Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A response to Michael Eisenstadt's 'The Strategic Culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran' (Part 2)

by Mark Pyruz

We continue with Part 2 of our response to Michael Eisenstadt's monograph published by the Middle East Studies at Marine Corps University. [For Part 1, click HERE]

Mr. Eisenstadt's text is in red:

"Since then, within the context of a relatively activist foreign policy, Iranian decision-makers have generally shunned direct confrontation, and have acted through surrogates..."

Confrontations by proxy are typical of Cold War conditions. Historical examples from the 20th century abound, such as proxy forces supported by the U.S.S.R. in the form of the NVA and NLF during the US-Vietnam conflict, as well as American support for the Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahideen (in ways, precursors to Al-Qaeda) during the Russo-Afghan conflict, just to name a few from which there are many.

"Iran temporarily suspended the enrichment of uranium in November 2003 when it believed that it risked a U.S. attack or invasion if it didn’t"

A misperception. This suspension was already at a time when OIF took a turn for the worse for U.S. military forces in Iraq. President Khatami had always been a dove towards the Europeans and voluntarily accepted the Additional Protocol (and more) in return for European promises of a breakthrough in the form of the Paris Agreement. When after a protracted period the Iranians became convinced that no such breakthrough was forthcoming, they withdrew from the effort. This represented a major setback for the Khatami administration and directly contributed to the subsequent election of the more hardline President Ahmadinejad in 2005. Note that in 2007 when a U.S. attack appeared more likely, Iran did not back down and even went so far as to initiate work in earnest at its fortified pilot enrichment site near Qom.

"pragmatism is consistent with the principle of the expediency/interest of the regime (maslahat) that was established by the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, in the mid-late 1980s."

Pragmatism and expediency are historically consistent with conditions of Cold War and national security. For its part, during the Cold War with Communist powers, the U.S. overthrew a number of democratically elected governments and supported dictatorships, so long as they were perceived to be allied against communism. Currently, American expediency in the Cold War against Iran can be seen in its essential support of regional dictatorships such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain and others.

"despite the frequent resort to religious allusions and imagery in speeches and interviews, Iranian officials often employ the language of deterrence theory as spoken and understood in the West."

Iranian defense officials are many times straightforward in characterizing their defense strategy based on deterrence, in addition to flourishes of religious rhetoric. Again the use of rhetoric, as well as military defense concepts is not peculiar to Iran. The U.S. employed varying levels of such in its Cold War against Communist powers during the 20th century. Perhaps one of the vest examples of this was when the words "under God" were added to the American Pledge of Allegiance, marking a distinction from Communism's official policy of social secularism.

"The IRI’s leadership believes that the Islamic Republic plays a key role in world affairs as the standard bearer of revolutionary Islam and the guardian of oppressed Muslims (and even non-Muslims) everywhere. Accordingly, they believe that the fate of the ummah(the Islamic community) depends on Iran’s ability to transform itself into a world power that can defend and advance the interests of that community."

This is also fairly typical of a Cold War confrontation. During the U.S.-Communist Cold War, the U.S. positioned itself as "leader of the free world", i.e. the champion of its own interpretation of Western liberalism, popularly described in the more generalized term "democracy". The Iranian use of Islam can be seen as being driven by a parallel motivation, but as a more culturally attune and autochthonous alternative, within the context of the US-IRI Cold War.

"...nuclear weapons may be the only way for Iran to become a regional military power on a budget: while a nuclear weapons program might cost billions of dollars, rebuilding its conventional military would cost hundreds of billions of dollars."

For some reason, Mr. Eisenstadt chooses to ignore the more likely Iranian defense aim of establishing itself not with the actual construction of nuclear weapons, but instead with the status of the so-called "Japan option," that is to say the ability to build a nuclear weapon using existing infrastructure and materials, upon imminent threat of military invasion or following external attack (likely by the U.S. and/or Israel).

"...[t]he ability to destabilize neighboring countries with large Shiite populations and to launch terrorist attacks on several continents in conjunction with the Lebanese Hizballah and other surrogate organizations (such as Iraqi Shiite ‘special groups’)

It should be pointed out that, officially, the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon do not consider the Islamic Republic of Iran as a "state sponsor of terrorism". This is made all the more meaningful in that Afghanistan and Iraq are currently under U.S. military occupation.

"Iran has used displays of its missile forces in parades and exercises to play on the perceived connection between missiles and nuclear weapons, which it has encouraged by festooning the missiles with banners proclaiming that 'Israel should be wiped off the map.”

The actual slogans in Persian read literally in English as "Israel (or alternatively, 'the regime occupying Jerusalem') should vanish from the pages of time." It refers to a quote made previously by Imam Khomeini, and been generally regarded in certain Iranian quarters as analogous to the downfall of the Shah regime in Iran and the apartheid regime in South Africa.

"...the pursuit of self-reliance—a central element of the IRI’s revolutionary ethos that extends to all spheres of national life—reflects a determination to free Iran of the dependence on foreign technology and advisors that characterized the Shah’s efforts to modernize and transform the country."

This is another simplification offered by Mr. Eisenstadt. It ignores the Iranian experience of having its democratically elected government deposed by a CIA orchestrated coup in 1953, establishing a dictatorship that ruled Iran until the successful, popular revolution in 1979. The self-reliance in the military sphere was to a greater extent a necessity imposed upon Iran by the arms embargo it endured during the Iran-Iraq War, as well as the U.S, directed arms sanction attached to a UNSC resolution related to Iran's nuclear program in the mid-00's.

End of Part 2

Part 3 to be posted on Thursday.


Steve said...

Is it really worth the effort to discuss that Eisenstadt paper regarding 'strategic culture of Iran' ?
Much of it is repetition. In August 2010, M. Eisenstadt together with David Crist published a piece titled 'It's time to get tough on Iran' on There they already sold all those zionist beliefs about Iran being 'a threat', 'aggressive', with a fundamentalist 'regime' seeking martyrdom and so on, carefully wrapped in a sort of disguise making the reader believe how honest and realist the authors be.
I think M. Eisenstadt is fundamentally incapable of abstracting from his zionist ideology and interests. Regardless of the circumstances, he will always make a case of how important it is that the US attack Iran preemptively (much to the benefit of Israel).
I would never rely on this author in case knowledge about the reality on the ground in Iran is required.

Rd. said...

“This often self-defeating tendency by Tehran to overplay its hand will continue to provide diplomatic and informational opportunities for the United States that it should be prepared to exploit.”

M. Eisenstadt

So according to ME, IRI has been over playing its hand for 30+ years!!!! So where was IRI 30 years ago compared to today, and where is US in comparison? Or is ME trying to take swipe at his own FP so called experts!?!?!