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Presentation Notes: The Iran Enigma

by merlin on September 7th, 2015
  • Sumo

Presentation Notes – Iran Enigma lecture
“Why they think we’re the Great Satan”
September 6, 2015, 10:00 PM; Buckhead Hilton

 Presenter: Mark McDonagh
Organization: NSDMG/National Security Track – The National Security Decision-Making Game

 This was a well-researched presentation concerning important world affairs, which was a full exposition of why Iran considers the U.S. an enemy and a rival, and provided a general overview on the future of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Why Iran thinks the U.S. is the “Great Satan”:

  1. U.S. concept of elections versus decision-making by the “Council of Guardians”, who propose a slate of candidates they find acceptable, and permit choice among them. What they were referring to is the Iranian Guardian Council of the Constitution.


“The Council has played a central role in allowing only one interpretation of Islamic values to inform Iranian law, as it consistently disqualifies reform-minded candidates—including the most well-known candidates—from running for office, and vetoes laws passed by the popularly elected Majlis.[7][8] When the 2009 Presidential election was announced, the popular former president, Mohammad Khatami, would not discuss his plans to run against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the Council may disqualify the Muslim cleric as it has other reformist candidates on the grounds that they were not dedicated enough to Islamic values.[9][10] It has also increased the influence the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (an ideological fighting force separate from the Iranian army) has on the economic and cultural life of the country.[11]

Note that this distinction seems illusory, in many ways, because the Guardian Council seems to serve the same role as the Electoral College, with fewer members and more ideological in nature (as would be expected by a theocracy); they are more inherently conservative, versus reformist/liberal/progressive, and they seem to exercise more apparent, explicit control, but the way they operate is the way many seem to suspect the U.S. system operates, in fact.

 The inherent Iranian belief in their inherent exceptionalism. They have a cultural belief that the world is about to change (the balance will shift back in Iran’s favor, as they have an impressive cultural history of victory).

  1. The inherent Iranian belief in their inherent exceptionalism. They have a cultural belief that the world is about to change (the balance will shift back in Iran’s favor, as they have an impressive cultural history of victory).  They believe that true democracy is an illusion.


  1. More or less an intact country since about 1807, until American interference (Theodore Roosevelt’s son toppling their government to set up an America-friendly ruler to protect oil interests). They were unconquered, unbroken, from the 6th and 7th century Muslim invasion.

Historically: Iranian culture is consistent from about 500 AD; they are Persian.  The following is an excerpt from a 2010 book review, “A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind” by Michael Axworthy:

Axworthy begins his book with general information, including Iran’s geographical position, its demographic structure, its weather, and the origin of the word “Persian,” which comes from Fars province in southwestern Iran, home to Iran’s most ancient archaeological sites, Persepolis and Pasargadae. (He also mentions that the word “Iran” or “Iranian” derives from the word “Aryan,” Sanskrit for “noble”).

After this section, Axworthy discusses the first Persian Empire, the Achaemenids (550BC-330BC), founded by Cyrus, extended by his conquering descendants, and brought to an end by Alexander the Great. The author, at this point, argues that Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire did not result in the empire’s “hellenization;” on the contrary, Persian culture and traditions, including religion, profoundly shaped Rome’s and later Byzantium’s imperial conduct. In the following chapters, Axworthy discusses the succeeding Persian dynasties, the Parthians (247BC-224AD) and the Sassanids (224AD-651AD). Pre-Islamic empires, however, take up only one-fifth of the book; Axworthy’s coverage of them feels like a rapid run-through. Instead of discussing what made these empires powerful or weak, Axworthy prefers to mention little more than names and dates.”

  1. Monetary – Iran accounts for approximately 10% of the world’s oil, and 15% of the world’s gasoline

“As of January 2012, Iran exports 22% of its oil to China, 14% to Japan, 13% to India, 10% to South Korea, 7% to Italy, 7% to Turkey, 6% to Spain and the remainder to France, Greece (& other European countries), Taiwan, Sri Lanka, South Africa.[31]

There were sanctions being imposed then, too.  The lifting of sanctions would only increase their power, though fracking, etc., may have resulted in a greater part of that balance being shifted in the U.S.’ favor.  Also uncertain is alternative energy and the increasing lack of desirability of oil as a fuel source (but facts are facts).


The Kurds: parallel made between the Kurdish Barzani family and Daley’s Chicago.  It means that Iraqi Kurdistan is a democracy in name only (effectively a dictatorship).

The danger of off-budget funding cannot be stressed enough as a factor in understanding the situation gripping Iran; they have to subsidize their own people for OIL (see the linked, excellent paper on Extra Budgetary Funds and domestic impact on Iranian economy)

Twelver Shi’a”, as an important understanding of Iranian geopolitics; makes up most Iranians, and comes from the belief that the 12th Imam, who disappeared in 874 AD, merely went into hiding and will resume his rule shortly.  Composes most of Iran and a large percentage of Iraq.

As concerns the 1979 revolution: it WAS “students” (they said it was believed to be government-sponsored), but not the Taliban (which is Arabic, not Farsi, for “students”).  See “The Iran Primer: Iran and Afghanistan”:

“Iran and the Taliban

Amid the chaos, the Taliban, an obscure group of young Pushtun religious students, rose to power. Their ideology was a strange combination of Wahhabism and Deobandism. Iran was astonishingly slow to recognize the Taliban’s dazzling rise and the pivotal support provided by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In 1995, Herat fell to the Taliban, and a year later, they overthrew President Rabbani-a major defeat for Iran and a clear victory for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Iran, unlike Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, refused to recognize the Taliban, and sought to return Rabbani to power. It participated in the U.N. “Six Plus Two” talks on Afghanistan’s future, but Iran’s strategic investment was to generously support the Northern Alliance made up of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Shiite fighters. India and Russia supported the alliance, but Iran was its principle source of military assistance.”

Last thought: as to the nuclear issue, think about what happened to Saddam Hussein and to Qaddafi’s Libya when they were said to be pursuing the nuclear bomb but GAVE IT UP.  Then, think about North Korea, who is unapologetically pursuing a nuclear bomb and unapologetically NOT giving it up (still in power; still around) – same with Pakistan, with India, etc.

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