Iran is rife with protest at a time when a sitting US President is historically unpredictable. It is also reasonably clear that he is not going to certify Iran’s compliance, effectively undermining the US-Iran agreement, which the US has already violated, although not widely discussed. Furthermore, the protestors seem to be objecting to the fact that the reforms haven’t had an effect, in large part, a result of the US sanctions. Presumably, Europe-Iran will continue, but what the White House will do in the coming months is hard to say, though it’s hard to imagine an invasion. At the moment, the US is not capable of taking on a major war. Trump is keeping his base loyal and doesn’t seem to give much thought of what happens in or to the world.
In this interview professor of history and author Lawrence Davidson breaks down the Iranian protests. He uses his knowledge of Iran’s geo-politics and history to better provide a more sensible framework of American foreign policy and how it relates to this region. Davidson argues that while the Iranian regime is capable of hostility, these protests in particular extend into economic root causes more than social issues which are often over discussed in western media.
Daniel Falcone: What is exactly taking place "on the ground," in terms of the latest demonstrations in Iran? What are the underlying issues regarding the protests and can you comment on US media treatment of recent events?
Lawrence Davidson: There is a lot of debate about what is going on in Iran - though little of it is heard on American media. The general claim is that is economic. The demonstrators are, apparently, mostly lower and working class folks, along with university students. They are reacting against high unemployment and inflation; a sense of having no economic future.
Part of this may also be stimulated by dissatisfaction with President Rouhani who ran as a reformer but then turned conservative.
There is also an indication that the demonstrations, at least in part, reflect an internal conflict between factions within the government. For instance, there is disagreement over the government’s investment in helping the Assad regime in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. This cost a lot of money that some groups feel should be spent at home.
This is the second time large demonstrations have taken place. The first was in 2009 (the so-called Green Revolution) which was largely a middle-class affair.
While the regime has managed to contain these outbursts, their repetition, in relatively quick succession, does not bode well for future stability.
Most of American media, when it comments at all, portrays the demonstrations as anti-regime per se, as against anti-regime policies. There is a difference and, at this stage, most of the demonstrations are about the latter.
Daniel Falcone: Trump and his base seem to be conflating the unrest with religious or political elements when this is mainly about economics? Can you talk about this?
Lawrence Davidson: President Trump sees the world in one-dimensional, black and white terms. Who end up the good guys and who the bad guys in this simplistic worldview is a function of who Trump is “doing business with” at the moment. Within the context of American foreign policy, he is doing business with the Israelis and certain policies positions flow automatically from that fact. He is allied with them against terror and also follows their line on Iran. This means he sees Iran as an enemy inspired by a suspect religion (in this case Shiite Islam - both against Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Daniel Falcone: Do you believe that Nikki Haley is using these events to beat the drums of war?
Lawrence Davidson: Trump is a loud mouth and a bully. He has found a UN ambassador that is a female version of him. Just like Mr. Trump makes empty threats, so does Ms. Haley. I doubt if anyone takes her too seriously, though they are sure to find her annoying and really embarrassing.
Daniel Falcone: What do Americans need to know about Iranian life and culture in order to follow the story better?
Lawrence Davidson: I think that Americans need to know that most Iranians are willing to support their theocratic regime as long as it can fulfill moderate economic expectations and avoid widespread corruption. At present there is some doubt that the government is doing so, and popular support may be slipping. However, like authoritarian regimes of all types, the Iranian government is willing to use high levels of force to suppress dissent. They have done so in this latest case. But without addressing core economic problems, the demonstrations will reoccur.
Daniel Falcone: The Iranian leadership seems repressive and harsh as well as mired in complicated foreign policies. How do the interests of the Iranian government oppose the interests of citizens and what do Iranians think of Trump when compared to Obama?
Lawrence Davidson: The interests of average citizens worldwide (not just in Iran) are pretty usually straightforward: public order and economic stability. You want a stable environment where the public space is safe. You want work that can sustain you and your family in relative comfort - and you want that work to itself be stable. That is, you want to know that it will be there for your lifetime. If a government, for whatever reason, cannot supply these conditions, it is not working in the interests of its citizens. There are other factors that can complicate this picture: growing and dramatic class divisions expressing income gaps. Racial or ethnic discrimination against minority groups, etc. It can get to be a complicated picture.
Iranians think President Trump is a warmonger, someone who has breached a solemn contract, and finally someone who takes his orders from the Zionists. In comparison, they of course approved of Obama who showed respect toward Iran and a healthy willingness to compromise.
Daniel Falcone: Won't Russia and Syria ultimately be upset with an anti-Iran Trump?
Lawrence Davidson: I think that both the Russians and the Syrians have long ago decided that the US under Trump would eventually break the treaty with Iran. I don't think Trump understands the processes of diplomacy - its uses and potential. Diplomacy per se does not fit his personality and he has proven incapable of rising above the whims and urges of personality. Plus, his racism is particularly focused on Obama, and he will attempt to destroy anything Obama accomplished. Let's hope he doesn't start a war.