As the antics in Washington run their course, it is worth turning to another difficult problem — America’s negotiations (or lack thereof) with Iran.
For the first time in decades, the U.S. and American administrations are having direct talks. This already suggests that a new situation has arisen.
Given his combination of popular mandate, impressive track record as a negotiator on nuclear issues, backing from a wide range of moderate clerics and officials, and most important, the apparent confidence of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Rouhani is in a better position to leverage change than any other Iranian President has been — ever. But this itself now raises a problem of excessive expectations, especially on the Iranian side.
I fear that Iranians, having voted for change, are now so certain they will get change that they will be disappointed at how slowly any real change will come, if it comes at all. From the US and Israel, the view is, respectively: “Let’s wait and see if this change is real,” and “we don’t believe it.” Whereas Iranians seem to believe they have already made huge changes from the Ahmadinejad period and want to be rewarded for that with similar changes by others, the view from outside is not the same. This is not a good basis for
The Ahmadinejad presidency was something we have often seen in the 20th century in the second or third decade after major revolutions: hardliners
returning to power after a moderate phase. I had labeled this the “second
radical phase” of revolutions in my 2009 article in Comparative Studies of
South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and describe it as follows in my
new book REVOLUTIONS: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION, coming from Oxford UP in January:
“Yet after another decade or two, the older radicals or a new generation may feel that this new order is failing to live up to the ideals of the revolution. They may seek to mobilize elite and popular groups for a new set of evolutionary measures, attacking existing officials and their policies, and seeking more radical economic and political changes. This second radical phase usually does not overturn the revolutionary government but revives its radicalism, which can lead to major new departures in domestic and international policies, and new waves of popular mobilization and conflict. This second radical phase is usually the final burst of revolutionary energy; whether it prevails or is defeated, what follows is a reconsolidated, stable version of the revolutionary regime. Examples include Stalin’s collectivization campaign in the 1930s, Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, and Lázaro Cárdenas’s nationalizations and land reforms
in Mexico in the 1930s.
I think we will see in the next year or two where we are in Iran – whether the members of the Revolutionary Guard and conservative clerics still in power seek to sustain the second radical phase with more aggressive, anti-Western policies, or whether the second radical phase has been defeated in Rouhani’s election victory, with Rouhani, his more moderate supporters, and Khamenei will now create “a reconsolidated, stable version of the revolutionary regime” that is more pragmatic and focused more on rebuilding economically than on ideological missions.
If we are fortunate, the second radical phase of Iran’s revolution is now over. If so, they will be easier to deal with, and there may indeed be hope for progress. But patience on all sides will be needed, as it will take years to re-establish trust after the traumas of the last 30 years.