“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ahmadinejad, Iran's small man, big ambitions and running out of gas.

For some time it has been obvious that Iran's Ahmadinejad has rarely missed an opportunity to provoke the Bush Administration and threaten Israel. Often the two go hand in hand. People are creatures of habit and when Ahmadinejad came to become President of Iran, after having been mayor of Tehran, he was fingered by several of the surviving US Embassy hostages as having been one of their captors.

The Iranian taking of American hostages helped solidify the Islamic vice grip on Iranian society. Now that Ahmadinejad is in power, he wants to deal with the significant domestic minority forces opposed to his regime. It is my contention that he is intent on goading either Israel or the US, preferably both, to attack Iran. The trade-off in damage will be more than offset by the rallying effect of Iranian nationalism against foreign ( US and Israeli) aggression.

Ahmadinejad is also facing some significant domestic economic problems relating to declining revenues from Iranian energy exports. A report from The Pakistani Times confirms that this may have started.

Iran suspends supplying natural gas to Turkey

By Laiylla Sherazi 'Pakistan Times' Foreign Correspondent
TEHRAN (Iran): Iran has stopped supplying natural gas to Turkey to meet increasing demand at home this winter, state-run radio reported on Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, we stopped supplying gas to Turkey while having a contract with them to meet domestic demand that was rising due to the cold weather,'' state-run radio quoted Iran's oil minister, Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh, as saying.

Hamaneh did not give a timeline for when Iran, a major supplier of natural gas to Turkey along with Russia would start resupplying Turkey with natural gas.

But the oil minister encouraged Iranians to take measures to reduce their consumption of natural gas, the radio said.
Of Nuclear Negotiator

Another report says that Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani will arrive in China on Thursday for a two-day visit carrying a message from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an Iranian news agency reported on Wednesday.

Larijani will deliver the message in person to Chinese President Hu Jintao and also meet other top officials, including Luo Gan of the standing committee of the Communist Party's political bureau.

No further details were disclosed.

China supports Iran's right to a nuclear programme but as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council voted for a resolution that imposed sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear industry and ballistic missile programme.

Both Russia and China -- which have strong economic interests in Iran -- worked to water down drafts of the Security Council resolution and Beijing has since called for more talks on the nuclear issue.


  1. This assumes that Iran is able to mobilise its conventional national forces to encircle our troops, but to date, the mullahs have cautiously refrained from employing the national army for fear of a military coup d'etat - in truth, the loyalty of the armed forces is questionable at best, while the Foreign Legions of Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army, including the Revolutionary/Special Guards are much more dependable.

    We do not necessarily need to worry too much about the Iranian national army, for it does not embody nationalistic spirit but instead is plagued by divided loyalties, or even vehemently opposed to the regime - that might explain why the mullahs are less than enthusiastic about deploying them to deal with unrest in Kurdish, Azeri and Baluch uprisings within Iran.

    From rufus' link:

    In Germany, some project the potential for biogas to be so high that it might replace all natural gas imports from Russia.

    For real? Now that is some news!

  2. The execution last weekend of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is a warning to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Israel's Ashkenazi chief rabbi said in Sydney this week.

    "It's a message for the next one to the president of Iran," Rabbi Yona Metzger told the AJN.

    Chief Rabbi

  3. >sam

    Now if only it were true that Bush would muster the political courage and foresight to deal the same heavy hand of justice to Ahmadinejad as it did to Saddam.

    Methinks the Iranian mullahs might be seriously reconsidering the likelihood of us handing them over to the angry Kurds, Baluchs, Azeris and even Persians when their regime collapses. What would they shout at their execution? Rafsanjani?

  4. Harrison,

    Interesting insight -

    If you don't mind me asking, do you become privy to this intrigue out of an amateur's passion, a graduate student's enthusiasm or something else? Where'd you goto school?

    Most of the time I'm running off what I read on the Internet and a few undergrad courses in college...

  5. >ppab

    May I ask, what exactly are you trying to get at? I'm sincerely curious.

  6. >rufus
    re: energy

    High or low oil prices?

    Learning to like high oil prices

    The bigger story here is how a perpetually high oil price, combined with the ideologically-motivated mismanagement of state oil industries, could very likely lead to a very favorable national security outcome for the U.S. A perpetually high oil price will create energy substitutes. In contrast to past episodes, Saudi Arabia may lack the spare capacity to offset declining production in Iran and elsewhere, let alone supply the rapidly rising demand in China, India, and the developing world. Alternative energy sources in the U.S. will create policy flexibility for U.S. foreign policy decision-makers. And ideologically-motivated mismanagement of state oil industries in Iran, Venezuela, and Russia will reduce the ability of these countries to cause trouble for U.S. national security interests (the possible collapse of Mexico’s Pemex may increase problems for the U.S., but that is a story for another day). As difficult as it is to imagine today, in a decade or so, the Middle East could become an extraneous backwater for U.S. policymakers.

    Any sketch of a rough timeline for significant substitution of alternatives? That would give us some idea how long we'll have to put up with these buggers before we quote: stick that ducat directly up their poophole unquote.

    re: Iranians playing both sides

    That would introduce a worm into the idea that any Shiites in Iraq might be harbouring regarding Iran's interest in ensuring the safety of Shiites - this will significantly sabotage Iran's bid as the champion of Shi'ism in the region. Unfortunately, this would probably translate into more points for al-Sadr's nationalistic agenda.

    Furthermore, it reinforces the insidious intentions of Iran in turning Iraq into a proxy battlefield ala Lebanon. Baker and Gates, does this look like Iran is even remotely interested in the stability of Iraq?

  7. I argue in the following post how alternative energy development can be a potent weapon in diplomacy in the ME. I look forward to your points of view.

  8. Plug-ins

    Once plug-ins start appearing in showrooms it is not only consumers and utility shareholders who will be smiling. If cheap off-peak electricity supplies a portion of our transportation needs, this will help insulate alternative liquid fuels from OPEC market manipulation designed to cripple oil's competitors. Indian and Chinese demand and peaking oil production may make it much harder for OPEC today to use any excess production capacity to drive prices down and destroy competitive technology. But as plug-ins come into the fleet low electricity costs will stand as a substantial further barrier to such market manipulation. Since OPEC cannot drive oil prices low enough to undermine our use of off-peak electricity, it is unlikely to embark on a course of radical price cuts at all because such cuts are painful for its oil-exporter members. Plug-ins thus may well give investors enough confidence to back alternative liquid fuels without any need for new taxes on oil or subsidies to protect them.

  9. Harrison,

    I hoped I wouldn't come off as smarmy or something - just curious that's all. You're entitled to non-disclosure of course. Wasn't trying to make a point - only wondering what may have brought you to the BC/EB parts and informed you well enough.

    Expertise in Iranian affairs is pretty rare, even now. Even when we had formal diplomatic relations with the nation, I've been told there was really only a handful who understood the country. I've read now its even harder to discern who is powerful, who is ascendant and who is threatened etc. Given that, your comment just struck me - "where is this guy from?"

    Hope I did not offend -

  10. >rufus

    Yes, it is. I provided the link along with the quote. His article is top-notch! I'm currently composing a post about it as we speak.


    I do not dare to admit that I am an expert on Iranian matters, though I have read pretty consistent accounts of minority unrest in Iran over recent years, as well as the rather sparse usage of the national army other than parades and self-aggrandising displays of patriotism.

  11. And ppab, I'm a student at the National University of Singapore. I had intended to pursue Middle Eastern Studies, but my university doesn't have enough professors in that field of expertise to create a course for it, so I have learnt to rely on blogs like the EB and BC, among others, for information and discourse.

    No offense taken.

  12. (h/t to rufus) Iran's aura of invulnerability is further endangered by the contingency plans of its diplomatic ally and economic partner, China:

    To ensure that investments in the sector are not destroyed by a sudden collapse of the the oil price, China has amended its bioenergy policy with a security rule: if the oil price falls markedly and stays low, the government will subsidise the biofuel sector (earlier post). Investments in the sector in China are driven by large state-owned firms, such as the China National Petroleum Corporation (earlier post) or the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation, which announced that it will be investing over €1 billion over the coming years (earlier post). Despite rumours, the Chinese government is focusing on ethanol as a gasoline substitute, not so much on methanol (earlier post), and even less on coal-to-liquids, which is seen as an "irresponsible" production path, because the process is energy intensive and polluting (earlier post). Despite a late start, China is now increasing its production of biodiesel as well, with an expected output of 2 million tons per year by 2010 (earlier post).

    Think about it: if China is sufficiently convinced that oil prices have risen too high, it could always cut back on its investments - the costliest one that when withdrawn, would reap itself immediate political and economic concessions and benefits would be with regard to Iran. The substantial investment in biogas fuels bodes well in the long term for China as well as us, providing a fallback plan in case Iranian brinkmanship gets too thorny a problem, or when the oil economy of Iran disintegrates - whichever comes first. [More]