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Iran: Political Conflict and Regional Power

Panel II-27, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
  • Prof. Annie Tracy Samuel -- Presenter
  • Mr. Reza H. Akbari -- Presenter
  • Carl Forsberg -- Presenter
  • Ms. Reyhaneh Javadi -- Presenter
  • A.R. Joyce -- Chair
  • This paper will examine the profound impact of the Iran-Iraq War on Iran’s security apparatus and the country’s place in the world through a comprehensive assessment of the roles and relationship of Iran’s two armed forces, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the regular military (Artesh), as they evolved during the conflict. It is based on an in-progress book chapter for a new edited volume on the histories and legacies of the Iran-Iraq War. The paper will utilize and juxtapose the IRGC’s sources on the war, which have received little but growing focused scholarly attention, with those of the Artesh, and critically analyze their narratives by integrating a range of secondary and other primary sources. In particular, the paper will examine the impact of Iran’s 1979 revolution on the two militaries’ institutions and ideologies and the ramifications thereof for how the forces viewed and prosecuted the war. In some respects, and especially initially, the revolution affected the forces in very different ways. While the Artesh was maligned and eviscerated as a result of its association with the deposed regime and for what was seen as an insufficiently Islamic-revolutionary outlook, the IRGC was wholly borne of the revolution and was championed as its vanguard and the embodiment of its ideology. Those divergent revolutionary experiences generated distinct, often discordant, approaches to warfighting, hampering Iran’s ability to prosecute the conflict. However, and although differences persisted, the joint experience of fighting the war brought the forces closer together both institutionally and ideologically. The Artesh was revived and re-institutionalized as the IRGC transformed from a revolutionary militia into a more formal and professional military more akin to the Artesh. Similarly, the Artesh effectively adjusted to the revolutionary landscape as the IRGC adopted more “classical” approaches to prosecuting the war. Such an assessment, the paper argues, provides significant insight into the complex and dynamic connections between war and revolution in and beyond Iran.
  • Mr. Reza H. Akbari
    This working paper tackles the following questions: How did the United States’ security interests in the Middle East shape its perceptions toward Iran’s nuclear program? How did Iran’s evolving regional interests influence the direction of the country’s nuclear program? I argue that America’s drive to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful began decades before the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Therefore, the main cause of concern for the U.S. is not necessarily the nature of the regime in Iran, but a commitment to its nonproliferation strategy and maintaining the broader Middle East’s regional balance of power. I adopt a bureaucratic politics model to push back against the realist approaches to international relations that have dominated the discourse. The bureaucratic framework provides us with a clearer explanation of the multi-layered process of negotiations and allows us to consider the agency of policy implementers. In conjunction to a number of secondary sources, I utilize a series of declassified primary source documents from the 1970s on the nuclear negotiations from the Ford and Carter Administrations such as State Department and Tehran Embassy cables; White House and National Security Council memoranda; and Central Intelligence Agency studies published by the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. Based on my analysis of the sources, it is unlikely that Iran’s nuclear program was born with an aim toward weaponization. The major driving force behind Iran’s approach at the time appears to have been three-pronged: the nuclear pursuit as a means for gaining domestic and international legitimacy; as an eventual alternative for fossil fuels; and regional competition with countries such as Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, and India. Despite the prevailing arguments in the U.S. foreign policy circles, the current deadlock over Iran’s nuclear program is not solely due to the nature of the revolutionary regime in Tehran. Since the inception of the program, Washington has been concerned about the country’s ultimate objective and has feared the militarization of the technology. Intricate domestic and regional dynamics have also played a key role in the negotiation process, but such nuances are often omitted from the analysis provided by scholars of the realist approach to international relations.
  • Ms. Reyhaneh Javadi
    Amid an ongoing uprising in Iran, where women fight and resist in the streets, through their outfits, their bodies, their presences, their beings, in the name of Zan, Zendegi, Azadi (Women, Life, Liberty), this paper examines the impact of the codification of Islamic rules into the 1905 Constitution and 1979 Constitution as well as civil codes on women’s lives in Iran. It is an analytical attempt to understand women’s resistance and their legal agency in a setting where Sharia is codified into the modern legal system. This paper takes three analytical steps to discuss the sociolegal implications of the codification of Sharia into modern laws for Iranian women. The first step discusses approaches toward the meaning and social connotations of the codification of Islam, reviewing the ideas of Wael Hallaq (2005) and Emon (2016). It also highlights scholarly debates on the possibility of embedding and codifying Sharia into modern constitutions and national laws and the possibility of having the rule of law in a codified Islamic setting. In the second step, this paper briefly reviews the codification of Islam in constitutions and laws and the modern legal system in the Constitutional Era (1905-1911), Pahlavi Era (1925-1979), and the Islamic Republic Era (beginning in 1979) and discusses its impacts on women. Most scholars, acknowledging the discriminations associated with the codification of Islamic law in each period, see the codification of Islam into the Constitution and laws in the Islamic Republic period as different from the other periods, as it is an ‘ideological act’ of Islamization. In the last step, in discussing the various forms of resistance by Iranian women who faced discrimination due to codified Islamic laws, this paper mainly focuses on two manifestations of resistance: Islamic feminism and ordinary women’s claims in courts. This paper elaborates on how ordinary Iranian women, women rights activists, and new religious intellectuals apply these forms of resistance while it also points out structural barriers they face in their struggle with the legal system.
  • Carl Forsberg
    The US response to the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution has been much written about yet remains shrouded in ambiguities and misconceptions. Drawing on recently declassified US government documents, this paper reframes our understanding of the US response to the revolution by exploring how a pervasive anxiety about the Iranian left and the Soviet Union drove US policy from 1978 through the early 1980s. Studies of the Carter administration’s reaction to the Iranian revolution have relied on journalistic accounts and the memoirs of US and Iranian officials, which are problematically influenced by their political agendas. The historiography has also been colored by 40 years of US-Iranian antagonism. Records of the secret deliberations of the Carter administration provide an opportunity for reassessment, revealing that the anti-communism of US officials and their fear of leftist revolution trumped their concerns about Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. As unrest swelled in Iran in 1978, US officials looked with paranoia for the hand of the Soviet Union. Once the Shah fled in January 1979, the Carter administration saw Khomeini as a tolerable element within the new government and initially sought an accommodation to counter the left and the Soviets. Khomeini shrewdly played into American anti-communism, communicating through secret channels that he shared this orientation. While the Iran hostage crisis darkened the Carter administration’s views of Khomeini, US officials continued to worry that a Khomeinist collapse would empower the Iranian left, and as a result directed US covert action programs in Iran to focus principally on weakening the left and countering the Soviets. US officials ultimately doubted that Khomeini could form an enduring government, believing that as an elderly cleric, he was a short-lived figurehead. These views revealed the policy consequences of deep American cultural and religious prejudices, which saw Islam as inherently conservative and incapable of sustaining mass revolutionary politics. The paper also modifies our understanding of the struggle between Khomeinism and the Iranian left over the fate of the revolution, showing the tacit and sometimes direct aid that the US provided for the Khomeinists. The relationship between the US government and the Islamic Republic of Iran was, in short, not an inevitable animosity from the beginning. Initially, the two governments kept open the door to cooperation on the basis of their shared anti-leftism: an inconvenient history for both governments today.