Historical Analogies for the Iranian Predicament

Finding Iran confusing? So is everyone else. We (i.e., Westerners threatening Iran and Iranian politicians who threaten it in their own myriad ways) might all just want to calm down and consider for a moment the lessons we might learn from history.

Zionist politicians intent on expanding Israeli territorial control and defeating any country (and Iran is the last) willing to defy Israeli regional military domination are doing their best to make the case the Iran is sui generis. On this one point, Khomenei would certainly have agreed. But Khomenei has been dead for a long time, and Iran looks more and more like other countries every day.

It is almost impossible to view the Basij without thinking of the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution: naïve and no doubt frequently sincere youths full of indignation, minds crammed with ideology and played for fools by corrupt leaders. So far, they remain under control, but Mao ended up having to call out the army to control his teenage bully boys, and that pretty much trashed his revolution.

It is also almost impossible to view the IRGC without seeing that model of military kleptocracy, the Pakistani Army (see Alyesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc. on the latter). Pakistan and Iran are similar in many ways, not the least because both have politicized and educated publics that have demonstrated the will and capacity to take charge of their own fate and defend their rights. The impressive overthrow of Musharraf and the Lawyer’s Movement in Pakistan as well as the courage of protestors both against the Shah in 1978-9 and today in Iran hold lessons in democratic action that put complacent Americans, whose democracy is also under domestic attack, to shame. In Pakistan, the masses concerned about civil liberties tamed the military only to see corrupt and incompetent politicians slip back into power. Are senior clerics in Qom right now considering how Iran might do better?

There is no embarrassment in admitting that we foreigners don’t have a clue about what is happening in Iran. Events strongly suggest that Khomenei, Ahmadinejad, the IRGC, the Qom clerical establishment, and the Iranian populace don’t either. After all, while you were reading this article, the situation changed. But there are historical precedents worth contemplating while we all (hopefully) take a deep breath and calm down.

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