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Pepe Escobar: Aggressive US and Israeli policy strengthens hand of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m talking to Pepe Escobar. He’s in São Paulo Brazil, but he’s been up all night following the events in Iran. I’m in Washington, DC. My name’s Paul Jay, and you’re watching The Real News Network. And, Pepe, let’s pick up where we left off. So just to sum it up very quickly, what amounts to open civil war has broken out amongst the Iranian elite. On one side, you have Ahmadinejad, the supreme leader, with a lot of support in the countryside and perhaps amongst urban poor. On the other side, you have Mousavi, Rafsanjani, and a whole section of the elite, which is perhaps more linked to the urban capitalism, more private capital, perhaps. On the other side, Revolutionary Guard, which is a little more entrenched in state capitalism, and both sides more or less raising sections of the population at war with each other. But clearly the Ahmadinejad side seems to have the army and the supreme leader and the upper hand. So pick up a little bit about the economics of all of this, and then let’s get into US policy.

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: The problem is that these ultraconservatives, let’s say, the neocons of Iran—supreme leader, Ahmadinejad, Revolutionary Guards, Basiji, the police apparatus, Ministry of Interior controlled by the Ahmadinejad faction—they control all the levers of power. So on the other side, who’s the most powerful player is Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani has a key card to play now. And this is what’s going to happen in the next few days, when we’re going to see what’s going to happen to the principles of the Islamic Revolution, as they say. As the leader of the Council of Experts, if he can muster enough votes, he can remove the supreme leader. Council of Experts is 86 clerics, all of them very conservative, all male, no women. They meet twice a year maximum to discuss matters related to the supreme leader. Rafsanjani, as we speak, he’s trying to see if he can muster enough votes to maybe—you know, it’ll be a white coup, in fact. There were only two supreme leaders in the Islamic Revolution, Khomeini and Khamenei. And Khamenei, by the way, he became supreme leader by fraud, which is something that every Iranian that was living in 1989 remembers the story. Apart from that, there’s not much that the reformists can do, because the crackdown is going to be very, very hardcore and very ugly. They have, I would say, the next week or the next two weeks or so to calm things down, because the country now is paralyzed. There is no decision-making. It’s impossible to run a country where the—not only Tehran, but the big cities are practically on fire.

JAY: There was a news conference earlier today with Ahmadinejad, and he was asked by CNN whether he would safeguard the—whether the state would give safety to Mousavi and the other leaders, and he wouldn’t answer the question.

ESCOBAR: Because, obviously, they don’t want to do it. And I got some info from a former Iranian foreign minister, Ebrahim Yazdi. He was saying, “Look, if they go on all the way, they’re going to try to imprison or even kill most of these people.” So we are at this level of confrontation. And the regime cannot take it lightly. So here we see more or less a comparison to what happened in Tienanmen in 1989, when Deng Xiaoping ordered the crackdown on Tienanmen and said, “Look, no mercy.” So I figure that now the Ahmadinejad faction, the Republican Guards, they are on a no-mercy mode at the moment to deal with what they call a foreign intervention, because they equate this Green Revolution with the color-coded, US-supported revolutions in Eurasia, which is absolutely—it has absolutely nothing to do with it. And if the American mainstream media are trying to see the Green Revolution as an extension of the Orange Revolution in Georgia, no way. It’s a completely different story.

JAY: And this is because the leaders of the Green Revolution have pledged to maintain Iranian independence on the nuclear issue and other such issues. They’re not an extension of US power.

ESCOBAR: They are not an extension of US power. And this is something that the US doesn’t understand—or US corporate media doesn’t understand, I would say.

JAY: Pepe, before we move more into the US policy, let me just ask you one question. The conventional Iranian army, does it have independence from the Revolutionary Guard?

ESCOBAR: No. The Revolutionary Guards, they more or less took over the conventional army. They were supposed to be an elite—as they were formed by Khomeini, they were an elite group to safeguard the principles of the Revolution. Over the years, because of their economic power as well, because they have the best weapons, they took over the—. So when you talk about the Iranian army nowadays, it’s basically the Revolutionary Guards with some, you know, non-ideological—. It’s hard to say non-ideological, because almost everyone in Iran’s is ideological in terms of defending the Revolution if you work for the government. But the Revolutionary Guards, which are the [inaudible] ultra of principles of the Islamic revolution, they are the army now. And, as we discussed in the beginning, now they are the state [inaudible]

JAY: So the Rafsanjani group has no real military power [inaudible]

ESCOBAR: No, nothing. No. They—.

JAY: Well, then that’s more or less the end of the story, then, isn’t it?

ESCOBAR: It is. They don’t control anything. The only thing that could happen which is—I assume everyone all over the world who is passionate about human rights and real democracy is a movement coming up from the streets. So on Monday, if we have 300,000, 400,000 people in the streets of Tehran in a real peaceful demonstration against the regime, this thing could blow out of proportion. I’m not sure they’re going to take it very lightly. The repression can be extreme.

JAY: Yeah, they would need splits in the armed forces for this to have effect.

ESCOBAR: Exactly. And this is also very crazy, because a few days ago, we were getting reports from Iran that parts of the Republican Guards were aligned with Mousavi. That was not the case. Otherwise, the split would be public by now, and they would not be supporting the crackdown in the streets for the past two days, on Saturday and Sunday.

JAY: Let’s talk about US policy here, because watching the US media covering this, you get the sense of this sort of benign, democratic power watching this emerging democracy, and then this democracy movement being suppressed, and all of this. But they don’t want to deal with the fact that Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader’s faction, how much they’ve been helped by the saber-rattling of the United States, by Israel, and continue to be by the fact that the US doesn’t want to completely distance itself from the Israeli proposal for the military option.

ESCOBAR: Absolutely. And, you know, Ahmadinejad and Bush, they were perfect as interlocutors, because they’re blaming each other all the time. And Ahmadinejad is still thinking in Bush terms. I think it hasn’t dawned on him and the hardliners in Iran that now a new kind of dialog is possible—if we follow Obama at his word, of course, if it’s not a pie in the sky scheme. But they’re still thinking in terms of the last eight Bush years. And most people in Iran, if we talk even to poor people, [they] say, “Look, if America respects our independence, if they don’t interfere with our foreign policy, if they respect the fact that we are allowed to have a civilian nuclear program, it’s fine. It’s not Great Satan anymore. We’re open to dialogue.” But, no, try to tell this to the Washington elite. It’s still impossible. They’re still more or less in an undisguised Cold War mode, but not against Russia—okay, of course, against Russia, but against Iran, treating Iran as a Cold War foe.

JAY: I’ve been watching interviews with people, and they’re asking, “Why do you support Ahmadinejad?” And many of his supporters have said, well, you know, he’s not that great at managing the economy, although maybe he sent my cousin a little bit of money in an envelope, but he stands up for our national dignity, he stands up to the Americans. So every aggressive word that comes from Israel and the United States is just political capital for Ahmadinejad to come back with some more rhetoric.

ESCOBAR: It is. And I’m sure this is part of the calculation of the Ahmadinejad faction. Okay, let’s say we get rid of this green problem in the next two or three weeks. Then we concentrate on our relations with the US, but under our own terms. And we are sure that they’re going to keep attacking us, the rhetoric would mount, and Israel will be trying to tell the international community, no, Iran is a danger to the whole world, this is going to be a new Holocaust, etcetera, etcetera. So it’s perfect for us, because with this, we’ll just use it, we’ll publish it in Farsi, and Iranian national opinion will rally behind us. This is part of their calculation, of course. They are still not thinking in terms of, let’s say, the Obama effect. And, by the way, the Green Revolution in Iran is not an Obama effect, as a lot of people in the US corporate media say. It’s a completely different phenomenon. It is indigenous, it is natural, and it is—. Okay, it is an urban phenomenon that came out of people who—they could see what Ahmadinejad was doing wrong. They could see that it was an alternative, even within the framework of the Islamic Republic by Mousavi. They know that Mousavi is not a uber reformist; he’s a pragmatic, moderate conservative. But rallying behind him would be a way out of this impasse. That’s what happened. This is the meaning of this Green Revolution. It was not invented by people who travel to Dubai and go to Facebook [inaudible]. That’s not the story.

JAY: So Western policy, I should say, this morning, on Sunday morning, George Stephanopoulos’ show, Stephanopoulos says, well, I guess this opens the way for the Israeli argument for military power against Iran. That kind of language is exactly what these people want to consolidate their position on.

ESCOBAR: Exactly. This is exactly what the neocons, Likudniks, Israeli first—there’s all these people—want, and the industrial-military complex, of course. This is what they want. They need a war. And now they have the perfect foe. They have Saddam Hussein redux; they have Osama bin Laden redux. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad now is the uber bogeyman of the 21st century. On top of it, he stole an election. It’s perfect. It’s on a plate. You give war on a—. You know, I’m really sad about all this, because I’ve been going to Iran for a long time, I have Iranian friends, I love the country, I have always loved the culture, and what the play of the regime nowadays was to hand out a war on a plate to Israel.

JAY: Well, thank you very much, Pepe. And just one little additional note from me. It would have been interesting if in the year 2000 Al Gore had the courage to stand up the way Mousavi had and denounced that election. Perhaps we would have had a different America and we would have seen hundreds of thousands of people on American streets. But he didn’t, and we’ll see where all this leads.

ESCOBAR: And it’s great, because when you go to the American blogosphere, a lot of American voters are saying the same thing, “If only we had the guts to do this in 2000.”

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Pepe.

ESCOBAR: Thanks, Paul. Thanks for having me.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.