Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Enemy of my Enemy

Is the enemy of my enemy my friend? Innumerable examples of this from Osama bin Laden to Soviet Russia in World War 2, indicate otherwise. In the volatile Middle East in particular, shifting alliances cause problems for everyone but the most able political manipulators. 

In 20th century Iran there is a prevalent theme of doomed alliances. In the oil-nationalization dispute with Britain, Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq's National Front was made up of several nationalist political parties. Due to several factors including external meddling (Soviet, British and American), gaps soon appeared between the parties. Some of these parties ended up working in conjunction with the British and Americans to overthrow Mossadeq in 1953. This same theme of broken coalitions was perhaps most important in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Nearly every part of Iranian society was upset with the Shah's increasingly despotic rule and all worked together to ensure his fall. There were Islamists, Marxists, Communists, Socialists, Intellectuals and others, all working together because they shared a common enemy. In the end, one group won at the expense of all of the others. While the most significant gaps at the time were between the religious, the seculars and the Marxists/Communists, even amongst the religious groups which supported Ayatollah Khomeini there were huge ideological gaps. 

The dismissal of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri as the successor to Ayatollah Khomeini several months before Khomeini's death is an important example of the ideological gaps between the religious factions. There are several reasons why Montazeri was dismissed from his position. First he was not a very astute politician, but probably more importantly, Hashemi Rafsanjani (chairman of the Majles at the time, and President shortly thereafter) and the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei (President at the time) worked together to undermine the authority of Montazeri so they each would have a chance to gain more power. While Rafsanjani and Khamenei were once allied in their opposition to Montazeri, their own personal and political differences have since then made them fierce rivals, if not outright enemies. After the disputed 2009 Iranian Presidential Election Rafsanjani expressed marginal support for the reformists and has since criticized the Islamic Republic many times. Since then, several of his children have been jailed, assaulted, and forced to resign from their jobs. Rafsanjani himself was removed as the chairman of the Assembly of Experts, the group responsible for electing, supervising and theoretically removing the Supreme Leader. There can only be one winner, and for now, Rafsanjani is not it. This may change a bit in the Iranian Presidential election this June, but given the fractious state of Iranian politics, this is difficult to predict.

Moderates, seculars and former regime insiders are not the only ones who have been betrayed by their former allies. The United States has also been burned by former partners so many times in the Middle East it is puzzling why the government seems unable to learn from their mistakes. Today support from Congress for the Islamo-Marxist terrorist cult MeK (Mujahedin-e Khalq) is just as troubling. This support is based purely on parallel mutual enmities between the US and Iran and the MeK and Iran. While trumpeted as a "democratic" alternative to the IRI, opinion polls show support amongst Iranian-Americans for the MeK under 1%. I would hope that Washington has learned from the lessons of Iraq and Ahmed Chalabi. The lack of action in Syria by the Obama Administration is a cause for both concern (innocents are being slaughtered), but it is also somewhat encouraging as there is not a rush to give armed support to groups that have the potential to harm us in the future. Perhaps the lessons of Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan circa 1979 may have taught us something after all?

As cartoonist Howard Taylor wisely pointed out: "The Enemy of my Enemy is my Enemy's Enemy, no more, no less." Hopefully this is taken to heart by policy makers in the future as they are not the ones who suffer from their mistakes, we all are.

UPDATE 1: I am embarrassed to admit that I misread the poll on Iranian-Americans and the 5% (that support the MeK) I initially quoted was actually 5% OF THE 15% who openly state that they DO support an opposition group. So the poll responses indicate that 6 people out of the 800 who participated in the survey stated that they support the MeK, resulting in a total of .75%. 

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