What’s Up With Iran?

February 13th, 2010 in Current Events by Frank Chadwick

The long-planned, long-anticipated mass protests against the Tehran regime by Green Movement activists on the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution (February 11) were smothered almost before they started. The government combined very robust security forces with tens of thousands of trucked-in pro-government demonstrators who preempted many of the planned protest venues. A near-total media blackout means it will be a while before we have a handle on how violent the repression was, but it’s effects are clear. Here are two links.

Wall Street Journal

The Times

While all this was going on, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadienajad announced that Iran had begun enriching its stocks of 3.5% enriched uranium to the 20% enrichment level needed to fuel Iran’s medical nuclear reactor and produce medical isotopes. The US government has expressed skepticism that Iran even has the technical capacity to enrich to the 20% level (let alone the 80-95% needed for a nuclear weapon). Here are two links, the Reuters link with a technical overview. It is certain they do not have the capability to convert the enriched uranium into fuel rods, so it’s going to be a while before that medical reactor comes on line, at least with this fuel.

Global Security News


So far, every claim Iran has made about it’s nuclear capability and program has turned out to be true. So why would they lie about this?

Why indeed?

In life — any comedian will tell you — timing is everything. The timing of the announcement, two days before the anticipated demonstrations, was significant. The provocative nature of the announcement, combined with the news blackout on the demonstrations, pretty much guaranteed what would grab the news cycle, which I’m sure was deliberate.

The thing to remember about the Iranian government is that its concerns are almost entirely internal. They have what they want – Iran. Iran since the revolution has never attacked a neighbor or threatened to. Their armed forces are designed for self-defense and internal security, not power projection. The regional power projection capability amassed by the Shah before the revolution has been dismantled or simply allowed to waste away. That’s conventional power, but what about revolutionary ideology?

The Shiite clerics who rule the country are diametrically opposed to al Qa’ida’s dream of establishing a Sunni Caliphate throughout the region. Al Qa’ida’s aims are more of an existential threat to the Shiites in Tehran than they ever have been to the west – much more. Iran has meddled in Iraqi internal politics, but their long-term goal is a stable Shiite-friendly neighbor, which is pretty congruous with our aims as well.

In other words, when Tehran does something you want to understand, look at it in terms of its impact on Iranian internal politics. Tehran is in a lot of trouble with an important part of its population – young educated urban professionals, arguably the nation’s future. What tends to make a nation forget its differences?

A foreign threat.

As Tehran grapples with its internal problems, look for it to be less cooperative with the west in the near term. Look for it to seek out opportunities to put its thumb in the eye of the U.S. and Europe. It plays well in the streets, and an air attack on a nuclear enrichment facility would, in a stroke, unite the nation and end the regime’s problems with internal dissent. Sometimes I think they are just begging for it.

But it’s a dangerous game they are playing. Dangerous for all of us.

About the Author: The major landmarks in Frank's historical interests range from ancient Persia through the Crimean War, World War II, and the modern U.S. Armed Forces, with a lot of stops in between. Frank is fascinated by the unusual, the overlooked, and the surprising. He is the New York Times number one best-selling author of the Desert Shield Fact Book (1991) and he is currently writing an historical novel on Alexander's conquest of Persia – from the Persian point of view.

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3 Responses to “What’s Up With Iran?”

  1. Frank -
    Good analysis and a needed reminder that we need to understand how the other side is looking at its own position, strengths, and weaknessess. I remember back in the ’60s and ’70s how impressed I was as we had our own demonstrations here how courageous by comparison to us the Iranian student protestors of that era seemed to be confronted as they were by the extreme reaction of the Shah’s security forces particularly SAVAK. This extreme response eventually pushed more and more people away from the Shah and even into outright opposition. Your comment on the relative youth of today’s Iranian protestors should worry the current regime for the youth represent a nation’s future and in Iran much of that “future” is being pushed further and further away from supporting the current regime.

  2. TMP — Thanks for reading and commenting. I also remember the brutality of Savak and how it alienated the Iranian best and brightest. At the time very few in the US (including me) took the simmering Islamic revolutionary movement seriously — until the pot boiled over and scalded us. In part it was because the Shah liked us, we liked the Shah, and so all was right with the world. If nothing else, the last thirty years have taught us a slightly more nuanced view of the world.

  3. Bill Jordan said:

    Frank, excellent analysis but I would carry it a few steps further. I agree they certainly oppose Al-Qaida’s dream to install a Sunni-dominated Caliphate, but the obsverse side is, I believe, their desire to see a Shia crescent of influence throughout the region. In addition, Operation Iraqi Freedom empowered them by a) removing the ‘balance of power’ factor exerted in the region by Hussein’s regime b)split our forces, disastrously some would say, by removing them from the primary theater–Afghanistan; and 3) making them the largest conventional military power in the region, thus giving them the incentive to become the sole military power in the region that can oppose Israel–with nuclear weapons. Amen to a slightly more nuanced view of the world.
    Bill Jordan
    Colonel, US Army (Retired)

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