Taking down the “Great Satan”: Every February in Tehran, Iran hosts an international conference titled “A World Without America”
Having started his first presidential term in 2009 by offering "a hand of friendship" to the Islamic Republic in Iran, President Barack Obama has begun his second term by renewing his invitation for direct talks with the leadership in Tehran. In a variation on the same theme, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described Iran as "the toughest problem" facing American foreign policy today. And, yet, she too has pinned her hopes on a "diplomatic solution" before the March 2013 deadline set by Obama.
Both Obama and Clinton, who is retiring as Secretary of State, would do well to read James Buchan's insightful new book Days of God: The Revolution in Iran and Its Consequences (John Murray, £25). Buchan, who lived in Iran in the 1970s and has followed developments there for the past 40 years, has a much broader compass than Iran's relations with the United States and the 20-year dispute over alleged Iranian intentions to build a nuclear arsenal. But when it comes to the thorny issue of reaching a compromise with Iran on virtually any major issue, Buchan has grave reservations about the rose-tinted spectacles of American diplomacy under Obama. "History has shown," Buchan writes, "how on four occasions (since 1940) Iran persisted with a weak hand long after it should have folded. Iran's intransigence revealed not strength but weakness and, each time, it underestimated the bloody-mindedness of its adversaries."
According to Buchan, Iran, under the Khomeinist regime, holds one of the weakest hands it has had in its recent history and yet is adamant in playing it by rejecting all compromise. He writes: "Contemptuous of diplomacy, the Islamic Republic is now incapable of it." On two of the occasions that Buchan studies in some detail, the impasse created by Iranian intransigence ended with regime change in Tehran. On two other occasions, the Iranian leadership was forced to accept a dramatic change of course, in effect tactically surrendering to foreign diktat in order to save their regime.
Buchan shuns speculation on how the current standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions and its campaign to "wipe Israel off the map" might end. But the mindset he describes, with a degree of understanding rare among Western commentators on Iranian affairs, tends to exclude a genuine change of course by Iran's current leadership. At best, Iran might enter a new set of negotiations to buy time and avoid tougher punishment, including possible military action by the United States and/or Israel. The mindset that Buchan describes is that of a decision-making elite of clerics, military and intelligence officers and technocrats drunk on an intoxicating mix of Shia messianic mumbo-jumbo, pseudo-Marxism and what many call pan-Islamist fascism.
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