Iran’s real coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies With the ‘free stuff’ run­ning out Iran faces pro­tester vi­o­lence

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Gary An­der­son

Na­tions that give out “free stuff” to their pop­u­la­tions in or­der to keep them quiet face a real prob­lem when the money runs out. Then, the peas­ants tend to get ugly. Iran is find­ing this out the hard way as ri­ots are wrack­ing the coun­try. In Iran, the cul­prits are not real peas­ants but mid­dle-class car own­ers and busi­ness peo­ple who use ve­hi­cles to op­er­ate.

No doubt, many of the demon­stra­tors are stu­dents. In this case, the free stuff is gas at in­cred­i­bly low cost by West­ern stan­dards.

Al­though the gov­ern­ment upped the rate by 50 per­cent, fuel is still ridicu­lously cheap com­pared to what Amer­i­cans pay at the pumps. The Tehran gov­ern­ment upped the gas prices in or­der to give cash give­aways to the real peas­ants — the poor and un­em­ployed — who are also get­ting ugly.

In the case of Iran, the is­sue is much larger than a lost en­ti­tle­ment. As in Le­banon and Iraq — two na­tions heav­ily in­flu­enced by Iran — the is­sue is ram­pant cor­rup­tion and mis­man­age­ment of re­sources by a hered­i­tary theoc­racy of ay­a­tol­lahs. Sev­eral weeks ago, I pre­dicted in th­ese pages that the un­rest in Iraq would soon spread to Iran; it now has.

The pos­si­bil­ity that the street demon­stra­tions may bring about some kind of near-term change in Le­banon or Iraq is much greater than in Iran. Le­banon is a di­verse so­ci­ety with sev­eral Mus­lim sects and a strong Chris­tian mi­nor­ity vy­ing for power with the Shi­ites, whose base is pri­mar­ily in South Le­banon. Shia power re­volves around the fact that the Ira­nian-backed and Ira­nian-sup­plied Hezbol­lah can in­tim­i­date other par­ties with fire­power that is greater than the reg­u­lar army.

How­ever, that type of stron­garm tac­tic can only go so far. Hezbol­lah’s sole claim to le­git­i­macy is that it fi­nally drove the Is­raelis out of the coun­try in 2000, but the Is­raelis have been smart enough to leave Le­banon alone of late and not give Hezbol­lah a pre­text for fur­ther con­flict.

Iraq is dif­fer­ent in that — al­though most of the Iraqis are Shi­ite — a ma­jor­ity re­sent Ira­nian Per­sian in­flu­ence, which they rightly blame for the cor­rup­tion of the hered­i­tary caste of mul­lahs that ex­er­cise enor­mous in­flu­ence over the gov­ern­ment.

Con­se­quently, the abil­ity of Ira­nian-backed mili­tias to con­trol the grow­ing un­rest in both coun­ties is largely due to re­luc­tance of Arab rank and file to fire on Arab pro­test­ers at the be­hest of Per­sian se­nior of­fi­cers, some of whom are mem­bers of the Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps (IRGC).

In Iran, none of the Le­banese and Iraqi lim­i­ta­tions on se­cu­rity forces ex­ist. The IRGC is free to crack down hard be­cause it is one of the three ma­jor power cen­ters in Ira­nian pol­i­tics, and the only one with guns. It was the civil bu­reau­cracy that raised the gas prices, but only did so with the ap­proval of the IRGC and Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei, who ex­er­cises the fi­nal say with the tacit ap­proval of his fel­low hered­i­tary ay­a­tol­lahs.

Con­se­quently, we’ll likely not see a 1979style rev­o­lu­tion come from this round of un­rest, but con­di­tions will likely get worse be­fore they get bet­ter.

Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei pre­dictably blames the United States for the cur­rent trou­ble, and there is some truth to that. Pres­i­dent Trump’s sanc­tions are suc­cess­fully chok­ing Iran’s econ­omy, and that is the ob­jec­tive. The supreme leader knows he can end the prob­lem of eco­nom­ics by cut­ting a deal with Mr. Trump but that would un­der­cut the nu­clear pro­gram and for­eign med­dling that are fun­da­men­tal ten­ants of the IRGC. and the ay­a­tol­lah can­not af­ford to anger his se­cu­rity force.

Amer­i­can sanc­tions are only the tip of the ice­berg of what is wrong with Iran. The ay­a­tol­lahs need cor­rup­tion to keep the bu­reau­crats who run things in line, and that won’t change. Mis­man­age­ment of wa­ter through Iran’s ill-con­ceived food self-suf­fi­ciency pro­gram is turn­ing much of the farm­land into use­less desert, and that is fur­ther likely to in­flame the peas­ants, cash sub­si­dies aside.

One thing that should bother the old men in Tehran the most is the rel­a­tive vi­o­lence of the pro­test­ers in com­par­i­son to un­rest in other coun­ties. More se­cu­rity forces have been killed in a few weeks in Iran than in six months of protest in Hong Kong. That should worry the ay­a­tol­lahs greatly. Aside from Mr. Trump, the supreme leader blames in­ter­nal coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ary el­e­ments. When Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei and his fel­low ay­a­tol­lahs led the rev­o­lu­tion against the shah, they were fight­ing cor­rup­tion, abuse of power by the se­cu­rity forces and eco­nomic stag­na­tion. Forty years later, one won­ders who the coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies re­ally are.

The pos­si­bil­ity that the street demon­stra­tions may bring about some kind of near-term change in Le­banon or Iraq is much greater than in Iran.

Gary An­der­son lec­tures in al­ter­na­tive anal­y­sis at the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity’s El­liott School of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs.


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