U.S.: “Power Struggle” in Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that the U.S. government is “confused” by Iran’s recent behavior, and suggests that it may be turning towards a military government (full interview here):

But we have no doubt that this [the plot against the Saudi ambassador] was ordered. Now, I cannot tell you how high up the chain it went, which actually bothers me in both ways. If it went up the chain to the supreme leader, for example, that’s really troubling, right? If it didn’t, if it was a plot hatched by military personnel, that should be troubling to the leadership in Iran.

She adds:

 I think because of the – this is just my opinion; I am by no means an expert on Iran or on Iranian politics – but I believe there is a power struggle going on inside the regime and they can’t sort out what they really are willing to do [in negotiations with the U.S.] until they sort out who’s going to do what. And therefore I think there’s an opportunity for people within the country to try to influence how that debate turns out.

Spot on. The Islamic Republic has a two-dimensional political spectrum: reformists vs. hardliners, and clericalists vs. anti-clericalists. The 2009 crackdown showed that the regime’s core–i.e. Khamenei and his associates–wanted to dramatically weaken the reformist sides. The 2011 struggle between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei shows that the core wants to weaken the anti-clerical side. The only people left are various stripes of clericalist hardliners–still a diverse bunch, but nothing compared to the normal spectrum of Iranian politics. I think that Khamenei, if he can consolidate his faction’s position as the only acceptable venue for politics, will find his coalition fragmenting. The IRGC, a key constituency, has an enormous role in the economy. The new Iranian elite may be divided on pro- and anti-IRGC lines, and between business- and military-oriented factions (traditionalist merchants and IRGC business operators likely will not appreciate any new sanctions that result from Qods’ adventurism in Washington). Khamenei, who is normally a master at behind-the-scenes politicking, will find himself forced to take a more and more assertive role as his supporters fight each other and the anti-clericalist conservatives and reformists try to find a way back into the system.


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