Monday, October 22, 2007

Iranian Kremlinology

Much sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I refer not to the resignation of Iran's chief "nuclear negotiator," Ali Larijani, but to the hyperventilating speculation as to "what it means".

First, the particulars:
Iran's chief negotiator with the West over Tehran's nuclear programme, Ali Larijani, has resigned.

A government spokesman said Mr Larijani had repeatedly offered his resignation and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had finally accepted it.

Mr Larijani had differences with the president over how to proceed with the negotiations, correspondents say. ...

Mr Larijani has favoured further negotiations with the West over Iran's uranium enrichment programme, as opposed to the president's more hard-line approach, our correspondent says.
Seems rather yawn-inducing to me. It's not as though there was any genuine difference of opinion at work, here. Both Larijani and Ahmadinejad serve at the pleasure of the mullahs; and "approach" taken by Iran is ultimately theirs. Whatever their underlings do is about as autonomous as the rhetoric of a ventriloquist's dummy.

Think this through: what purpose to negotiations serve for the mullahs? Time. Keep stringing the gullible West along with the flickering hope of a perpetually elusive "diplomatic breakthrough" while building their nuclear arsenal until they're ready to use it, after which they can break off negotiations citing "American intransigence" or "imperialism" or some such, accuse us of "plotting to attack them all along," and start "deploying" the fruits of their far-from-clandestine labors. All these years of pointless "jaw-jaw" have ever been for Tehran is a cloak for their prelude to Armageddon.

Some believe that Larijani's departure "signals a hardening of position on the part of the Iranians and a move away from engagement." Others even harbor the naive hope that "the illusion that negotiations can dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons will be difficult to preserve."

Michael Ledeen's take is far more cynically prosaic, and thus far more likely to be on target:
Whatever Larijani’s job change may mean, it doesn’t represent a change in policy. The differences between Larijani and Ahmadinejad were only tactical. On the basic question — should Iran suspend its enrichment program — you couldn’t get the tip of a scimitar between the two. Both said repeatedly — as they had to, since the Supreme Leader had laid down the law — that Iran would never abandon enrichment. Theirs was a debate over style. Ahmadinejad wanted to tell the West to go to hell, while Larijani charmed them. Indeed, Larijani was the West’s favorite interlocutor. From EU Solana to a parade of foreign ministers and secret back channels (including Secretary of State Rice’s personal emissary, former Spanish President Felipe Gonzales), Larijani was universally liked. To be sure, he never gave a centimeter, but he was popular. I suppose President Bush would consider him “a good guy,” in the mold of, say, Vladimir Putin.
Speaking of whom....
The personnel shift may also be related to the mysterious meeting between Khamenei and Putin a few days ago, about which very little has become public. I am told, in fact, that the Russian president memorized his key message in Farsi, and delivered it in a private meeting with the Supreme Leader, with not even an interpreter present. If you think that is a foolish way to conduct diplomacy, I’m inclined to agree, but then I’m not a former high official of the KGB. Perhaps Putin made some interesting proposal that requires the talents of a Larijani. In that case, Larijani would need more time to devote to the Putin project. It’s not as if his successor at the Supreme National Security Council is a dominant figure in the Iranian political world. Indeed the new guy is generally considered a nobody, which further reinforces the view that we are not witnessing a fundamental political shift in Tehran.
Vlad reportedly emerged from that meeting blusteringly disavowing that the mullahs had any intention of seeking or constructing nuclear weapons. An attempt at reassurance that might be, well, reassuring, if it wasn't coming from the autocratic ruler of a former global empire with ambitions of re-igniting the Cold War. Such a man would find a gang of crazed theocrats a useful pawn to manipulate on the world chessboard in order to distract and "bleed" the planetary hegemon he seeks to bring down and replace. And if they go nuts and let fly with a few atomic salvos? That's easy - he hides behind his previous admonitions of a "diplomatic solution" and blames U.S. "provocations" for the Iranian attacks, whether direct or indirect via terrorist infiltration.

At any rate, Ledeen is right - Larijani's resignation is no watershed event. Indeed, if it "means" anything, it is that the Iranians have reached the point in their nuclear quest where they no longer need to maintain the fiction of negotiating.

If that's the case, the window of opportunity for the U.S. to crush the mullahgarchy's dreams of global dominion - and the mullahgarchy itself - without the price tag in lives and destruction rising to catastrophic levels will have officially closed.

The "beginning of sorrows," indeed.