How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
Do not step on Persian carpets or mullahs, for they will increase in value.
Four years after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's triumphant return to Teheran, Iran's Islamic Revolution has defied the doom-sayers. It has weathered a series of convulsions, any of which might have brought down weaker regimes. The failure of the provisional government of Mehdi Bazargan stripped the middle class intelligentsia and bazaar merchants of power and influence, and deprived the regime of much-needed technocratic expertise. The hostage-taking contributed to Iran's diplomatic isolation and further damaged its economy. The border war with Iraq drained Iran's treasury and tested its military might. Terrorist activities by urban guerrilla organizations killed important revolutionary leaders and engendered fear among the populace. Yet the regime has managed somehow to survive.
This is due in large measure to erratic but shrewd state-building by Khomeini and the clerical leadership. The regime has integrated elements from the Shah's time into the revolution, built a domestic policy around national pride, religious fervor and self-sacrifice and a foreign policy on an adherence to "neither East nor West." Revolutionary institutions have been created, but many of the Shah's institutions have been kept; only the personnel have been changed. A desperate economic situation is looking hopeful for the first time since the revolution, in large measure because revolutionary ideology has given way to a more pragmatic approach. A new policy of less repression may signal the beginning of more personal freedom. The Iran-Iraq war ironically has given the regime the opportunity to create a battle-tested military force of the army and revolutionary militia-the most formidable in the region.
Iran, therefore, has survived certain tests, and achieved stability on its own terms. It remains committed to an ideology of revolutionary exportation which frightens its Muslim neighbors. Interestingly, the superpowers have been relegated to the sidelines in the unfolding of Iran's Revolution. Both the United States and the Soviet Union must face the fact that the Iranian regime is not going to collapse as long as Khomeini is alive, and there is no compelling reason to believe that the revolution will not survive his death. Even if his death did bring disruption, the rule of the clerics could survive it.
Indeed, the most likely outcome after Khomeini's death is a continuing Islamic Republic. The regime that now exists may not be unified, but it has shown the ability to maintain state institutions and retain power through repression. It may never completely consolidate, since the clergy is deeply divided on the form the revolution should take. But while the oil revenues hold out the regime is not likely to fall.
The West was slow to notice the first signs of the Iranian Revolution and quick to predict its demise. There were those pundits who until the end insisted that the Shah would last; others could not believe that a band of backward-looking clerics with no political experience could launch and then maintain a revolution. Finally, others listened to the words of Khomeini, sometimes distorted by his translators and associates, and imagined that a regime would emerge that condemned dictatorship and promised freedom, democracy, equality, even secular leadership. "We are for an Islamic system, that is, a democratic regime founded on popular consensus and Islamic law," Khomeini told this reporter.1 Of his own acceptance of a political position, he reportedly said, "my age, my religious position and my inclinations are against it."2 His aides gave the impression that after the revolution was in place, Khomeini would quietly return to the holy city of Qom and leave the workings of the revolution to the secular technocrats. This view was confirmed by Islamic scholars living in the West.
In the 400-plus interviews he gave during this four-month stay in Paris over the winter of 1978-79, Khomeini seemed to speak in language the West might be able to live with. It was only long afterwards that it was learned that Khomeini carefully prepared his answers in advance by committee, that he was patiently coached on what would be acceptable language for Western visitors, and that his trusted aides often embellished his answers to make them more palatable to a Western audience. "There was a committee who read Khomeini all the questions, and would discuss the answers with him," former President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr later told this reporter. "During the interview, sometimes the interpreter would fill out the phrases in his behalf."3 Thus the impression of Khomeini transmitted through the media distorted perceptions of what an Islamic Republic might be like.
As soon as Khomeini returned triumphantly to Iran, he was freed from the constraints of exile and immediately made it clear that there was no room for a Western democracy or imported values in an Islamic Republic. His appointment of a Westernized liberal with impeccable Islamic credentials, Mehdi Bazargan, as his provisional Prime Minister was a tactical maneuver to keep opposition from the bazaar merchants, the liberals and the guerrillas to a minimum. A shadowy, clerically dominated Revolutionary Council ruled alongside Bazargan's Cabinet, setting up makeshift revolutionary courts and often enacting laws on its own authority. Khomeini, meanwhile, kept his promise and returned to Qom, but the Cabinet found it was spending much of its time shuttling by helicopter from Teheran to Khomeini's one-story bungalow there, to get his approval of any governmental decision.
Bazargan tried to preserve the instruments of power created under the Shah, resist nationalization, forge an open policy with all nations, and destroy burgeoning revolutionary bodies that had begun to usurp power. Khomeini ignored his complaints, tantrums and threats to resign. In the end, Bazargan was forced out. His "crimes" were many: he lamented the swift, secret trials and executions of Old Regime leftovers, opposed the Islamic Constitution as undemocratic and tried to normalize relations with the United States. He resigned two days after the hostages were seized in November 1979, condemned by the student militants holding the embassy for "sitting down at the table with the wolf," Zbigniew Brzezinski, at a conference in Algiers. As he bitterly explained in his resignation speech, "I was always the last to know what was going on. I found myself at a dead end."4
Similarly, the secular rule of Bani-Sadr, who swept to victory as President with more than 70 percent of the vote in January 1980, was doomed. Khomeini demanded a secular president, but he had already connived to put the real reins of power into the hands of a deeply vengeful and exceptionally organized clergy. Bani-Sadr's peculiar blend of Islamic socialism and Western freedom of expression was inadequate to deal with a country in the throes of the extraordinary hostage crisis, which the clerics effectively manipulated to consolidate their power. He tried and failed to get the hostages freed. Like Bazargan, his room for maneuver was limited by the overwhelming authority of Khomeini, and his protestations were used against him as proof of his "Westoxication." When Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, Bani-Sadr, as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, seized the opportunity to portray himself as a military hero, running the country from the war front, building links with the army and posing for photographers in military fatigues. Despite initial success in reasserting his authority, he was soon outflanked by his clerical rivals, who charged that he failed to get the military on the offensive. Eventually, his enemies in the Revolutionary Council convinced Khomeini that if Bani-Sadr stayed in power, the very survival of the Islamic Republic would be threatened. In June 1981, Khomeini brutally fired him. A bitter Bani-Sadr felt betrayed. "I was like a child watching my father slowly turn into an alcoholic," he told this reporter. "The drug this time was power."5
There were moments in the summer of 1981 when the pressures on Iran seemed too great, when a series of disruptive events seemed to signal that a counterrevolution might be not only possible, but perhaps inevitable. The well-trained and well-armed Mujahedeen-al-Khalq guerrilla organization declared a policy of armed resistance against the regime. In June 1981 it bombed the headquarters of the Islamic Republican Party (IRP), killing Ayatollah Mohammed Beheshti, the regime's ablest politician and strategist, and 70 other IRP members. When Bani-Sadr showed up with Mujahedeen leader Massoud Rajavi in Paris several weeks later to establish a National Resistance Council and a government-in-exile, their predictions of the imminent overthrow of the regime were welcomed by those eager to see the revolution and its excesses come to an end.
The campaign of assassinations, shoot-outs, bombings and general confusion, with other guerrilla groups joining the Mujahedeen, continued into the fall. Its victims included Iran's second President, Ali Rajai, Prime Minister Javad Bahonar, the prosecutor-general, the chief of police, a score of IRP Majlis deputies, six Cabinet undersecretaries and four Friday prayer leaders. Coincidentally, half the command staff of the armed forces was wiped out in September in an air crash.
But the regime did not collapse. It responded by immediately naming replacements for the assassinated leaders, proceeding with scheduled presidential and parliamentary elections and waging a bloody reign of terror-the leadership itself made direct comparisons to the French Revolution's Terror-that left hundreds dead. Gradually, order was restored, and by the spring of 1982 the Mujahedeen had been effectively dispersed and its leadership destroyed, so that the regime was more clearly in control than ever.
How, then, did the regime withstand the crisis? The answer is that it has used every new crisis as a means to implement a successful two-pronged strategy: systematic extermination of enemies and ongoing state-building that relied more and more on direct clerical leadership.
The regime survives because it is constructing a powerful state organization based on the Shah's institutions as well as on parallel revolutionary creations. It can even be argued that the Iranian state is the revolution's most stabilizing factor, with the mullahs in second place. On the most basic level, life is as it was before. Many of the services provided under the Shah continue: garbage gets picked up; traffic tickets get written; telephone bills get paid; mail gets delivered; taxes get collected. As for structures which have survived, the most important are a single-party system, the Majlis, the mosques and the ministries.
Although its power was negligible, the Shah had his Rastakhiz Party, which was used to channel public debate in the Majlis, and also served as a spy network. With the creation of the Islamic Republic came the emergence of the IRP, a political umbrella organization of Islamic societies throughout the country. Under Beheshti's brilliant leadership, the party published a newspaper, controlled the radio and television, developed a grass-roots organization in every factory, school, government office and military base throughout the country, and-not least-placed theological students from Qom in influential posts as leaders of Friday prayers in small towns. In the summer of 1979, it mobilized support for IRP candidates for the assembly of experts who would vote for an Islamic Constitution-which was actually written in secret by Beheshti and two of his trusted lieutenants, Hojetoleslam Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri.
The following spring the IRP played a similarly crucial role in the election of the Islamic Majlis. Through a brutal campaign of discrediting its enemies, rigging the elections, and a vigorous get-out-the-vote drive among Iran's illiterate majority, it won a comfortable majority of the Majlis' 270 seats. Neither the Kurds, nor the Soviet-backed Tudeh party, nor the Mujahedeen, nor the leftist Fedayeen-al-Khalq guerrillas were represented. Women won only two seats. As speaker of the Majlis, Rafsanjani had the power to introduce and table pending bills, and the IRP soon took over constitutional control of the country. Using the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which started as free-lance urban militias, and hezbollahi (disenfranchised mobs from the masses of the urban and rural underclass), it successfully suppressed any opposition, and led widespread purges of its opponents in all institutions. As Beheshti once told a group of schoolchildren visiting party headquarters, "it is not enough to be honest and simple; one must be honest and crafty."6
While the IRP lost much of its influence with the death of Beheshti, who used it as an effective power base, the party structure continues to operate in tandem with Iran's sophisticated mosque network. In the days before the revolution, the mosques were the only officially approved meeting places, where fervent Muslims came to hear cassette-recordings of Khomeini's call for Islamic revolution. The thousands of mosques were transformed from a very old religious institution into a political organ. Using the mosques as administrative centers, more than 100,000 mullahs now pass regulations, run courts, collect taxes, write schoolbooks, oversee the army, dispense ideology, recruit war volunteers and funnel rationed goods to the deserving masses.
For periods under the Shah, the Majlis had real power, but from the late 1960s onward it became progressively little more than a convenient extension of the monarch's will. Khomeini kept the institution-and the glittering Majlis building as well-and turned it into a serious lawmaking body. In 1980, Khomeini left it to the still-to-be-created Majlis to decide the fate of the 52 hostages, and in the fall of that year it was the Majlis that finally provided an authoritative definition of Iran's terms for settling the hostage crisis. Under the Islamic Constitution the Majlis passes all laws-but at the same time legislation passed by the Majlis comes under the review of a Council of Guardians, 12 religiously conservative clerics who ensure that all legislation conforms to the tenets of Islam. Over and over, Khomeini himself has called for the abolition of laws that are "un-Islamic."
In practice, the Majlis has been dominated, through successive rigged elections, by the clergy; it is hardly a democratic institution. Liberals such as Bazargan have little to say in the proceedings, which are controlled by various clerical factions under the leadership of its cunning speaker, Rafsanjani. Shi'ite Islam is particularly open to interpretation, and the Majlis has often reflected the heated debate between radical clerics who favor socialization and summary justice, and the conservative, more established religious community, which believes in private property, free trade and a measure of individual rights.
Thus, there has been a continuing and still unresolved struggle between the Majlis and the Council of Guardians, which has effectively stalled much important legislation and prevented a revolutionary, socialist transformation of many institutions. On the thorny issue of land reform, for example, surprisingly little has been done since the Shah's time. Eighty percent of the land is still owned by large landholders, with almost a third in the hands of the clergy. When a land distribution bill passed in 1980 resulted in seizure of land by local committees, fear of confiscation and a drop in agricultural production, it was quickly abandoned. Khomeini and other religious leaders have severely criticized unjust confiscation of private property, and it is not surprising that a comprehensive land distribution bill later passed by the Majlis has been blocked by the Council of Guardians as "un-Islamic." In short, on crucial domestic issues the Majlis has not had its way; yet it serves as an important arena for the ongoing debate between radicals and conservatives in the clergy, and Rafsanjani himself remains a powerful figure.
Similarly, the reorganization of the legal and court systems by the clerics is still incomplete, moving forward only slowly. In April 1982, the Supreme Court revoked all laws from the old regime which are contrary to Islam, and ordered all judges to refer instead to religious texts and sermons. After more than a year, an Islamic Retribution Bill (for a new penal code) has been thrown back to the Majlis by the Council of Guardians because of certain "un-Islamic" provisions. Thanks to crash courses in Qom, clerical judges have increased five-fold since the revolution, and the Shah's civil courts have come under near-complete control of radical clergymen who favor swift decision over justice. Until the ideological debate between radicals and conservatives is resolved, the consolidation of the legal and justice system will remain incomplete, and the summary justice of individual revolutionary courts and firing squads will continue.
Khomeini has not dismantled the Shah's ministries or provincial administration. He has kept their form, changed them to a degree, and, above all, controlled them, filling them with men who owe their allegiance to the new order. Foreign Ministry personnel, for example, have been replaced several times, reflecting ideological changes and absorbing many revolutionary guards and some of the militant students who held the American hostages.
Functioning side by side with the old institutions are a number of effective revolutionary creations. In the months after the revolution, thousands of neighborhood committees sprang up as unofficial police and neighborhood watchdogs for the IRP; they operated under their own rules and prevented Bazargan's government from consolidating its authority. Since then, they have undergone purges and been consolidated and centralized under the authority of the Interior Ministry. With their help, the Reconstruction Crusade builds housing and roads, develops agricultural land and rebuilds towns destroyed in the war; the Martyrs' Foundation compensates families of the war dead.
Perhaps the most important post-revolutionary creation is the revolutionary guards. They are responsible for maintaining order, providing internal security and fighting alongside the army. They have their own budget, recruiting system, intelligence service and public information office, and following months of debate in parliament, a separate ministry.
A centralized security apparatus like the Shah's SAVAK has not been created. Despite rumors floated by the activist exile community about the creation of a new intelligence organization called SAVAMA, there is no hard evidence that it exists. SAVAK was so hated and feared by the Iranian people that there is significant resistance to legislation in the Majlis to create an Intelligence Ministry. But the regime has not needed a SAVAK: it has been remarkably successful in purging its enemies through intelligence gathered from the IRP, the committees, the guards and, in Khomeini's words, "the police force of 36 million." This systematic repression, perhaps even more than parallel state-building, is the most important factor allowing the revolution to flourish.
From the first days of the revolution, when armed youths delivered suspected SAVAK agents to Khomeini's doorstep, when four of the Shah's generals were executed without Bazargan's knowledge, the pattern of repression was set. Children were advised to spy on their parents and teachers, neighbors on neighbors. More than 4,500 executions have been documented by Amnesty International, although exile groups claim there may have been five times as many. Raids of guerrilla safehouses are still reported almost daily in the newspapers, and guerrilla activity has significantly dropped off.
After the upheaval of the summer of 1981, the atmosphere of terror, especially in the cities, became so oppressive that people stayed at home in the evenings and trusted no one-sometimes not even close family members and friends. Families of those executed as enemies of the regime were prevented from mourning publicly by roving gangs or neighborhood committees. House searches and arbitrary arrests increased. Almost any non-conformity-from the refusal of workers to pray in an Iranian factory to the refusal of women to wear a headscarf-was treated as "un-Islamic," and, therefore, suspect.
Eventually, not only the middle class, but many in the urban underclass as well, became fed up.
In November 1982, Bazargan, still a deputy in the Majlis, wrote a six-page open letter to Majlis speaker Rafsanjani. He accused the government of creating an "atmosphere of terror, fear, revenge and national disintegration," and asked, "what has the ruling elite done in nearly four years besides bring death and destruction, packing the prisons and cemeteries in every city, creating long lines, shortages, high prices, unemployment, poverty, homeless people, repetitious slogans and a dark future?"7 The letter provoked intense criticism of Bazargan, even calls for his arrest by his colleagues in the Majlis. Khomeini, without referring to Bazargan by name, called the open letter "the words of the corrupt."8
But Bazargan was not arrested, and in a startling twist, Khomeini has recently embarked on a new internal policy to make the masses feel more comfortable with the regime. Perhaps he was prompted in part by the Bazargan letter; perhaps he feels that now that the counterrevolutionary guerrilla threat has diminished, he can turn his attention to enhancing popular support for the regime. In a historic message last December, Khomeini strongly attacked the courts and the committees for their excesses and outlined an eight-point plan for change. Except for rooting out terrorism, which will remain the top priority for the security forces, he said that arbitrary arrests, invasion of a home or place of business, monitoring telephone calls and confiscation of property "are among the major sins" and will be punished according to the laws of Islam. "From now on," he added, "we are in a period of stability and construction; the nation must feel at peace, secure and continue to work without worry."9
No longer will ordinary people be asked to accept extraordinary measures, Khomeini said in a subsequent message, because "we should no longer say that we are in a revolutionary situation."10 Since then, a Central Headquarters Charged With Enforcing the Decree of the Imam has been created; the heads of the revolutionary courts and the national police have been replaced (although reasons were not given) and a significant number of judges, guards and other officials have been either called in, arrested or dismissed for abusing their power. Some watchdog committees in the ministries have been dissolved.
Following an amnesty declared by Khomeini at the end of February, more than 8,000 prisoners have been freed, although none of them are believed to be political prisoners. Even clear-cut enemies from the old regime, such as former SAVAK agents, are no longer to be punished, but encouraged to serve the Islamic Republic. The revolutionary leadership has finally acknowledged that it suffers from a critical shortage of much-needed technocratic personnel, especially doctors, engineers and geologists. The loosening up of domestic policy coincides with a call for Iranians abroad who are not enemies of the regime to return home to work for the Islamic Republic. Only terrorists, smugglers and those who "perpetuate corruption" need not apply. According to a recent government decree, restrictions on travel are to be lifted, although anyone leaving the country will have to leave his hard currency behind.
The new policy may be something like the Shah's-ruthless action against political enemies, a blind eye toward private behavior. Initially, it created a better atmosphere in Teheran almost overnight. There was less reluctance to talk on the phone and more congregating in the evenings, for example. But the degree of change is still unclear. Women who took off their headscarves have already been chastened; youths selling musical cassette-recordings on the streets have been chased away. Whether large-scale liberalization will be permitted depends on Khomeini's commitment to curb the power of the local revolutionary authorities, and the ability of moderate leaders who favor more personal freedom to outmaneuver the radicals.
In the past year, Iran has experienced a sharp change in its economic and commercial policies that has begun to signal the start of an economic recovery. Its most dramatic feature is an aggressive marketing of its oil. The key is to keep exports as high as possible: hence Iran's refusal to obey quotas set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
The revolutionary leaders came to power with a firm belief that the Shah had been keeping Iran's oil production at unnecessarily high levels, that oil income must be channeled into productive economic investment rather than lavish purchases of armaments and luxury imports, and that Iran's most valuable resource was being plundered by the Western powers. The revolution, they said, would cut back on oil exportation and expand agriculture and industry in an attempt to make Iran less dependent on oil revenues.
But the post-revolutionary era brought with it terrible economic devastation, following the paralyzing strike preceding the revolution, the flight of private capital, the withdrawal of international partners in multinational projects, and the loss of oil revenues. The economy reached its lowest point in early 1982. Industrial production was only 40 percent of capacity; unemployment reached 40 percent; all sectors were obstructed by chronic shortages of almost everything, especially spare parts, raw materials and textiles. (At one stage there were 7,000 Paykana cars waiting outside the factory because the imported silica needed to make the window glass had not arrived.)
Economic recovery now appears to be a higher priority than the principle of self-sufficiency. The revolutionary economy has come to resemble more and more that of the Shah: supporting an inefficient system with oil revenues. The difference is that the Islamic Republic is funneling those same revenues not into sophisticated armaments and consumer luxuries for the few, but into large-scale subsidies of the revolutionary apparatus which will insure a substantial level of acceptance from the masses.11
Iran remains greatly dependent on oil earnings, which account for more than 80 percent of foreign exchange revenues. Despite a continuing glut in the oil market, Teheran has ignored OPEC quotas and dramatically increased its exports. Iran is now exporting about 2.3 million barrels a day, compared with a low of 300,000 barrels in October 1981 and 700,000 barrels just a year ago. Liquid foreign reserves have risen from less than $1 billion a year ago to about $4 billion. Inflation has been halved: from 30 to 15 percent according to official figures, from 70 to 35 percent according to unofficial estimates.
Full nationalization of trade was expected in revolutionary Iran. While 80 percent of trade has been nationalized in the form of state-owned industries, formal nationalization has met stiff resistance from conservative clerics, who derive their support in great part from the bazaar merchants. Just as the Shah failed to extend state involvement over the bazaars' control of wholesale and retail trade, the radical clerics have failed to curb Iran's merchant tradition. The bazaars remain active centers of economic activity, somewhat independent of state power. A long-standing bill to nationalize foreign trade was recently thrown back to the Majlis by the Council of Guardians. The regime has publicly admitted that in many industries economic growth in Iran can only come from the private sector.
By drastically liberalizing trade policy, the regime has opened the door to at least short-term economic recovery. Moreover, the absence of any coherent long-term planning may not necessarily translate into disaster. According to a U.S. Department of Energy study, if Iran continues oil production at its current level of three million barrels a day, its reserves will begin to fall off in 47 years; if production drops to two million barrels, in 65 years; if production rises to four million barrels, in 33 years.12 As long as the oil revenues are secure and control measures adequate, the masses will be pacified. Lower OPEC prices will hurt, but will not bring economic disaster.
Ironically, the war with Iraq has helped the process of Iran's state-building in much the same way France's foreign adventures did after her revolution. Both revolutions began to be taken seriously when their neighbors decided to march in and overthrow their respective regimes, but were decisively turned back by fervent fighting forces. Neither the Montagnard nor the Khomeini government rebuilt its army from nothing; each replaced necessary components with armed volunteers that were organized into self-governing units.13 Wisely, the Shah's 450,000-man army was never destroyed. Profound purges of its leadership, defections and desertions thinned it out, but a fighting force perhaps as large as 200,000 trained troops remained. A paramilitary force was then forged from the ranks of the local committees, and the revolutionary guards-now numbering about 150,000-were born.
What the war with Iraq has done is to furnish on-the-spot training for Iran's military forces. The regular army functions side by side with the guard corps, in much the same way that France's post-revolutionary army did. In the early stages of the war, the guards played more of an infantry role, the army staying behind, but in the past year both forces have fought together all along the border. They are rounded out with a ragtag force of up to 500,000 young teenage volunteers called the Baseej Martyr Brigade. These are recruited by the mullahs in the countryside, and offered no pay or uniforms, only a gun and a ticket to heaven if they are martyred on the battlefield. This martyrdom is taken seriously by the fervent believers of Shi'ism.
Further integration of the revolutionary militias into the regular forces has been stepped up and army "volunteers" continue to join the guards. An all-volunteer "martyr brigade" of men who have already completed their military service is being created for the regular army. The revolutionary guards have begun to form naval units which will work alongside the regular navy, in order to "safeguard the revolution, combat counterrevolutionaries and smugglers."14
The result has been a formidable military force that has stunned Iraq-and military experts around the world-with its successes in the 30-month-long war. Saddam Hussein launched the war expecting to topple Khomeini's regime easily and make Iraq the dominant power in the Gulf. But Iran resisted, and for the first year the war sputtered along inconclusively, as the Iraqis made limited gains and the Iranians were distracted by power struggles at home. Iran went on the offensive in late 1981, scoring a series of victories that turned the tide of the war in its favor, culminating in the battle of Khorramshahr in the spring of 1982 when the Iranians drove the Iraqis back across the disputed Shatt-al-Arab waterway. In June 1982, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein declared a unilateral cease-fire, withdrew his forces from Iranian territory and called for peace. His gesture was rejected-as were all later peace moves.
The war required a national mobilization that involved all Iranians in the war struggle regardless of personal allegiance to the revolution. The willingness of the Iranian people to endure hardships has given the country a distinct advantage over its enemy, not unlike post-revolutionary France. With a few slight changes, the Committee of Public Safety's 1793 levée en masse might well have been written by the mullahs: "All Frenchmen are in permanent requisition for army service. The young men will go to fight, the married men will forge arms and carry supplies; the women will make tents and uniforms and will serve in the hospitals; the children will shred the old clothes; the old men will be taken to the public squares to excite the courage of the combatants, the hatred of royalty and the unity of the republic."15
Popular support for the war may have waned somewhat, but there have been no instances of anti-war demonstrations or calls for its end. For the average person living in Teheran, for example, there is little indication that the country is at war. Street lights are back on, gasoline rationing has ended and the streets are clogged with traffic again. The newspapers are full of war news, but no one pays much attention. Obviously, the war touches the Iranian who loses his son or brother to the enemy. But as long as Iraqis continue to shell Iranian towns and sink Iranian ships, popular support for the war is unlikely to die. The combination of Islamic fervor and fierce nationalism is perhaps Iran's most potent weapon.
Iran has little to gain by moving to end the war, and thus far has refused to take any mediation effort seriously. After each military victory, there was a split in the revolutionary leadership over what came next. Some argued that the removal of Iraqis from Iranian territory would be sufficient to bring an end to the war. In February 1982, Iran's clerical President, Hojetoleslam Ali Khamenei, told this reporter that the war could end in "a few months."16 Other religious leaders argued that Iran should march into Iraqi territory and force the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The debate heated after Khorramshahr, and ended only when Khomeini himself intervened in an important speech last June.
He firmly stated that the war was not over and no one could do anything to end it. If Iran defeated Iraq, Iraq would be annexed to Iran, that is, the Iraqi people "will free themselves from the talons of the tyrannical clique and will link themselves with the Iranian nation.17 When that happens, he added, all the small nations of the region will join them.
A month later, Iran took the war into Iraqi territory for the first time in a huge invasion north of Basra, and was brutally repulsed, suffering a loss of thousands of lives. Iran had expected that once its forces moved into Iraq, the Iraqi people would embrace their liberating brothers spontaneously and proclaim an Islamic Republic. The failure of the Iranian offensive came as a rude shock.
But Iran has the resources and manpower to continue to wage a restricted border war indefinitely. Except for some long-disputed pockets of land claimed by both sides, Iran has recaptured most of its territory and is over the Iraqi border in some places. However, Iraq's growing air, armor and missile supply may cause the Iranian leadership to rethink the assumption that time is on Iran's side. This could explain Iran's decision to launch a surprise large-scale offensive in February 1983, described by Rafsanjani as the "last decisive operation" of the war. But the offensive went nowhere, and Rafsanjani has since told the Iranian people to prepare for a long war.
Even if there were a cease-fire, the hostilities could drag on for years, if not on the border then in the rhetoric of the revolutionaries. In a recent article in the revolutionary guards' monthly magazine, Pasdar-e Islam, Rafsanjani said that even if a cease-fire were established, a final settlement could take as long as ten years; and that Iran would always have to maintain a military state of alert against Iraq.
Iran's conditions for ending the war at times appear a bit confusing, but essentially have not changed: unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Iranian territory; the overthrow of Iraq's President Hussein; payment of war reparations; and repatriation of 100,000 Iraqi refugees. Sometimes the refugee return is omitted as a condition; sometimes there are indications that reparations are negotiable. During Friday prayers in Teheran last summer, for example, Rafsanjani, addressing the Gulf states, said, "We don't need you, your money, your oil or your livelihood."18 A month later, however, he said that reparations were not only necessary, but that, "obviously, it would be preferred if they are paid in full in cash."19 At times it appears that if an Islamic Republic were installed in Iraq, Iran might forego reparations. As Ayatollah Montazeri said recently, if the Iraqi people were "left alone to choose their Islamic Republic . . . we would not require war reparations and would help them out."20
Further, during a speech on the revolution's fourth anniversary, President Khamenei said that Iraqi withdrawal from the remaining part of Iranian territory "will no longer be regarded as a major condition for an end to war."21 Finally, Iran's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, has voiced an even more pragmatic approach, suggesting last July at a nonaligned conference in Nicosia, Cyprus, that Hussein's overthrow was "not necessarily one of the Iranian conditions, but simply a recommendation to the Iraqi people."22 This sort of talk is probably most significant, however, as a misstep by the Foreign Minister, who may find himself thrown onto Khomeini's "dustbin of history." Although he is the kind of leader the United States likes to hear from, this year's Bazargan or Bani-Sadr, he has no power base and is expendable.
As long as Khomeini is alive, however, there will be no compromise on the removal from power of Hussein. Khomeini, who has always personalized disputes, blames Hussein for bowing to the Shah's request to put him under virtual house arrest in the last years of his exile in Iraq and for expelling him from Iraq in the fall of 1978. He also holds Hussein responsible for invading Iran without provocation, razing Iranian cities and causing 70,000 Iranian deaths and 250,000 injuries. As Rafsanjani once told this reporter, "the Imam is not the kind of man who ever changes his mind. We will make recommendations; he decides."23
Iran's border war with Iraq has given Khomeini the perfect opportunity to implement his commitment to exporting revolution. Last November, a special ceremony was held at the Teheran Hotel to mark the creation of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, under the leadership of a Shi'ite hojetoleslam, Mohammed Bakr Hakim. As Hakim explained it, the Council is not a government-in-exile, but a "gathering of committed Iraqi religious personalities who will lead the struggle to overthrow the regime."24 Its policy closely parallels that enunciated by Iran: a foreign policy tilted toward neither superpower, development of agricultural production, no overproduction of oil. Hakim conceded that Hussein's regime will not be overthrown merely by political means, that "realization of these determined aims is not possible except through armed struggle."25
The revolutionary guards have been authorized to help the Council set up bases and train and organize the forces which they will be trying to put together. But even if this Council has its own training, manpower and equipment at the border, it has no hope for success unless it finds a sympathetic ear on Iraqi soil. When Iranian troops marched into Iraq last summer, they were made quickly aware of the fact that the Iraqis-even the Shi'ite majority-did not want to become a satellite state of Iran. Iraqi Shi'ites may feel that their own country-with the holy shrines of Kerbala and Najaf-is the true repository of Shi'ite Islam and that it is not in their interest to install an Iranian-style Islamic Republic.
Except for Iraq, where the issues for the Iranian regime seem clear-cut, there is considerable debate on how the revolution should be exported. Khomeini first spoke of the necessity for export in the 1970s, when he called on Islamic forces to mobilize against their rulers during the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. From the first days of the revolution, both the Mujahedeen and Bani-Sadr spoke of the likelihood of revolutionary exportation, and the Islamic Constitution defines the duty of the Islamic Republic to realize the political, economic and cultural unity of the world of Islam.26
The government's official position has been that the Iranian Revolution should serve as a source of inspiration to its neighbors, but that Iran has no intention of interfering in another country's internal affairs. But, almost from the first, Iran's actions have belied this position. Radio broadcasts from Iran encouraged revolution in other Islamic countries, and a revolutionary guard liberation movement charged with introducing Islamic "culture" to the rest of the world was organized as early as 1979.
More seriously, there have been indications that Iran is prepared to finance and provide other support for revolutionary groups in the region. In December 1981, the Bahraini government unearthed and defused a plot allegedly involving 73 individuals trained in Iran. And in the summer of 1982, a major speech by Khomeini suggested that Iran's efforts to export revolution would take on a new dimension. Shortly thereafter, a Shi'ite attack on an army barracks in the Lebanese town of Baalbek was reportedly inspired by Iranian "liberation forces," and while Iranian leaders denied responsibility for the uprising, Rafsanjani has promised to give the Lebanese "weapons, money, guidance and propaganda if they wanted it."27
Saudi Arabia, all along at odds with the Khomeini regime, then became a particular Iranian target. The 100,000 Iranian pilgrims who journeyed to Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage last summer included a hard core of activists under the leadership of Hojetoleslam Mohammed Mousavi Khoeiniha (who had been spiritual adviser to the students holding the American hostages). This group staged several political rallies in support of Khomeini and Iran's revolutionary message, and the Iranian hajis were expelled from Mecca after thousands of Saudi police moved in to quell the disturbances.
While this effort thus failed, there followed a campaign to discredit the Saudis, led by Montazeri. He outraged the Saudis with his call for a council of representatives from Islamic nations to administer the holy sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina, calling the Saudis "a bunch of pleasure-seekers and mercenaries," and asking, "how long must Satan rule the House of God?"28
Then, in December, Iran hosted its first annual international conference of Islamic leaders from 40 countries, in which President Khamenei called on them to give sermons that will "prepare the ground for the creation of Islamic Republics in all countries" and turn their mosques into "prayer, political, cultural and military bases."29 Clearly the Khomeini regime intends to continue, and perhaps increase, its efforts.
The destabilizing effects of Iran's Islamic Revolution are felt by nearly every regime in the region, and it is certain that it will continue to serve as a disruptive force. Granted, some of the appeal of Iran's revolution has been lost: Iranian nationalism and Shi'ite Islam are repugnant to most Sunni Muslims, who comprise the majority in most Muslim states, and Iran's revolutionary repression is unattractive as an alternative to the status quo. But the Iranian Revolution can be used as a rough blueprint of how to get rid of any government with excessive ties to the West.
Neither the Soviet Union nor the United States has had any real influence on Iranian domestic policy or on how it prosecutes the war with Iraq. The Iranian foreign policy of "neither East nor West," has been surprisingly successful in keeping dependence on either superpower to a minimum. Rather, Iran has vastly expanded trade with Third World countries such as Pakistan, India and Brazil and signed an ambitious $1-billion trade agreement with Turkey in March 1982. As Pakistan's President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq told this reporter, "I can't think of another country with which we have better relations."30
Happily for the West, the Soviet Union has enjoyed less success in infiltrating the revolutionary regime than it is often given credit for. Like the Shah, Iran's current leaders have concluded that they can use their northern neighbor, and have reactivated certain advantageous economic agreements concluded before the revolution; they have actually been more openly critical of the Soviet Union than the Shah was during the final years of his regime. They have also shown greater wariness in economic relations with the Soviet Union than the Shah did. As early as 1979 they cancelled the Shah's 1975 IGAT-II agreement to export massive natural gas reserves to the Soviet Union and are now looking toward Western Europe as a market via a pipeline project through Turkey.
Since the very beginning of the revolution, clerical leaders including Khomeini and Montazeri have denounced the Soviet system as atheistic and therefore un-Islamic and its treatment of its Muslim population as repressive. In the past year, the regime has slowly but perceptibly increased its attacks on the Soviet Union, especially for supplying the Iraqi army with military hardware and for its continued interference in Afghanistan. When Brezhnev died, Teheran snubbed Moscow by sending only a low-level delegation to his funeral. Khomeini has compared the resistance of Afghan guerrillas to Iran's struggle against the Shah and the Foreign Ministry has stated that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is the main obstacle to better Iranian-Soviet relations. On the third anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Foreign Ministry condemned Soviet aggressors there and their "savage behavior. . . towards the innocent people of the villages, large-scale bombardment. . . murdering. . . tortures and executions."31 The Soviet Embassy in Teheran complained that it was not given adequate protection during an anti-Soviet demonstration to mark the anniversary, when several hundred Afghanis tore down and burned the Soviet flag and painted anti-Soviet slogans on Embassy walls. The regime's refusal to take part in the Geneva talks sponsored by the Islamic Conference, or to mediate in any way in the conflict, reflects a refusal to recognize the regime of Afghan president Babrak Karmal as legitimate.
Moscow, which at first saw in the Iranian Revolution a chance to play an important role in the Persian Gulf region, has suffered a serious loss of influence in Iran, especially in the past year. Teheran has become increasingly sensitive to apparent Soviet infiltration and has purged hundreds of leftists, including Tudeh party members, from many institutions. Last July, the Tudeh party's main newspaper, with a circulation of 80,000, was closed down, leaving only an internal bulletin. A new nationwide anti-communist campaign began after the defection to Britain last fall of Vladimir Andreyevich Kuzichkin, the Soviet vice-consul in Teheran. According to British intelligence, Kuzichkin provided invaluable information about the work of the Tudeh party in Iran and confirmed that Moscow was extremely unhappy about setbacks in its relationship with Khomeini's regime. His defection prompted new purges in the army, gendarmerie, police, revolutionary guards and ministries. The most devastating setback came in February 1983, when the Tudeh party's top leadership, including its secretary-general, Nureddin Kianoori, was arrested on charges of spying for the Soviet Union.
Until early 1983, the Soviets maintained an even-handed and patient policy. They recognized earlier than anyone else the importance of the Islamic appeal, and correctly calculated that there was no real alternative to the Islamic formula and no coherent opposition with a popular base. Unlike U.S. policymakers, they keenly focused on Iran in an ongoing effort to determine how they could benefit from the revolutionary situation. But recently, the Soviets have openly shown their frustration with the Iranian regime. They have complained in the media about the course of Iran's Revolution, claiming that it is no longer progressive and that fanatical elements in the clergy have helped to discredit it.
Still, the Soviet Union and its East European allies have the distinct advantage of enjoying full diplomatic relations with Iran. And while certain religious leaders in Iran have declared the Tudeh party illegal, there are some indications that it may be allowed to function under new leadership. Despite the setbacks, then, the Soviet Union can continue to measure its success by the degree to which the United States has been damaged in Iran.
Certainly the United States remains Iran's most visible enemy. Almost all of the nation's ills are somehow linked to the "Great Satan," America's nickname since the hostage crisis. On the third anniversary of the hostage seizure last November, Khomeini blamed the United States for the war with Iraq, Israel's "savage acts," subversive activities of the Gulf governments and many of the wars of the world. The Mujahedeen guerrillas are referred to as "American hypocrite mini-groups;" hoarders and profiteers are labelled "domestic agents of the Great Satan;" Saddam Hussein is often referred to as a "pro-American mercenary."32
All this anti-American rhetoric, coupled with Iran's memory of CIA assistance in the overthrow of the Mossadegh government in 1953 and U.S. complicity in the creation of the Shah's repressive security forces, means that even formal relations are unlikely soon to be restored. Certainly there is little optimism that under the present circumstances there will be any departure from the active hostility of the Khomeini regime.
What are the prospects for the regime's survival? Obviously, the shape of the Islamic Republic depends on what happens to the 83-year-old Khomeini. Since the first day of the revolution, those who oppose him have stated the obvious: he can't live forever. True, but rumors that he is dying, or even seriously ill, are wildly exaggerated. Although he suffers from a bad heart, asthma and prostate trouble, although his handwriting is shakier than in his Paris days, he keeps a daily schedule more rigorous than the Shah's. He still sleeps only four hours a night, receives endless delegations, writes speeches and appears healthy on television. He comes from a long line of long-livers-his ayatollah brother is 15 years older than he-so if family history is to be trusted, he could be around for years. "We used to preface our remarks with 'when Khomeini dies,'" Bani-Sadr told this reporter recently. "Now we say 'if'."33
As long as Khomeini is alive, the Islamic Republic in its present configuration is secure. In December, Iranians went to the polls to elect a Council of Experts, 83 clerics charged with choosing Khomeini's successor. It would favor the elevation of Montazeri, Khomeini's former student and heir apparent, since it is stacked with his supporters. Only if the Council cannot choose a successor will a ruling group of three to five clerics be chosen.
If certain radical leaders have their way, Khomeini's successor will be chosen the same way he was-by unstructured popular acclaim-and the Council will never be called. This would still favor Montazeri but give him the appearance of a popular mandate to rule and help curb overt clerical factionalism. As Rafsanjani explained it, the Council of Experts has the responsibility to appoint a leader "in case the leader is not universally acclaimed by the people. . . . As long as the leader is alive and in charge of the leadership, the Council of Experts has no role at all," but will be "a last resort."34
Montazeri's public persona has been heightened in recent months. While Khomeini has never said publicly that he favors Montazeri as his successor, there is no doubt that he is one of Khomeini's favorites. Some months ago, when Khomeini's son Ahmad called Montazeri the natural successor to Khomeini, Montazeri denied it; now when it is mentioned, he says nothing. Montazeri is sometimes referred to as "His Eminence, Grand Ayatollah," and given other honorific titles, although he is not considered one of the handful of grand or highest-ranking ayatollahs in Shi'ite Islam. Now he often speaks on his own authority, without referring to Khomeini.
Certainly, the cult of Khomeini will continue to give the revolution its moral glue, even after his death. But Montazeri lacks the intelligence, popular appeal and political acumen of Khomeini. He is a relatively junior clergyman who, unlike Khomeini, cannot trace his ancestry back to Mohammed. His pronouncements on moving the border war into Iraq and exporting Islam throughout the region appear even more radical and less compromising than Khomeini's.
Montazeri may be unable to rule in the same way Khomeini did, as Velayat-e Faghih, or supreme guardian. The principle, as stated in the constitution, makes the revolution's leader an all-powerful religious guide who is the ultimate authority in the absence of the hidden Imam who disappeared into a cave as a child in the ninth century and who will return to establish an earthly paradise. None of Iran's other grand ayatollahs support the concept, and Montazeri might find that while he has the title, he lacks the power. If that happens, factional disputes that Khomeini has deftly deflected by using his authority to play off opposing sides could unfold into a full-scale ideological debate and extensive jockeying for power.
If Montazeri does not emerge as a clear-cut successor, or once chosen, fails to rule decisively, a council of clerics could be chosen. There have been indications that other religious leaders would prefer rule by more than one man. The influential Friday prayer leader of Qom, Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, has said publicly that a single individual would have a difficult time gaining full support of all factions of the clergy. And a year ago, Iran's President Khamenei told this reporter that Iran will be governed by a three-to-five man council and that work to choose it "should have already begun."35 That scenario would benefit Rafsanjani, the most clever and politically astute of the clerical leadership. Rafsanjani has learned to carefully manipulate the workings of the Majlis and has developed shrewd political instincts similar to those of his mentor, Ayatollah Beheshti. Since he is only a hojetoleslam, one rank lower than an ayatollah, he has no chance to become the Velayat-e Faghih, but could easily serve as Montazeri's silent partner or share power in a council.
The possibility of a military coup led by an army or revolutionary guard commander and a few hundred loyal men cannot be entirely ruled out. But the notion of such a scenario has been around for so long that the regime itself is keenly aware of the possibility. After the revolution, the regime ruthlessly purged the army and installed a protective layer of religious commissars between the officers and the troops. Similarly, the revolutionary guards have undergone serious purges. In July of 1980, Iranian authorities put down an alleged plot by elements of the air force, based near Teheran, and by army, navy and police officers in Khuzistan, with the apparent aim of installing a secular, liberal regime under the leadership of former Prime Minister Shahpur Bakhtiar. Last summer, former Foreign Minister Ghotbzadeh and several of his co-conspirators, including military officers, were executed for plotting to overthrow the regime and assassinate Khomeini. In his testimony, Ghotbzadeh claimed his aim was to establish a "truly Islamic republic."
If Khomeini were to die tomorrow, it does not appear that one person or group in either the army or the guards could command a force large and strong enough to topple the regime. As long as solidarity among the officer corps can be prevented from developing, a military coup is out of the question. So far, this regime has allowed no military heroes to emerge from the battlefront. A few military commanders are permitted to make statements not only about military tactics but about political aims as well, but there is no evidence that any of them has popular support. While portraits of war "martyrs" are publicly displayed, no Iranian Napoleon has as yet formed a strong enough following to rise to power.
Even if there were a coup, a secular military regime would have little appeal among the Iranian masses, who, despite some waning of enthusiasm, by and large support Khomeini's regime. An Islamic-based military regime could not succeed unless the clerics were seriously discredited; that just has not happened, and could only occur if the military technocrats had the complicity of Iran's conservative grand ayatollahs like Kazem Shariat-Madari and Mohammed Reza Golpaygani. While they have repeatedly criticized the regime's excesses, neither ayatollah would risk serious civil disruption to overthrow the radicals.
As for the opposition groups, none has the organization and popular base necessary to come to power. The Fedayeen is hopelessly splintered, the Tudeh all but illegal. The Mujahedeen was stripped of much of its important leadership in raids of its hideouts. Its leader-in-exile, Massoud Rajavi, lost much of his credibility when he fled to Paris with Bani-Sadr, and further tarnished his image by meeting Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in Paris in January. Opposition exile groups have been unable to muster much popular support. Tribal disruption in the post-Khomeini era is likely, although it would probably not lead to civil war unless both superpowers intervene through surrogates. Tribal aims are limited; of the main Iranian tribes, only the Kurds have specific demands, and they only want autonomy-over their administrative system, language, culture and internal security-not independence. Any attempt by either superpower to foment an uprising among the Iranian Kurds could backfire if the other superpower threw its support behind the Iraqi Kurds. As for Iran's ten million Azerbaijanis, they have never demanded autonomy and have a reasonably good stake in Khomeini's regime. Iran's President and Prime Minister are from Azerbaijan, and their fellow tribesmen play a greater political role now than they did under the Shah.
Soviet policy toward tribal minorities has been inconsistent. The Soviets have taken the position that minorities have a right to autonomy but that Khomeini is sensitive to this issue and should be given a chance to work out an accommodation; if the minorities hold uncompromisingly to their demands, say the Soviets, they can only undercut the revolution and thus play into the hands of the counterrevolutionaries.36
If Khomeini were to die tomorrow, there is little likelihood that the Soviets would intervene, since they are still shaken by the fallout from the invasion of Afghanistan, which turned virtually the entire Islamic world against them. And while the Soviets are likely to use political pressures through opposition groups and various tribal movements, military involvement in an attempt to overthrow an Islamic regime is simply too risky. They may have a long-term interest in making Iran a buffer state or a security zone, but they can continue to live with a messy situation.
Given the active hostility of the Khomeini regime, the ability of the United States to significantly alter its relationship with Iran is limited. Iran has thus far shown an interest in maintaining a bilateralrelationship with the United States in only one circumscribed, although important, area: the implementation of the Algiers accords following the release of the hostages. The Iranian-U.S. arbitration tribunal in the Hague, with its three neutral, three American and three Iranian judges, is functioning well, adjudicating claims which arose out of the revolution.
In other respects, however, Iran has shown no interest in even beginning to return to normal relations with the United States. The 27-acre American Embassy in Teheran and other American properties have not been returned in accordance with international usage. U.S. officials assert that numerous messages sent by the United States to Iran through the Swiss, who represent our interests, have gone unanswered. Indications to the Iranians that the U.S. door is open have met with insults or a willingness to talk only if it concerns a resumption of arms supplies, which Iranian representatives keep suggesting but which the United States refuses because of its staunch neutrality in the Iran-Iraq war.
The United States has taken a number of steps-including the sending of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes to Saudi Arabia-in an attempt to keep the war from spreading. It has also quietly supported a number of peace initiatives, but any identification of the United States with an Iran-Iraq peace effort would doom it to failure immediately. In fact, the U.S. policy of neutrality-with its arms embargo on both sides-favors Iraq, as most of Iran's weaponry is American-made; and it has forced Iran to turn to Soviet allies-North Korea (for perhaps as much as 40 percent of its military hardware), Syria, and Libya. (It can also be argued that the recent sale of 60 small non-military helicopters by Hughes Aircraft to Iraq sent the wrong signals to the Iranians.)
The present course seems, however, the only wise one for the United States. So far this country has resisted pressure from the Saudis and the Jordanians to loosen its arms embargo, and allow them to send American-made equipment to Iraq. It would be misguided for the United States to become entangled in the war on the Iraqi side, either directly or through our friends in the Gulf, even if American policymakers believe such initiatives could turn Iraq into some sort of U.S. ally. Iran, with its enormous reserves of oil and natural gas, its crucial strategic location in the Gulf and its size, is clearly the bigger prize.
Similarly, it is shortsighted to carry on a dialogue with any of the exile groups. While the United States has never actively thrown its support behind any one exile group, U.S. officials do maintain an assortment of old contacts, from the royal family, Bakhtiar, and the Shah's generals, to Khomeini's outcasts. The ostensible reasons are that they provide this country with information it wouldn't otherwise receive and that should the exile groups form a united front, the United States wants to be ready. However, the reliability of their information is suspect, and any notion that a change of regime may come from outside of Iran is sheer fantasy. In the meantime, it obviously doesn't help the United States with the government sitting in Teheran.
America's emphasis in dealing with Iran has been almost solely military: to protect Western access to Gulf oil by supporting friendly Arab states in the region which feel threatened by Iran and to build up a military capability in the Persian Gulf. According to some high-ranking U.S. military officials, U.S. military planning there is focused almost exclusively on the fear that the Soviets might someday invoke the Soviet-Iranian Friendship Treaty of 1921; although this has been denounced by Iran, the Soviets insist it remains valid, with reference to circumstances under which Soviet intervention might be justified. Other possibilities, such as tribal disruption or a violent or mass Islamic movement in another country, are not treated with the same degree of importance. Ports, roads and airfields being built up in the Gulf are far in excess of internal needs-and could be used as ports of entry for U.S. forces. Oman's port area has been so built up that it is unrecognizable from a mere four years ago. There is an American fleet presence in the Gulf 50 percent of the time. U.S. Marines are thoroughly familiar with the Iranian beaches, the gradients, the terrain of the Zagros mountains. Effective this January, the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, a unified command involving an initial 230,000 troops and start-up costs likely to total more than $20 billion, was created just for that region. The assumption ruling its military strategy and tactics is that the Iranians would not be hostile to the United States should there be a confrontation with the Soviet Union. In order for these plans to work, the United States would need Iran for every sort of logistical support-from trucks and cranes to water purification equipment and bridges. What would happen should Iran embrace the other side is not considered.
This military buildup risks a repetition of anti-American movements like the Iranian Revolution elsewhere, even though these movements would be likely to take a different shape. Construction of facilities and arms shipments, however, sparks fears of American domination. Except for Oman, none of the Persian Gulf states has been willing to allow U.S. military facilities on its own soil.
On the policy-planning level, the inability to change the status quo in Iran has created a vacuum in U.S. policy and a sense that anything the United States might do to encourage better relations might backfire, resulting in still further U.S. humiliation. The frustrations felt at the time of the hostage crisis are still with us. "The Americans are still traumatized by their failure in Iran, and it is impossible to get them to focus on what is happening there," said one veteran Third World minister whose government maintains close ties with Iran.3737 After an early focus on the strategic situation of the Gulf, the Reagan Administration is now devoting most of its Middle East resources to the Arab-Israeli conflict. "We spend 80 percent of our time on what affects Israel because that's what the President wants," said one Administration official. "We're not really following Iran now."38 The danger in such a policy of omission is that should there be a radical change in the region-if Hussein were overthrown or Khomeini died, for example-the United States would be ill-prepared to deal with the crisis, just as the Carter Administration's preoccupation with Camp David and its aftermath kept it from focusing on the disruptive events preceding the revolution.
One area where the United States can have influence in Iran is through trade. Iran sees the United States as a trader of last resort, but regularly buys many goods, including food, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals and oil equipment from the United States, usually through a third partner. Following the release of the hostages, the trade embargo for non-military items was lifted. Last year, the United States bought 17 million barrels of Iranian oil on the spot market. Iran has sent out feelers to buy American-made high technology-drilling and oil field servicing equipment, for example. Obviously, with so many U.S. firms having outstanding claims against Iran and the total inability of the U.S. government to protect Americans traveling to Iran, reluctance is understandable. But Iranian trade patterns favor the West: in 1981 Iran maintained about 60 percent of its trade with the West, 14 percent with the Soviet bloc and the rest with the Third World. As oil sales increase this year, it will not need to rely as much on barter arrangements with the Soviet bloc, perhaps encouraging increased trade with the West.
Above all, what must be understood is that no matter who rules Iran, relations with the United States will be troubled at best. For the moment, Iran's revolution is secure, and it is unlikely that even after Khomeini's death Iran will again be dominated by one of the superpowers. There is little doubt that any post-Khomeini regime will remain Islamic, repressive and revolutionary. Its shape may change: popular appeal may become less important; a structural alliance between the armed forces and the bureaucracy may develop; agricultural and industrial planning may be deferred as long as oil revenues are poured into massive broad-based subsidies. Until the oil revenues run out and the means to sustain an unproductive economy disappear, the revolution can continue in its present repressive form with no overt challenges to its authority.
America does not have the means to direct events in Iran or in the region. But it would be wise not to ignore them either. The United States still has not learned from past mistakes; while a regional military strategy must be developed, understanding the dynamics of the region is even more important.
1 Private interview with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, November 19, 1978, Neauphle-le-Chateau, France.
2 "The complete text of the recent interview given by Ayatollah Khomeini to Le Monde," Liberation Movement of Iran pamphlet, May 1978, p. 9.
3 Private interview with Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, July 5, 1982, Auvers-sur-Oise, France.
4 Mehdi Bazargan, resignation speech in Teheran, November 5, 1979, monitored on Iranian television.
5 Private interview with Bani-Sadr, August 26, 1981, Auvers-sur-Oise, France.
6 Quoted in John Kifner, "How a Sit-in Turned Into a Siege," America in Captivity, special issue, The New York Times Magazine, 1981, p. 73.
7 Quoted in R. W. Apple, "Khomeini's Grip Appears at Its Tightest," The New York Times, November 21, 1982, p. 1.
8 Speech of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, monitored on Teheran Radio, January 4, 1983.
9 Speech by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, monitored on Teheran Radio, December 15, 1982.
10 Quoted in Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), Daily Report: South Asia, December 23, 1982.
12 U.S. Department of Energy, Middle East Crude Oil Potential from Known Deposits, Washington, D.C., 1981.
13 I am grateful to Professor Skocpol for her willingness to share with me her observations on structural similarities between the Iranian and other revolutions.
14 Quoted in FBIS, October 30, 1982.
15 Quoted in John Ellis, Armies in Revolution, New York: Oxford University Press, 1974, p. 97.
16 Private interview with Hojetoleslam Ali Khamenei, quoted in Newsweek, February 22, 1982, p. 15.
17 Quoted in FBIS, June 22, 1982.
18 Quoted in FBIS, July 30, 1982.
19 Quoted in FBIS, August. 2, 1982.
20 Quoted in Iran Times, January 7, 1983.
21 Quoted in FBIS, February 14, 1983.
22 Quoted in FBIS, July 20, 1982.
23 Private interview with Hojetoleslam Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Teheran, April 2, 1980.
24 Quoted in FBIS, November 24, 1982.
26 Constitutional Law of Islamic Republic of Iran, Teheran: Ministry of Islamic Guidance, 1979, p. 9.
27 Quoted in FBIS, December 14, 1982.
28 Quoted in FBIS, October 10, 1982.
29 Quoted in FBIS, January 4, 1983.
30 Private interview with Zia ul-Haq, December 10, 1982.
31 Quoted in FBIS, December 27, 1982.
32 In the mysterious world of Iranian plot-weaving, some of Khomeini's critics have even come to blame the revolution itself on the United States, and former President Bani-Sadr told this reporter that the "staging of the American Embassy takeover was completely directed by the United States." Private interview with Bani-Sadr, July 5, 1982.
33 Private interview with Bani-Sadr, July 5, 1982.
34 Quoted in FBIS, November 22, 1982.
35 Private interview with Hojetoleslam Khamenei, quoted in Newsweek, February 22, 1982.
36 Muriel Atkin, "The Islamic Republic and the Soviet Union," in The Iranian Revolution and the Islamic Republic, Nikki R. Keddie and Eric Hooglund, eds., Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute, 1982.
37 Private interview.
38 Private interview
Why Washington Should Seek Regime Change in Tehran