History Contradicts the Dream of Iranian Moderation
August 5, 2015
Most backers of the nuclear accord with Iran hopefully insist that the theocratic regime will moderate once sanctions are lifted. The "pragmatists" -- those surrounding President Hasan Rouhani, who supposedly want better relations with the West, will grow in strength; the "hard-liners" -- the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the ideologically ardent clergy -- will weaken.
This is an unlikely scenario, writes Reuel Marc Gerechtm senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Consider what happened after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, died in 1989. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the mentor of Mr. Rouhani, was elected president shortly afterward and remained in office until 1997. Mr. Rafsanjani, with Mr. Rouhani always at his side, encouraged and welcomed European engagement. Tens of billions of dollars in foreign investment and trade arrived.
The acceptable range of cultural expression in the Islamic Republic broadened, as the entire nation, exhausted by a horrific war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, reckoned with the losses. Messrs. Rafsanjani and Rouhani, antagonists of the obstreperous Revolutionary Guards, attempted to curtail the military and economic influence of the supreme leader's praetorians.
Yet President Rafsanjani's pragmatism produced little economic dynamism.
Free enterprise in clerical Iran is an Islamic variation of the state capitalism now practiced in Putin's Russia: corrupt, nepotistic, constrained and co-opted by internal-security forces, and usually guided as much by politics as profit.
The Islamic Republic's economy is a competition between revolution-loyal mafias feeding off the oil wealth of the state.
As a result, when capital flowed into the country the ruling elite got a lot richer, but average Iranians did not. The astonishing efflorescence of Iran's young filmmakers in the 1990s is directly tied to this sense of acute economic disappointment, which produced movies with searing allegories that won numerous international awards.
Most important, through it all, terrorism and support for Hezbollah remained a staple of the regime's statecraft. How will so-called moderation this time around, led by President Rouhani, be any different? If anything, life in Iran after the nuclear accord is likely to become more harsh and politically convulsive.
Source: Reuel Marc Gerechtm, "History Contradicts the Dream of Iranian Moderation," Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2015.
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