Friday, January 27, 2023

The last moderate standing

President Rouhani might be the last moderate president who rides in the vehicle of words; a chance which shouldn’t be blown.

Comments of President Rouhani aimed at America in New York are reminiscent of remarks by Mehdi Bazargan – the head of Iran’s Freedom Movement fighting the monarchical dictatorship –addressing the judge and Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in court. “We are the last group who speak with you in a language prescribed by law, after us a generation comes who will take up arms to communicate with the government […].”

The weekly journal of “Seda [Voice]” in its 7th issue ran a piece by its editor Mohammad Ghoochani [a journalist who represents technocrats and is a member of the Central Committee of the Executives of Construction Party] titled, “The last moderate standing”. What comes next is the translation of the report which was filed before the latest round of talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna. In light of the fact that the piece retains its relevance, we publish its translation in its entirety:

As a matter of fact, today Hassan Rouhani in the capacity of Iran’s president is a symbol of moderate politicians in the Middle East; the ones whose voice has been drowned out by the ballyhoo of extremist militants. In a region where governance is inherited and governments are changed by coups, in the eyes of dictators and the general public, an elected president is nothing but the head of a caretaker government for a maximum of four years in office. Such a mindset defies the logic of democracy, but we cannot alter the fact that in the Middle East, a safe haven for extremists, there is no room for the world of moderation.

However, President Rouhani is not hopeless. As he did not give up hope in in domestic policy and rose to power when criticisms from left- and right-wing radicals were at its peak, there is hope that he could open up a new horizon for foreign policy.

America is going through an era which is fraught with miscalculations. Obama has failed to make a strategic transition from what he inherited from President Bush. Bush planned to rule the world by establishing an empire whose center was America and other governments and nations were meant to be its states. The 2003 invasion of Iraq and the appointment of a governor for it were a reflection of such a strategy.

However, such a poor strategy could not last long and finally led to new discourse floated by Zbigniew Brzezinski. The US thinker had a new definition of America’s role in the world. Instead of leading an empire, he believes America should take on the role of world leadership and apparently the nomination of Barack Obama was an indication of such a change in strategy in the US. Yet, Obama has failed to come through so far.

Obama’s failure began when he started addressing the world of Islam. In Egypt, America lost its autocratic and modernist ally – the regime of Hosni Mubarak. It can be said that Mubarak’s downfall came with the US green light and in line with its change of tack, but finally thanks to negligence and confusion on the part of America, no alternative was found for Mubarak.

In a showdown between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military as the only entities with political clout in Egypt, it was the legacy of Mubarak which prevailed and made a comeback. However, the difference was that his successor – Abdel Fattah al-Sisi – is more religious than Mubarak and his wife wears Islamic head cover; he is also skeptical about the Americans and has a tendency toward Russia.

US performance in Iraq is not impressive either. The Iraq we know today is not directly ruled as a colony, nor is it a genuinely independent country. A fragile government and a [war] weary nation is a precise definition of the state of affairs in Iraq which has set the stage for violence, acts of terror and extremism.

Another US strategic misstep was taken in Syria when America undermined the secular yet independent Syrian government and consequently turned the Assad government from a despotic government to a wobbly regime with no prospect of making a transition to democracy. Rather, the stage has been set for far worse dictatorship: an amalgamation of tyranny and reaction.

A similar process has taken place in Afghanistan. The Afghan government is so fragile that to reach an agreement over presidency, it had to invent a new political position by the name of chief executive, a concession that it had to make to be able to rule the country.

A transition to democracy – if that is America’s plan to counter terrorism – cannot take place through shaky governments. A transition from autocracy requires mighty governments which are independent not despotic. The Americans claim that in the post-Cold War era, they are no longer advocates of autocratic governments with Western leanings. Rather, they support emerging democracies, citing the fact that a democracy won’t fight another democracy, nor will it pose a threat to the security of America – the world’s largest democracy.

If America is honest about its claim, it should be reminded that nowhere in the world a country has turned democratic through democratization. As President Rouhani told the UN General Assembly in New York, democracy cannot be delivered in a backpack!

Democracy has subjective and objective fundamentals from which growth and development is the first palpable rudiment. In a region where the old colonialism has bled it dry and there is no sign of growth and development, nor is there a middle class, how can one raise the concept of democracy?

Of course, President Rouhani like other moderate elites in the region such as Bazargan is not neglectful of domestic impediments to development in the world of Islam and does not pin all the blame on colonialism for the backwardness of the Middle East. In fact, he is mindful of the threat of tyranny at home, yet perhaps it is true to say that never before in history have these two political chasms overlap.

Today, in reaction to the regional developments the West can repeat two approaches which have roots in two different historical experiences: The first one goes back to World War I after which Germany and its allies which were defeated in the war were humiliated and squeezed for damages to the point that the German economy landed on the brink and the German people were driven in a direction from which Fascism surfaced.

The second experience was World War II after which efforts were made to involve and integrate the defeated nations to prop up their economies through the Marshall Plan. The US initiative was intended to transform Germany, Italy and Japan from enemies of the West – in fact America and Britain – to US and British allies to stem the tide of extremism in Europe.

We do not expect the West to behave on an ethical basis; rather we want it to adopt a logical reaction. Logic suggests that the West support growth and development in the Middle East to serve its own national security interests, because violence stems from poverty, humiliation and ignorance.

If ISIL is not the direct product of the West, it’s certainly the indirect result of Western actions, a product of colonialism, stupidification and dictatorship that the West supported and now its fruit has come back to haunt it in movements which are in quest of their identity and fundamentals like ISIL, the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Yet, today American leaders are following in the footsteps of their predecessors, remaking their historical mistakes. They have adopted the most superficial stance on the fight against ISIL, unmindful of the fact that the terrorist group is not a minor injury to simply require outpatient procedure. Far from that, in fact it’s a historic infectious abscess which can be cured by a transformation in history and the treatment should be provided no later than today through support for moderation in the Middle East. The striking example of moderation in Iraq is Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani – Iraq’s top Shiite cleric. If it wasn’t for him, the whole Iraqi territory would be under the control of ISIL today.

As a matter of fact, moderates are not puppets of the West. In terms of opinions and views, they are independent and never trade the independence and freedom of their countries for anything. As for many theoretical and intellectual matters, they might have their own boundaries with the West, yet they can reach a practical agreement with it over peace and development and that seems to be enough for the West.

The comment of Barack Obama should be thrown back at him [“This can only help if Iran takes this historic opportunity…”]: Iran’s nuclear dossier and the package offered by President Rouhani is a historic opportunity for America, a means to verify Western determination to hammer out a solution to the historic crisis of extremism and reach an agreement with the Islamic moderation manifested by Ayatollah Sistani and President Rouhani.

Mohammad Reza Shah did not take Mr. Bazargan’s warning seriously and eliminated moderates from the political battleground. As a result, he helped extremists get an edge in confrontation with the Pahlavi regime and as Bazargan put it the king turned into the [second] leader of the revolution [whose opposition and crackdown helped the revolution gather momentum]. However, Barack Obama still has a chance to listen to the remarks of President Rouhani and prove that he is different from Bush; he should show that the fight against ISIL should not be confined to air strikes; rather he should go underground to uproot the scourge of ignorance, poverty and humiliation which have replaced moderates with extremists.

If the voice of Rouhani goes unheard, those who replace him might not ride in the vehicle of words, rather they might drive armored vehicles. Rouhani is going to be the last president who speaks with America in a language consistent with international law. You never know, the voice that replaces his might be that of a colonel not a jurist! Maybe…

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