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27 January 2007


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Col. Lang, a good first start in learning more about Iranian politico-religious thought is the last chapter of Reza Aslan's book, "No God But God," and also my interview of him http://agonist.org/story/2005/4/28/20599/9334>here.

What Babak wrote is an idea I've tried (unsuccessfully) to convey since I returned from Iran late last year.

You are precisely right if we can get past Ahmedinjead we can have a discussion on shared values and ideas. I was amazed at how 'modern' Iran was compared to say, Saudi Arabia, that paragon of Medieval, er Middle Eastern progressivism. ;-)



You have to be kidding. The US study any government religion that it is in a confrontational status with. You must be kidding. I believe it is far more American to charge in and blunder around in the dark.

I mean if we study them and talked to them some we might actually come to a point of understanding and we could not have that.

Sorry for the sarcasm but I sometimes can not help myself. The insantity of it all washes over me.

I am working with a guy right now who has two graduate degrees (one from the University of Texas at Austin and another at the University of Chicago). This guy has been out of the country at least once, but you know it is like he is still back in a small town in Texas.

He is all for attacking Iran and hates anything that is not Christian. Of course I think one of the reasons he has all of those graduate degrees was so that he would not have been sent to Vietnam.

The point is the majority of the people in the US are still the same bunch of idiot Joe Six Packs who were running around 50 years ago and think the answer to anything is killing and smashing it.

David E. Solomon

Colonel Lang,

I endeavored to take your advice.

I hope this was the book to order:

Islam and Revolution 1: Writings and Declaration of Imam Khomeini

In any case, it seemed to be about the best work I could find on line.

Do you know it? If so, can it be termed a decent place to start for the non-Arabic , non-Farsi reader.



W. Patrick Lang


Sounds like a great place to start. pl


"Do you know it? If so, can it be termed a decent place to start for the non-Arabic , non-Farsi reader."

The blogger Raf at the Mideast group blog Aqoul could provide you with a very good reading list on Iran. It might even be up somewhere on the Aqoul site. Leave a comment there for him or eerie, the site administrator.


Remember Pat ... Bush is a bumper sticker salesman, no more no less.


If Pat Lang has a good reading list, or has posted one in the past someplace, I would be interested. I will look up the referencess mentioned in the comments. However, if Khomeini was a radical thinker, ahead of his countrymen, an important question is how are the current Iranian leaders (Khameni and other clerics, not the wingnut President who I think will soon lose influence) interpreting and implementing Khomeini's ieas? Where to go for that?

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

Mr. Ahmadinejad, I suspect, is a product of the infantry war fare - I think like all of those who actually were in the front lines of the infantry troops anywhere in the world, being shot at.

If so, I should think any one with infantry experience would attest that one's psyche gets profoundly effected by that experience.

Chris Marlowe


I agree with everything you say. While there are exceptions, this country has largely become a celebration of arrogance, ignorance and stupidity. How else can you account for the Bush administration?

I had a visitor from China a few days ago, and I explained that, at one time, the US was actually led by people who were reasonably intelligent. "You might not agree with everything they said and did, but at least they were articulate liars."

The Chinese visitor said that he thought that after the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans had chosen to elect people they would like to meet in the bar and have a beer with. That was his rationale for our current president's election.

I thought his explanation made a certain degree of sense.

If you think about it, America should be better able to understand other countries than any other; it's full of immigrants. The problem is that the immigrants and bi/trilinguals which the country needs so much, are denounced by the Tancredo/Lou Dobbs types because they DO KNOW more about other countries, and their loyalty to the US is questioned.

Can you think of a better definition of arrogance, ignorance and stupidity?



Let's face it, there is very strong anti-intelligence streak that runs through American. People that make fools of themselves on American Idol get far more air time than people who make life saving discoveries. I mean how much coverage do all the Americans who have won Noble prizes get.

This starts in grade school and carries on. I fear that this actions seems to reinforce a downward cycle that causes the illiterate to be the person that most Americans strive for. Why else did the idiot prince get elected twice.

In the past, it was the well read and well educated that most people strived to be like.

Just so everyone knows, I am not some skinny little intellectual either.


One thing that all of us are wise to remember is that Mr. Ahmadinejad is basically the Mayor of Tehran (and of other Iraqi towns and cities). Somewhat similar to European Presidents or most Presidents outside of banana republics and the United States (but I repeat myself), his position is largely ceremonial, though the Iranian Constitution does grant him a bit more power than most European constitutions grant their president, giving significant power over domestic governance similar to that of any big-city mayor in the United States (thus my crack about him being the mayor of Tehran).

The military in Iran is commanded by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who in turn is appointed by the Assembly of Experts, which in turn is basically appointed by the Guardian Council which vets potential members to make sure they are proper clerical Islamic scholars, who is in turn appointed by the Supreme Leader. This little self-perpetuating circle of power is primarily comprised of ayatollahs who came to power with the Iranian Revolution and basically appoint their successors and vet candidates to other offices to make sure they're sufficiently "politically correct" (as in, agree with the ayatollahs on most issues regarding proper Islamic conduct).

Ahmadinejad is completely outside this particular circle of power. He is not a cleric and thus not qualified to be a member of the Assembly of Experts or the Guardian Council, and similarly would not be allowed, by the Iranian Constitution, to become the Supreme Leader. He cannot declare war or order the military to do anything because both powers rest with the Supreme Leader. Insofar as foreign relations are concerned, therefore, he is basically a non-entity other than as the ceremonial leader of the Islamic Republic in meetings with foreign dignitaries. Which is why the Bush Administration's emphasis upon demonizing Ahmadinejad is completely and utterly laughable to anybody who has even the slightest knowledge of the Iranian Constitution.

Unfortunately, the arrogance, ignorance, and stupidity of the average American citizen (including its politicians) is impossible to underestimate, so it appears that the Bush Administration's goal of creating a bogeyman in the Middle East is succeeding. Why we should be scared of the Mayor of Tehran still eludes me, but then, I actually took time to look up a little basic information about Iran's government, which makes me better informed than 99.999% of the American public.



Hyper-revolutionary. Brilliant way to express it, Babak, and great comparison to the French Revolution.

Islam has been undergoing something like Christianity did during the Protestant Reformation, and its epicentres seemed to have been in Afghanistan and Najaf, where Khomeini was exiled to. His grandfather fought the British, and his father was martyred, and he must have considered very deeply how to use the power of Islam to legitimately serve Iranian and regional nationalism, particularly after Schwarzkopf returned to oust Mossadegh.

The political strength of Khomeini's revolution is precisely why Israel and Saudi Arabia, and by extension their clientele, have targeted Iran as the source of all evil. To their way of seeing things, it is, because it makes them think their regimes might "vanish from the pages of history."

Democracy, too, was once deemed a blight upon the earth, and was vigorously stamped upon by long-established status quo at the apex of its orthodoxy.



By the way, in saying on the Lebanon thread that there was value in sowing chaos there, I only meant "value as seen from the perspective of the Bush Administration." They are trying to literally push back the Iranian Revolution and encircle its source. Thus Syria is an enemy so long as it fails to suppress Hizbollah.

So yes, I agree it would make more sense to encourage trade and all manner of cooperation with Syria. But my leaders do not.
In their minds, Syria is "red." Lebanon is mostly "red" from Beirut on south, and mostly "blue" from Beirut north and west. Red in this case would confer status as "Indian Country." To the Bushies, Lebanon and Syria only have value as functions of Iran.

The antipathy for all things Hizbollah and Iran is based on the knowledge (and bitter experience) that Khomeini's social vision is not philosophically laissez-faire. Rather the reverse. No more sweet deals and free rent for Western companies in the region, if Iran's self-reliance movement spreads.

While lacking actual brains, companies' cells have long memories of their losses in Iran, and Iran couldn't be worse for business if it were communist.

Hal Grossman

I'd like more rigor in the concepts we are throwing around here.

It's hardly a new idea that Iran has a more outward orientation, a stronger civil society, and a larger educated class than just about any other Muslim society. There's also some kind of affinity there for America,, but also lots of (justified) suspicion.

All of this was true before 1979, and is still true, underneath the weight of an overly zealous government.

Iran is complex, to say the least. How far does republicanism extend there? Clearly, Iran is a lot more recognizable to a westerner than is Saudi Arabia, but still...

Iran is also a country that executes two young men for having an affair.

As for France during the Revolution, it didn't have allies, only subject peoples. Not the ideal negotiating partner. This was true from 1793 up through Waterloo in 1815.

Babak Makkinejad


Grade school to High-school are now the most critical areas of education for the public at large. Students no longer learn anything in college (excepting those in Mathematical, Physical, and Applied Sciences). They are there to have an experience but not to learn.

The Grade School to High School is the only time that the children are in an structured environment that requires them to study and to perhaps learn something. That's where the educational effort ought to be concentrated.


You are quite correct about the position of the Iranian President. Mr. Ahmadinejad, for the reasons that you have enumerated, has been more interested in trying to create political space for the Preseidency of the Islamic Republic. He issued an edict permitting women to go to sports arenas - the Ayatullahs shot that down and he had to retract it.


I understood you about chaos etc.

There is an organization called the Economic Cooperation Organization (http://www.ecosecretariat.org/) whose membership consists of Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

ECO ould be what you were alluding too - it could serve as the (economic) basis of creating peace interests in the Levant and the Persian Gulf.

Chris Marlowe


I feel the really important organization will be the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Its members are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Ubekistan. Its working languages are Chinese and Russian. The members engage in joint military maneuvers and free trade agreements. For China, Kazakhstan is a major supplier of oil and gas.

Last year, Iran was invited to join as an observer, but the invitation was withdrawn under heavy US pressure. After the upcoming US attack on Iran, and everything settles down, my guess is that Iran will join.

As US influence in the ME wanes with the new US president coming in 2009, my guess is that SCO's influence will expand in the Gulf and ME. My guess is that Chinese construction firms will make good money out of all the reconstruction projects.

US oil firms will suffer because the US will be detested, and everybody will prefer to do deals with CNOOC, Sinopec and China National Petroleum Corporation. I would also expect the Russian oil firms to do well.

Peter Eggenberger

I suspect that the Bush Administration doesn't want to look past Ahmadinejad, as you propose, because the Bush Administration wants war, or at least instability. I suspect that the Administration believes that war or instability will make Israel more secure and allow its expansion; and will also ensure indirect U.S. control of oil. Am I missing something? The Bush Administration policies require U.S. troops and other human resources to be cheap and inexhaustible, like water.

David Habakkuk

Re the posts from John and Chris Marlowe:

Without disagreeing with either of you in any way, is it not also striking how strong a role people with an academic background have had in shaping American policy?

However, one might suggest that the wrong academics get heeded.

The RAND experts who exercised such influence on the Kennedy Administration were, in many cases, genuinely very clever people. However, a major thread at RAND was to try to remodel the study of strategy on the model of the axiomatic sciences, as in much theoretical economics. Very important work was actually done on the mundane business of studying the adversary – notably Raymond Garthoff’s pioneering work on Soviet military strategy. But this was never integrated into the mainstream of RAND strategic theorising, which had a way of constructing models based on the behaviour of an abstract 'strategic man' rather than thinking about the actual nature of the specific adversaries being confronted. So the general effect was to take the study of strategy away from the study of history and anthropology, and also to set it at a considerable remove from the mucky realities of actual war-fighting: the world of violence and inherent unpredictability classically described by Clausewitz.

More recently we have had the Straussians – reared in an approach to intellectual history which most non-Straussians think tends to veer over into charlatanism. So in 1989 we found the then deputy director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, Francis Fukuyama, telling us that history had come to an end. Actually, he said it had ended in 1806, when Napoleon defeated the Prussians at Jena, because at that point the genius of Hegel had established that the ‘vanguard’ of humanity had reached ‘consciousness’. This ‘realm of consciousness’, Fukuyama told us, ‘in the long run necessarily becomes manifest in the material world.’ All this came from the sometime Stalinist (turned-EEC bureaucrat) Alexander Kojève, who was translated by Allan Bloom, Strauss’s disciple and Fukuyama’s teacher.

Of course the implication is that the odd wars and tyrannies which have occurred since then are really the product of ‘deadenders’, who have not quite caught up with ‘consciousness’: a view which runs directly counter to much serious recent study of the disasters of European history. Applied to the Middle East, the effect is to bracket figures of fundamentally different views together as ‘Islamofascists’ – of deficient ‘consciousness’ and waiting to be consigned to the dustbin of history, with the United States playing the role of Napoleon. This hardly makes for the kind of dialogue which the comments by Babak Makkinejad and Colonel Lang suggest is imperative if we are to get out of the mess into which this kind of silly theorising has got us.

An irony perhaps is that the explosion of interest in Clausewitz which was perhaps one of the more benign results of the post-Vietnam rethinking in the American military points back to notion of the study of history as central to serious thinking about strategy -- be it military strategy, or 'grand strategy' in a more comprehensive sense. On the www.clausewitz.com website, one finds On War being elucidated enthusiastically with help of non-linear mathematics.and cognitive science. This might be seen as simply another job-creation product for academics, but I think this would be wrong. A fascinating thing is that very recent developments in these disciplines point back to a fundamental principle in Clausewitz. History, critically examined, may not yield general laws – but may contribute to judgement, insight, and even indeed wisdom.


David H.
Last night on Russert's CNBC show, Jim Miklaszewski reported that the "new" Bush plan came straight out of the AIE. not the pentagon.

Jerry Thompson

For those who have not read or seen it, strongly recommend Shield of Achilles by Philip Bobbit. Exlores the interaction between Strategy, Law and History in the evolution of the nation-state. Argues that we have reached the end of the useful life of the nation state as the consequence of an epochal war ("Long War") and that we are at the beginning of a transition to a "market state" which will function much more on the basis of regional interests. Many possible branches and sequels from there. His book was written pre-9/11 but it is very interesting to consider the "war on terrorism", Iraq and Iran in the context of his argument.


"The Chinese visitor said that he thought that after the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans had chosen to elect people they would like to meet in the bar and have a beer with. That was his rationale for our current president's election."

(the perfect illustration of that observation)

Duncan Kinder

"What USG is trying to do is "hyper-revolutionary" - it is akin to injecting a heart-attack patient with stimulants in the hope of regenerating the heart muscle."

I'm sorry, but I do not follow this sentence.

Do you mean that the United States is barging about the MidEast like a bull in a China shop?

Or that it is a Trotsky to Khomeni's Stalin?

Or do you mean that the United States is trying to be a counter-revolutionary force. Like Metternich to the French Revolution.

Or that it is like the Counter Reformation Jesuits and Council of Trent. That the Iraq Invasion is the United States' Spanish Armada?


J Thompson

Sounds like an interesting read and if I get a chance I will check it out. As a whole my problem with most futurists is they are very linear thinkers and the world is a very nonlinear place.

It was not until the early 1900's that much of western civilization began to have the same benefits that the average Roman citizen had.

In 2000 I got into an argument with a World Bank official that energy was one of the major problems facing the world. He told me that the world was swimming in energy and was not listed in the 20 problems the world faced in the next 20 years (this conversation is documented on his web site) well oil was at $12 a barrel and now it is at $50.

I look at the world and see two things. For the last 50 years the world has developed the ability to wreak unbelievable level of damage but it also had the ability to rebuild it due to the rise of the hydrocarbon which stored an unbelievable level of energy and could be extracted cheaply.

Now these two trends are seperating. Our ability of wreaking damage is continuing to increase while our ability to rebuild has peaked and is beginning to decline.

In many parts of the world we are now leaving behind big stacks of rubble after the fighting clears and even in New Orleans we are seeing this.

My question to everyone is "Where is this leading us?"

Babak Makkinejad

Chris Marlowe:

The reason that I suggested ECO was because it is not a primarily political organization, it is economical. It is easier to get antagonists to agree on economic self-interest.

Secondly, I thought the boundaries of the ECO states corresponds more closely to Col. Lang's Concert of the Middle East. Non of the Arab states are members but that could change.

In principle, even Israel could join.

Chris Marlowe

David Habbakuk--

The great problem in American academia and think tanks is overspecialization, and its total separation from local cultural and linguistic knowledge.

Washington DC is full of ME military and economic experts who do not know Hebrew and Arabic, for example.

Only in America is it possible to have intelligence analysts for the ME who do not know the local languages and culture, depending on their knowledge of military or economic affairs only, and letting lower level workers doing all the translation work.

The end result of this is that American intelligence looks at a local problem through a lot of straws; stripped of all local context. The American solution to this dilemma is to have lots of "experts" look at a region through a lot of straws.

This view was summed by The Great Decider when he said "You are either for us or against us." It never occurred to him that there are many problems in the world where there is no American interest and angle, and that most people don't give a damn about the US, one way or another.

Stripped of their local context, American policymakers then see issues from a completely skewed American-centric point of view which has no ground reality. Unfortunately, most Americans have embraced this view, distrusting people with local knowledge, and questioning their loyalty to America. For some reason, anyone who is fluent in another language because of their background is generally seen as being a questionable American. This is the reason why there are only six fluent speakers of Arabic in the US embassy in Iraq, which has several thousand people.

This is a uniquely American form of stupidity. Most Europeans and Asian grow up speaking two or three languages, yet there national loyalties are never questioned.

The perfect example of this ignorance is the Project for the New American Century, which was formulated by leading Jewish-American intellectuals, such as Podhoretz, Wolfowitz, Feith, etc. Most of these "experts" are not even fluent in Hebrew, let alone Arabic. The purpose of their policy papers were to completely align Israeli right-wing policy and American interests in the ME region. Of course, the period we are living through now is the implementation phase of this doctrine in the Bush/Cheney administration. Anyone who calls for a discussion of whether Israeli and American interests should be the same, or even whether it is good for Israel in the long-term, is routinely pounced on and denounced by the US corporate media as being anti-semitic.

This project represents the pinnacle of American arrogance, ignorance and stupidity; no Israeli who lives in the ME would have been dumb enough to come up with this idea. (There are very good Israeli military historians like Martin van Creveld, but he believes that Israel is not viable in the long-term. This is not a message Fox News and the US corporate media want to sell to the American public.)

However, its ideas have been sold domestically to Israelis by its right-wing politicians, because it was referenced as being developed by American academics, a country which Israel has a special relationship with.

As I write this, CNN says that a US helicopter has been shot down in Najaf. Sounds like the Shi'ite militias are seeking to confront US forces in the Shi'ite holy sites and the south where they are strong, and are letting the Americans have Baghdad so that they can fight it out with the Sunni militias.

I am putting together a list of major military confrontations which had the opposite of their intended effect, bringing down the instigator/invader. Examples would be Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, and Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Like Martin van Crefeld, I put Operation Iraqi Freedom in this category, an action which he calls "one of the most foolish wars since the Roman emperor Augustus sent and lost three Roman legions into the Teutoburg Forest in 9AD."

If Col. Lang would be willing to give us a place on his site, I thought it might give us amateur military historians a place to discuss and compare our notes about these disastrous military campaigns.

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