Diary

More On Ali Khamenei: The Would-Be Interlocutor For The United States

Following up on this post, I want to be sure to highlight this article by Akbar Ganji on the power wielded by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Religious Guide of Iran and the person Barack Obama tells us he really wants the United States to negotiate with when he is accused of wanting to sit down with president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Read the whole thing, but consider especially passages like this one:

At his first meeting with cabinet ministers as supreme leader, in 1989, Khamenei expounded a “theory of terror” that has since defined his approach to internal security issues. Based on his interpretation of the Koran and the early history of Islam, he said at this meeting, “The majority of the people in the state are silent. A selfless group of individuals can make the state endure by using terror.” This theory has served as the justification for assassinating dissidents in Iran and abroad and otherwise silencing anyone who has posed an ideological challenge to the regime.

In keeping with Weber’s understanding that under a sultan “traditional domination develops an administration and a military force which are purely personal instruments of the master,” Khamenei has relied on the intelligence services and the armed and security forces to implement his policies — to an unprecedented extent. After the overthrow of the shah in 1979, Iranian revolutionaries and left-wing groups called for the armed forces to be disbanded. Khomeini did not oblige, and instead he reconstituted the army, executing or dismissing many of the top commanders who had not already fled abroad. He also established a parallel military force, the Revolutionary Guards, to protect the revolution and ordered the creation of the Basij, an all-volunteer paramilitary organization to help with law enforcement, the policing of moral issues, and the provision of social services. The Revolutionary Guards developed air, naval, and ground capabilities in parallel to those of the conventional army, and they assumed command over the Basij. Still, Khomeini frequently and openly opposed its involvement in political affairs. As a charismatic figure and an established senior cleric with a solid base among the religious establishment and the pious masses, he hardly needed the military’s backing.

Khamenei, on the other hand, lacks such credentials — so much so that the conservative Association of Seminary Teachers, in Qom, refused to endorse him as a senior cleric until 1992, when the Revolutionary Guards surrounded its headquarters. Thus, he desperately needs the military’s support. He has also long been interested in military and security work. He was Khomeini’s representative in the Defense Ministry during the interim government in 1979, then worked on the military’s joint staff, and later served as deputy defense minister. When the Intelligence and Security Ministry was created in 1984, while he was president, Khamenei argued that it should fall under his jurisdiction.

So the person Obama wants to negotiate with is a thug with a junta at his beck and call. And he needs that junta because, as I wrote previously, he doesn’t have the theological or revolutionary credentials to survive politically without it. As a result, Khamenei regularly wins the contest for “Most Hardline Person In The Room.”

How on Earth do we negotiate with an interlocutor for whom the slightest concession to American negotiating positions constitutes a severe lurch towards political suicide? How do we expect to make progress with a negotiating partner who does not have a vested interest in finding common ground with us because such an activity would compromise his political position?

The Obama campaign still has not answered these questions. No one in the mainstream media has asked these questions. And as of this writing, we have only a little over four weeks before the election.