Iran’s Potential Future

Kaplan’s latest is in the Washington Post with the op-ed piece titled How a Movement Could Transform the Region. As always, the ComingAnarchy executive summary appears below — click the link for the complete article. Thanks as always to the many loyal readers who send us alerts to Kaplan’s latest articles. We love you guys!

The now-joined struggle for Iranian hearts and minds is where the universal battle of ideas — democracy vs. tyranny — meets the dictates of Middle Eastern geography. Whereas Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are puzzle pieces carved out of featureless desert, with no venerable traditions of statehood, the roots of a great Persian power occupying the Iranian plateau date to the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanid empires… Iran’s governing institutions, however illiberal their current intent, are structurally sounder than most in the Arab world. When the shah was toppled, anarchy did not ensue: Within weeks, a Shiite bureaucratic apparatus filled the void. That sophisticated network reflected not just religion but also Iranian high culture.

The Iran of the ayatollahs was never a one-dimensional tyranny such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; it is a complex system with an elected parliament and chief executive. Likewise, Iran’s democracy movement is strikingly Western in its organizational discipline and its urbane use of technology. In terms of development, Iran is much closer to Turkey than to Syria or Iraq. While the latter two live with the possibility of implosion, Iran has an internal coherence that allows it to bear down hard on its neighbors. In the future, a democratic Iran could be, in a benevolent sense, as influential in Baghdad as the murder squads of a theocratic Iran have been in a malignant sense.

As in the former Soviet Union, change in Iran can come only from the inside; only an insider, be it a Mousavi or a Mikhail Gorbachev, has the necessary bona fides to allow daylight into the system, exposing its flaws. Only a staunch supporter of the Islamic Republic such as Mousavi would have been trusted to campaign at all, even as he is now leading a democratic movement that has already undermined the Brezhnevite clerical regime. It is unfinished business of the Cold War that we have been witnessing the past few days.

Throughout Iranian history, dating to Cyrus the Great, Jews and Persians have often had an alliance against the mass of Arabs and other peoples that border Iran to the west and south. In brief visits to Iran, I have sensed a greater aversion to Saudi Arabia, for instance, than to Israel. A virulent hatred of Jews may turn out to have been an attribute of the clerical regime, which won’t outlive it, at least not to the same extent. The late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi did, in fact, maintain an implicit alliance with Israel, and future Iranian leaders must look at the world from the same geographical position as he did, without the baggage of Third World radicalism with which the mullahs had been indoctrinated early in the Khomeini period.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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3 Responses to Iran’s Potential Future

  1. Adrian says:

    Hey look, Robert Kaplan is an expert on Persian culture.

    “Likewise, Iran’s democracy movement is strikingly Western in its organizational discipline and its urbane use of technology.”

    WTF. a) only Western people use technology??? The Philippines toppled their dictator in 2001 by text-message-based flash mob protests. b) only Western protest movements are disciplined? Gandhi?

  2. Wufiavelli says:

    Adrian kaplan does have a tendency sometimes to insert little generalizations i can agree get annoying. (I think he said once koreas are generally small in an article which is pretty false)But besides that his point is right on. If this movement was happening in Egypt (for an example) i do not think there would be a chance for democracy on the other side. My professor followed the Egyptian Mock elections back in 2005. She had regular contact with people inside government. She was pretty blunt Egypt could not sustain a democracy at that point.

  3. Kirk Sowell says:

    I agree with Kaplan’s general point about Iranian civilization and the difference with the Arab world. Some Arab commentators have been noting the difference themselves – the Iranians rise up, why don’t we.

    I disagree with the suggestion that the Arab street – or Arab public opinion, however you want to phrase it – is somehow driven by an Iranian leader, such that a different Iranian leader could bring change in the Arab world. To the contrary, just the opposite from the Iranian side – Ahmadinejad’s popularity in the Arab world derives entirely from him saying things many Arabs would love to hear Arab leaders say. Many Arabs look for a champion, and will latch on to anyone. Those who supported Saddam Hussein are now aligned with Iran. If the tone changed in Iran, Arabs would just tune them out.

    I also think Kaplan was getting ahead of himself here, although this was written several days ago. It is clear now that the regime has the upper hand. No Persian democracy is on its way.