Winning: July 29, 2005

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: A good case can be made for the idea that the biggest winner in the war on terror so far is Iran. 

Consider the scorecard, so far:

1) The Taliban has been thrown out of power in Afghanistan. An ultra-Orthodox Sunni movement, the Taliban was extremely hostile to the Shia Iranian regime, which it considered heretical and attempted to destabilize.

2) Saddam Hussein and the Baathists have been ousted from power in Iraq. This is a triple win for Iran: 

- Saddam had led his country into a bloody eight year-long war of aggression against Iran, and the latter was forced to desperate efforts to stave off defeat. 

- The Baath Party is a secular, quasi-socialist Arab nationalist movement, and thus on all three points very hostile to the religiously conservative, essentially capitalist and distinctly non-Arab Iranians.

- The new government in Iraq is likely to be dominated by the country's Shia majority, and thus a natural ally of Iran.

3) Already overstretched, the US is unlikely to intervene against Iran or Iranian interests. 

How Iran is going to use its "victory" remains to be seen. Although the Western perception of the Iranian government is that it is dominated by wild-eyed religious fanatics, in fact "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the religious head of state, has been a cagey player, keeping the more extreme elements under control. While clearly a conservative, he has not forcefully moved against public infringements of the many religious restrictions on public behavior, including laxity about women's dress and even public demonstrations of affection between unmarried persons. The election of an ostensibly even more conservative President is not likely to alter these policies very much, given that the religious authority is the dominant force in the country. 

With the economy doing very well due to high oil prices, the country is relatively prosperous, which serves to dampen both calls for liberalization and demands for more religious restrictions. Nevertheless, the regime is very unpopular. The domestic political situation, however, is by no means verging on crisis, and even those most hostile to the theocratic government are strongly nationalist, and would support it in a confrontation with the US, despite the fact that Iranians are probably the most pro-American people in the Moslem world.

The regime's foreign policy goals are likely to continue to be expansion of its influence in the region and the establishment of Iran as the dominant regional military power, with nuclear capabilities, objectives that are virtually unchanged from those of the Shah, deposed a quarter of a century ago. The principal change from the Shah's policies is that Iran now looks to establish ties with Russia and China for great power support, rather than toward the US.

 


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