Hello Kettle, this is the Pot Calling: Iran Edition (again)

by Joshua Tucker on September 9, 2011 · 12 comments

in Comparative Politics,Foreign Policy

Can someone who knows something about Iranian politics please explain what this is all about?? As reported in the New York Times:

[O]n Thursday, President Ahmadinejad of Iran became the most recent, and perhaps the most unexpected, world leader to call for President Assad to end his violent crackdown of an uprising challenging his authoritarian rule in Syria….

“Regional nations can assist the Syrian people and government in the implementation of essential reforms and the resolution of their problems,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in an interview in Tehran, according to his official Web site. Other press accounts of the interview with a Portuguese television station quoted him as also saying, “A military solution is never the right solution,” an ironic assessment from a man whose own questionable re-election in 2009 prompted huge street demonstrations that were put down with decisive force.

As the Times rightly notes, the state’s reaction to Iran’s own unsuccessful Green Revolution makes the phrase “beyond hypocrisy” leap to mind when reading these remarks. If this was Russia, I would assume Putin was saying this just to prove that he is so powerful that he can get away with saying and doing anything. But somehow I doubt that this is Ahmadinejad’s intention. So would welcome any comments from Iran experts who have thoughts on what he is trying to accomplish.

{ 12 comments }

idiot September 9, 2011 at 10:43 am

I am not an Iranian expert, so don’t treat my ideas seriously but…

According to World Public Opinion, the current Iranian government actually enjoys much popularity in Iran, and President Ahmadinejad himself enjoyed at least a broad base of support. WPO even deign to say that the elections weren’t rigged at all, and pointed out that a slim majority (53%) of Mousavi supporters believe Ahmadinejad is legitimate. I don’t actually think the Iranian elections weren’t rigged, but it does mean that one could successfully conduct a military crackdown with no repercussions thanks to said popularity and support.

You don’t have that much knowledge of the conditions within Syria. You do not know if Assad had that broad base of support that Ahmadinejad had or if the Syria regime is indeed that popular. There is also something else too: Iran is a multiparty democracy, and not like Syria which is controlled by the Ba’ath Party, the leading party of Syrian society. If you DO know that the Syrian regime is popular and well-supported, by all means, then support the military crackdowns. But if the protests keep on continuing and the bloodshed keeps spilling, then maybe the Syrian regime does not have the support necessary to continue the crackdown. Then it is time to attack the Syrian regime for not being legitimate, because if it was legitimate, the bloodshed would be over by now.

Sources:
*http://worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/brmiddleeastnafricara/653.php?lb=brme&pnt=653&nid=&id=
*http://worldpublicopinion.org/pipa/articles/brmiddleeastnafricara/652.php?lb=brme&pnt=652&nid=&id=

Trey September 9, 2011 at 11:45 am

I would give three quick, off-the-cuff answers.

1) The economics answer: Talk is cheap.

2) The quasi-international relations answer: Syria is a major benefactor of Iran’s patronage and doesn’t need additional international pressure on that front when it is already dealing with nuclear proliferation issues.

3) The sociology answer: Discourse of human rights has become a highly institutionalized script that is decoupled from any actual practice of human rights, just as we saw autocratic and totalitarian regimes of the 20th century rode the wave of constitutionalism without any real intention of enforcing those documents.

Tyler White September 9, 2011 at 11:50 am

I have been doing research on Iranian politics for a workshop we put on, but I am not an Iran expert. It seems to me that Iran cares more about what people think of them than they do about what other regimes or governments think about them. If Assad falls that is okay to some extent because the real target audience for Iran is Arab and Muslim groups in and around Israel and Syria has always been fertile ground for Iran. My guess is that this is a show of solidarity, however disingenuous it may be, with that audience. The Iranian government is able to generate more influence at the local level then they can at the state or diplomatic level. In my look at Iranian politics they prefer non-government proxies so criticizing Assad or offering to assist him it working through reforms makes Iran not only look like a regional power, but it shows Irans true focus on people and groups it can partner with, not governments like Assad’s regime in Syria. There are a number of good pieces out there that do a great job of describing the Iranian point of view. I recommend Trita Parsi’s “Treacherous Alliance,” and Robert Baer’s “The Devil we Know.”

Scott Monje September 9, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Or, if through some sort of insider information they believe that Assad is about to fall, they may want to shore up their position among potential successors.

Matthew Shugart September 9, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Whatever the answer may be from the standpoint of Iranian politics, the statement comes at the same time as evidence from Syrian army defectors indicates a substantial presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards carrying out repression on behalf of Assad. (LA Times 9 Sept)

Hass September 9, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Yeah like the Assad government needs Iran to do things. In fact the claim that Iran is backing Assad comes from Israel and US sources that want to paint the governments as being similar, when in fact, unlike Syria or Libya or Egypt or Morocco or Tunisia or Saudi Arabia, Iran’s government is elected. Yes, around 70% of Iran’s electorate regularly show up to their polls and vote of their own free will.

Babak September 9, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I know quite a bit about Iranian politics (my home country) but I’m not sure that necessarily leads me to the answer. They’re at the very least hedging their bets. Syria is an important ally and if people succeed in overthrowing Bashar Assad, Iran doesn’t want to be seen as their new enemy who supported the dictator.

Hass September 9, 2011 at 7:31 pm

The so called “Green Revolution” in Iran was more hype in the Western press than anything else. In fact, there was no evidence of election fraud, and even Western polling organizations found that the people there had voted for Ahmadinejad. Furthermore, Iran’s nuclear program is massively popular amongst ordinary Iranians, who have a deep resentment against what they consider foreign meddling in their affairs.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/based-on-terror-free-tomo_b_215423.html

LFC September 10, 2011 at 10:10 am

Might mention one web source on Iran, good on collecting/aggregating news coverage, etc.
http://us-iran-relations.com – but the focus is broader than the title of the site implies.
It’s run by a graduate student at UVa.

Peter T September 11, 2011 at 8:51 am

Not an expert, but I lived there for a bit, and learned that Iran is complicated (much more so than Syria, is my impression). The middle class are all related, the clerics are not monolithic in their opinions, and bulk of support for the regime is pretty much invisible to the western press (rural or poor, devout, non-English speaking). Ahmedinejad is probably engaged in some complicated balancing act involving half-a dozen strands of internal opinion, but he also sometimes shoots from the hip.

All that said, the current Iranian government is not an isolated elite holding on through naked power, and thinks it has broad support and legitimacy (whether it does or not) . I can see why even the clerics might not approve, on religious grounds, of the actions of the Syrian government.

Babak September 21, 2011 at 3:23 am

Iran’s popularity has plummeted in the Arab world. It likely is a bid to shore some of that popularity up — since everyone knows Syria is Iran’s ally….. it will only hurt them in the eyes of the Arabs.

Also Ahmadinejad is increasingly irrelevant domestically — so perhaps this is his attempt to stay relevant. Khomenie is in charge.

Babak September 21, 2011 at 3:26 am

Also for a lyrically entertaining response to Ahmadinejad’s annual visit to New York check out Roya Hakakian’s piece on Huffpo

“If April is the cruelest month, then September is the strangest. Strangest, that is, for Iranian-Americans. It’s the month that brings Iran’s mortifier-in-chief, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to New York City for the UN General Assembly.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/roya-hakakian/to-cure-shame_b_972110.html

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