The Anxious Iranian

It is the right of the Iranians to feel anxious. This is despite the strength of the regime and its tight control over the country and its people, despite the crowds that gather to listen to the Supreme Leader, and despite the fists that rise whenever the ‘Great Satan’ is mentioned. The Iranians may feel anxious despite the successive military parades, the new generations of missiles, and the fiery statements of the Revolutionary Guard leaders. The same goes for the competing threats of everyone desiring to make threats, the continuous mockery of the American defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the spotlight on the diseases beleaguering the Western economy and the pervasive smell of bankruptcy in many places. And the Iranians have the right to be anxious despite the unquestionable influence the country wields in Baghdad, the unshakable alliance with Syria and the strong presence in Lebanon and its cabinet.
Iran can celebrate the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Iran may even say that America is leaving under conditions that resemble defeat, and that it has succeeded, with Syria’s help, to prevent the U.S. invasion from achieving its goals. Iran can boast that Washington has failed in securing permanent military presence in Mesopotamia, as it has failed in establishing lasting or stable political influence there. Washington has also failed to build a democracy with Western standards in Iraq, which would have certainly been a source of dangerous influences in neighbouring countries, ones that do not seem to be fond of democracy.

No doubt, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was marked with arrogance and conceit, and was costly for both sides, whether financially or in terms of human lives. However, the completion of the U.S. withdrawal will give Washington more freedom of action in putting pressure on Tehran. The U.S. withdrawal will also raise questions about the legitimacy of the strong Iranian sway over decision-making in Baghdad. Here, it is no secret that the powers that played a fundamental role in fighting American forces, are now preparing to move on with their battle and place it under the slogan of “driving out Iranian meddling”. And it is clear that any genuine national reconciliation that would head off a lengthy civil war requires the reduction of Iranian tutelage over Iraqi decisions.
It is the right of the Iranians to feel anxious because their country has failed in persuading the world that its nuclear program does not conceal behind it the dream of building a bomb. Such a bomb, should it come to existence, would lead to a fatal blow to the balance of power in an extremely important region for the world economy. The birth of the Iranian nuclear bomb would also place the GCC before a tough choice, which is either to acquire a bomb in turn, or accept to live under a nuclear umbrella. The same thing also applies to Egypt.
In its perpetual conflict with the West and other parties, Iran is being drawn into an arms race that, over the long-term, is above its economic weight. Its commitments beyond its borders are reminiscent of the Soviet Union and its suffering under the weight of the arms race and the aid it provided to its allies.
It is the right of the Iranians to feel anxious because the Arab Spring did not seek inspiration whatsoever from the Iranian revolution, its lexicon or its terminology. Iran was compelled to battle the Arab Spring when it reached the Syrian stop, unleashing a struggle over power in Syria within, and over its foreign policy stances. Further, the Iranians do not need anyone to explain to them the significance in seeing the protesters in Syria burn Iran’s and Hezbollah’s flags, whether in terms of the Iranian-Arab relations or Sunni-Shiite ones. It is also their right to be struck by the sight of the Turkish foreign minister, organizing with his Arab counterparts, a campaign of pressure towards halting the bloodbath in Syria.
It is the right of the Iranians to also pay attention to the fact that currently, Damascus is paying the price for its commitment to the triangle that binds it together with Iran and Hezbollah, and for the fact that it has neglected, because of its domestic and regional choices, the triangle that once brought Syria together with Qatar and Turkey. And it is the right of the Iranians to see that Hezbollah’s stance on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, has pushed the party to collide with half of the Lebanese people, who now believe that the party’s arms are a hurdle to the establishment of the state.
It is the right of the Iranians to feel anxious, because their country’s attempt to become a religious and political authority for Arab Shiites, and to hold trump cards within the countries of the region, has provoked countries and feelings, as evidenced by the developments in Bahrain and elsewhere. It is their right to feel anxious because the revolution has refused to live within the confines of a normal state that is preoccupied with stability and prosperity, and its insistence instead on permanent conflict with regional and international balances, and on continuously stoking the fires of the Iranian revolution.

(The writer is a columist and political commentator. This article first appeared in Dar Al Hayat on Dec. 12, 2011)

Ghassan Charbel

13 December 2011