Ayatollah Cola.

It is a subject of some controversy exactly what President Obama hoped to get from the July 2015 agreement with Iran. Did he merely hope to avoid or postpone launching another great war in the Middle East? If so, he appears to have succeeded (for now) and a war-weary country owes him a debt of gratitude.[1] Did he hope that an agreement and an end to economic sanctions would open Iran to outside influences, prompting younger Iranians to press for political liberalization?[2] If so, he appears to be in for disappointment, at least over the short-term.

One of the big dogs in this fight is the Revolutionary Guards. Without wishing to engage in inflammatory rhetoric, the Revolutionary Guards (RG) might be analogized to the SS. They are an elite fighting force; they are the guardians of the ideological purity of the country; and they have made a good thing out of their revolutionary purity. The RG have built up a business empire that includes telecommunications, banking, construction, and the luxury goods imports that are not available to ordinary Iranians. Trade and political liberalization would be death to the RG.[3]

In a nutshell, Iran bowed before the pressure exerted on it by an American-led coalition over many years.[4] Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reluctantly approved the deal. The agreement doesn’t feel like much of a victory to Americans, but it feels like a defeat to some Iranians. The opponents of the deal included the Revolutionary Guards.

Having suffered one defeat, these conservative forces have sought to reassert their fundamental anti-Western positions in other areas. They understand the game that President Obama has been playing. They take it far more seriously than do the president’s Republican and Israeli (but I repeat myself) critics. Partly, the government has used allegations of Western espionage to imprison the Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian and to arrest five Iranian journalists.[5] Partly, the Supreme Leader has banned negotiations with the Americans on any other issues. Partly, in partnership with the Russians, Iran has increased its support for the embattled Assad regime in Syria.

For the moment, having won something big, the moderates are in no position to mount an effective resistance. President Hassan Rouhani, who is presented to the West as a pragmatic moderate, has been keeping his head down.

The deal isn’t a “done” deal. It could still slide off the road. The International Atomic Authority Agency (IAEA) was supposed to report on previous efforts to build a nuclear weapon in December 2015. The Iranians have refused to co-operate and the inquiry is stalled. Iran is scheduled to cut its stockpile of uranium from 8,300 kilograms to 300 kilograms, and to disconnect most of its enrichment centrifuges by January 2016. If the Iranians refuse to ship their uranium stockpile abroad for safe (for everyone else) keeping, the whole deal could unravel. Meanwhile, elections for the Iranian parliament are scheduled for February 2016 and elections for the American House of Representatives, Senate, and Presidency are scheduled for November 2016. In short, things aren’t over yet. This is likely to be a long struggle.

[1] Doesn’t mean the bastards will pay, just that they owe. Maybe he could hire a collection agency? Call everybody up at the dinner hour, lay a guilt trip on them or threaten to repossess their cars in the middle of the night.

[2] There’s a certain comic element here. If you have the misfortune to run across those postings on Facebook by some immoderate conservatives, you’ll often see President Obama denounced as an America-hating (not to mention crypto-Muslim) traitor. Meanwhile, the president has tried to establish increased cultural and economic contact between the United States and Iran and Cuba. His guiding idea appears to be that people in messed-up societies who encounter America will go “Yeah! I want some of that!” See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N2k-gv6xNE or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZy3qzzc9ag

[3] See: Michael Thad Allen, The Business of Genocide: The SS, Slave Labor, and the Concentration Camps (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

[4] “The struggle inside Iran,” The Week, 11 December 2015, p. 11.

[5] If this was happening in the United States, people would call it “McCarthyism.” Quite rightly.

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