President Barack Obama shakes hands with Palestinian children during a visit to the Church of the Nativity in the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem, March 22, 2013. (ATEF SAFADI-POOL/GETTY IMAGES)
Lebanese Kurds wave the Kurdish flag and a flag picturing Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan during Persian New Year, or Noruz, celebrations in Beirut, March 21, 2013. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lipid (c) with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned his position after being indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust, at the Feb. 5 swearing in of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Israeli soldiers take pictures of each other in front of Israel’s illegal apartheid wall near the Qalandia checkpoint outside Ramallah, March 30, 2013. Israeli troops earlier had clashed with Palestinian demonstrators commemorating the 37th anniversary of “Land Day.” (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Clay, Babylon, Mesopotamia, after 539 BCE D x H: 7.8-10 x 21.9-22.8 cm British Museum, London, ME 90920 Photo: ©The Trustees of the British Museum
Prosthetic legs for wounded American soldiers at the Center for Intrepid rehabilitation gym at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, Aug. 7, 2012. (JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2008, pages 59-60
Dr. Ray Takeyh Discusses Iran
DR. RAY TAKEYH, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic, spoke Dec. 4, 2007 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. The event—the final afternoon meeting of the Iran Book Talk Meeting Series—was titled, “United States Versus Iran: Another Cold War.” Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, introduced Dr. Takeyh, who also is a contributing editor for National Interest. The conference room was full, and included many individuals of Iranian descent.
Takeyh began his remarks with an outline of how the Islamic Republic of Iran is peculiar. Its entire state ideology rests upon a central figure who has been dead for more than 20 years: the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini’s legacy is perpetuated through institutionalized ideology and the role of his followers in non-elected positions of power, Takeyh said.
The Iranian government’s ideology is a variant of political Shi’ism, he continued, and, due to this inexorable political link with religion, cannot be erased. Takeyh described Khomeini as “willing to sacrifice a nation for an ideal,” that being that politics should be the realization of God on earth. In this case, however, ideology transcends individuals and practicality, Takeyh said, citing the lack of a market-based economy in Iran that could provide opportunities for countless Iranians.
His lecture coincided with the release of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which found that the Islamic Republic of Iran had halted large-scale nuclear enrichment in 2003, only continuing small-scale enrichment for electricity purposes, and that Iran would not be able to produce “weapons of mass destruction” until some time between 2010 and 2015. Because the NIE report counters most administration and media rhetoric about Iranian nuclear ambitions being ultimately for the explicit purpose of developing nuclear warheads in the immediate future, there was much buzz about Takeyh’s reaction.
According to the scholar, the report demonstrated that “Iran is a country whose rhetoric is always worse than its conduct.” Iran does not pose an immediate threat, Takeyh agreed. Instead, Iranian officials have calculated that the country can have a legal and robust nuclear infrastructure by declaring its development and, by complying with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), receive safeguards from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). At this point, Takeyh explained, Iran is guilty only of non-notification.
If Iran continues to comply with the NPT and IAEA, Takeyh said, the political ramifications are significant. A U.S. military strike on Iran would not occur, he asserted, because justification of military action (and foreign policies of containment) requires an imminent threat—and that is currently diffusing. Also, any need for stringent sanctions on Iran would decrease, he said, not only for the U.S., but for international allies.
At this point, Takeyh noted, there are two options. If Iran is still viewed as a messianic state posing an existential threat, then further policies of containment would come into play.
When discussing Iran and the United States, Takeyh pointed out, there is “an emotional legacy separating the two countries.” For Iranians, the turning point was the 1953 CIA-backed ouster of democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who favored Iranian nationalism over foreign involvement. Many Iranians see this event as the start of the slippery slope into the theocratic regime of the Islamic Republic today.
For Americans, however, the turning point was the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the Iranian hostage crisis.
Neither of these events bodes favorably for the respective countries, Takeyh said, and both continue to influence current international relations.
Describing the Persian Gulf as “the epicenter of the Middle East today,” Takeyh explained that in order for there to be peace in the region, there must first be a realization that a military solution is not possible, then a catalyst that requires resolution. In this case, he said, the catalyst is Iran’s nuclear development. While U.S. policy in the Middle East has always been to divide the region, Takeyh urged the U.S. to “try to transcend its history.” Only then, he concluded, can relationships be built.
Keep an eye out for Dr. Ray Takeyh’s new book: The Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World.