As you know, I’m a big fan of “Spengler,” the elegant and cultured columnist for “Asia Times.” He’s just come out with a new think piece on Iran, which comes to the right conclusion (that is, the same one I have), but greatly confuses the issue of why the mullahs do what they do.
Read his important essay–if you can’t be bothered, I’ll summarize most of it anyway, but it’s always a pleasure to read his prose–and then come back to me. His central theme is that the Iranian economy is a basket case, that the country is facing hyperinflation, that there is a great lack of public confidence in the regime, and that the mullahs will (quite soon) have to choose between a Gorbachev-style surrender, or war. He thinks they have already chosen war. And he doesn’t think we can offer them anything that will produce Iran’s “giving up its nuclear ambitions and kenneling its puppies of war.”
He is certainly right about the economic diagnosis, which I have discussed at great length in “The Iranian Time Bomb.” He considers the very real possibility that Iran is running a current account deficit right now, despite the extraordinary runup in oil prices:
In a May 19 statement reported by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), President Mahmud Ahmadinejad denied a report that Iran’s imports now exceed $60 billion, against an official estimate of $45 billion. This sort of discrepancy typically occurs when capital flight is disguised as imports through fraudulent invoices and similar devices. A small current-account deficit would be of little concern for a nation with normal access to world capital markets, but Iran is unable to borrow.
There is indeed massive capital flight. As I wrote a couple of years ago, Gulf bankers told me that they can’t handle all the money pouring out of Iran. Wealthy Persians long since saw the doom of the Islamic Republic, and have been looting the country’s resources for their own gain.
So far, so bad, and the regime is making things even worse. Instead of devoting real resources to improving things, they are printing money, further pauperizing Iranian workers–who are famously paid very late, if at all, as demonstrated by the ongoing demonstrations and strikes at government-owned companies–and the commercial middle class. As Spengler puts it:
If Ahmadinejad were in the pay of a hostile intelligence service, he could not have found a more effective way to sabotage Iran’s economy. If the price of goods rises faster than the cost of money, everyone who can will borrow money to purchase and hoard goods. The result will be higher prices and reduced economic activity, and the eventual prospect of hyperinflation, which no government ever has survived.
I don’t know about that last claim; to take just one current counter-example, Zimbabwe’s inflation is now seemingly beyond rational calculation, but Mugabe still rules. National suicide is not unknown, and I can well imagine the Islamic Republic martyring itself at its own hands, quite in keeping with the ideology of the leaders.
But Spengler doesn’t ask the obvious question: why? Surely the mullahs know how bad things really are, and they have plenty of resources to cope with the crisis. Why aren’t they? I think Khomeini gave the answer on the airplane that flew him from Paris to Tehran in 1979: he didn’t give a damn about Iran, he was fighting for the triumph of Islam. His heirs are of the same fanatical ilk: Iranian resources are largely devoted to the cause of jihad, not to Iran per se. If Iran goes down the drain, but a new caliphate is created, first in the region and then globally, that’s success by their standards.
Spengler knows that. He notes that “Iran is engaged in such an adventure, funding and arming Shi’ite allies from Basra to Beirut, and creating clients selectively among such Sunnis as Hamas in Palestine.” Let’s add al Qaeda to that list, while we’re at it. He then compares the Iranian regime to Gorbachev’s. By the time Ronald Reagan entered the White House, “all the communists in Russia were dead or in the gulags,” and the Kremlin was largely managed by cynical self-promoters, not true believers. So when the moment of truth arrived, the Soviets went quietly to their doom. But in Iran, “Ahmadinejad typifies the generation of Revolutionary Guards who followed the ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979, and now hold senior positions in the state and military.”
I think that’s why Iranian society is careening into history’s septic tank, it is why the word most often used by sensitive Iranians to describe their country’s plight is “degradation.” Persia is being gutted in order to fund the terror war against the West. From the grim figures on the economy, to the mounting trafficking of Persian women to the brothels of the world, to the drug epidemic sabotaging the future of Iranian youth, to the torture cells reserved for anyone who speaks the truth, Persia is being destroyed. All in the name of an evil ideology that drives a global war against civilization.
That war has been raging for nearly thirty years, and no Western government has yet found the will to engage in it. The message Spengler delivers is that there is no way out of this war. Left to their own devices, the mullahs will destroy Iran, and, if they can, us as well.
UPDATE: Spengler writes to point out that his article was written a year ago. Another senior moment for me! And high praise for him, since it reads as if it were done this morning.