Saturday, February 22, 2014

Iran - How did we get here and where do we go?

Let’s do this a bit different. I want you to forget everything you’ve ever heard about Iran after the year 1953. As of now...none of it happened. So here’s what you know:

Let’s start with the rocks and dirt.
Geographically Iran sits within the greater middle east. It rests just below Mackinder’s Heartland and within Mahan’s debatable zone and Spykman’s Rimland. This positioning is unique in the fact that it has direct access to two of the worlds largest suppliers of energy. The Caspian Sea in the north and the Persian Gulf in the south. Pick your money maker. Oil/natural gas through the Caspian or oil/natural gas through the Persian Gulf. Most countries aren’t even lucky enough to have one. Iran has two.
Iran’s clearly defined borders be they mountain ranges or waterways has given them a unique protection over the centuries. This allowed them to develop and advance beyond anyone around them. Iran’s position on the map gives them access to an amazing amount of area. Iran gives access to the southwest into the Arab middle east, northwest into either Turkey or the Caucasus, southeast into India, or northeast into central Asia. The economic potential via trade routes or pipelines is staggering.

What about demographics?
Iran boasts a population of about 75 million. This puts them along with Turkey and Egypt as one of the 3 most populous nations in the greater middle east. On top of that they boast a near 92% literacy rate with over half the entire population is under 35 years old.
The majority of Iran is ethnically Persian although they do have a good amount of Kurds and Azeris in the north.
I think it’s notable that the majority of the ethnic Persians are basically in the western part of Iran. Facing mesopotamia. Tehran shares an ancient history with Baghdad. In fact if the lines were redrawn today I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Iranian line push all the way to ancient Babylon.

I could go on for 20 pages writing about the varius ins and outs of the Persian empires throughout history. But that wouldn’t be very...layman. I’ll try and do it quickly and hit on what I consider defines present day Iran.

….A long time ago….

The first great Persian empire was the Achaemenid dynasty under Cyrus the Great. Cyrus and the rest of his dynasty expanded the Persian Empire to the largest the world had ever seen at that time. They united the middle east and were known as liberators rather than conquerors. Forget the movie 300. The Persian Empire at the time was seen as the light of the world.

Eventually Alexander the Great would come and break the Persian back. A regime change here, a regime change there, and eventually the Persians were in charge of their own empire again...until the middle ages came and the Arab invasion happened. Under the Abbasid Caliphate the Iranians resisted Arabization and remarkably held onto their culture. Persia once again became the bright spot in the world in technology, culture, etc.

Eventually the barbaric hordes from the Steppe swept through and decimated everything in it’s path. Like all of Eurasia everyone crumbled to warlords like Genghis Khan, Hulagu, and Tamerlane. Again the durability of the Persian culture showed it’s power. Eventually the Turkic nomads from the Steppe came to settle in and assimilate into a Persian lifestyle.

The last dynasty to rule over Persia would bring her into the modern era. The Safavid dynasty led by Shah Ismail would come down from Azerbaijan and bring twelver Shiism along with them. From then on until WW1 the Persians would be engaged in eternal battle with the Ottoman Empire. During WW2 both Britain and the USSR would invade Iran to ensure a supply line from the sea to Allied troops. comes 1953
The bad blood between the U.S. and Iran started in the 1950’s. I’m going to “laymanize” this all out but it’s an incredibly complicated ordeal.

So it’s right after WW2. The world has survived a lunatic that wanted to take over the world. Unfortunately the USSR was right there to pick up where the Germans left off. It’s the beginning of the Cold War. Iran was deemed a critical geopolitical necessity for the United States. The USSR already has control of the “Heartland”. If they were to secure a warm water port and push into the “Rimland” the world would be theirs for the taking. Hitler’s goal would be realized through the Soviets.
So when Britain got into an oil dispute with Iran the United States feared the worst. Washington thought this dispute would sour Tehran to the entire west and turn her toward Moscow. A pre emptive action was decided upon. Washington would initiate a coup that would topple the Iranian Prime minister and put the pro U.S. Shah in control of the country. In Washington’s eyes this would guarantee that Iran would stay out of Communist control. The coup turned out successful and the Shah assumed authority.

Fast forward to 1979. This is what most of us remember. Iranian students protesting in the streets, ransacking the U.S. embassy, and overthrowing the Shah. Ayatollah Khomeini had been inciting revolt while he was in exile. He had the youth in such an uproar that they toppled the government and established a new Islamic Republic. The Ayatollah’s and mullah’s run the country to this day.
In the aftermath of the revolution Saddam Hussein would use the chaos to invade Iran. A brutal 8 year long war would ensue. To add insult to injury the U.S. would support both sides and watch them both simultaneously cripple themselves.

A new perspective
I’m writing all this so that maybe we can try and get a new perspective when we hear the current news involving Iran.

If we look at their geopolitical data we see huge possibilities. A country with a very valuable and strategic spot on the map. I would argue it’s the most valuable area in the entire middle east and central asia.
Their hydrocarbon potential alone makes them a major player. That coupled with their access to multiple land and sea trade routes makes them strategically more valuable than anyone around.

Iran’s people are very proud and come from a very rich history. Their culture is one of the most dominant throughout the entire world. They’ve never been considered an intolerant or maniacal society...until now. This to me says that the current reign of the Ayatollah’s and the mullah’s will come to an end. The Persian people are historically just too educated and cultured to allow a repressive regime that wields terror as their weapon to continue to rule.

Balance in this region should be the main goal. Russia and Iran are friendly at the moment but it really isn’t based on anything tangible. It’s a mutual agreement that they both will oppose U.S. policies. Russia and Iran have no reason to be allies. Russia is trying to strong arm everyone around them by using their oil and natural gas as leverage. Russia knows that Iran can break that leverage if sanctions are lifted and Iranian oil and gas is free to run into the Caucasus and on into Europe. How do you think Russia will feel towards Iran when Ukraine starts buying Iranian natural gas? Trust me, Russia LOVES the sanctions currently against Iran….although they’ll never come out and say that out loud.

Lifting sanctions will put a check on Russia. It’ll also make Turkey stop and look too. Turkey is on the rise. Friendly right now to the west but power eventually corrupts. Turkey has been the Persian nemesis ever since the Safavid Dynasty. Also, Iran is a perfect candidate to contain the legions of Sunni Islamic extremists. Theirs is a battle that began in the dark ages during the Arab invasion. Let them finish it.

Beyond lifting sanctions we need to do two things. First, we need to let Iran do what they want in Iraq. Historically it makes sense. They share an ancient history and I think their union is inevitable.
Second, we need to cede the fact that they’re eventually going to get a nuclear bomb. It’s another inevitability. Why even delay it? The Persian people have survived thousands of years by being smart and good governing. Do we really expect them to be suicidal and nuke Israel? North Korea has nuclear weapons. Why isn’t Japan threatening a pre-emptive strike? Because we stood in between and told Japan….don’t worry. We got this. If they attack you...they attack us! We need to tell Israel and Saudi Arabia the same damn thing. Not only that but make it very public.

Look, geopolitics often doesn’t reflect strong morality. It’s realism. The aftershocks of one crazy Austrian are still being felt today. WW2 was a major catastrophic event that sent the world into a race for world domination. Iran in the 1950’s was a horrible case of collateral damage. We made a geopolitical choice and have been dealing with the consequences ever since. Today, the geopolitical situation has changed. Thankfully it allows us to fix what we once broke.