For all the endless discussions in Western media about Iran – will they get bombed today, or more like in the fall? – the issue of ideology is customarily lacking. Too little effort is expended by writers and pundits on why Tehran does what it does.
Instead we are treated to facile commentary about Ahmadinejad being “crazy” (note to Tehran: drop the weird stand-collar suit thing … it’s creepy, really), and related silliness when you let people like John Bolton near a microphone.
Similarly, the left has the well-honed habit of explaining that, really, this is all about evil Anglo-American machinations – repeat “Mossadegh” and “coup” enough times and you, too, will be mesmerized – a nice little narrative centered on us that leaves out actual Iranian views.
There’s a fine essay in The American Interest by the Iranian-American journalist Sohrab Ahmari which lucidly explains that Tehran actually has a worldview which is at least internally consistent and which guides pretty much everything the revolutionary regime has done since 1979. This ideology seems naturally quirky to us, but it’s not new and is grounded in an odd mishmash of watered-down Marxism, a generic third worldism that was hot in about 1964, and Shia Islamism. I have no idea whether Ahmadinejad is clinically crazy – I doubt it, but I’m not that kind of doctor – yet it’s clear that he is motivated by this very ideology, which is implacably hostile to the West for myriad reasons. I’ll add that Islamist radicals worldwide were profoundly influenced by the Iranian revolution and all of them, to the present day, reflect aspects of this worldview whether they are Sunni or Shia.
Money quote from Mr. Ahmari:
Permanent enmity against the West, the cornerstone of Khomeini and Shariati’s worldviews, is thus a basic condition of the regime’s existence. When Ahmadinejad claims that the “Imam of the Ages” directs the events of the Arab Spring against the “Satanic” West, he is dead-serious. When he denies the Holocaust, he is not merely expressing frustration with the lack of progress on the peace process; he means business. Yet such rhetoric—not to mention the cries of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” regularly emanating from Tehran—has become a quotidian fact of life for most Western leaders. We either dismiss it as the inchoate rage of a mysterious land or else try to justify it as a reaction to legitimate postcolonial grievances.
In other words, they’re not getting over it. It’s just like the USSR, ideologically speaking. While the Soviets made compromises here and there – Uncle Joe was famous for this, and damn effective – the regime and the party were Marxist-Leninists to the core, down to the very fall of the system in 1991. Any effort to fundamentally modify the belief system would result not in “reform” (which is Western-speak for “magically becoming like us”) rather the collapse of the whole edifice … as Gorbachev found out.
We should not expect the Iranian revolutionary regime to act like anything but itself, as long as it exists. Which won’t be for long, insha’allah, but may be; after all, they’ve held on for thirty-three years so far and survived losing a million dead in the war with Iraq. It is an ideological regime to its core and – shocking as it may be to us – the leadership really believes this stuff and acts accordingly. Why else would they do nutty-sounding things like try to blow up Arab diplomats in downtown Washington, DC?
It’s time to dispense with wishful thinking that only a few guys in Tehran are “crazy” or the regime will collapse with a bit of PSYOPS, twittering by angry college kids, or a few bombs.