“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."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The US development of relations with Iran

Top 6 Iran Developments in 2014

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By Juan Cole | (not any more) —
In 2014, Iran made news on a number of important fronts. 
1. Although there was no decisive breakthrough in its relationship with the United States and the European Union, there was anticipation that some sort of deal would be reached eventually with the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5 + 1). It would allow Iran to enrich uranium for civilian electricity production but build in safeguards against Tehran deciding to build a nuclear weapon (something Iran’s supreme theocrat, Ali Khamenei, says is in any case against Islamic law). A deadline for a successful conclusion of the talks was pushed into mid-2015 from its November, 2014 deadline.
2. The success of the Syrian regime in consolidating its hold over urban areas like Homs and Hama and its continued defense of Damascus, Latakia and part of Aleppo, meant that the regime of Bashar al-Assad actually took some territory from the rebels, regaining some momentum. Syria is one of a small number of de facto Iranian allies in the Arab world (along with Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan and in some respects the United Arab Emirates). Every day that the Alawite-dominated Baath regime in Damascus does not fall is a win for Iran.
3. The conquest of much of Yemen by the Zaidi Shiite Houthis in 2014 gave Iran if not a new Arab ally at least a new friend. Moreover, Yemen was subtracted from the column of Arab states close to Saudi Arabia, giving Iran an opening. Contrary to what some Yemeni officials allege, the Houthi militiamen are most likely not in fact benefiting from any significant Iranian aid. But they may now receive some aid. This fall, the Houthis marched in commemorations of the Shiite holy day, Ashura’, in commemoration of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (grandson of the Prophet Muhammad) in 680. That kind of in-your-face Shiism had not been typical of the Zaidi tradition, which lacks the hierarchy of ayatollahs and the animus against the early Sunni caliphs typical of the “Twelver” branch of Shiite Islam that predominates in Iraq and Iran.
4. The fall of the Sunni Arab north and west of Iraq to Daesh (the Arab acronym for what Americans call ISIL or ISIS) in June of 2014 was a threat to Iran but also a geopolitical opportunity. The Shiite-dominated government of Baghdad suddenly became much, much closer to Tehran. It received military help from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and even was the beneficiary of some Iranian air force bombing of Daesh positions. In the rescue of the Shiite Turkmen town of Amerli, IRGC forces along with Shiite religious militias received close air support from the United States, becoming de facto allies. President Obama wrote to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about cooperating against Daesh as a sidebar to the nuclear enrichment negotiations.
5. Although 2015 may be challenging economically, in 2014 the Iranian economy did respectably.  It came out of a 2-year recession and grew 4% in the second half of the year. Despite the relative success of the USA in cutting deeply into Iran’s oil exports, such that it only exports 1.3 million barrels per day now, down from 2.5 mn b/d only a few years ago, it is not clear that Iran’s general economy has been so badly hurt. The drop in the value of the Iranian currency, the rial, has made Iranian non-oil primary commodities, agricultural produce, handicrafts and factory-made goods more affordable to other countries.  Trade in non-oil goods increased significantly with China, to some $6 bn., so that that country is the largest importer of Iranian non-oil goods and 23 percent of what China exports goes to Iran. Another irony:  Us trade with Iran increased in 2014, upsetting European countries who have reduced their trade with Tehran from $26 bn annually to only $8 bn. Domestically, the government of elected president Hassan Rouhani has cut inflation from 40% to 17%, lessening pressure on the poor and those on fixed incomes. Pricey primary commodities such as petroleum cause what economists call the “Dutch disease,” hardening a country’s currency and hurting exports of secondary and tertiary commodities. Ironically, the US may have actually helped Iran diversify its economy in a healthy way. Much lower oil prices next year will hurt the government budget and infrastructural projects, but may actually help other exports.
6. As relations improved slightly with the US, Iran also attracted the attention of some American celebrities in 2014.  Anthony Bourdain visited to explore culinary delights like fesenjan (chicken in pomegranate and walnut sauce)– but went on to say extremely complimentary things about Iranian culture and civilization. John Stewart directed a film, Rosewater, about the regime imprisonment of journalist Maziar Bahari– but says he wants to avoid a one-dimensional depiction of Iranians.


  1. China and Russia are prepared to strengthen relations with Iran. That is of no benefit to the US. The existing relationships in the Middle East have been a disaster for the US. It is time to rethink and recalibrate and do what is in the interest of real US citizens instead of DC lobby groups.


    Iran’s First Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri says the country is determined to boost economic cooperation with Belarus amid Western sanctions against the two nations.

    “Sanctions can never prevent a country from achieving its goals,” Jahangiri said in a meeting with Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei in Tehran on Sunday.

    He added that Tehran and Minsk enjoy growing relations in the political and economic sectors, but both sides must take more serious steps to further strengthen their economic ties.

    The Iranian vice president said Tehran and Minsk should support each other in the international arena.

    Jahangiri emphasized that the two countries have vast grounds for improving economic cooperation, adding that the private sectors can help both sides reach this goal.

    The Belarusian minister, for his part, said his country would never cut relations with friendly countries over Western pressure and influence.

    Makei added that Minsk is ready to boost its ties with Tehran in every field, stressing that the two sides should mainly focus on the expansion of economic cooperation.

    Iran and Belarus have developed good relations in recent years, particularly in the economic and trade sectors, and have signed a number of agreements to shore up bilateral cooperation in many areas, including in technical and engineering projects.


    1. Iran is committed to the destruction of the "great satan", the USA.

      ignore their position at your own peril.

  2. Since Iran is fighting for civilization we should help them in every way.

    1. Somebody's got to fight for civilization and it sure ain't us.

      Since it's Iran, we should get right with God and give Iran money, weapons, stocks and bonds, and some women too if the mullahs want 'em.

      rat could pony up his portfolio, for instance. We could all chip in.

  3. Seattle is behind at half time 6 - 0 against the Rams.

    1. Final

      Seattle 20
      St. Louis 6

      Seattle looks to be playing at home for the playoff games.

  4. Why Robert "Draft Dodger" Peterson, from your comments one would be led to believe that YOU would accept al-Qeada operatives taking power in Iraq and Syria.

    Is that the case, or do you still stand with the rest of US?

    1. America, under Obama supports the moslem brotherhood which is the creator of al-Qeada.

      Jack, do you support Obama's position?

      Answer yes or no...

    2. America is not "under" Obama, so your first statement is a fallacy that obliterates all that follows,

    3. The foreign policy of the USA is under the control of O'bozo, alas.

      So in that sense we are most certainly under O'bozo, rat - O - rooter.

    4. It is a widely used turn of phrase, under Bush, under O'bozo, under Carter, etc.

      You've missed it cause you don't read.

  5. John SheehanSun Dec 28, 08:52:00 AM EST
    "Every time anyone says that Israel is our only friend in the Middle East, I can't help but think that before Israel, we had no enemies in the Middle East"

    Deuce why do you delete my comment?

    From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.

    this John dude doesn't KNOW history...

    Surely doesn't KNOW American history...

    1. Neither the Halls of Montezuma nor the Shores of Tripoli are in the Middle East.

    2. America and North Africa, that is where those locales are to be found, neither are Middle Eastern.

    3. Delete your comments? Why? Perhaps because you are batsh!t insane.

  6. Appeasement doesn't work with fanatical mullahs or nazis..

    Those that forget the past will repeat it.

    1. “To me the Zionists, who want to go back to the Jewish state of A.D. 70 (destruction of Jerusalem by Titus) are just as offensive as the Nazis. With their nosing after blood, their ancient "cultural roots," ...
      their partly canting, partly obtuse winding back of the world they are altogether a match for the National Socialists.

      That is the fantastic thing about the National Socialists, that they simultaneously share in a community of ideas with Soviet Russia and with Zion.”

      ― Victor Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941

  7. Despite President Obama’s promise to veto any bill that threatens the ongoing P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, the incoming Republican Senate continues to talk up imposing new sanctions on Iran, putting the US in violation of the interim agreement and likely blowing up the talks.

    Sen. Mark Kirk (R – IL) says he has assurances from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – KY) that the second vote of the new Senate will be a round of sanctions against Iran.

    Obama’s pledge to veto such a sanctions bill does not seem to be stopping Sen. Kirk and others, who say they believe they can must enough Democratic votes to get a veto-proof majority through.

    The interim nuclear deal has the US and other P5+1 members offering minor sanctions relief in return for Iran limiting uranium enrichment. The talks have been extended, and the IAEA has repeatedly confirmed Iran is in compliance with the deal.

    Israeli lobbying groups have expressed anger at the negotiations in general, and have been pushing for the US to pull out. With President Obama unwilling to voluntarily withdraw from the talks, the belief is that violation of the interim agreement by Congress would be the next simplest way to kill the chances of a deal.

  8. Service under fire

    In a speech on the floor of the House in 2003, Kirk stated: “The last time I was in Iraq I was in uniform, flying at 20,000 feet, and the Iraqi Air Defense network was shooting at us”. Kirk has since clarified his statement, indicating that there is no record of his aircraft being fired upon. “I simply misremembered [sic] it wrong”, he told the Chicago Sun-Times, referring to his military record.