The Iranian Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini had consequences outside of Iran/Persia as well; it was the inspiration to the Arab world for much of the radical movements increasing influence. Until then the Arab world was ruled either dictators who were not extreme Muslims or monarchs who had ties with the West that had colonized or heavily influenced the Arab world earlier in the century. Khomeini not only took control from a Western supported Monarch who had tried to bring more modern ideas into Iran threatening the interest of the clergy but also espoused a desire to export his version of Islam throughout the Muslim world and then throughout the world. This desire to recreate a Muslim caliphate was a common thread throughout these stirrings. The origins go back further in time but the Khomeini revolution reignited. The movements gained considerable support in the Islamic world. Most like the Muslim Brotherhood were willing to move to their goals more gradually. The roots of these moves trace back to the Saudi brand of Islam known as Wahhabism. It is based on the most conservative of the four schools of Sunni Islam (Hanbali) using the doctrine of some of the more extreme theoreticians of that school. The alliance of the Saud clan and family of Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhabi (the founder of the Wahhabi school)was to the advantage of both families. The former gained legitimacy for their attacks on caravans and the latter muscle behind their religious doctrine. That relationship has continued over time. The Saudi monarchs have followed traditional Islamic tactics of aligning with lesser enemies to defeat the main enemy at the time. As such the Saudi's first aligned with the British to deal with the Ottoman Empire and subsequently with America to deal with such threats as the likes of Nasser and the communists. They supported radical movements elsewhere but not at home. In essence, they paid lip service to the ideas of converting the world to Islam but did not seriously pursue that goal. The lifestyle of the Saudi monarchs did not quite conform to their religious teachings, offending the more extreme groups. The Sunni's often view the Shiites as heretics, which is even worse than being an infidel. This dates back to the early days and a question of succession as head of the religion, but there are considerable other differences. The Iranians hoped to become the leaders of the move against the West. Among the Sunni, groups such as those led by bin Laden exposed a desire to bring about the ultimate goals much more rapidly by violent means. These extreme views attracted only a small minority of Muslims but enough to become a threat to be reckoned with. The Islamic State is only the latest significant manifestation of these groups. By gaining military victories and proclaiming a reestablishment of the caliphate they have gained more followers. They currently have no power to be more than regional problems. The main concern would be if events in Pakistan allowed them to gain control of some nuclear weapons there.

The war between Iraq and Iran was started by Iraq. When the Iranian counterattack started to make some progress, Iraq resorted to chemical weapons. (We provided some help in that effort and did not condemn it at the time except when it was used internally.) This development caused many Iranian lives and had a profound effect on the Iranian psychic. The desire never to be at such a disadvantage in weapons of mass destruction was probably the main factor in the Iranian desire to have a nuclear weapon capacity. The political situation in Iran is complex with many competing groups. On the whole there has been a moderation in the extreme goals of Khomeini. The leaders of Iran had reason to fear the U.S., which was another reason to build a nuclear capacity as the only way to insure that Washington would not try to repeat past efforts to overthrow an Iranian regime. But the actual foreign policy of Iran has not been marked by recklessness. They might be very content to achieve a state like Japan in which they could build a nuclear weapon on short order but avoid getting that capacity before it was needed for self defense. Even if that were not the case, I doubt that they would be so suicidal as to use them unless attacked despite their threats against Israel. I suspect they will confine themselves to conventional (i.e., not nuclear) means and operate through proxies. If we were to attack their nuclear facilities, I fear it might result in an Iranian counterattack on American targets and on Western energy supplies and transport routes. This might then lead to a wider war that would involve a major US ground involvement. The assumption that the Iranians would just accept the consequences of such an attack without a significant response is conceivable but not an outcome I would count on. Both we and Iran have an interest in attacking the Islamic State.

 The Shiites in Iraq were repressed by a Sunni government under Saddam Hussein even though they became a majority in the country. The Alawites were an oppressed minority in Syria until the French took control. Following the strategy of the British they put the Alawites in control. The Alawites as a minority group could be counted on to work with the French as they needed the French power to retain their position of power. The gained influence in business and the military as a result. The latter gave them the ability to retain power under the Assads. Under the Assads and under Hussein, both more secular regimes, non-Islamic minorities faired far better than they would under more religiously extreme Sunni regimes. Neither had ambitions of world conquest. Yes they are/were ruthless dictators but they were a better alternative to the chaos that now dominates both countries. There is no question that Iran desires a more dominate position in the Middle East and aligns with the current Shiite regime in Iraq and Assad in Syria, and might at some point harbor wider goals of conquest. For now it has its hands full with internal and regional concerns and will for quite some time to come.

The Sunni extremists have been responsible for terror attacks on Western soil. The Iranians have done so regionally but not on Western soil, even though they would have to potential to do so. Unlike the Sunni extremists they have not been trying to convert Muslims in the West to engage in terror attacks in the West. The likely terror attacks by Sunni's have to be put in perspective. On the whole they are not a worse concern than regular crime. Even another success on the part like 9/11 as horrible as it is, would not be a major blow to the U.S. These groups are a concern but not something that will easily lead to our downfall.

In short, I do not agree that Iran is as great a threat as the author of the article Vic referenced suggests. To the extent these various groups fight each other they are not an immediate threat to the West. Over time, both Iran and the Islamic State will have to be contained, requiring that we keep up our military strength.





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1 Comment so far

  1. Guest on May 11, 2015 6:36 am

    This article states at the beginning that Iran is essentially an Arab country. Arabs form 2% of Iran’s population, the majority of Iran’s population is ethnically Persian. Please get this right.


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