Iran has a foreign-policy doctrine

Through its own words, the Iranian regime gives the lie to Western claims of “moderation.” The doctrine might also turn out to be the source of the Islamic Republic’s coming collapse.

Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen
Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for JNS on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in the New York Post, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Haaretz and many other publications.

In a bid to show the world what responsible, considered citizens they are, Iran’s leaders last week hosted their annual, gloriously named “Tehran Security Conference.”

You will have to figure out for yourselves why anyone would want to exchange insights on security with a regime whose terror footprint extends from Buenos Aires to Beirut. But for the ruling mullahs, this was clearly a big deal, which is why the conference was addressed by, inter alia, President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian military’s Chief of Staff Mohammad Bagheri, and the Iranian parliament’s Speaker Ali Larijani.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 20, 2017. Credit: U.N. Photo/Cia Pak.

But it clearly wasn’t a big deal for the rest of world. However much the Iranians like to brag, and whatever ludicrous picture is presented by Press TV and the regime’s other propaganda outlets, the Tehran Security Conference simply doesn’t attract the presidents and prime ministers who turn up at Davos or the Munich Security Conference. Those foreign dignitaries who did appear were, shall we say, of a certain vintage—individuals like Jack Straw, a former British foreign secretary, and Massimo d’Alema, a former Italian prime minister.

Whether or not these names remain familiar, they form an integral part of the international echo chamber that urges faith in the “reformist” leanings of Rouhani. Jack Straw, for example, has traveled to Tehran on many occasions, never failing to make the sorts of comments (for example, praising the “lighter atmosphere” in Iran on a visit in 2014) that recall the fawning of the West European nuclear disarmament movement over the Soviet Union. In this view, the problem is not the peaceful, reasonable Islamic Republic, but a Western policy that is in thrall to the agenda of—as Jack Straw has said on more than one occasion—the “Israeli lobby.”

In the wake of the recent anti-regime demonstrations that erupted in dozens of Iranian towns and cities, Iran’s Western apologists have reinforced this line of argument, presenting Rouhani as an agent of change who wants to reach a historic understanding with the West, and variously belittling the protests as being about economic issues alone, or being overly provincial, or being played up more by Western opponents of the regime than by Iranians themselves.

The flip side of this is the rosy Iranian view of regional and international relations, as presented at the conference in Tehran: Iran is fighting Sunni Islamist terrorism; Iran is protecting vulnerable minorities; Iran is a needed counterweight to the corrupt Saudis; Iran best represents the aspirations of the Palestinians, whose plight still defines the core of the Middle East’s problems; Iran’s growing power guarantees a multipolar, and therefore safer, international system.

Dig into this perspective a little more, and you find that there’s actually a doctrine to describe it—or at least the beginnings of one. A paper delivered to the Tehran conference by Mohsen Eslami, an Iranian political scientist, named it the “State-Resistance Doctrine.” In a turbulent Middle East left bereft by its inept, avaricious Gulf monarchies, Eslami argued, “resistance, as the most important model arising from the new conditions in the region, has been able to introduce itself as a successful and efficient model in the face of those models that have been borrowed from the West.”

“The doctrine of resistance, as a new framework that has been put forth by Iran in official circles during recent years,” Eslami continued, “has been able to show a good performance in practice and is now viewed as an efficient model by regional states and nations.” But what does the doctrine actually involve? According to Eslami, “nation-states embark on strengthening their national solidarity by putting emphasis on the three major elements of military power, indigenous economy and national culture. At the same time, they take steps to bolster their defensive deterrence in the face of external aggressions while boosting their power both inside and outside their borders through making their governments resistant.”

Mohsen Eslami, an Iranian political scientist, delivers a paper on the “State-Resistance Doctrine” to the recent Tehran Security Conference. Credit: Tehran Security Conference.

To summarize, then. Place the military and its budget at the summit of the state. Work to achieve some form of autarky. Enforce state-approved education, culture and religious activities, and eliminate nefarious foreign influences. Finance and train military proxies in neighboring countries to follow your model.

It does all sound terribly familiar, doesn’t it? But more to the point, to anyone who has remained unmoved by the Western embrace of Iran during the last decade, none of it is surprising; if anything, the doctrine is quite elegantly put. The point is, this is the vision of foreign policy put forth at a regime-sponsored parley. These are the principles that guide Rouhani and Zarif as much as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in dealing with the outside world. Through its own words, the Iranian regime gives the lie to Western claims of “moderation.”

Keep an eye out for the coming manifestations of the “State-Resistance Doctrine.” You never know, it might turn out to be the source of the Islamic Republic’s coming collapse.

Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for JNS on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.

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