Friday, June 26, 2009

Cyclical history, why some things are just to amusing to ignore.

Chief's post got me to thinking, and as always, I go to where I usually hang out at...Ancient history.
Sorry, it's a habit I have no intention of breaking anytime soon.

So, unless you have been living in a cave in the middle of the Mojave desert you know the current situation in Iran is a bit…um…tense.
And normally, I would address the current problems in Iran being somewhat analogous to other revolutions which began under similar situations.
But, not this time.
This time, I want to take a look at the underpinnings of the pretender’s win, and expose who really is in charge of Iran.
I think you’ll be…mildly surprised.
Ahmadinejad thinks he’s really is in charge, but herein is the quid pro quo of his authority. He has it so long as the Khamanei says he has it, but Khamanei gets to say Ahmadinejad has the authority only because the Revolutionary Guard says Khamanei has the authority to say who has the authority, and of course Ahmadinejad gets to say who he prefers in the Revolutionary Guard namely because the Revolutionary Guard likes those who like them.

The problem with the Praetorians in Rome is that they, themselves, grew fat, lazy and indolent with the power behind the throne. And it was a short time later that the guard kind fell apart under it’s own weight…well, with some outside help which we’ll call “wealth.” This wealth came in the form of bribes, blackmail, and gifts…which, on the surface we could ascribe as bribes and blackmail, but really was just following the age old tradition that all Romans practiced, Patronage.
So the Praetorians were little more than the muscle that enforced their own ideology, and as long as the butt that sat on the throne was game to keep things same-o, same-o then they were game to keep that particular butt in place until they were paid off by someone with more money, and better gifts.
Which brings us to today.
The Revolutionary Guard is playing the part of the Praetorians to Khamenei’s part of Nero, while Ahamadinejad is relegated to the role of Agrippina. This tripartite has a nasty habit of falling apart because eventually someone of the three is going to fuck up so bad that one or two of the three are going to be “retired” by the other. The Praetorians…er, I mean, the Revolutionary Guard are going to be the ones who decide who “retires” and who gets to pretend their still in charge when that fuck up occurs. So what fuck up could the other two do that would get them…”retired” by their guard dog? Very simple, try to dismantle the Revolutionary guard, or worse still, turn them back into cogs in the wheel. The Revolutionary guard has been sitting down to a feast of power for the past thirty years, plus…they are not going to be removed from their seat at the buffet by anyone, religious ideology or political ideology.

Privilege becomes it’s own ideology, and for a guard dog, a very nice citadel to defend.

So what does this all mean?
It means that Ahmadienjad, Khamanei, and pretty much all the turbans in the Iranian government have failed to realize is that they are not the ones in power, they think they are, but they’re not. The ones in power are the very ones keeping them in power is their guard dog, the Revolutionary Guard. And you see, that guard dog is now to big to do anything about…Ahmadienjad, Khamanei, the other turbaned mullahs are only figureheads to the true power…and there is nothing they can do, anymore.
They are, in truth slaves to the Guard dog they thought they were master, too.


  1. sheer-

    Nice post. Pretty hard-azzed political message which I for one don't have any problem with . . .

    Been thinking about the most obvious differences between Michael Jackson and Neda Soltani (the Iranian girl shot this week during a demonstration). What to say? Personally, I feel also for Neda's father, how horrible that must have been. Such things shouldn't happen.

  2. Sheerah: Good point, as usual.

    I would, though, draw a historical parallel not so much to the Roman household guards as to the Ottoman soldier castes, the Mamluks and Janissaries. Both were designed to act as enforcers for the sultans, both became too powerful militarily, as well as too adept politically, for the sultan to enforce his will on. Just as Khameni and the jurisprudent have now had to openly rely on the RG and the Basiji to stay in power.

    And make no mistake...they WILL stay in power. The opposition in Iran is composed mainly of the urban professionals and the young. Most of the country is still behind the conservative mullahs that run the place. But by becoming conventional tyrants, these guys have pushed themselves further down the road towards secular dictatorship, closer to the Wittenberg moment when the combination of authoritarian corruption forces a critical mass of Iranians to dig in their heels and bellow "Hier steh ich; I kann nicht anders!"

  3. sheer-

    The one necessary assumption behind your argument is that Iran is a traditional despotism, not a 21st Century totalitarian state.

    If we consider the classic examples of totalitarian states from the mid 20th Century, Stalin's Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, we see that GPU/NKVD/MVD in Russia and the SS/Gestapo in Germany never posed any threat to the leadership of their respective states. The specific leadership was a necessary element to the Weltanschauung which held the movement together. So don't expect the watchdogs to become kingmakers, since the watchdogs actually can only conceive of themselves as watchdogs.

    Emphasis also on "movement" since this is the actual phenomenon, not the state which is simply a facade. While certain characteristics would remain valid for all totalitarian movements, we have to also expect that this type of political entity would evolve over time. I would expect that a totalitarian movement/state today would have learned from the excesses/mistakes of the past.

    Following this view, the conflict is within the movement, not the state, which means that forces outside the movement have little if any influence. Once again, I don't claim to know anything much about Iran, but think the current protests are more about mostly "outsiders" wanting "reform" than they are any threat to the state, which is simply the movement's "instrument".

  4. I think you guys are missing something.

    Iran has a large group of educated, activist women. Modern technology makes them highly connected and the traditional power brokers probably don't even understand that women are now players at the table.

    Note that the most visible martyr is a woman.

    I don't know how things are going to turn out, but I expect it to be surprising.

  5. Ael: But I think that may be part of the most important reason that this particular unrest will be crushed. Most of Iran has little time for the urban elites. They don't WANT educated, activist women. This is the Mad Men in the little towns and villages against their uppity wives and secretaries.

    I think that in the long run you may be right - the broadening and deepening of educated women and men who LIKE educated women may well change the social dynamic in Iran. But I don't think that time is now.

    I say this in the 1980's in Panama. The urban elite - the "rabes blancos", "whiteasses", wanted freedom and democracy. What they got was mestizo and black soldiers and cops beating their white asses like poor stepchildren. The "revolt" when nowhere. I think we will see the same here, at least in the short term.

  6. I agree with the Chief that the short term is pretty predictable. I agree with AEL that the long term will probably surprise us and that gives me hope for the future.

  7. For what it's worth, I think the "educated women" and by association the secular middle class is quite a fragile social-political entity, at least in traditional societies. One could argue that Iran is perhaps at the tipping point between traditional and mass (modern) society, but that does not make the middle class any less fragile an institution.

    Look at Iraq, in 2003 they had a significant secular middle class mostly in Baghdad but in other cities as well. Iraqi women had achieved the highest status in terms of education and basic equality in any Arab country. This middle class also included successful minorities . . .

    Bush's war has reversed all that. The Iraqi middle class, apart from the expats who make up the new governing elite, has been essentially disrupted. Women have lost their status and must fear that their situation could deteriorate further. Christians and other minorities are leaving the county in droves.

    So, educated women and middle classes are actually a fragile political "commodity" under such conditions and could be significantly weakened by the actions of those in power. Another war for instance, especially where Iran is attacked, could set back political reform for another generation. The leadership could use such an event to consolidate the movement's position and crush the middle class, all in the name of defending the country from foreign aggression. Notice I mention "movement", since the interests of this movement might be quite different than those of the country as a whole.

  8. Great post and comments!

    I'll only offer that I think Ael is on the right track in the broader arc of Iran's future. What the current triumvirate failed to understand is that there IS broad popular discontent among the Iranian people - bad economy, too much- or not enough personal freedom, expansionist vs isolationist sentiments, etc, etc, etc. Mix in a VERY YOUNG population (now entering their early adulthood (25-40 yrs old) and there is a real powder keg below the foundations of the revolutionary islamic republic.

    The fight between and among the turbans and their praetorians has as much to do with that environment as it does with who gets control of the patronage rials. And both factions have called to the subterranean youth to support them -- the Rafsanjani/Mussavi side was more successful. But, I think both sides became (legitimately) fearful of the strength, unity and speed at which those young folks turned out for the Iran they want. And now its all about trying to put that genie back into the lamp.

    While they might be successful in the short term, one has to wonder if the turbans and Praetorians have lit the fuse just like the Shah did in the 1960s with the Green Revolution.

    Time will tell. In the meantime, we in the West (and the US in particular) should STAY OUT OF IT. 'Cause if there is one thing all Iranians can agree on, it is that interference by outsiders is a sin worse than the corruption, graft and repression of the ancien regime -- and to be opposed in a unified, national manner.


  9. I’m emphasizing on the “trend” and less the exact replication of the event of the Praetorians, or even the Janissaries, but if we apply the template of the Mamluks we see a similar “trend” which is that a group rises in status, eventually becoming more than just a cog in the wheel of another’s ambition, and eventually a significant player in the realms politics.
    My position, and belief, is that regardless of the body politic of the current structure of the Iranian government, the real ear benders, the true political force is the Revolutionary Guard who has rapidly secured their position in a short amount of time. Rather than the usual cultural evolution that allowed them to grow over decades and decades, the Guard has sunk down a solid foundation in both social supports, whether through voluntary or coercive action, and political support which simply legitimized their rise and securing of their position. This has allowed them to be the go-to group to keep things same-o, same-o in complete defiance of the usual social change and evolution of any society, and really, that is what the Turban’s want, same-o, same-o with them on top of the Iranian sundae.
    Remember, I said Privilege becomes its own citadel to defend, and if you allow the social and political power, along with the financial position of the Republican Guard existing outside the mainstream military branch of the traditional Iranian military, you have the right mix of a self-interested group who will keep
    Damn the Politicos, damn the hoi polloi, and damn the cutie they gunned down.
    This is about raw power.
    Raw political power is a potent aphrodisiac…and the Turbans will be hanging on to it like an addict hangs on to the heroin and the associated paraphernalia.
    So, if the current group of politicos, i.e. the Turbans, and their proxies, are willing to keep the Republican Guard content with their position, the Guard will keep the Turbans in their position.
    However, if Khamanei looses the Guards support, he’s out.
    And not just out, he’s dead.
    So, Khamanei is a slave to the Republican Guard, and the one thing that will spell the end of the Islamic Revolution will not be the influences of US, or British meddling.
    No, because for Khamenei, that would be a most blessed event, but unfortunately, home-team knows that will never happened…no matter how much he tries to pin that tail on the donkey by goading Obama to rise to the bait.

    So...all of them...Ahamadinejad, Khamanei, the council of Turbans all realize the "new" situation they find themselves in, and the worst part of it all for them is this: The Guard knows it, too.
    Eventually, one of the Turbans will plot against Khamanei by buying off the Guard, and then that Turban will become the next Caesar…I mean, Supreme Leader before the Guard is bribed again...and he's replaced.
    When that happens…the whole thing disintegrates into one huge pot of boiling political intrigue, and soon, other players will be jockeying for position against the everyone else…and well, yeah, nothing new under the sun.
    I would not be surprised if we see Iran become the mirror image of 1968 Iraq.

  10. Sheerah:

    Republican Guard is the Name of Saddam's Inner Ring Defense of his DoD. I.E Hammurabi division of the Republican Guard

    According to Orbat.Com

    8th Mechanized Brigade
    9th Mechanized Brigade
    18th Armored Brigade

    Well, They went bye-bye..probably became
    InSturgeons....just as well....You get to kill
    more Ameriki that way.


  11. Oh, I forgot IRGC

    Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps

  12. I concur with Sheera's "trend. Another example would be the Abassid caliphate, back when Baghdad ruled the Muslim world from the Indus to Tunisia. That is the same caliphate that OBL wishes would return. The Abassids of Harun al-Rashid fame were one of the greatest Islamic dynasties. But their palace guard, like the Praetorians, ended up being the Caliph-makers.

    I seem to think there was also a similar example with the Byzantines, but have no handy reference.


  13. Sheerahkhan,
    Per your your last para.of your post.This thought clearly applies to the US scenario. Who really has thwe power in America? Is it the Pres/ Congress/ DOD/ Do S??
    Why are we all so interested in crummy Iran/ Iraq/ Afgh/ Pak when our country is in a state of disarray. We are much more a danger to world order than is any of the sandbox nations. Let's focus on the real problem here.

  14. Who really has thwe power in America? Is it the Pres/ Congress/ DOD/ Do S??

    Hmm, good question.
    Since the orginal post is about who holds the power in Iran, I think I'll leave this thread to that question, but you do raise a very important question in regards to our own country.
    Who holds the power here?
    Time for a new thread!

  15. No need for a new thread, the money-men rule.

    And regarding cyclical historical trends: alhough the so-called guard dogs helped tip the balance for the eventual destruction of Rome and Abbasid Baghdad, the real reason in my mind was due to economic woes.


  16. I would agree to an extent, but generally, a group like the Guard doesn't just pop into existence for no reason.
    No, a group like the Guard usually developes from a social unit of the community or state that is disenfranchised, and has been able to exploit the inherent weakness of the social fabric because of a confluence of events.
    The Despairdotcom poster of a drop of water that says, "no single drop thinks it's to blame for the flood" holds a great deal of truth in it.
    Same too with social upheavels.
    It is not just one event, one catastrophe, but rather a whole series of instances that conspire together to allow the already germinating ideology for totalitarinism to arise.
    As I implied, but without detail, Ranger brings up a very good topic...I'm just giving that topic the consideration of a thoughtful response it's due.
    I think if we pick apart our own house, I think we'll come to understand Iran a great deal more, and hopefully, ourselves.