Play
U.S. Sanctions Strengthen Iranian Theocracy  - Hamid Dabashi

Aggressive and hypocritical actions by the U.S. bolster the Iranian theocracy whose only mission is defense of their own power and state. Hamid Dabashi analyzes the recent presidential elections and the U.S. and Iranian relationship on theAnalysis.news with Paul Jay.

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news. Please don’t forget the donate button and the subscribe and share buttons and all the buttons. We’ll be back in a moment with Hamid Dabashi and we’re going to discuss the Iranian elections.

Ebrahim Raisi is the president elect of Iran, the result of a controversial election process where less than 50 percent of the voters participated in an election that has been denounced by at least two former presidents and many people actually boycotted.

As always, when analyzing the internal politics of Iran, I think it’s important to state that whatever the character of the Iranian government and ruling circles are and what damage they may have done outside their borders, it’s nothing compared to the war crimes of the United States and its allies. The hypocrisy of the American government towards Iran, complaining about human rights violations when they arm the Saudi and Israeli governments, is obvious. That said, we shouldn’t hesitate to discuss the brutal and repressive nature of the Iranian theocracy. It’s been reported that the Biden administration is trying to reopen the JCPOA nuclear agreement to include a restriction on Iran’s use of ballistic missiles, something that was explicitly not included in the original agreement. Raisi has made it clear that Iran’s non-nuclear weapons are non-negotiable. When Raisi was asked if he would meet with Biden, his answer was no. These are very dangerous moments and we start our analysis from what’s good for the Iranian people, the people of the region, the American people, and other peoples. And to help us understand the current moment, we’re joined by Hamid Dabashi. He is an Iranian professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York City. He’s the author of over 20 books. Among them are his Theology of Discontent, Staging a Revolution, a one volume analysis of Iranian history, Iran: A People Interrupted, Iran Without Borders: Towards a Critique of the Postcolonial Nation, Iran: The Rebirth of a Nation, and The Shahnameh: The Persian Epic as World Literature. Hamid, how should I pronounce that?

Hamid Dabashi

Shah means king. Nameh means book. Shahnameh, the Book of Kings.

Paul Jay

Ok, that’s pretty straightforward. Thanks very much for joining us, Hamid.

Hamid Dabashi

My pleasure. Good to see you, Paul. We miss you here back in the states.

Paul Jay

Yeah, someday, hopefully sooner than later, maybe we’ll come back. So anyway, let’s start with the election. Who is Raisi? What does his election represent for the Iranian people? And then we’ll get into the nuclear agreement and the regional geopolitics of the issue.

Hamid Dabashi

He is currently the head of the judiciary and, if you can believe, he is kind of a revolutionary functionary. He doesn’t have really a vision, a character, any drive. He has been a yes-man all his life. He is in his 60s, I believe, and he ran for president last time four years ago when Rouhani became president. But he didn’t make it because there was still some enthusiasm eight years ago and four years ago when Rouhani ran again about the possibility of some democratic indications in the process. And when he lost that campaign, Khamenei, the supreme leader, appointed him to a very lucrative and powerful position, which is the head of a major endowment in the province of Khorasan in northeastern Iran as the head of the Astan Quds Foundation, which is very opulent and very powerful. And he used this very effectively this time to promote himself as somebody who cares for people and such. So he comes to the office of presidency with a very long history in the judiciary system and with a very long history of serving the Islamic Republic in a variety of capacities. And now he has become the head of the state.

Don’t expect anything visionary, don’t expect anything radical. And in fact, it is important to remember that the office of presidency in the apparatus of power in the Islamic Republic is not really that powerful. It’s just a position among other positions. And what you also hear in the European and American press that the supreme leader calls the shots is not entirely correct either. The single most important body of decision making is the Supreme National Security Council that has 23 members and has the interest of the state in mind. It has nothing to do with the nation and the will of the people and so forth. Yes, the president is the chairman of this Supreme National Security Council. But far more important is the secretary of that National Security Council, who currently is Ali Shamkhani. And they bring all the various forces, the intelligence, the security, the military apparatus of the Islamic Republic, as it has a 23 member committee. They decide. And what they decide is really the interest of the state, how to sustain the state. And they are always reactive. They are not proactive. They wait, for example, for the former Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Then they react to that. They wait for the Reagan administration to create the Taliban and then they react to that. Keep in mind that in 1980, the United States was behind the Iraqi invasion of Iran for eight years, the Iran-Iraq war, to which they reacted. They wait for the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon. Then they react by creation of Hezbollah. So if you hear criticism, legitimate criticism of Iran being too much in the region, but don’t hear that Iran is like a part of a jigsaw puzzle, that the Americans are there, the Saudis are there, the Turkish government is there, the Russians are there, even the Chinese are there. Everybody is involved in Syria. So is Iran. Iran does not have a constructive role to play, but nobody has a constructive role to play. Everybody’s hand is in somebody else’s pocket.

In that context, the election of a new president, Ebrahim Raisi, is not really going to have much effect. What are the paramount issues, Paul, that Iran’s 85 million people face right now? The single most important factor is climate change. The Persian Gulf area is not going to be habitable with the way that things are going within about twenty to twenty five years. Right now it’s like hell. Environmental catastrophe is the most important issue.

Paul Jay

Just before you move on to that, is the Iranian government, the theocracy, the council, are they cognizant of the climate challenge? Is it something they get? Because it’s obvious that not only is the climate a great threat, but also having fossil fuel as their main source of revenue is going to be a problem.

Hamid Dabashi

Remember, this National Security Council has a university. So they study things. They know what is happening. And they are trying to diversify the sources of their energy away from fossil fuel, but they don’t have any alternative. That’s what they have. It’s a rentier state. It’s a state that runs by the price of oil. Any time the price of oil goes down, the cry of death to America goes down. Every time the price of oil goes up, the cry goes up. It’s not a system that is sustainable. But again, nobody cares in the region. It’s not that just Iran doesn’t care. The entire region doesn’t care. And the single most important item of vulnerability is people, people who have no power. And there was a semblance of democracy in the last, let’s say, 20 years or so when people poured into the streets and chose between the worst and the bad. And they chose the bad. But now that choice is no longer valid and maybe about 30 percent, 35 percent of the eligible voters actually voted. There are sixty million eligible voters. And usually Iranians are very high in voting when they think they have something to say. But this time, the state uses the excuses of corona and the social distancing and the summer heat. This is all gibberish. The fact is that people have lost any trust. There is a severe bifurcation between a state and a nation. The state does its own thing and the nation is left to its own devices. Now, paradoxically, of course, with these sanctions, these ungodly, backbreaking, crippling sanctions that the United States, Europe, and the U.N. have been imposing, the direct victims are the people who don’t have any say in whether or not Iran should go nuclear or not go nuclear. So one has to place Iran within the context of geopolitics of the region, its relationships with its immediate Arab neighbors, its relationship with Europe, its relationship with the United States, and as a best indication, they have the best interest of the state in mind. When Obama was negotiating for a nuclear deal, they went for the nuclear deal. And they perfectly accepted all the limitations. But as soon as Trump destroyed it, of course, they go back into strengthening their negotiating position by starting to enrich higher volumes of uranium. It is important for your audience to recognize that the Iranian foreign policy is very reactive, not proactive. They wait for a crisis to happen and then they react to it to defend themselves.

Paul Jay

You were listing the challenges facing the Iranian people. So you have the issue of climate, but then you went to covid. How has the government been doing with covid and how much does that have to do with people tuning out of the elections?

Hamid Dabashi

Number one, we don’t have the accurate statistics in Iran. We don’t have accurate statistics anywhere. In the U.S. we hit 600,000 victims of covid. Compared to the United States, Brazil, and India, Iran has not been doing that bad. But nevertheless, the situation is not good. So what are the issues that the Iranian people face? Number one is the environment. Number two are pandemics. Number three are crippling economic sanctions that are not affecting the state. The state has been selling its oil on the black market and other ways. It has sustained its power both within Iran and in the region. That’s what the issue is. So if there is a nuclear agreement (right now, there are negotiations in Vienna) the Iranian interest is to go back to the Obama agreements. Disregard the issue of long range missiles because they will not be negotiating long range missiles. Remember, Iran is a country that fought with Iraq for eight years. It has been constantly under threat from Israel. And as a result Iran is not going to compromise on the fact that during the Iran-Iraq war they went around the world begging for missiles and that nobody would sell them missiles. So they will not compromise on those factors, especially since constantly Israel is on the pose of attacking them. The assassination of the nuclear scientists, all sorts of troubles that they make for them.

Paul Jay

Can I just make a point here? I think it’s important just to emphasize that the ballistic missiles are not nuclear. They never have been a part of any negotiation as part of this nuclear agreement. And Iran has as much right to ballistic missiles as any other country does. It’s kind of a ridiculous demand on the face of it.

Hamid Dabashi

I don’t believe in ballistic missiles. I don’t believe in nuclear weapons. We don’t believe in any of it. We are against war. But you cannot isolate Iran. The Israeli military is the sixth most powerful military on planet Earth. Whatever Iran is doing, Israel is not in a position to point a finger at. And they are sitting on a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons and they are not part of the NPT. Iran is a signatory. Again, one should not pick on Israel or any particular country. Pakistan has nuclear capacity. Turkey is part of NATO. Russia to the north has nuclear capacity. Iran is surrounded by four nuclear powers. The U.S. in the Persian Gulf, Russia to its north, Turkey which is part of NATO, and Pakistan. So none of these states can point a finger at Iran. “Oh, you cannot have nuclear, even energy, let alone nuclear weapons.” So from the standpoint of the Iranian people or any people around the globe from Canada and the U.S., no country should have nuclear capacity. Of course not. Given what happened in Japan, even nuclear energy is a dangerous proposition to begin with. But the negotiation now has come to “no, you can’t even have ballistic missiles. And the range should be this much.” Especially coming from the United States. Are you kidding me? Who are you? Under Trump, you began a revamping of the more sophisticated nuclear capacities of the United States.

So one has to have a more comparative assessment of the region. But it doesn’t mean that the Islamic Republic of Iran is God’s gift to humanity. It’s a horrid theocratic state apparatus. And every election has become worse. If you go back 40 years when the Islamic Republic was violently imposed on a multidimensional and pluralistic revolutionary uprising, it was still in negotiation with its ideological rivals. But after 40 years, it has become a flat, tyrannical state. And in this last presidential election, it just dropped away any pretense of democracy. It prevented anybody with even the slightest reformist views from having a chance. They did this because they are prepping this man, Raisi, to succeed Khamenei. Khamenei, the supreme leader, is in his 80s. Everybody guesses that Raisi will succeed him as supreme leader and then somebody else will become the president. There are about two dozen people at the head of the state apparatus and they keep changing from one position to another position.

Paul Jay

Why do they engineer the election? Because that’s apparently what happened. It was engineered that he would win. But why do they have the public face facing the West, someone who has been accused of massacring thousands of people after the Islamic revolution, leftists, communists, and all kinds of people they didn’t like. They got a guy who is “the face of being hardline” when it’s in their interest, especially their economic interest in terms of this alienation of the people from the state, to try to make a deal and get these sanctions lifted. This guy, if you read the Western press, is giving an excuse for Biden not to go back to the nuclear agreement.

Hamid Dabashi

There are two points to your question, Paul. First of all, why bother with this shenanigan of democracy? Well, why does the United States bother with the shenanigan of democracy. Do we really have a democracy? Right now, as you know, the Republican Party is going through every possible measure to make sure that African-Americans, Latino Americans, won’t vote. What happened on January sixth was a full recognition that this is a democracy only for white people, not for any other people. And if other people are going to join the Democratic Party, again, not that the Democratic Party is God’s gift to humanity, they are going to dismantle democracy. Right now in Texas they are systematically dismantling the democratic apparatus of this country. Now, with the United States no longer a model of potential republican democracy, where else do we have? Do we have a democracy in India where you have a horrid Hindu fundamentalist government just slaughtering Muslims? Is it in Brazil? Is it in China? Is it in Russia? Europe is always on the verge of the rise of fascism. There is no model of democracy. But still there is this pretense. You have even Bashar al-Assad having an election in Syria. Al-Sisi in Egypt. “Yeah, let’s have an election.” They do this because engineering is fun and they can claim the legitimacy that they like. They did the same thing in Iran, but what I like about this election is that they have all the pretenses dropped. They chose him. They put him in there. They did not allow anybody to run against him. There were two who were running against him. They just conceded before the election even had started.

Paul Jay

OK, I get that. But what I’m asking is why not have some kind of “reformer,” who really, as you say, is part of the state, present this kind of reformist face, get the nuclear deal back, get the sanctions lifted? Instead, they took a path which may very well scuttle the deal because there’s a lot of force in Washington against this deal, including from inside the Democratic Party.

Hamid Dabashi

They are just one phase behind. They are reacting to Trump. When there was Obama, you had Rouhani coming and Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, speaking lovely Midwestern English in his conferences and accommodating the nuclear deal. And then Trump comes. When Trump comes, you have to understand the catalytic effect of four years of Trump chicanery on Iranian politics. The hand of the right wing, these neanderthals that are really identical with Republicans in their politics. And also remember, Raisi is the Naftali Bennett of Iran. If you read the pages of the New York Times “Oh Naftali Bennett is being reconstructive.” This is the guy who said, “I’ve killed many Arabs and I’m very proud of it.”

Paul Jay

This is the new PM of Israel.

Hamid Dabashi

It’s the same thing that Rasi said. He said, “Yes, I’ve killed prisoners and I’m very proud of it.” They’re identical characters, but not in The New York Times. They demonize Raisi and they glorify Naftali Bennett because he has gotten rid of Netanyahu. But going back to your question, why are they reacting to Trump? Now you have a different guy in Washington. You have Biden. And Biden wants to restore. But, of course, as you said, there are many forces that were opposed to restoration of the nuclear deal and Iran cannot trust that they can actually engage because they did engage. They did have a deal, but Trump tore it to pieces. So what trust can they have?

Paul Jay

And the other thing, too, is that Biden is succumbing to his own pressure to create ballistic missiles as an issue because clearly it wasn’t. In fact Blinken and Sullivan were both on camera after being appointed saying they weren’t going to make ballistic missiles part of the deal and now it seems like they are. That almost seems like an attempt to scuttle the deal because Biden has to know Iran will never agree to this.

Hamid Dabashi

No, they do. But there is also the other part of it in which including ballistic missiles could be sort of a next phase. That now they are going to have the sort of Obama era nuclear deal that they used to have, but they continue in Vienna and so forth to engage because paradoxically, Iranian regional interests and American regional interests coincide. They have coincided in Syria. They have coincided in Afghanistan. They have coincided in Iraq. And the United States needs Iran in the region in order to withstand Russia. Whereas Russia has had a consistent foreign policy and been very friendly with Iran and has used Iranian bases when it was engaging in Syria. So it is possible in the Biden administration that you have a way of thinking of continuing this negotiation with Iran. Thus the question of will Raisi meet with Biden? Of course he will meet with Biden. They will meet with the devil if they have to in order to sustain their state apparatus. It makes no difference to them. It is not in their interests yet to meet with Biden. Rouhani was on the verge of meeting. He had a phone call with Obama during the Obama administration. They don’t have any qualms with meeting with anybody. Right now the relationship with Saudi Arabia is going back to normal because they were actively involved in Yemen to the degree that the Saudis and the Emirates were active in Yemen. When they are pulling back, Iran will pull back. They will allocate resources somewhere else in Afghanistan or in Syria or in Lebanon. One thing that is very crucial after 40 years of the Islamic republic: they are not ideologically married to anything other than sustaining the interest of the Islamic Republic. The interest of the state is paramount. Everything else is negotiable.

Paul Jay

What do you see in the relatively short term future, five, ten years? You were saying this economic model, even political model, isn’t really sustainable. What does that mean? How does this unravel?

Hamid Dabashi

Right now, we are in a stage where if the epidemic is under control, if the Saudis and the Emirates are out of Yemen, and if Afghanistan, with the pulling of the Americans, and Iraq are stabilized, that will amount to reducing the presence of Iran in all of these regions. If tomorrow you have another bombing of Gaza by the Israelis, you have another invasion of Lebanon, or if you have another occupation further into Golan Heights in Syria, any of these things happening, Iran will be more aggressively involved. The more stabilized the region is, the less conditions and causes and crises there are for Iran to get involved in the region. Fortunately and paradoxically, the silver lining of the covid pandemic has been that people are pulling back because they have to allocate the resources to controlling this pandemic. After the pandemic is over, my fear is that, again, somebody is going to invade something or another. There’s always a trigger. And now with the sustained bombing of Gaza by Israel over the last two weeks, the position of Hamas has strengthened and the further occupation of East Jerusalem of Israel is adding momentum to the Islamic sort of component of Palestinian national liberation. Happily and fortunately, Palestinian national liberation is not entirely Islamic. Hamas is only one factor that is being drummed up in European and North American press as the Palestinian resistance. It is not the only Palestinian resistance, and fortunately so. So if things begin to subside and if we have less tension in the United States and in the region, if the Saudis and Emirates begin to start behaving, if Turkey begins to play a more stabilizing role, Iran will go back into its internal affairs. The more agitations around Iran, the more repression inside Iran, the more allocation of resources, instead of to addressing issues domestic to Iran, to other regions. Iran is not a very wealthy country. Iran is entirely contingent on oil revenues and if they are not allocated to domestic issues, the level of poverty, the level of unemployment, the national health issue, the incapability of addressing a pandemic, these are all factors that need resources for the state to address. The state does not address them because it is allocating all these resources in Iraq, in Yemen, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in Palestine. That is the prospect.

Paul Jay

And what is the prospect for another rise of a democratic movement in the streets or electorally? Is there any space for that?

Hamid Dabashi

There are two issues. In a book I recently wrote, The Inevitable Demise of the Nation-State, the bifurcation between the nation and the state is forever. There is this whole idea of a nation-state where you had a nation and had a representative state which was a European colonial concoction. It never had any relevance in the context of countries like Iran. And they gave it a try, especially after the revolution, through repeated elections, parliamentary elections, presidential elections, city council elections to see if there is any effect. But there has not been any effect. There is no democratic representation. And the idea of yet another revolution, I think, is implausible. The idea even of a democratic uprising is not plausible. But the fate of the nation has been forever severed. They no longer look to the state for their wellbeing. A state is, in reality, entirely unto itself. The United Nations has to be renamed the United States. The United Nations has nothing to do with nations. When they say Iran did that or Syria did that, its just a misnomer. The name Iran belongs to the people, not to the state. The state interests itself. Of course, it has a massive basis in terms of its military, in terms of its security apparatus, in terms of its intelligence apparatus. So, if you put all of those together they come to 10 million people. Iran has a large population and they can sustain themselves in power by force, by intimidation, by destruction of any democratic uprising that has happened almost every four to five years. Over the last forty years, you have had many forms of democratic uprisings, the student uprisings, labor uprisings, middle class uprisings, women’s rights uprisings. Iran is a richly diversified country in terms of its population, in terms of its youth. So, you have all sorts of uprisings, but they never amount to any rattling of the state in any democratic way.

Paul Jay

And the more aggressive the US is towards the Iranian state, I assume, the stronger it gets.

Absolutely. The more aggressive the United States, the more aggressive Israel, the more aggressive Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the more the state becomes like a porcupine. All its spikes come out. And, as you remember during the green movement, the slightest suggestion of demanding democratic representation they all label them as agents of the United States or agents of Israel, etc. So they become more belligerent. And lo and behold, the United States is trying to intervene in the internal affairs of all of these countries, as it did in Syria, as it did in Lebanon. And if there is democratic representation, as in the election of Hamas in Palestine, the United States doesn’t recognize it because it’s not in its interest. So we don’t have a model. Including Canada, by the way. The horrors of these so-called residential schools that came out and the successive governments of Canada and the Catholic Church, what they have done to Native Americans and First Nations, has robbed them of any moral authority, of any political wherewithal. Who are these people? We grew up thinking, “OK, United States, Canada, Western Europe, they have troubles, but they are the models of democracy.” But there is no model. People are on their own. And as a result, you have to look at movements such as Black Lives Matter, locations such as Palestinian national liberation movements, demands of the Native Americans and native nations in Canada for representation. These nuclei of resistance to these states is where the hope and the aspiration is.

Paul Jay

Alright Hamid, let’s continue this conversation in another segment soon, both about Iran and also about democracy. Thanks for joining us.

Hamid Dabashi

My pleasure. Anytime.

Paul Jay

And thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news. Please don’t forget the donate button and share and subscribe and all the buttons.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *