February 10, 2006

Daily Twit: Edward Luttwak

Mr. Luttwak may be "a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington," but apparently that doesn't prevent him from also speaking like he's got one of the worst cases of historical and cultural myopia of anyone outside the actual Bush administration as he asks, would Iranians rally 'round the flag:

THERE MAY BE good reasons to oppose an air attack on Iran's nuclear installations at this time, but one of the arguments that is advanced most often is seriously flawed.

The argument is based on a familiar axiom that ruling regimes, even unpopular ones, are strengthened by such attacks because the bombarded nation rallies around its rulers. But this does not apply to Iran. It's true that when Germans, Japanese and Serbs, among others, were bombed, they did indeed support their leaders all the more because the attacks increased their sense of national solidarity.

Iran, however, is not a nation-state but rather a multinational empire dominated by Persians, much as the Soviet Union was once dominated by Russians. Except that in this case, the Persians only account for just over half the population of Iran (making them a smaller proportion than the Russians were even in the final days of the Soviet Union).

No scholar who studies Iran would dispute that there is a very strong Persian identity and pride of ownership in ruling Iran among the Persians, but only a very weak sense of Iranian participation among non-Persians. Iran is not like Lebanon, where the different communities often fight each other. Instead, Iran's minorities each resist the Persian-dominated central government. Just in the last month, guerrillas of Baluch nationality kidnapped soldiers in southeast Iran. Arabs of Khuzistan province next to Iraq detonated bombs in Ahwaz, and Kurds clashed with the rural police.

To the extent that the different nationalities each have their own identities and oppose the essentially Persian regime, they are likely to applaud external attacks on the nuclear installations rather than rally to the defense of their rulers. ...

While he managed the brass ring of noticing that Iran is a multi-ethnic society, he made a big mistake regarding the cultural identity of the regime. But I don't know, maybe he just hasn't talked to many Persians, who tend to refer to the current regime as Arab in character if not in the absolute ethnicity of all its particular members. Kind of a Big Frakking Deal that undermines his entire point.

Persian society isn't historically about strict social guidelines, being the Middle Eastern culture most likely to generate salacious love poetry inclusive of extensive odes to wine, women (or men) and song, and producing quite an historic share of female military commanders. It's far better characterized by the socially permissive regime of the last Shah than the current government which draws ardent support from the hardline Muslim Arabic population and extensive policing support from displaced Iraqis and Palestinians.

In case he didn't notice, the current government has a disapproval rating of somewhere around 70% as of just a couple years ago. Because it's too hardline and Khatami wasn't able to liberalize fast enough, not because it's 'too Persian.' The most socially free places in the country today, popular tourist destinations like Esfahan and Shiraz, are majority Persian.

It's also interesting that he cites the Khuzestan province as one likely to be amenable to occupation. Saddam Hussein thought the same thing, considering that there's a large ethnic Arab population there and he figured that not only were they geographically accessible, but that they'd be happy to finally have 'real' Arab rulers. In fact, this entire editorial could have easily
been retitled, "What Saddam Hussein was thinking just before invading
the ethnic Arab province of Khuzestan."

The Arab Iranians of Khuzestan, so I'm told, held off Hussein for six months before major help arrived from the central government. After around about another six months, Iranian forces fought the rest of the long Iran-Iraq war inside the borders of Iraq, complemented by underage patriots so devoted to their country's autonomy that they were willing to strap bombs to themselves and crawl under Iraq's superior tanks as a last resort.

That was the country's response to an invasion by an Arab regime from an Islamic nation. Luttwak thinks that nothing remotely like that would happen after an invasion by a Western nation responsible for the overthrow of Iran's brief-lived experiment in popular, secular democracy. Twit is overgenerous, this guy is a moron.

Posted by natasha at February 10, 2006 07:47 AM | International | Technorati links |