June 17, 2015

Iran Tracker Blog: Did Iran's leaders admit they are intellectually bankrupt?

Iran is perhaps facing its most ominous security environment since the Iran-Iraq War, yet Iranian leaders are being surprisingly open and frank about the severe challenges they face and their need to find better strategies in response. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said on June 10 that the war against terrorists was “more difficult” than the war against Israel. Former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Commander and current Expediency Discernment Council Secretary Mohsen Rezaei even suggested the next day that regional insecurity brought on by ISIS may “last 5 to 10 years.”

In addition to concerns of internal legitimacy, the increasingly unstable region has raised fears that Iran’s claim to leadership of the Islamic world—a foundation of its foreign policy and political identity—may be mortally threatened by ISIS, the growing sectarian conflicts in the region, and domestic weaknesses, in addition to the usual concerns over Western power.

Enter last week’s Second Congress on Sustainable Security, hosted by the Commander of Imam Hussein University (the IRGC’s primary educational institution) Dr. Mohammad Reza Hosseini Ahangar. Dr. Ahangar said the congress was a way of developing security “schools of thought” that could build an Islamic civilization to challenge the West. Deputy Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff for Strategic Planning IRGC Maj. Gen. Mostafa Izadi said more specifically:

Westerners have presented negative, positive, realist, liberal…[and] feminist schools [of thought], but the security school of thought of the Islamic Republic, is based on spirituality, [and] it will define a new space.


Currently, [with the] difficulties in the security and defense architecture and armed forces…we have the intention of producing a trans-theoretical School of Security of the Islamic Republic.

Izadi noted earlier the IRGC had launched the Sustainable Security Center, which has reportedly already published sixty research projects and thirty book titles on related topics. Minister of Defense IRGC Brig. Gen Hossein Dehghan and other IRGC and clerical leaders also spoke, emphasizing the need for self-sufficiency in developing military capabilities and an economic base resistant to Western sanctions (Khamenei’s so-called ‘resistance economy’).

The Iranian government loves conferences. Why could this one be so important? The ideas are not new. The First Congress on Sustainable Security was held in February 2012 at time when a military strike on the nuclear program was a real possibility and Iran was coping with the broad rejection—yet again—of their ideology by regional sates experiencing the Arab Spring. Three years later the specifics have changed, but Tehran’s model of Islamic governance is still not selling. Despite the prospect of impending sanctions relief, Iran’s long-term strategic position is perhaps even weaker.

Iran’s simultaneous effort to combat perceived subversive Western ideas and covert activities (the so-called ‘soft war’), build a viable economic system, preserve the revolutionary regime, fight Sunni extremists, check its Arab rivals, deter the United States, and modernize its armed forces (all while continuing its foundational missions of confronting Israel and exporting revolutionary ideology and influence in the region) is just not working. This new school of thought may be a comprehensive framework for the IRGC to integrate existing doctrines and cultivate innovative concepts. But it is arguably an acknowledgement that Iran does not have the intellectual foundation to develop an effective national security or military strategy in the current environment, let alone execute one. That is a stunning admission.

And on the nuclear front, Iran is beginning to fudge on the Supreme Leader’s redlines demanding immediate sanctions relief and barring military site inspections. President Hassan Rouhani said during a June 13 press conference it could take several months after signing a nuclear deal until all the UN sanctions are removed to meet the conditions of the agreement. Rouhani also stated he is more willing to allow more inspections under the Additional Protocol, but that Iran will not allow its secrets fall into the hands of others. This means military inspections are probably in the cards for a deal, just not unfettered ones. I have argued Iran would bend on these issues to get the sanctions relief they need, without needing significant concessions from our side. If Senator Bob Corker is right, though, we may have already caved on our redlines too. That would be “breathtakingly” sad.