Iran seems to be one of the top crazies in the world today, probably on equal footing with North Korea. Still, there are some important themes in Iranian political development that point to larger problems not specific to the Near East.
When I look at countries where I have limited experience or exposure, I try to think in terms of historical developments leading to current conditions and then compare those developments against other countries. Let’s call it “Comparative Historical Swathing” or CHS, just to be fun. (God, please do not let my ridiculous terminology creations halt my career before it has begun). Iran is a useful example:
1) Iran is the heir to one of history’s great empires/civilizations. Probably no one ever really forgot that the Persian Empire was kind of a big deal, but it is often forgotten that Iran is the modern incarnation of a fascinating political-cultural civilization. It’s hard to give an exact number of how long the territory of Iran has been governed as a single political unit, but suffice to say that it is in the 1000s of years. The fall of imperial and royal rule in Persia was encouraged by European meddling in the country’s internal and external affairs. To see the extent of this manipulation, I suggest reading Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game. Sure, it falls short of academically rigorous, but the history is solid, and it is a wonderfully engaging read.
2) From great power to European pawn is a not a safe combination. Looking just a little east of Iran, China has had a similar historical trajectory. From 1949-1990, China had a special place in the crazy list with all its leaping forward and cultural renovations. The PRC under Mao was a basket case in the same boat as North Korea and Iran today. After at least a 100 years of “humiliation” at the hands of colonial European powers, the Qing Dynasty collapsed in on itself, paving the way for an oppressive Nationalist regime, followed by communist control by 1949. In response to U.S. support for the Nationalist government’s oppressive policies, the CCP displayed anti-Western behavior, attempting to destabilize the current order by encouraging revolution abroad. Iran experienced the turmoil of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 as a national response to the abuse of the Western-supported Pahlavi regime. Their response mirrored that of Maoist China.
3) National Pride doesn’t go away; the need to reclaim greatness appears. A long instilled sense of national pride is confused by humiliation by the hands of an outside force, leading to the need to regain that cultural heritage of greatness. The U.S. has only been the world’s sole superpower for 23 years, and yet any talk of relative or absolute decline sends a chill down the average American’s political spine. Iran, as China before it, is seeking to reestablish its national greatness at any cost.
With those basics points in mind, Iran doesn’t really look any crazier than any other state (which is not to say sane…).That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t think Iran is dangerous, if anything history would suggest that such a country is prone to violence and hyper-nationalism. What it does mean, is that in order to integrate Iran into the modern international system, the U.S. will have to treat Iran like the great power, that it inherently sees itself as. Iran will not react positively to bullying on the part of the U.S. or anyone else, and telling it that it cannot have nuclear capabilities almost forces it to adopt those technologies, least its position in the world be thought of anything less than equal with other great powers.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.