This morning, Iran announced that it was suspending oil sales to France and Britain. It’s tit-for-tat: we already decided that we would stop buying their black gold from July 1 onwards. But this is just the latest step in a bizarre process of military escalation. Aside from promising the world “exciting news” on its quest for a nuclear bomb, Iran has also moved to dominate the Strait of Hormuz and sent warships into the Mediterranean for the first time since 1979. The intimidation of Israel is blatant.
For some reason, Iran has ignored the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. The West, when suitably outraged, will respond with military action. Indeed, everything that Iran is doing is counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t they be lying low during this period of “Arab Spring” democratization? Why aren’t they focusing on their own borders, their own sagging economy, their own people?
The question I want to ask the forum is, is Iran operating from a position of strength or weakness?There seem to be three options:
1) Iran calculates that the West is overstretched and can’t effectively respond. Benefitting from a geographically isolated position (consider how logistically difficult it was for the US to try to rescue its hostages in 1980), Iran thinks that it can rattle the saber without concern for a Western military response. China and Russia have its back, there are plenty of customers for its oil, and Middle East opinion is on its side. It even has a peculiar network of friends among South American Marxists.
2) Iran is in crisis and this is an expression of profound political panic. Its economy is not healthy and it sees itself surrounded by new US allies. The regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is despised by the clerical establishment and diplomatic intrigue is his way of buying a little favor with voters. Reuters covers the complex politics of next month’s poll, and it’s difficult to unpick. But it seems that nuclear development has gained an internal logic and momentum that are hard to stop.
3) Rick Santorum is right and Iran is simply mad. Since 1979, the theocratic totalitarian state has produced a breed of leaders who are on perpetual Jihad against the West and who really wouldn’t mind dying in a nuclear confrontation, so long as they wake up in Heaven with their rivers of honey and hundreds of virgins. Added to that intense religiosity, you have Persian nationalism. Iran still has old scores to settle, going way back to the overthrow of Mossadegh and the crowning of the Shah.
All three answers suggest that war with Iran is inevitable because, barring a regime change, its nuclear program is central to the nation’s sense of internal and external legitimacy. Under such circumstances, is diplomacy even possible?