Amir Taheri/Why is Rouhani coddling the military


Why is Rouhani coddling the military
Amir Taheri /Asharq Al Awsat
Friday, 24 Apr, 2015

 Even before they seized power in Tehran, Khomeini’s followers were known for their expertise in massaging the truth to suit their political aims.
In anti-Shah demonstrations they would carry empty coffins around while women clad all in black would shriek, tear their hair out and mourn non-existent “martyrs” in what was pure surrealistic theater. Khomeinist mullahs would use mosque sermons to spread lies about, or even call for the murder of, their opponents.

 One Khomeinist trick is known as “mazlum-nama’i ” which means “posing as a victim.” The claim is that we are the victims of enemies who resent the fact that we are pious lovers of justice.  It was in the same theatrical style that President Hassan Rouhani the other day tried to blame the failures of his administration on the continuation of “American sanctions”. He claimed that Iran was not allowed to buy food and medicine because of sanctions. However, food and medicine have never been subject to sanctions against any country, let alone Iran.

Even with the strongest UN sanctions, Iraq under Saddam Hussein was allowed to buy all the food and medicine it wanted.  In any case, in 2013 Rouhani had already refuted his own claim by asserting that the Islamic Republic was forced to import 80 percent of its food during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

 That claim was a lie designed to blacken Ahmadinejad.  The truth is that Iran routinely buys up to 40 percent of its food from abroad. In Rouhani’s first year in office, according to official statistics, Iran imported 6.8 million tons of wheat, mostly from the United States.  There is solid evidence that Iran suffers from shortages of certain categories of medical supplies. However, the reasons for this have little to do with sanctions.
One reason is that the government, which controls the banking sector, does not treat importing pharmaceuticals as a priority in terms of providing the required credit facilities. State-owned banks give priority to approving imports by the military-security establishment rather than those approved by the Ministry of Public Health.

Another reason is that the sharp fall in the value of the Iranian currency has made many imported drugs too expensive for the average Iranian to afford, cutting profit margins and discouraging imports.  Since November 2014 when Tehran agreed the so-called Joint Plan of Action (JPA) in Geneva with the P5+1, almost 7 billion US dollars of frozen Iranian assets earned from oil exports have been released. This is more than enough to finance the import of all the food and medicine needed by Iran in that period.

However, much of the money was not spent on what Iran needed but rather on what the military-security establishment wanted.
Of the released money, almost 400 million US dollars was spent on Iranian students abroad in the form of school fees and monthly stipends.
The government also spent 250 million US dollars distributing food baskets among 20 million supposedly destitute people across the country, often to those who didn’t need it. The demagogic move was again designed to help Rouhani claim that he, and not Ahmadinejad, was the true friend of the “downtrodden” (Mustazafin).

The Rouhani administration has spent a further 2.3 billion US dollars helping Bashar Al-Assad continue massacring the Syrian people, as well as assisting Hezbollah to hold the Lebanese people hostage.  The Rouhani administration has also set aside 800 million US dollars to finance the purchase of S300 Russian-made missiles. (A down-payment of 250 million US dollars had previously been made in 2010).
A further 100 million US dollars was devoted to a contract with North Korea to develop a new generation of long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear and chemical warheads.

However, the lion’s share of the released cash has gone to the military-security forces in the form of a whopping 26 percent increase in their budgets, much of it spent on higher wages and salaries. (Interestingly, at the same time as all this the government is claiming difficulties paying the teachers, for example).   Sources close to Rouhani’s administration claim that he is confident that Obama is determined to “accommodate” Iran regardless of the outcome of the new round of nuclear talks started on Wednesday.

Even if no formal agreement is reached, Rouhani would be content with the extension of the Geneva arrangement under which Tehran would continue to access part of its frozen oil revenues now estimated at between 100 and 150 billion US dollars.  If something, virtually anything, is signed by June 30 Iran will immediately get upwards of 50 billion US dollars, more than enough to re-launch its economy on the eve of crucial elections for the Islamic Majlis and the Assembly of Experts.  The Rafsanjani faction, of which Rouhani is a member, believes that the nuclear accord can help it win both elections, thus gaining full control of power in Tehran and marginalizing Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei whom they regard as a troublemaker.

In a long message last week, someone close to Rouhani’s entourage tried to convince me that the president had no choice but to give the military the lion’s share in order to ensure their neutrality in the forthcoming power struggle against Khamenei and his faction.  “The military want money and arms,” he claimed. “We give them both. There is no reason why they should oppose our strategic change of course if they get what they want.”

Once again, what the Rafsanjani faction appears to be trying to do draws parallels with China in the final years of Mao Zedong when the faction led by Deng Xiaoping succeeded in wooing the military with money and prestige, thus isolating the “Helmsman” and transforming the People’s Republic from a vehicle for revolution into a nation-state in search of economic power and diplomatic prestige.  Over the past two weeks the military chiefs have lined up to express support, albeit still lukewarm, for the strategy of normalization with the “Great Satan.”

In an op-ed he published in the New York Times last week, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, hinted at that strategy by asserting: “The purview of our constructive engagement {with the United State} extends far beyond nuclear negotiations.”
Well, we shall see.