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Soldiers of the Hidden Imam
October 14, 2005 4:34 PM   Subscribe

What of Iran's nuclear program? That was not a pressing concern for the young people I met. None of them raised the issue in conversation with me. When I asked them about it, they fell into two groups... Yet both insisted with equal vehemence that an American or Israeli bombing of nuclear installations, let alone an Iraq-style invasion, would be a wholly unacceptable response to Iran's nuclear ambitions... A perceptive local analyst reinforced the point. Who or what, he asked, could give this regime renewed popular support, especially among the young? "Only the United States!" If... whatever we do to slow down the nuclearization of Iran does not end up merely slowing down the democratization of Iran; and if, at the same time, we can find policies that help the gradual social emancipation and eventual self-liberation of Young Persia, then the long-term prospects are good. The Islamic revolution, like the French and Russian revolutions before it, has been busy devouring its own children. One day, its grandchildren will devour the revolution

Soldiers of the Hidden Imam
posted by y2karl (32 comments total)

 
[this is good]
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 5:12 PM on October 14, 2005


Sorry, y2karl, but this kind of thinking will never catch on here in the U.S. It's too thoughtful, insightful, and exacting in its assertions.
posted by snsranch at 5:31 PM on October 14, 2005


Excellent link.
posted by Rothko at 5:56 PM on October 14, 2005


fucking religion, man.
posted by radiosig at 6:22 PM on October 14, 2005


fucking religion, man.

If only we could find some way to get rid of all religious people. Is there some term for that?
posted by delmoi at 6:26 PM on October 14, 2005


Even though he does much to alienate, Bush is still called the thirteenth imam. I wonder if anyone has told him yet.

/cheek filled with tongue
posted by stirfry at 6:27 PM on October 14, 2005


This definitely is a great post. I'm disappointed that there haven't been more comments. Must be that everyone is out partying tonight, or getting ready to.

I think that this read offers insight that should be common knowledge to anyone who has to make major political decisions regarding that part of the world.

What happened to the days when ambassadors were sent out to various regions so that they could learn about cultures and send that info home to be recognized as fact.

This paper describes the cultural mood in Iran with fine detail. If it is available to us on the blue it is surely available to the White House, as information like this has always been, only to be ignored.

How sad.
posted by snsranch at 6:31 PM on October 14, 2005


I still don't know how I'd feel about Israel bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. I agree with the article that the US should foster the younger generation's inclinations towards liberalism by abstaining from an invasion or a bomb raid, but Israel's profile in the Islamic Republic can't be much lower than it already is. I think having Israel act as agent of the US under the guise of independent agency might work well.
posted by ori at 6:37 PM on October 14, 2005


Jrun strikes again. Great one Y2K!! I feel heat building up.
posted by wheelieman at 6:38 PM on October 14, 2005


If only we could find some way to get rid of all religious people. Is there some term for that?

Stupidity.

From the article:

How can such a regime be transformed, or, as many still prefer to say, reformed? I heard the word "reform" innumerable times as I traveled around Iran. I soon realized that it meant several different things. First, there's an ideological debate among Islamic intellectuals, turning on what in the communist world used to be called "revisionism"--that is, attempts to revise the ideology on which the state is built. As the views of revisionists in, say, 1950s Poland were also part of a wider debate about international communism, so the views of these Iranian revisionists have significant implications for international Islam.

I was impressed by the liveliness of this debate. While many Iranians are clearly fed up with Islam being stuffed down their throats as a state religion, I found no sense that Islamic ideology is a dead issue, as, for example, communist ideology had become a dead issue in Central Europe by the 1980s. Far from it. In Khomeini's theological capital of Qom, now home to some two hundred Islamic think tanks and institutions of higher education, I met with a research group on Islamic political philosophy. Why should Islam not be compatible with a secular, liberal democratic state, I asked, as is increasingly the case in Turkey? "Turkey is not Qom," said Mohsen Rezvani, a young philosopher wearing the robes and turban of a mullah, to laughter around the table. Islam, Rezvani said, is "anthropologically, theologically, and epistemologically" incompatible with liberal democracy. Anthropologically, because liberal democracy is based on liberal individualism; theologically, because it excludes God from the public sphere; and epistemologically, because it is based on reason not faith. Then they handed me an issue of the Political Science Quarterly--not the American journal but their own Qom-made version. Here I read an English-language abstract of an admiring article by Rezvani about Leo Strauss.

"So you're a neoconservative!" I teased him.

Oh no, he replied, the American neoconservatives don't properly understand Leo Strauss.

I could see at once, even before I had the full article translated for me, what a conservative Iranian mullah would find to admire in Strauss: the insistence that there is a single truth in a classic text, and that the intentions of the author (e.g., God, in the case of the Koran) are best interpreted by a neo-Platonic intellectual vanguard (for the Koran, the Islamic jurists whose ranks Rezvani aspires to join). Yet this Wolfowitz of Qom was immediately contradicted by others at the table, citing Islamic modernists such as Abdolkarim Soroush who maintain that Islam is compatible with a secular state...


Here are some intersting Iranian links:
Iran in a different light

Persian Journal
posted by y2karl at 6:41 PM on October 14, 2005


I still don't know how I'd feel about Israel bombing Iran's nuclear facilities.

After all, what could go wrong ?

Day One: Wednesday

In a pre-dawn raid, undisclosed numbers of Israeli warplanes, taking off from military airbases in the Negev, destroy Iran’s main nuclear facility at Bushehr. Israel’s armed forces have released no details, but it is believed the planes flew over parts of Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, refueling in mid-air before reaching their target. Military analysts speculate that the planes must have refueled somewhere over Iraq.

During the one-hour raid, Iran claims to have shot down “several” Israeli fighters. Television images show pilots being lynched by furious mobs before Iranian authorities could reach them. The after-effects of the raid shake the Arab and Islamic world. Millions take to the streets demanding immediate action against Israel.

In planning the attack, Israel weighed the threats of Arab and Muslim reaction. The only other nuclear threat, and a possible danger to Israel, is Pakistan. Israel considered striking Pakistan’s nuclear sites, too, but Indian intelligence reports that Pakistan lacks long-distance delivery for its warheads. Bombay is the farthest they can reach. Additional reassurance from American intelligence convinced Israel that as long as Musharraf remains in power, Pakistan does not represent an imminent threat. The decision was made not to hit Pakistan.

Day Two: Thursday

Believing that Israel would never undertake such actions without U.S. approval, or at least a tacit nod from the American administration, Iran retaliates. Thousands of Revolutionary Guards are dispatched across the border into Iraq with orders to inflict as many casualties on American troops as possible. Fierce clashes erupt between coalition forces and Iranians. Within hours, more than 400 U.S. troops are killed, and many more wounded in heavy fighting. Iranian sleeper agents, who have infiltrated Iraq since the downfall of Saddam, urge Iraqi Shi’ites into action. They cut major highways and harass coalition troops, preventing reinforcements from reaching units under attack. Several helicopters are shot down.

Tehran orders the Lebanese Shi’ite movement, Hezbollah, into action against northern Israel. Hezbollah launches scores of rockets and mortars against kibbutzim, towns, and settlements. Israel retaliates. Casualties are high on both sides of the frontier. Tension in the Middle East reaches a boiling point. In Washington, the Cabinet convenes in an emergency session.

Massive demonstrations erupt all over the Arab and Islamic world. Crowds of gigantic proportions take to the streets, ransacking Israeli embassies in Cairo, Amman, and Ankara. American embassies in a number of other cities are burned. With police overwhelmed, the military is called in. Armies open fire, killing hundreds, adding to the outrage.

Day Three: Friday

Following Friday prayers across the Islamic world, crowds incited by fiery sermons in mosques from Casablanca to Karachi take to the streets in the worst protests yet. Government buildings are ransacked, and clashes with security forces result in greater casualties. Martial law is declared, and curfew imposed, but this fails to prevent further mayhem and rioting. Islamist groups call for the overthrow of governments and for immediate military action against Israel.

In Saudi Arabia, Islamist militants engage in open gun battles with security forces in several cities. The whereabouts of the Saudi royal family are unknown. In Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, and a dozen other countries, crowds continue to run amok, demanding war on Israel.

Day Four: Saturday

A longstanding plan to overthrow Musharraf is carried out by senior Pakistani army officers loyal to the Islamic fundamentalists and with close ties to bin Laden. The coup is carried out in utmost secrecy.

Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI--a long-time supporter of the fundamentalists--in agreement with the plotters, takes control of the country’s nuclear arsenal and its codes. Within hours, and before news of the coup leaks out, Pakistan, now run by pro-bin Laden fundamentalists, loads two nuclear weapons aboard executive Lear jets that take off from a remote military airfield, headed for Tel Aviv and Ashdod. Detouring and refueling in east Africa, they approach Israel from the south. The crafts identify themselves as South African. Their tail markings match the given identification.

The two planes with their deadly cargo are flown by suicide pilots who, armed with false flight plans and posing as business executives, follow the flight path given to them by Israeli air traffic control. At the last moment, however, the planes veer away from the airfield, soar into the sky and dive into the outskirts of the two cities, detonating their nuclear devices in the process.


The rest of this scenario can unfold in a number of ways. Take your pick; none are encouraging.

Israel retaliates against Pakistan, killing millions in the process. Arab governments fall. Following days of violence, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt succumb to Islamist rebels who vow open warfare with Israel. The Middle East regresses into war, with the fighting claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. A much-weakened Israel, now struggling for its very survival, deploys more nuclear weapons, targeting multiple Arab capitals. The Middle East is in complete mayhem, as the United States desperately tries to arrange a cease-fire.


The Four Day War
posted by y2karl at 6:46 PM on October 14, 2005


Sorry for that that last but, I mean really--you don't know how you'd feel about Israel attacking Iran after the ongoing cakewalk American is having after attacking Iraq ? I mean, what possibly could go wrong ? Israel would bomb Iran and voila! Problem solved. Ya think ?

OK, I'm outa here. Carry on. Ignore this and the above.

/derail
posted by y2karl at 6:54 PM on October 14, 2005


Sorry for that that last but, I mean really--you don't know how you'd feel about Israel attacking Iran after the ongoing cakewalk American is having after attacking Iraq ? I mean, what possibly could go wrong ? Israel would bomb Iran and voila! Problem solved. Ya think ?

OK, I'm outa here. Carry on. Ignore this and the above.

/derail
posted by y2karl at 6:54 PM on October 14, 2005


I am so perplexed. As I read, I remember that modern mathematics was born in the middle east, that modern science and medicine were born there as well. What's not to love about the middle east?
posted by snsranch at 6:54 PM on October 14, 2005


On preview, y2karl, I'm happy to see that someone cares so deeply about these issues. And that's YOU! Good job. I'll keep reading.
posted by snsranch at 7:19 PM on October 14, 2005


y2karl, thanks for the retraction. The latter link was below you and the former was a great find.
posted by felix betachat at 7:25 PM on October 14, 2005


y2karl, why would Sunni fanatics avenge an attack on Shiite "heretics", even one by Israel? In Iraq the Sunni suicide bomb Shiite neighborhoods, in Pakistan they do drive-by shootings outside Shiite mosques as Friday prayers let out, and (as Iive seen on the Web) Sunni "religious authorities" are still debating whether Shiites can really be real Muslims. I think there'd be dancing in the streets if the "heretics" got thwapped by anybody. (Kinda like some Mefites might well do gleeful jigs if the 2008 Republican Convention were to get blowed up.)

Anyway, for another perspective on Persia (apparently mostly by exiles with in-country relatives) see Iranian.com.
posted by davy at 7:44 PM on October 14, 2005


ps. I only hit post once up there--I have no idea how that happened. But, to be on the safe side, I blame snsranch. [emoticon]

Davy--nothing in that scenario is unimaginable after the premise of Day One--especially not Day Two or Day Three. As for Sunni vs. Shia, when the enemy of my enemy is Israel, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend, not by a long shot, so even Day Four is not out of question.

When Israel bombed Osirak, any country with nuclear ambitions took note and planned accordingly. Despite all the weapons systems wet dreams of former model airplane builders everywhere, it can never happen that way again. There are no simple military solutions. Too much could go too wrong. We're in deep enough shit as it is--up to our necks. We don't need to stand on our heads in it for an encore.

And even if Iran gets nuclear weapons, the fact that Pakistan already has them is still a far scarier proposition--and we are living with that, are we not ?
posted by y2karl at 7:58 PM on October 14, 2005


And as the article pointed out:

The regime has spent twenty-five years trying to make these young Iranians deeply pro-Islamic, anti-American, anti-Western, and anti-Israeli. As a result, most of them are resentful of Islam (at least in its current, state-imposed form), rather pro-American, and have a friendly curiosity about Israel.

Should Israel attack Iran, scratch that.
posted by y2karl at 8:07 PM on October 14, 2005


"Fried snowballs." Can that be the new Snakes on a Plane?

For myself, this was a great confirmation that the Khatami crowd really was deeply rooted in a philosophy of liberalization, albeit within the Islamist system. The tired "reformer" label doesn't do enough to describe that.

The parallels with communist states that Ash uses were particularly helpful in drawing a picture of the history and direction of these reform movements. I was reminded of the advice one Soviet author was once given: "This book may be published perhaps in ten thousand years."

As I read the article, though, with the section on the rich patrimony of oil that underwrites the regime, I thought this didn't look like an Eastern European country with its moribund economy and widespread poverty, but perhaps China.

Harward [sic] Engineering School

LOLers. As if Harvard would let in engineers! Well, maybe to the business school. ;-) This is funny, though, because "engineer" is, I'm told, a title on par with "attorney" or "doctor". Funny how despite a half-century of American science dominating the world, despite the moon program, despite the dot-com revolution, we still look askance at engineers, and we certainly don't give them professional titles.

I won't debate the alarmist war article -- it's definitely wrong on several counts. Shit would definitely hit the fan, there's no doubt, but it wouldn't go down as, er, neatly as all that.
posted by dhartung at 8:14 PM on October 14, 2005


Shit would definitely hit the fan, there's no doubt, but it wouldn't go down as, er, neatly as all that.

Some people here were quite optimistic about going into Iraq as I recall. And look how that turned out.

...What about a pre-emptive strike of our own, like the Osirak raid? The problem is that Iran's nuclear program is now much more advanced than Iraq's was at the time of the raid. Already the U.S. government has no way of knowing exactly how many sites Iran has, or how many it would be able to destroy, or how much time it would buy in doing so. Worse, it would have no way of predicting the long-term strategic impact of such a strike. A strike might delay by three years Iran's attainment of its goal-but at the cost of further embittering the regime and its people. Iran's intentions when it did get the bomb would be all the more hostile.

Here the United States faces what the military refers to as a "branches and sequels" decision-that is, an assessment of best and second-best outcomes. It would prefer that Iran never obtain nuclear weapons. But if Iran does, America would like Iran to see itself more or less as India does-as a regional power whose nuclear status symbolizes its strength relative to regional rivals, but whose very attainment of this position makes it more committed to defending the status quo. The United States would prefer, of course, that Iran not reach a new level of power with a vendetta against America. One of our panelists thought that a strike would help the United States, simply by buying time. The rest disagreed. Iran would rebuild after a strike, and from that point on it would be much more reluctant to be talked or bargained out of pursuing its goals-and it would have far more reason, once armed, to use nuclear weapons to America's detriment.

Most of our panelists felt that the case against a U.S. strike was all the more powerful against an Israeli strike. With its much smaller air force and much more limited freedom to use airspace, Israel would probably do even less "helpful" damage to Iranian sites. The hostile reaction-against both Israel and the United States-would be potentially more lethal to both Israel and its strongest backer.


Will Iran Be Next?
posted by y2karl at 10:30 PM on October 14, 2005


if Iran does, America would like Iran to see itself more or less as India does-as a regional power whose nuclear status symbolizes its strength relative to regional rivals, but whose very attainment of this position makes it more committed to defending the status quo.

I agree; I don't think Iran is developing nukes with a clear motive to use them. Obviously, this is meant to solidify their position in the region and the world. What concerns me is not how the Islamic Republic handles their nuclear stockpile in 2010 -- I am appeased that they have no interest to attack anyone with nukes.

What I am concerned about is the hand-over of power in ten, twenty years. I believe in liberalism, and I think the Islamic Regime won't last. As the article linked to in your FPP points out, there is significant pressure in that direction operating internally. I wonder, however, if the mullahs will merely go gentle into that good night.

Suppose (and I do) that even without--especially without--direct intervention, liberalism continues its gentle and unassuming spread throughout Iranian society. Lack of confidence in the regime grows, and soon enough their is a volatile mass of disgruntled people ready for change. A revolution of Persian liberals succeeds in overthrowing the Islamic regime. What if the mullahs are cornered in a palace, facing public humiliation and punishment--or worse, a lynching? Bereft of any real political power but still in possession of launch codes for their nuclear silos, manned by those most unquestionably loyal to the regime, would they not be tempted to "rage, rage against the dying of the light", to go out with a literal bang and nuke the States, whom they would probably credit with the corruption of their people?

I have a hard time believing the Islamic Republic will last, and I have a hard time believing the hand-off of power (and the transference of launch codes) will be sealed with a warm smile and a handshake. These are very devout men, ideologically committed to the bitter end.
posted by ori at 1:50 AM on October 15, 2005


...In desperate times, I don't doubt they'll reach for apocalyptic measures.

(dunno why my last sentence was cut off.)
posted by ori at 1:53 AM on October 15, 2005


If only we could find some way to get rid of all religious people. Is there some term for that?"

yes : GENOCIDE
posted by zouhair at 3:48 AM on October 15, 2005


Genocide is a little too Biblical for my taste.

A more reasonable solution would be to force all the religionists to convert to animism and nature-worship, thus reversing exactly the way that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism spread in the first place.
posted by cleardawn at 4:20 AM on October 15, 2005


An Iran portrait
posted by zouhair at 4:36 AM on October 15, 2005


The Middle East regresses into war, with the fighting claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. A much-weakened Israel, now struggling for its very survival, deploys more nuclear weapons, targeting multiple Arab capitals. The Middle East is in complete mayhem, as the United States desperately tries to arrange a cease-fire decides to escalate the conflict.
posted by Kwantsar at 7:02 AM on October 15, 2005


The Middle East is in complete mayhem, as the United States desperately tries to arrange a cease-fire decides to escalate the conflict

...but finds, in the face of $200 bbl oil prices, that it's hard to fight a war when your economy has collapsed.
posted by eriko at 8:44 AM on October 15, 2005


Bereft of any real political power but still in possession of launch codes for their nuclear silos, manned by those most unquestionably loyal to the regime, would they not be tempted to "rage, rage against the dying of the light", to go out with a literal bang and nuke the States, whom they would probably credit with the corruption of their people?

I doubt Iran will have the delivery mechanism to nuke the States, but they might settle for nuking the Great Satan's Zionist lapdogs. The nuclear weapons would also stand a good chance of falling into the hands of a few eager martyrs willing to hand-deliver them to the right locations.

The four-day war scenario seems unlikely to me, an ultimate worst case scenario. I'm sure it wouldn't be pretty, however.
posted by Krrrlson at 11:54 AM on October 15, 2005


The nuclear weapons would also stand a good chance of falling into the hands of a few eager martyrs willing to hand-deliver them to the right locations.

That has been suggested as being equally true for the present owner of the nuclear weapons monopoly in the Middle East. Settlers and settler sympathizers serve in the IDF, for example.

It won't be pretty.

Indeed. The phrase Pariah state will have a whole new meaning and the Middle East will be a far scarier place.

Most of our panelists felt that the case against a U.S. strike was all the more powerful against an Israeli strike. With its much smaller air force and much more limited freedom to use airspace, Israel would probably do even less "helpful" damage to Iranian sites. The hostile reaction-against both Israel and the United States-would be potentially more lethal to both Israel and its strongest backer.

Israel did itself and the world a favor in bombing the reactor at Osirak. It won't be doing the world or itself attempting to bomb Iran. There is so little to gain and so much more to lose.

Gardiner pointed out how rare it is for political leaders to ask, "And what comes after that? And then?" Thomas Hammes, the Marine expert in counterinsurgency, said that presentations by military planners feed this weakness in their civilian superiors, by assuming that the adversary will cooperate. "We never 'red-celled' the enemy in this exercise" (that is, let him have the first move), Hammes said after the Iran war game. "What if they try to pre-empt us? What if we threaten them, and the next day we find mines in Baltimore Harbor and the Golden Gate, with a warning that there will be more? Do we want to start this game?" Such a failure of imagination-which Hammes said is common in military-run war games-has a profound effect, because it leads to war plans like the ones from Gardiner's CentCom, or from Tommy Franks, which in turn lull Presidents into false confidence. "There is no such thing as a quick, clean war," he said. "War will always take you in directions different from what you intended. The only guy in recent history who started a war and got what he intended was Bismarck," who achieved the unification of Germany after several European wars.

The Teheran hostage rescue attempt comes to mind. t's not Carter's fault that those helicopters crashed. As Donald Rumsfeld noted, Stuff happens.
posted by y2karl at 12:25 PM on October 15, 2005


That has been suggested as being equally true for the present owner of the nuclear weapons monopoly in the Middle East. Settlers and settler sympathizers serve in the IDF, for example.

Suggested as being equally true? Are you fucking kidding me? Suggested by idiots, maybe. The ranks of the IDF elite are populated with secular Israelis who, in their admittedly maladroit and militaristic way, are ultimately interested in security and regional militarity superiority. I grew up in Israel, and I can promise you that we never chanted "Death to Iran" nor was anyone even remotely interested in open conflict with Iran, which was seen as the worse possible scenario. Israel and pre-revolution Iran got along just fine, and the overwhelming majority of Israelis would like nothing more than coexist peacefully with Iran. You're comparing a stable democracy to a fundamentalist state ran by a bunch of religious gangsters, who have to keep their own restless population in check using a massive secret police apparatus. If you spent so much as a week in Israel you would see for yourself how utterly ridiculous the notion of a settler takeover is. These poor psychotic ideologues couldn't even keep their homes in Gaza, let alone take over the Knesset. Think again.
posted by ori at 3:49 PM on October 15, 2005


That has been suggested as being equally true for the present owner of the nuclear weapons monopoly in the Middle East. Settlers and settler sympathizers serve in the IDF, for example.

This is far, far less likely, to put it very, very mildly. I hope you realize that.


Indeed. The phrase Pariah state will have a whole new meaning and the Middle East will be a far scarier place.

From what I can tell it has a very similar meaning now, except for open military hostilities (and as for those, they've already happened many times before, except for the nuclear part).
posted by Krrrlson at 4:33 PM on October 15, 2005


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