Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Iran is weak


I'm no international relations expert, of course, but I think there's one big mistake that's made in discussions about Iran these days. The presumption is that Iran is a rising power, at the peak of its influence. The basic story is that Iran is ascendant in the Middle East because its main threat, Saddam Hussein, has been removed and replaced with a Shia regime sympathetic to Tehran. In addition, the story goes, Iran has a strong network of regional allies - Hezbollah, the Assad regime, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The theory of Iranian strength is often put forth by those who oppose Obama's deal with Iran; these opponents seem to think that the deal would strengthen an already rising power, pushing Iran into a firm position of regional supremacy.

But I believe that the theory of Iranian strength is wrong. Iran is in an extremely weak position, and is poised to get weaker, even with the U.S. deal.

Here are four reasons I think Iran is weak.


Reason 1: Unwinnable Proxy Wars

Iran is now involved in three major proxy wars: the Assad regime's war against the Syrian rebels, the Iraqi government's war against ISIS, and the Houthis' war against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.

Proxy wars take lots of money and effort. The Iranian public has no real reason to bear these costs, except perhaps in the case of Iraq, and will probably get progressively dissatisfied as they go on. But they will go on, because there is little chance that Iran can actually win any of these three wars. The Houthis are too small in number, and too close to Saudi Arabia, to ever control Yemen. The Iraqi government shows essentially zero ability to pacify the Sunni western areas of the country. And Assad is probably doomed.

None of these three unwinnable proxy wars is equivalent to a Vietnam or an Afghanistan, because only a few Iranian troops are actually fighting. But supporting proxies costs money, and Iran does not have a lot of money to spare. In addition, the loss of Assad will rob Iran of its most powerful regional ally, and the Syrian rebels (or ISIS) may then move on to pressuring Iran's other powerful ally, Hezbollah.

In other words, the military situation looks very bad for Iran.


Reason 2: Many Rivals, No Allies

Iran is surrounded by rivals. There are the openly hostile Saudis to the southwest. There are the Sunni Turks to the northwest, a traditional rival that is now working to overthrow Iran's ally Assad. To the east looms the giant unstable Sunni country Pakistan. And western Iraq and eastern Syria are filled with Sunni Arabs who have very unfavorable opinions of Iran.

Basically, Iran is surrounded:


So who are Iran's big allies? China can be counted on only for intermittent, lukewarm backing, probably motivated purely by China's desire to buy Iranian oil. Russia has been mooted as an Iranian ally despite their history of enmity, but Putin has his hands full with Ukraine, and it's not clear whether Russia would lift a hand to help Iran against its real threats, i.e. the various Sunni populations that surround it. It certainly hasn't done so in the past, and shows no inclination to do so now.


Reason 3: Poor Economic Outlook

Iran has a sclerotic and oil-cursed economy. Thanks to the U.S. shale revolution, oil prices - currently pretty low - are not forecast to rise much, since every time they rise, U.S. shale production will surge and force them back down. In the longer-term future - two or three decades from now -  electric vehicles will start becoming prevalent, driving down the demand for oil.

In other words, Iran's economy is kind of screwed, unless it can wean itself off oil. But in the best of worlds, that takes time and effort, and Iran is not living in anywhere close to the best of worlds - its economy is dominated and choked by the mafia-like Revolutionary Guard.

Perhaps this is one reason why Iranian military spending is so low:


Not exactly the spending profile of a rising regional power, and certainly not of a dominant regional power.


Reason 4: Declining Demographics

Here, via Index Mundi, is a chart of Iran's Total Fertility Rate:


For 15 years, Iran's fertility has been below 2.1, which is the replacement level. In other words, Iran is rapidly running out of young men to fight wars. When Saddam attacked Iran in the 1980s, it could throw near-endless waves of young men into the fray; now, that is impossible.

Meanwhile, Iraq's TFR is listed at 3.41, Pakistan's at 2.86, Syria's at 2.68, and Saudi Arabia's at 2.17. In other words, all of Iran's enemies and threats have populations that are growing faster than Iran's.


So Iran is out of friends, out of money, out of young men, and out of options in its numerous proxy wars. This is not a strong, ascendant regional power. This is a weak, threatened, isolated country living on borrowed time. Seen in this light, Obama's offer of rapprochement looks less like the capitulation its opponents allege - and more like a lifeline.

60 comments:

  1. "I'm no international relations expert, of course, but I think there's one big mistake that's made in discussions about Iran these days. The presumption is that Iran is a rising power, at the peak of its influence."
    -My guess is that it was at peak influence post-1979 in 2011.
    "Iran is now involved in three major proxy wars: the Assad regime's war against the Syrian rebels, the Iraqi government's war against ISIS, and the Houthis' war against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government."
    -Excellent point. And the U.S. is supporting the Sunnis (whether pro- or anti-American) in all of them, just like Russia is supporting the soldiers of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ookrayeena.
    "The Houthis are too small in number, and too close to Saudi Arabia, to ever control Yemen."
    -Noah, the Houthis already control most of the population of Yemen. They just don't control most of the territory because they can't rely on military conscription to win them wars.
    "The Iraqi government shows essentially zero ability to pacify the Sunni western areas of the country."
    -Yup.
    "And Assad is probably doomed."
    -Nope. If the U.S. wanted him doomed, he would be.
    "This is not a strong, ascendant regional power. This is a weak, threatened, isolated country living on borrowed time. Seen in this light, Obama's offer of rapprochement looks less like the capitulation its opponents allege - and more like a lifeline."
    -Spotlessly correct conclusion.

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  2. Natural resource rents are 30% of Iran's GDP per capita:
    http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.TOTL.RT.ZS
    So if all its natural resource rents vanished, Iranian GDP per capita would drop to a level below that of Jordan:
    http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_cd&idim=country:IRN:IRQ:TUR&hl=en&dl=en#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_pp_kd&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:IRN:IRQ:TUR:MEX:JOR&ifdim=region&hl=en_US&dl=en&ind=false

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  3. Iran is certainly not in a great position, but I don't agree with a lot of what you say about the proxy wars.

    First, Iraq is critical to Iran. Six of the twelver shia Imams are buried in Iraq. The shrines over their tombs are the focal points of pilgrimages of twelver shia and are a critical part of the faith. ISIS is salafi - which means they disagree with the twelver shia on the most central doctrine of the muslim religion. When a salafi sees a shrine over a tomb he/she equate that with elevation of the dead man/woman to the status of God - a violation of the statement of faith, "There is no god but God...". The militant salafi, like ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Saudis would love to destroy these shrines. So Iraq is not just a proxy war to Tehran. It is a critical line in the sand.

    The Houthis receive some marginal support from Iran, but they are not twelver shia - they are zaidi shia. They do not agree with the twelvers about which men were the correct Imams. They also don't share much regarding religious doctrines. The Saudis hate both Houthis and twelvers. For political reasons, the Saudis make a big deal about the Iranian support of the Houthis, but they know Tehran doesn't really care about Yemen.

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    1. Yup. The Yemeni Shiite uprising is primarily a local one. The Houthis built up their strength for ten years before taking over most of Yemen's population.

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    2. Sorry but I disagree with your comment. you think governments like Iran's and Al'e Saudis really care about the religion but in reality they're all politicians who are using the religion as a mean of control. if the Iranian government is supporting Iraqi's, they say it's because of the tombs but ofcourse it's the oil. but now it's a different story. Iran doesn't want to be neighbor with ISIS too so they have to support Iraqi's no matter what

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    3. Well, yes they are politicians and are not exactly models of adherence to the faith. However, they have to provide more than lip service to the true believers in their countries. Both the Saudi princes and the supreme leader of Iran are vulnerable to accusations of not upholding the requirements of the faith.

      Khamenei isn't really a Marja - just a jumped up hojat al islam. Consequently he has to be somewhat careful to protect the Iraqi shrine cities if they are ever in danger just to protect his own position. And he has to know that if ISIS is successful in Iraq the attacks will continue to the shrines in Qom and Mashhad as well as thousands of lesser Alid shrines all over Iran. Attacks inside Iran would destroy him politically - even if ISIS ultimately failed. I don't think his statements about the Iraqi shrine cities are mere words.

      Saudi princes are a bunch of playboys who see the country as family property and don't show a lot of piety. However, they can't stay in power without the backing of the religious establishment. The Saudis really do bulldoze cemeteries if they believe any of the tombs are decorated.

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  4. Do you not like Iran because you are Jewish?

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    1. Actually I do like Iran. Their current governmental system is a bad one, but I like the culture and people a lot. And I think the government has a lot more ability to reform than people realize.

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    2. I think the main concern is a nuclear armed Iran makes them a regional power. The assumptions you lay out are all in the present. If the deal allows Iran to continue to build a weapon, the relative balance of power will shift dramatically. Even if they are weak at the moment.

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  5. The point is that all those long-term trends do not matter right now, and the pattern is really pretty obvious: 15 years ago, Iran was much more surrounded (so to speak) with even more hostile states around it. Now, it controls one of its potential aggressor neighbors (we greatly helped with that), is about to get a bit boost in exports, which it can use to much more effectively support Assad and his murderous clique.

    It has challenges in the form of ISIS, but it's strategic situation is way better. than just a couple years ago. Speaking of ISIS, it also has the benefit of dealing with truly incompetent US administration that argues that we should compromise with Iran so they can help us with ISIS. Mind-boggling. ISIS is no strategic threat to us, they should be offering concessions so we would help them.

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    1. "It has challenges in the form of ISIS, but it's strategic situation is way better. than just a couple years ago."
      -Really? The Islamic State hadn't even captured Fallujah two years ago. I think the U.S. administration isn't "truly incompetent"; it's taking exactly the approach you're suggesting.

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    2. I don't think the US is extracting concessions from Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia as a price for helping beat ISIS back. Those countries are much more threatened by ISIS than we are.

      On the other hand, looking at the strategery with Turkey, I think that they are just passing the buck, nothing more. They seem not to have any clue whatsoever.

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    3. Anonymous2:26 AM

      Weak? yet negotiating with 5 superpowers for almost 10 yrs? agitating the whole US politics and pushing it towards almost bipolarity?, setting all sort of records in terms of diplomacy metrics( the longest negotiation hours and etc..), you certainly didn't get the memo. ECON101: If the benefit of resolving the issue in the battlefield outweighed the cost aka. Iran's weak, isolated and old as you've put it, we'd have war either directly or by proxy,already against Iran. In fact the fact that you are blogging on the subject matter and educating yourself to some extend about Iran shows the gravity of the issue. So I suggest keep focusing on your Economics excellency which I enjoy.

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    4. Anonymous1:59 PM

      ISIS was invented by the capitalists. A big overrated thing. Yet, you want more zionist crusades. What a incompetent post.

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  6. Anonymous2:40 AM

    I was wondering when you were looking at demographic, did you also consider literacy rate, number of universities, level of higher education, and knowledge creation capacity in Iran compared with its neighbor as well? just to make sure you got it right? How about knowledge economy type of argument?

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  7. Fascinating to learn about the revolutionary guard controlling the economy. The military in Egypt does a similar thing (e.g. the military there has a factory making flat screen TVs). The Muslim Brotherhood's desire to liberalize the economy was an underreported aspect of their demise.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/02/2012215195912519142.html

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  8. Anonymous5:34 AM

    "This is not a strong, ascendant regional power. This is a weak, threatened, isolated country living on borrowed time."

    Probably all good reasons for wanting the "bomb".


    Henry.

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  9. Very very weak but nobody tries to test it. Strage...

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    1. I'm not sure how you all define weak....but I think you are oversimplifying this.

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    2. Test it for what reason?

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  10. Is weak but economy have an enormous potential

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  11. Of course Iran is weak, but internal politics of Israel and US need an enemy outside. Wars are useful distractions and wars with weak opponents are the best.

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  12. Nice attempt to actually take a moment and assess context. However, I don't agree with how this framework defines weak, nor do I agree with the implicit assumption that a weak country cannot be a (in)direct threat (and to who?!) or source of regional instability.

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  13. Anonymous10:17 AM

    American policy is based on verifiable objective standards and goals....since when, dude?

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  14. A few points:
    - I don't usually read something serious this early in the day.
    -you're followers are weird.
    -you mentioned 4 reasons not 3.
    -I think what you said is correct and is not about knowing international shit, any smart person should be able to put 2 by 2 and get 4. Iran is the only country in the middle east that in the past ~30 years went under a revolution and an 8 years long super costy war. sometimes people here talk about Houthis and Hesbollah like they're such great organizations like in those movies ready to attack us here. in the middle east no one even cares about these groups that much.
    -Also I don't think if a stronger Iran would be any threat to US or Europe anywaye. for example in the past few years of few Muslim attacks on western soils, how many of them were executed by Shia muslims? Don't take me wrong, i'm not a fan of the government at all and Noah knows why better than anyone but i'm not a fan of random panicking too.
    -The Deal is a very good thing to my opinion and practically the only good thing that has happened between west and middle east in the past few decades. that's why it's very hard for most of people to see why it's good and most people forgot what diplomacy even means in reality. As you can see, Iran already reduced supporting houthis and now Yemen is a more stable country. and the deal in long term would help putting a leash on Russian's

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    1. 1. Hey, I didn't make you get up early! ;-)
      2. Should I ban pithom? I've been considering it.
      3. AMONG THE MANY REASONS! *swirls cape*
      4. Many Americans tend to overestimate Iranian strength as an excuse to keep opposing Iran...they are still mad about the hostage crisis, the overthrow of the Shah, etc. As with Cuba, America's foreign policy people tend to hold grudges way too long.
      5. True, true.
      6. Sounds right.

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    2. Dude, Russia is separated from Iran by two countries. The deal doesn't do anything to "put a leash" on Russia, as Iran just isn't a big deal to it. The Shah's government certainly didn't do anything to put a leash on Soviet ambitions in Syria and Egypt.
      I say ban the anons, as they're regularly weirder than I am. If I turn Anon and comment from a different computer, how would anyone be able to distinguish me from the other anons?

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    3. OR its because of Iran's more-than-political opposition to the US and related interests. Ex: Iran was directly responsible for the proliferation of IEDs, particularly the highly lethal EFPs, throughout Iraq during our (very long) campaign. Iran was directly and intentionally responsible for the deaths of many Americans. Or I suppose that was all in good fun, or better yet because of there allegiance to Iraq!!

      Maybe one day the political honey will win favor, but to dismiss "many Americans'" concerns about Iran's tenor toward the US is incredibly shallow. Frankly, the only reasonable position to take on the matter is that the venture is risky, for obvious and tangible reasons, but my prove worthwhile.

      The 'we're all right and you're all wrong' positioning of the issue is a bit ... boring.

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    4. pithom: Iran has one of the greatest gas resources that can be easily exported to Europe through ground cheaply (currently Iran has to burn off most of the gas it's extracting with the oil). on the other side Russia is the provider of gas for europe which has always used it as an leveraged against them. again, everything is not about wars and fighting and things don't need to be directly related. you get the gas from Iran, you don't leverage Russia, Russia doesn't attack Ukraine without consequences.

      Dustin: I don't know about the sources you're referring to but you do have to understand that United states willingly chose to undergo a war in a foreign land based on not very strong evidences and ofcourse this will cause conflicts and reactions from the invaded country and its neighbors especially if the neighbor is not a friend of US. what happened and is happening in Iraq is a war not a campaign and we want the deal so wars like that don't happen anymore and people of america or iran or any other country don't need to die for no good reason my friend.
      anyways, i barely check on this blog so i probably won't get to see the replies anymore.

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    5. Noah -- The deal is "a very good thing" only if you believe that Iran will respond positively (perhaps not welcome us as liberators but that's the idea). To extend your metaphor, those in power in Iran will need to grab the lifeline and come aboard rather than trying to pull us into the sea with them. I don't see much evidence to suggest you're right but I could be convinced.

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    6. Yes, Iran is peaceful and friendly except for supporting one of the most murderous regimes on earth: Assad's.

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    7. @Mehdi Namazi
      -The most logical way for Iran to export natural gas is through Russia. Either through there, or through Turkey, but Turkey's an enemy.

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  15. A man-eating bear perhaps is "weak, threatened, isolated" but it does does magically give up man-eating nature merely because you extend it a lifeline. You either put it in a zoo, or extend it a lifeline then when it gets strong it will graciously eat you, because that's what man-eating bears do.

    Seems to me, if Iran really was weak, and really was going to change it's nature, then it would not have reserved some military sites as off-limits to inspections, and would not reserve the right to delay inspections for almost a month (24 days).

    Moreover, we have not even seen all the side agreements. "You have to pass it to see what's in it" did not work so well for Obamacare, it will work even less for this, where Iran has incentives to cheat.

    Now, if we combined this deal with a bold statement that if Iran or any of it's proxies used a nuke, we would unequivocally nuke them back (or allow Israel to bomb them), I think that they would have an incentive not to cheat or allow it's proxies to wield nukes.

    If anything, we are weak because we are unwilling to use the bazooka. Iran is getting the lifting of sanctions in return for a regime where they can cheat.

    I see no evidence they are a changin their ways. I think that the comparisons to 1937 are pretty appropriate.


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    1. Anonymous4:52 PM

      You have to wonder if the Iran deal is actually about containing a rising Saudia Arabia. SA is a strictly conservative Sunni state and probably is financially assisting ISIS (or at least elements within SA are). SA uses its vast wealth to promote puritanical Islam (Wahhabism) around world, by financing radical mosques and educational organizations. Iran (and maybe the West) would probably be more concerned about the growing militarization of SA than it is of a threat from Israel.

      Henry

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    2. "I see no evidence they are a changin their ways."
      -Me neither. Zero nuclear weapons development, zero invasions of any country that didn't strike first, zero terror attacks on the West, continued support for Hezbollah and Assad, and an infinite stream of growling and imprisonments, all while it could have destroyed Israel several times over in a week.
      @Henry, Saudi is not rising. It is hurt by falling energy costs, too.
      "A man-eating bear perhaps is "weak, threatened, isolated" but it does does magically give up man-eating nature merely because you extend it a lifeline. You either put it in a zoo, or extend it a lifeline then when it gets strong it will graciously eat you, because that's what man-eating bears do."
      -Are you talking about the Jewish state?

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    3. Anonymous4:11 AM

      pithom,

      Saudi might be going thru some financial retrenchment currently, but it is continuing to militarize. Why? Don't think it's because of Israel. Its oil production will eventually fall away. Maybe it has its eyes on Iraqi oil and will use the cover of defending Sunnis in Iraq to take territory before Iran does? Iraq looks like a failed state and maybe up for grabs. Look who might want a piece of it as well as SA and Iran - ISIS and the Kurds, maybe even Turkey.

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    4. Saudi is militarizing because of Yemen. Yemen has a greater population than Saudi.

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    5. Anonymous9:07 PM

      I don't think so.

      Saudi military spending has been ramping up for over a decade.

      https://socialpulses.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/middleeasttotals.png


      Henry

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  16. Gotta love those Sassinid elephants.

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  17. I think there is a much shorter and simpler rebuttal to the presumption that "Iran is a rising power, at the peak of its influence."

    If something is at its peak then it is not rising.

    Snark, snark, snark, snarf ;-)

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    1. "If something is at its peak then it is not rising."
      -Not necessarily. It could be at the highest point it's ever reached, but it could still continue to rise.

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  18. Anonymous6:02 PM

    The population decline is interesting to see. I wonder what caused it? Soviet-style stagnation of the last 20 years? Discouraging to see that Iraqis and Pakistanis are still breeding in such large numbers, more angry young men fighting over sparser and sparser resources. Iraq in particularly is staggering, but maybe 20 years of unending war/poverty shifts your genetic-planing into rabbit mode.

    Anyway you are quite right. Iran is a natural ally of both America and Israel and the Kurds. It would make so much more sense for those four minority powers to pacify the Sunnis, who outside of Tunis and Morocco and maybe Jordan, really have nothing to look forward to. .

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    1. Part of it was the Iran-Iraq war, but most of it's due to the birth control policies implemented by the Mullahs to prevent population explosion.

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  19. pitcom actually mostly right here for once. Just a few other points.

    Not only has Iran not invaded any neighbors in over a century and a half, the Vilayat-el-faqih (Supreme Jurisprudent) Ayatollah Ali Khameini has issued multiple fatwas against owing or using nuclear weapons. Those first appeared when they dropped their nuclear weapons program over a decade ago. Lots of people think he is lying, but the entire US intel establishment, all 16 agencies, have issued periodic official National Intelligence Estimates declaring that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program. All hystericals ranting that the minute an agreement will expire will they will start immediately start making bombs are silly beyond belief.

    Saudis are flexing muscles because of generation change. 40 year long foreign minister Saud al Faisal has died, and the new guys are showing what tough guys they are, but so far their bombing campaign is a farce.

    Syria is awful, and Assad is awful, but he is better than Daesh ("ISIS"), and increasingly, that is the alternative, seriously.

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    1. how is assad better than isis?

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    2. If we topple Iran how much better would the next regime be?

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    3. The Assad family has run Syria since 1970. They have been brutal, killed thousands, although probably not more than 50,000 in that period, dropped nasty bombs on civilians in recent years, engaged in torture and political repression.

      OTOH, they have respected minority rights of pretty much all religious and ethnic groups as long as they did not challenge the regime's power (a big caveat obviously), whereas Daesh has no tolerance even for other Sunni Muslim groups. They have never beheaded or crucified people, they have broadly supported womens' rights, I do not think I need to comment on Daesh's views and policies on that, and they also respect historic monuments, which Daesh destroys almost the minute they take over a place.

      Name one way that Daesh is better than Assad. Sorry, there is none, zero. Daesh is the most evil group on the planet right now, with the possible exception of Boki Haram in Nigeria. Assad is far morally superior to those scum, for all his wickedness, which is very great.

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    4. Yes, Assad did not crucify people, he just has secret police that tortures 11 year olds on a massive scale to send a message to their families. Just read HRW and guardian reports what Assad is doing. Out of 240k dead in Syria, Assad is responsible for majority of them. The blood curdling viciousness of his regime easily trumps the murderous theatrics of ISIS. The difference between Assad and Isis is that he does not advertise his depravity, yet he is responsible for much more than ISiS.

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    5. I think one other notable difference is that Assad primarily concerns himself with internal repression while ISIS crosses borders. I'd say that's a big factor in even states that would be more ISIS sympathetic going along with attacks against them.

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  20. The Iranian political system is hardly ideal but it offers plausible hope for reform from within. The end of the Soviet Union and the capitalist opening in China didn't happen because of mass revolution so there is no reason to hold out for regime change in Iran. Both Gorbachov and Deng Xiaoping came to power within the communist parties of their country because they could promise real changes that people wanted inside and outside the government. That's why any nuclear deal at all is important, the sooner the senior clerics aren't talking about nuclear brinkmanship, the sooner they are talking about what cooperation can do for them.

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  21. How the US can be "allies" with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and see Iran as a mortal danger I will never know. Much of what passes for economic or FP coverage in the post Iraq war/Finanical crisis world just causes me to scratch my head.

    Noah has offered a small dose of reality to the "fear mongering/preemptive war" and "debt threat/expansionary austerity" crowd that dominate the media.

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  22. Bill Ellis12:33 AM

    Well... I agree with Noah's main point...It is ridiculous to think of Iran as any serious threat right now and there is no good reason to oppose the deal. ( face it warmongers, even if we back out...the rest of the world won't. We don't have the ability to command our allies like we used to. Get used to. It's a good thing.)

    But I disagree that Iran is just going to get weaker. While their population growth did steeply decline just after sanctions were imposed they still have a very young population ( a bout half under 30 ) with a lot earning years ahead of them. ( maybe with sanctions lifted they would experience an echo baby boom.)

    they are one of the most educated populations in the middle east. And despite the official lparty line, and xenophobia... the people of Iran are more comfortable with foreigners and the western world than many others Islamic nations.

    They have enough going for them in population.and natural resources to make them a formidable economy. The thing that will hold them back is politics. Politics can change. Even in an authoritarian system the will and needs of the people can have a determining effect on government policy.

    Not too many people believed that China's politics could ever change enough to achieve what they have. Iran's might surprise us in the same way.

    I'm an optimist on the subject. Ten years from now Iran could be a Shia tiger economy.
    Fingers crossed.

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  23. "Strong" and "weak" aren't so straightforward. Iran has elements of both.

    The ultimate test of whether "the Deal" works will be whether the regime reforms and cooperates as hoped or hardens and buils up its arms as feared. I can't predict. It seems to me a big gamble. Personally I think don't undestimate the importance of Israel here. If Israel were to seriously seek peace that would make a positive outcome in Iran far more likely. If Israel remains hardline nationalist I think Iran is far more likely to exploit the deal's soft points to go nuclear.

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  24. Thanks for this. Well done and some smart comments. Here are some reasons for thinking that, although weak, Iran is dangerous in the present, and that the release of frozen funds will increase that danger. (1) The present rulership is much older than the average age of Iranians. They are the last of the revolutionary generation, which took place nearly 40 years ago. They believe they have a religious duty to destroy Israel and have often said so. The coming years will be their last chance to prepare the way for the 12th Imam. They are also, to some degree, dependent on the Revolutionary Guards, who are the rising power, and would lose their authority by deviating from course. (2) The infusion of unfrozen funds held abroad is going to give them added resources for pursuing their goals. President Obama says it is $56 billion, Republicans charged on Thursday that it is $150 billion. Iranian GDP is around $400 billion. (3) Although Iran still has a young population despite having a birth rate below replacement, because of the low birth rate (a sign of a lack of optimism about the future) the population is aging and probably less inclined than recently to challenge the strong arm of the government. They can be pacified, leaving the real rulers (Revolutionary Guards) in control. (4) the Rev Guards will continue to champion Shia populations outside Iran. It is silly to suggest that Iran isn't dangerous because it hasn't invaded any neighbor. That is not the way it has worked to expand its influence since the revolution

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    1. Andrew,

      Um, Iran will not attack Israel at all. All this talk of destroying Israel is just that, talk. Their most serious arm for doing it is Hizbullah, and when you listen to Schmuck Bibi lying through his teach about the nuclear deal, the real bottom line is that this deal approved of by all the leading US allies, every nation on the planet aside from Israel (yes, the GCC are whining, but they know it blocks a bomb out of Iran for the near future), all the members of the UN Security Council, Bibi's whine is that Hizbullah will get more money and arms. Oooooooh. Yeah, Bibi is unhappy because the last time they invaded southern Lebanon, Hizbullah gave them a serious fight and did not roll over. Wow, what a threat.

      So, Hizbullah does not give a hoot about going seriously after Israel at all and will not. They are fighting Daesh in Syria, in case you did not know. OTOH, Israel is actively supporting the al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria. If you do not know this, you are just another ignorant American suckered by AIPAC propaganda. Israel is supporting the objectively worst enemy of America in the world. Tell me the last time Israel did one single thing that helped the US that also was not primarily in Israel's interest first. Iran is working with the US against Daesh in Iraq. This is the new reality. All the talk of destroying Israel has both been exaggerated by mistranslations from Farsi, and is basically talk anyway aside from supporting proxies who are no serious threat to Israel at the bottom line.

      We are supposed to have a war with Iran so that Israel does not face a slightly more heavily armed Hizbullah, while Israel is supporting al-Qaeda? Excuse me, this is insane.

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  25. Thanks for being a voice of reason in the push for peace with Iran. This is a noble cause.

    I'm trying to use the force of words to help the cause, and so are you. Bravo.

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  26. Iran has Barrack Obama to help increase Iran's funding. After all, Obama loves tyrants and dictators. Think the Castro brothers. (btw, I don't mind a deal with Cuba, but how about getting something in return??)

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  27. thierry6:44 AM

    I was happy to read this post. It is a brave effort to stop "demonizing" Iran.

    On the other hand, it is difficult to call Iran "weak". Its main asset is a dynamic and quite modern society with a high level of education (especially among women). This modernization of Iran society is the main factor explaining the demographic transition since the 80s. If one talks with members of this educated middle class, one is struck by the importance they attach to values like religious tolerance, men-women equality or the importance of expertise.

    Besides, Iran involvement in Iraq and Syria can be partly explained by their fear (shared by the population) of letting groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda establishing a political base in these countries. Moreover, due to recent history (Saddam Hussein), they prefer to have a friendly (shia) government in Iraq. It is pure propaganda to consider that Iran wants to "dominate" the Middle East through proxies or military conquest.

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