS OF OVER EXUBERANCE: The Fate of Iran's Reform Movement

By Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse


My web site, "", was activated early in 2002, and since then, I have been posting my monthly essays that have focused on Iran, especially the US/Iran relations and entanglements. Even though I may not have always been successful at the attempt, I have tried to remain objectively analytical and dispassionate in my approach. In short, I have endeavored to clear the dust of propaganda, bias and hypocrisy that saturate the news and information media, in order to bring to light the realities hidden behind the fog of politically motivated disinformation that serves the special interest groups' agendas.


Since the prevailing mindsets are so successfully manipulated by agenda-driven propaganda machines, my attempt at unraveling some of the more complex issues have at times been regarded as overly Machiavellian or convoluted.  In spite of that, what has encouraged me to stay the course has been that, looking back, I would not change any or much of what I had presented in my analyses or predictions, which the events have borne out.


There are two basic approaches to pontificating on current affairs. One approach is offering opinions and suggestions based on one's personal ideology or preferences, sometimes, but not necessarily, clearly aimed at benefiting the opinion molder in some way. The other approach is to untangle the confusing web of events in order to obtain a clearer picture of the dynamics that drive these events, without offering unsolicited solutions to perceived problems or suggesting directives as to how things should be. The first approach falls within the job descriptions of ideologues, politicians and preachers, and the second is in the domain of analytical observation and true journalism, an increasingly rare commodity these days.


Although I have chosen the second path, I find nothing wrong with efforts by people of good will and honest intentions to campaign for or against specific causes or political systems, individually or in organized groups with stated objectives. In the case of the true analysts, their personal knowledge, involvement, background and, most of all, track record, determine their credibility. If correct in their assessments of the situation, their findings could then serve to plot the path to whatever direction the desired objective may lie. In other words, the analyst does not determine the desired objective, but could provide guidelines that might help in reaching a given destination, impartially and objectively.


On the other hand, for the agenda-driven activists who choose to get involved in sociopolitical movements, the process is actually a lot more complicated than it might at first appear. Points to ponder may include the following:

  1. What exactly is the desired objective, not in broad or vague terms such as demanding global harmony, a better life, a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, freedom, democracy, and the like, but as clearly and specifically stated as possible?

  2. Once unambiguously stated, and that is seldom if ever the case, is the desired objective achievable in practical terms and within a reasonable time frame?

  3. If so, at what costs, economically, socially or emotionally, short term, as well as long, is the objective achievable?

  4. What are the potential stumbling blocks or blowbacks?

  5. What are the most significant ramifications or peripheral consequences of striving toward that objective?


This takes me to the main theme of this essay: the current unrest in Iran, what factors are at work and where it might lead.


Iran is not some uncharted island, terra incognito, in the middle of a forbidding ocean. Issues dealing with any country in this ever shrinking world, and that includes Iran, must be addressed within a larger regional context, as well as with due consideration of broader global interests and dynamics. It would be insane to think that Iran could independently plot its own merry developmental course as might a small island nation in the South Pacific. Iran, a large, well populated country, strategically located with highly significant natural resources and economic potentials, has a lot to consider and worry about, no matter what direction it chooses to take or what methods it adopts to reach its goals.


But before entering into the debates regarding the post elections' unrest and subsequent developments in Iran, we should flush out some of most pertinent factors that affect, and will be affected by, these developments.


There are three major elements of concern for Iran and the immediate region surrounding it.

First- American and allied military presence surrounding the country on all sides, with demonstrated objectives of destabilizing the Iranian regime and preventing its economic development.

Second- Israel and its never concealed agenda to remain the dominant and unchallenged military force in the Middle East, and to deny the Palestinians any chance for a meaningful statehood or, in the absence of that, integration into the Israeli society.

Third- The West's economic interests that include the region's energy resources and its lucrative marketplace.


First, the rationale and the function of the American forces' presence in the region:

Without going into great detail or background of why and how we have reached this point, the American military bases on land and in the seas encircle Iran, presumably to be prepared for any eventuality and to provide support for the ongoing campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (the so-called war on terror), and to keep the sea lanes open for the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf. What are these eventualities that the American forces might be preparing for?


On the surface, and purely for public consumption, one major eventuality, perhaps the only one always pointed to, is a potential Iranian military assault on American naval or land forces, closure of the shipping lanes, attack on Saudi Arabian oil fields or, heaven forbid, a missile strike upon Israel.


As insane as such conjectures sound, official pronouncements by the American administration, Israel and certain Western governments continue to raise such concerns. The question should be; Why?


If we discount the ludicrous presumption that the Iranian leaders are mentally deficient or suicidal, it would be impossible to fabricate a scenario in which Iran might choose to initiate a military attack on anybody in the region, which would undoubtedly result in Iran's own total devastation. How could it then be possible that the American administration and the Israeli leaders would not be aware of this reality?


By the same token, isn't it also ludicrous to assume that the American and Israeli leaders are a bunch of incompetent imbeciles who truly regard Iran as an existential threat to Israel and a danger to the world at large?


In my opinion, it stands to reason that it is not the fear of a nuclear armed Iran which might initiate a global holocaust out of shear madness. If there really is a fear, it would be the concern that Iran might, just might, respond to and retaliate against an armed attack or incursion upon its territory or installations. This, at least, would make a lot more sense and is, even if not strategically a wise choice for Iran, actually within the realm of possibility.


For the sake of sanity, let us dispel the myth once and for all that the Islamic Republic of Iran plans to become the region's sole superpower, hegemonize the oil-rich Middle East and establish a Shi'ite Caliphate. So, if Iran is not truly the awesome evil that might unleash its might against its neighbors, Europe and the United States, and is not planning to gain nuclear weapons to reign over the vital oil regions of the Middle East, what would the reason be for concern about any potential retaliatory attack by Iran? Who would need to attack Iran, and why, to which Iran might supposedly respond aggressively?


The logic or probability of such an event begins to fade when practically every military analyst, American, Israeli or Iranian, have concluded that no matter how devastating a massive preemptive military attack against Iran might be, the Iranians will have enough firepower left to do some serious damage to the American fleet and installations, the oil production facilities of Saudi Arabia and particularly to the state of Israel.


Therefore, if Iran would not be the initiator of any military attack, and if initiating a preemptive attack upon Iran will have dire consequences which nobody wants, then what is all this fuss about, anyway?


*For those who have not read my previous articles on the subject, my answer to this question will come a bit later.


Second, the Israeli interests and agendas:

What doe the sixty-years-long history of Israel's statehood tell us that would leave any doubt as to its visions and agendas? Whether we like it or approve of it, Israel has gained in population, territory, infrastructure, wealth, military power, and above all, increasing financial and diplomatic support from the United States and some Western European countries. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have been losing their ancestral territories, homes, farms and means of livelihood and, above all, have been stripped of their human dignity. Supporters of Zionism put the blame for this historical imbalance squarely on the Palestinians for, among other things, not ever missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.


This so-called "opportunity" that is often rhetorically repeated clearly implies the chance given the Palestinians on occasion to give up their resistance against the superior force, accept the fate of the conquered, abandon any demands for reparation or repatriation, and to put themselves at the mercy of their conquerors. This fate, they are told, is better than losing out ever more by resisting the irresistible, much like knocking their heads against a stone wall to break through - it ain't going to happen.


Since human beings cannot always be broken and tamed like wild animals, the Palestinian resistance and struggle and hope for some breakthrough shall continue until not much remains worth fighting for. And that conclusion seems to be what Israel's agenda has been aiming for.


Realistically speaking, Israel does not see any reason to change the strategy that has worked so well to this point in time. Israelis know it, and so do the decision makers in the American administrations, Republican or Democrat. So, why all this charade about the Obama administration now "pressuring" the Israelis to stop their settlements expansions and to enter into peace talks with the Palestinians, while Netanyahu and his fellow hardliners parade as though there really is some kind of a rift between the two administrations? Who're we kidding? The public relations strategists, both American and Israeli, are doing a great job staging this phony drama.


Since in reality both the American and the Israeli administrations know that the territorial expansion, enlargement of the illegal settlements, and the siege on the Palestinian lands will continue until the Palestinians become marginalized and the issue becomes a non-issue, the charade is an attempt to find some believable or marketable  justification for Israel to carry on its agenda and appear cleared of any blame by the international community, at least by those who must remain Israel's loyal benefactors.


This, of course, does not mean that the Palestinians' cause is doomed and all hope is forever lost. There remains only one solution to this historical tragedy, and that is the rising voices of opposition to the Zionist agenda by Israel's own liberal intellectuals and certain religious Jewish groups, who predict that the current trends are not sustainable, and worse, might lead to yet another Holocaust sooner or later.


*How this charade is being staged and who the players are will come later.


Third is the strategic significance of Iran within the context of the region's energy resources.


Anyone who knows something about our world's socioeconomic dynamics, might wonder why the oil producing countries centered around the Persian Gulf have not attempted to form some kind of union or cartel, a real OPEC, to dictate the price of crude by tying it to a number of basic industrial commodities  and include annual inflation figures, as well as some depletion factor for dwindling reserves. The observer might also wonder why the producers of crude oil do not enjoy the economic benefits of exporting value-added downstream products rather than selling that oil unrefined. In other words, why is OPEC so impotent in dealing with the giant international oil companies?


Why is Iran suffering from a shortage of gasoline and diesel fuel to a point that preventing or limiting the importation of these products through military blockade or sanctions would bring Iran's vital transport industry to its knees? If Iran did have enough refining capacity to produce all its own internal fuel needs, would threat of sanction or blockade against imports of gasoline and diesel fuel have any effect?


Similarly, if Iran would agree to become dependent on imported fuel rods for its fledgling nuclear power plants, would that not also be another Achilles' Heal to be exploited by external interests for various political reasons? Sanctions, direct or indirect, are the basic tools of "containment" enacted against Iran since before the first Gulf War.


The nation's economy is also greatly dependent on the price of crude oil, Iran's major source of foreign revenue. The Iranian regime has claimed that Iran's annual budget has taken into account the price of crude oil at $35 per barrel, which is less than $1.50 per day, per capita, without even factoring in the costs of production! Even so, the international price of crude oil, and gas, plays a vital role in the nation's economic development.


In addition to the effects of oil prices on Iran's economic prospects, influencing and controlling the rate of production, the direction and the amount of oil exported from the Persian Gulf region, would have a major impact on the development of economies of certain other global concerns, such as Russia, China, Brazil and India. Therefore, any instability in the Middle East could be exploited as a tool to influence the economic prospects of potential global challengers to the Western superpowers.


There should be little doubt as to why the United States desires to maintain its military presence and bases in the sea and on lands where major oil producing countries enjoy the highest degree of protection, and where the "compliant" regimes are sheltered from criticism and condemnation by the Western media for their systems of government and violations of human rights, particularly the civil rights of women.


It also is no surprise that the comparatively speaking "liberal", but non-compliant, Iran, where women enjoy far greater liberties and opportunities, or where political parties and opposition groups not only exist but, in spite of all attempts by the regime, do openly voice their opinions and debate the issues of contention, is the subject of constant criticism by the Western media and governments for not being open or democratic enough.


Now back to the current unrest in Iran:


Regarding the elections process, doubt has been raised by the opposition groups, headed by the presidential contender, Mousavi, as to the honesty of the process. This, of course, is not at all unusual. In an almost daily or weekly basis we see in the media some defeated contender, in some important elections somewhere, challenging the results of the elections and accusing the winning party of fraud, demanding a recount, a new elections or a public referendum. So, what else is new?


In Iran's case, Mr. Mousavi might have a valid argument, but most certainly no evidentiary proof of such a claim other than in the minds of his supporters or, much more correctly put, in the minds of those who may not be particularly enamored by any particular opposition candidate, but are simply opposed to the current regime, each for their own respective reasons.  


Question: Do the various opposition groups and candidates demand the same kind of reforms, and if so, what exactly are their demands?


In my previous writing dated July 20, With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies, appearing in my web site, I went into some detail as to what these disparate opposition groups hope to achieve. The only common denominator among all these groups is their disdain for the current power structure, which, rightly or wrongly, is blamed for most of the social and economic problems that have stagnated the nation, with little opening in site.


Even if the various opposition leaders and their constituencies did manage to cooperate in some form of a workable coalition to challenge the current leadership, something that is highly unlikely in my estimate, the questions that should logically follow are the five points mentioned in the fifth paragraph of this essay.


We all know that Iran has for decades been struggling along under severe economic restrictions and diplomatic pressures primarily by the United States. We also know that the Islamic Republic's leadership has itself been struggling to stay afloat and to keep the center or core of the Islamic Revolution intact.


Whether the post-revolution, post hostage crisis and post Iran/Iraq war Iranian regime could have adopted a more conciliatory stance against the United States, short of total capitulation, is beyond the scope of this writing. Suffice it to say that most Iranians abroad and many urbanite elite and liberal secularists inside Iran hold not only the ineptitude of the clerical establishment responsible for Iran's predicament, they also regard the very nature of any theocratic regime, meaning the Islamic Revolution itself, as a fundamentally flawed, retrogressive historical anachronism.


Take, for example, those Iranians of Baha'i faith who have been treated, at best as a disfavored minority, and at worst persecuted as heretics, in their own homeland? Considering that this anti Baha'i sentiment also exists in other Islamic lands such as Egypt, can anyone blame these folks for having a grudge against Islam or Islamic states?


Similarly, it is understandable that those who abandoned their fortunes and social standing in the course of the Islamic Revolution to find refuge elsewhere would also desire to see a reversal of their fates and to regain their lost wealth and fame. Many among them would welcome the return of the monarchy under the leadership of Price Reza Pahlavi, hoping for a reestablishment of a system similar to the one that had provided them or their parents with such grand opportunities.


The intelligentsia, the academics and the liberal-left, find the atmosphere of their homeland intellectually suffocating and rightfully blame the conservative religious orthodoxy for the lack of broader openings and social liberties.


The more Western oriented urbanites desire to shed most social restrictions imposed upon them by the regime, sometime in the guise of internal security and other times to enforce the Islamic code of morals and ethics.


In short, when we hear outcries during massive, anti regime demonstrations demanding reform, what kind of reform is it that they want? Is it illogical to assume that it is the very fundamentals of the theocratic regime, the tenets of the Islamic Revolution, that is being attacked as responsible for what ails the Iranian society? When the chants and placards proclaim "Death to the Dictator", are they simply demanding a replacement of the current "Velayat-e-Faghih" with a more open-minded "Velayat-e-Faghih", or are they demanding the abolishment of the whole concept, altogether?


But the whole concept was what the original Khomeini revolution was all about. So, when we hear the opposition movement leaders, Mousavi, Khatami or Karroubi, each blaming the current regime for having betrayed the original tenets of the Islamic Revolution, they are either paying condescending lip service to appease the masses loyal to the Islamic Republic, or all three are honest Islamists who have no intention of replacing the regime with a secular, modernist model.


In the first instance, any "reform" movement away from the path established by the Islamic Revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini would lead to a bloody confrontation with not only the armed forces and the Basij, but by the multitudes that remain forever loyal to the Islamic revolution, and we are talking about the bulk of the population that is not afraid, as history has shown, of bloodying their noses. The consequences of such an attempt at counter-revolution is either a massive bloodbath and disintegration of Iran as a viable nation, or the reestablishment of an even more repressive regime and the mass exodus of the more affluent people, those who don't like their noses bloodied, from the scene, much like the events of 1978-79.


In the second Instance, the replacement of the current leadership of the nation with another "Islamist" group, albeit a more "moderate" type, would not satisfy the demands of the various groups who have been struggling all these years for not just visible, but meaningful reforms. Even if the new regime is "reform" minded to a degree acceptable by the progressives, it would take years to implement the desired changes and, consequently, the struggles and opposition movements shall continue, one presidential election after another presidential election!


I would like to conclude this essay by answering the two questions highlighted by asterisks.


As explained before, in spite of all the politically motivated nonsense, nobody seriously believes that Iran is a military threat to anybody in the region or to the world. Even if attacked or otherwise provoked, Iran would likely not retaliate directly from the fear of massive counterattacks by formidable foes.


On the other hand, it would make no logical sense for anyone, meaning either Israel or the United States, to launch a preemptive attack upon Iran, as any response, although unlikely as mentioned above, could be costly to all concerned. Furthermore, a preemptive strike would not accomplish the stated objectives that might justify such action.


If the foregoing analysis is correct, I can only conclude that it is the portrayal, not the reality, of the Islamic Republic of Iran as an unpredictable threat that is serving the purpose all the way around. This portrayal not only justifies America's open-ended military presence in the region to safeguard America's interests in that vital strategic region, but also serves the interests of the vast military industrial complex at home.


The pariah state of Iran and its ties to other regional elements serve the interests of the state of Israel, as well. With Iran portrayed as an existential threat to Israel, the Jewish state has the most convenient and unwittingly accommodating scapegoat to dodge pressures by the international community to deal with the Palestinian issues or to open its doors to its clandestine nuclear weapons stockpile for international monitoring. As long as Iran remains regarded as a threat, Israel will get whatever it wants, much to the pleasure of its Zionist backers in the United States Congress, while enjoying the support of the innocently misinformed American public.


For this charade to go on, Iran must be kept alive as the evil entity in the region. Without a Soviet Union to play the role of a global nemesis, the threat of Islam variously defined by terms such as Islamic fundamentalism, Islamic extremism, Islamic fanaticism, etc., we have what now has become lumped together as Islamic terrorism.


The Middle Eastern Arab states are, categorically speaking, under control, either enjoying America's support or kept at bay by American or its regional surrogate's military threats. Non-Arab Islamic states of Afghanistan and Pakistan are already under American military assault. Iran remains the only outstanding defiant or "rogue" state to play the role of an Islamic "threat" worthy of the name, and is playing its role rather convincingly, to the delight of the American mass media which are lapping it all up like sharks in a feeding frenzy.


It was an education watching the Indian born Fareed Zakaria two Sundays ago interviewing the Iranian professor of sociology from Tehran University on his weekly CNN program to ask him about the ongoing post elections events. Mr. Zakaria's biographical brief on Wikipedia is well worth reading. Not knowing the truth about this journalistic cross-dresser, one would think that he should have a clearer handle on the realities and dynamics of socio-politics of the Islamic Middle East than would the average Western correspondent.


Mr. Zakaria had the answers he wanted to hear already framed in his own questions, ending each lengthy question with: Is it not so? When the professor refused to bite into his bait after the second and third attempt, Mr. Zakaria simply concluded that the man was understandably afraid to admit the truth!


Since this so-called interview was pre-recorded and partially edited, one would wonder why Fareed Zakaria would have wanted to embarrass himself by broadcasting this unprofessional, Sean Hannity (Fox TV) style, show. The answer is sadly quite simple: the audiences who watch these shows are already well indoctrinated to buy into the propaganda lines; and Mr. Zakaria's popularity and ratings continue to rise - screw journalistic integrity! This catfish did not stay a bottom-feeder for very long and is headed up toward the top of the food chain.


Now, if the "masterplan" is for Israel and the United States (and in that order) to exploit the demonization of the Islamic Republic of Iran for as long as possible, how does that bear on Iran's future developments in terms of its economic projects and, more to the point at this juncture, the efforts by reformist groups to bring about their desired changes?


Kam Zarrabi is the author of
In Zarathushtra's Shadow

Clearly, any effort, regardless of how genuinely indigenous and patriotic, which would create chaos and instability inside the country and exacerbate the already negative image of the regime, can and will be exploited by those who benefit from such internal unrest. This kind of "benefit" is certainly not what the opposition leaders and demonstrators had in mind during and pursuant to the contested presidential elections.


Similarly, genuine, heartfelt support by many, but certainly not all, foreign based Iranians for the reformists in the homeland can and will be used by those who would sacrifice the Iranian nation for the sake of their own interests in a heartbeat.


It would take an idiot to believe that the media coverage and Administration rhetoric here about even the most trivial events in Iran, and the expressions of sympathy for the Iranian dissidents, women, the jobless and those screaming for democracy and freedom, are motivated purely by humanitarian goodwill. Atrocities and violations of human rights have been and continue to be taking place at a much larger scale not that far way from Iran in the Israeli occupied territories, but where do we see any proportionate coverage by the American media or comments by the Administration officials? Where are the voices of concern for the fate of Arab women in Saudi Arabia, or the social repressions in Egypt or Turkey? Are we to believe that there are no opposition groups who would like to have the same opportunity as their Iranian counterparts to demonstrate in front of foreign cameras in other states in the region, or in Africa, China, or elsewhere? Or is it only Iran that deserves all the coverage and to receive all that "sympathy"?


How many Americans tune in to programs such as Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" on Free Speech TV or on the internet?


So what are the proponents of reform in Iran to do? Every time the prey entangled in the spider's web makes a move, the drawstrings pull even tighter.


For the indigenous progressive reformist movements in Iran to have a chance to bring about positive results, simply opposing the status quo won't be enough.

  1. Above all, a carefully planned agenda or direction, clearly defined and well organized under a respected leadership who can bring together a coalition of the otherwise disparate flanks must be created.

  2. Every effort should be made to distance the movement from outside interference, regardless of whether these gestures of support are genuine or disguised as such, in order to avoid tainting the movement in wrong colors.

  3. It should be remembered that a non-belligerent Iran that could no longer be so easily portrayed as a threat to its neighbors, especially to Israel, would pose even a greater danger to its own security as well as to the regional stability. An Iran that would bow under pressure, abandon its defiant stance, adopt the mandates of the global power brokers, meaning submitting to total compliance, would create a dangerous vacuum that can only be filled by some "unfortunate" incident to reignite the mayhem! Nobody wants that, would they?


Nobody wants another real war in the region. A new war will not serve the interests of the United States or Israel, and certainly not Iran's. On the other hand, the presence of a regional bogyman, if marketed successfully, as it has been, for the local consumption in the United States, clears the path for the American administration to allow Israel to carry out its agendas with impunity. Ironically, playing the role of the bogyman, Iran also escapes the consequences of some "unfortunate" Israeli staged incident that might trigger a disastrous regional conflict.


If the continuous presence of the bad boy on the block safeguards against Iran's own destruction, any significant change in the regime's confrontational attitude, or a replacement of the leadership with more moderate, reform oriented parties, must not appear as a sudden reversal by Iran of its hostile anti Western and anti Israel position.


So, while quiet, behind the scenes diplomatic negotiations between the United States and the Iranian regime continue, as they undoubtedly are, the theatrical stage show of threats and counter threats, muscle flexing and chest thumping by all sides plays its vital role. This is not that much different from the stage show put on to publicize a fictitious rift between the American and the Israeli administrations over the illegal settlements. The show must go on to validate the inevitable.


Those who believe that the reform movement in Iran has a chance to succeed, and those Iranians abroad who so enthusiastically voice their support for this movement, should be aware of all the peripheral contingencies that also must be taken into account. If the process is carried out hurriedly and with too much exuberance, either the reform movement will die before maturation, or the nation will disintegrate, making the whole issue irrelevant.



Kam Zarrabi

Kam Zarrabi is the author of In Zarathushtra's Shadow and Necessary Illusion. He is available to conduct lectures and seminars on international affairs, particularly in relation to Iran, with focus on US/Iran issues, at formal and informal gatherings or academic centers anywhere in the country. To make the necessary arrangements, please contact him at More information about Mr. Zarrabi and his work is available at:


... Payvand News - 08/05/09 ... --

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