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Was the recent uprising in Iran a “colored revolution,” a genuine movement for democracy – or both?

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, coming to you from Washington, DC. Joining us again from Frankfurt, Germany, is William Engdahl. He’s the author of the new book Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order. William, you told us a bit in the first segment that full-spectrum dominance essentially is the military and, I guess, the foreign policy fundamental objective, really, even since World War II, I suppose.


JAY: So in the first segment we talked about the moves by China, Russia, with Iran and other countries of the region, to create the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement to create a kind of counterbalance to US dominance in the region. So within this geopolitical rivalry that’s taking place, what do you make of the events that have been taking place in Iran since the election?

ENGDAHL: I think what’s been going on in Iran since the elections on June 12 has been a mishmash of the foreign policy intervention on the part of Washington and certain European governments, a mishmash because the perceptions have changed, and also the tactics have changed in the course of that. Fundamentally, Iran is another color revolution of the sort that we saw in Georgia in 2004, in Ukraine a few months earlier, the so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine that put Washington’s favorite dictator, Viktor Yushchenko, in power, pro-NATO and so forth, and several other countries encircling Russia in the former Soviet Union.

JAY: Now, what is the evidence for that, William? I’ve interviewed quite a few Iranians who say that in fact this is not a colored revolution. They say there’s no evidence of it, that in the colored revolutions it was actually relatively public: the Americans sent people to help organize students; there was clear trail of American money, American know-how, and organizational technology. There’s very little evidence that that’s the primary force at play here. There seem to have been a genuine struggle amongst the elite that’s still going on, a furious power struggle amongst the elite, which seemed to have created an opening for what seemed to be legitimate demands of a people’s movement. Personally, I can’t imagine the CIA isn’t doing whatever they can, but the Iranians I’m talking to say this is not the driving force of what’s happening on the streets.

ENGDAHL: Let me comment on that, because I’m familiar with these arguments. The YouTube pictures that the whole world has looked at in the last two weeks of thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands of Iranians marching through Tehran are real pictures. And I know Iranians of the under-30 age bracket, and they’re fed up. They want to drive sporty cars and wear blue jeans and look like their Western counterparts, just like kids under 30 do anywhere. That being said, the US government has had a program in place, a covert program, Pentagon-US State Department, since at least 2007, according to Sy Hersh, some $400 million for Iran regime change, destabilization in the Kurdistan areas in southeastern Iran, in several different places on the borders of Pakistan. And I think what we have with the elections around Ahmadinejad versus Mousavi, first of all you have a faction fight within the Iranian power-elites. Rafsanjani, said to be the wealthiest man in Iran, is very much pro-Western, market economy, free marketeers, and so forth, a very powerful man, said to be a billionaire many times over through his involvement in almost everything commercial in the Iranian economy, especially the energy sector. Rafsanjani is the patron of Mousavi. By the way, Mousavi is no saint. Much of the Western blogs have been caught up with the idea that Mousavi is some kind of knight on a white horse. The man was the creator, cocreator of Hezbollah back in the 1980s; he was intimately involved in the Beirut embassy bombings against the US personnel there in the Reagan era.

JAY: But, William, doesn’t that actually show, then, that Mousavi is not necessarily pro-Western, first of all? And second of all, there seems to be very different forces at play here. Rafsanjani is one force. The economic program proposed by Mousavi is quite different than what Rafsanjani’s been proposing.

ENGDAHL: Precisely, precisely.

JAY: Mousavi’s been essentially, as I’ve been told, is much more in defense of a public sector. Rafsanjani is much more into kind of Western-style neoliberalism, but so is Ahmadinejad. The other thing is that the people I’ve interviewed that have been talking to Iranians—I’ve talked to people that were actually there and [who said] that the people in the streets are far, far wider, in terms of the spectrum of the politics, than the people that just want to wear blue jeans, which, in fact, a lot of people are already wearing blue jeans. But the trade-union movement in Iran was in the streets. There were conservative clerics in the streets who were opposed to Ahmadinejad. There were many of southern Tehran. Much of the poor working class was there because of 50 percent unemployment rates in sections of Iran. That’s a far broader scale than just some people looking to dress and have cultural habits as in the West.

ENGDAHL: Paul, the point is that that’s well said and done, but that’s the perfect ingredient for triggering a destabilization and maximizing input through things like Twitter, through YouTube, etcetera, etcetera. All that you need is a tiny little handful of a few people who’ve gone out to the West, been trained, and sent back in—not that you send USAID people on the ground in Tehran. No, that’s not what we’re looking at. It’s not the same exact template that you had in Georgia. That’s why some people are confused. But I think the US grand strategy is to maximize chaos and confusion to take advantage of the economic crisis in Iran. Keep in mind oil prices going from $147 down to $30 a barrel in 12 months or even less had a devastating impact on the economic situation inside Iran, which is dependent on oil export for its earnings. So huge economic problems in the country by all accounts. And there is a tremendous—most of the Iranians alive today were born after ’79, after the revolution of Khomeini, so they’ve known only that. And, you know, I think it’s mixed up with many, many different sentiments. But that’s kind of getting caught up in the forest-tree paradox here. The main point is: what is US policy vis-à-vis Iran?

JAY: But before we do that, I just don’t think it’s fair to what’s going on to—like, the majority of the people in the streets, I’ve been told by all the Iranians I speak to, are not on the Internet, and most of them have never even heard of Twitter. In fact, it was text messaging that was the main thing that got things started until they turned the text messaging off.

ENGDAHL: Yeah. Doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant.

JAY: Well, why is it relevant?

ENGDAHL: Yeah, because once you get the thing started, it takes on a life of its own. And that’s the point, because Rafsanjani had a powerful faction inside Iran wanted Mousavi declared that the election favored him before the polls were even closed. What did that do? That legitimized his complaint that he was robbed of the election victory, and that galvanized the people out in the streets. Then that took a changed form, according to Iranian friends that I’ve discussed with, and it changed after about a week of that from pro-Mousavi demonstrations that “He’s our man” and so forth to a actual “Let’s change the whole system. We’re sick and tired of the mullah-cracy, the theocracy here that we’ve had for the last 30 years in Iran. We want a free, liberal Iran.” Okay, once that kind of thing gets started, it’s very, very difficult for anyone—the security forces or whoever—to control it. And that, I think, has been the behind-the-scenes, less-visible objective of Washington foreign policy. The aspirations of the Iranians on the street are human, they’re understandable, they’re legitimate. But I’m not talking about that here, Paul. I’m talking about who’s stirring the pot, who’s putting little signals in here and there that provide the critical ingredient and at key points. And there, I think, it’s a color revolution. I’m sorry.

JAY: I think the point you made, though, is really the most significant, it starts with a section of the Iranian elite. Rafsanjani, Mousavi, they’re the ones that opened the door to this. They didn’t need anybody from the outside doing it. They are the ones that call people onto the streets.

ENGDAHL: Yeah. Now, one question is: why did President Obama take such a very restrained position on the green revolution? It’s a color; it’s a green revolution, as it’s been called by its supporters. So why did President Obama take such a cautious public stance on the thing, although condemning the violence of the regime and so forth? I think the point is the following: Obama is president of the United States because the establishment realized they had gone down the road of raw, brute power force-projection of the Bush-Cheney era for eight years, and it stood to lose everything in terms of America’s role in the world. They had to put a kinder, gentler face on American hegemony, and that face is called Barak Obama. And Obama’s whole diplomatic ploy since he has been in the White House has been to project to the Arab world, to the Islamic world (Iran not being Arabic, primarily, but Persian), to project a new foreign policy, a new, friendly face in contrast to the Bush-Cheney years. So Obama has no choice: he has to appear to be restrained and not interfering blatantly in the internal affairs of Iran and their settling of their election dispute. If you look at what he did in Istanbul in April—or Ankara, in his visit there, he’s played a very—well, the State Department and the strategists behind the administration are playing a very sophisticated, deeper game of trying to tilt the power geometry away from China, away from Russia, away from Eurasia, and bring it back closer into the orbit of the United States, as is Saudi Arabia, from all accounts.

JAY: I don’t see why both things can’t be true, which is you have a genuine movement of the people for democracy in Iran, and the Americans try to use it and do what they can to assist it to destabilize. And, sure, Obama—certainly the Americans would know it would be a kiss of death for that movement. The more the Americans endorse the movement, the more it’s a kiss of death, because widespread public opinion in Iran is in defense of Iranian sovereignty, and they don’t want to feel at all pushed around or manipulated by the Americans.

ENGDAHL: I think the Iranian people are very sophisticated people politically and pick up on those nuances extremely fast, much more than some people I know in so-called Western countries.

JAY: But the progressive Iranian’s anti-imperialist, if you want to use that language. And the reason I am using that language it is Ahmadinejad uses the language. But the people I’m talking about it to in Iran who consider themselves anti-imperialist, they don’t believe Ahmadinejad is anti-imperialist, and they think his use of that rhetoric is a smokescreen. And they don’t understand—actually, we’ve done interviews with young Iranians who, for example, are big fans of Hugo Chávez. They don’t understand why many of what they consider progressive forces are in this alliance with Ahmadinejad. And, you know, Ahmadinejad calls himself anti-imperialist, but this is the same Iran that helped the Americans invade Afghanistan; it’s the same Iran that helped the Americans prop up the Maliki government in Iraq; they’re the same Iran that negotiated the deal of Basra. They collude and they contend with the Americans. I don’t see where the anti-imperialism is in Ahmadinejad.

ENGDAHL: I don’t like the term, frankly. I don’t think it’s descriptive of anything meaningful in today’s world. It may have meant something in the 1960s, but certainly not today. No. I think Iran’s foreign policy under Ahmadinejad has been one of, quite simply, realpolitik—pragmatism. You’ve got a giant monster with nuclear teeth on your door, surrounding Iran and Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Iraq after 2003, literally every corner of Iraq.

JAY: And another one in the Middle East called Israel, which is a supplement to that arsenal.

ENGDAHL: So you don’t go out of your way to anger that paper tiger, as Mao Zedong once said, back, I believe, in the ’60s. Well, the paper tiger has nuclear teeth, and, you know, the whole hype about Iran’s nuclear program, I think, is more hype than it is reality, from everything I’ve seen and heard. I’m not privy to the internal secrets of Iran on the nuclear question, but I think that is a projection of something saying, okay, we’re not going to be seen as being subdued by this awesome military, full-spectrum-dominance projection of the Pentagon that we’ve seen all throughout the Middle East. So from Iran’s relatively weak military position, it’s a clever strategy, as foreign policy, to be seen occasionally helping the US vis-à-vis supply lines in Afghanistan or toppling this or that, but at the same time trying to maintain a national independence. It’s a very complex game and certainly not a simple black-white one.

JAY: Yeah. I mean, I guess what I’m getting at is that within this system of imperialism, if you want to use the language, there are many contending powers; and in its relationship with the dominant imperialism, US, the others vie for their positions. But the problem I’m trying to raise is that within this system, when you have an Iran which colludes with the US, with the United States when it serves its interests, contends otherwise, which is fair enough—that’s what these states do—but when the people have a legitimate movement and legitimate grievances against that regime, if that regime has kind of positioned itself as anti-US, then automatically everybody’s saying, well, that movement must then be just some outgrowth of the CIA or just a manipulation of the US. And I’m saying it’s more complicated than that. There is a legitimate—.

ENGDAHL: I agree with you on that, Paul. I agree with you on that. It’s much more complicated, much more complicated. That being said, what is Washington policy, what is NATO policy, vis-à-vis the unrest, the legitimate grievances, call it democracy, call it more liberal, this or that? I have yet to see an organized form of presenting the grievances in some kind of way that could be points for a negotiation. That might be an interesting development. We may well see it. But my point is it was ripe for such a situation, regardless of what Ahmadinejad’s voting tally was or was not in the election, and that this would have been triggered off in any case.

JAY: Yeah, I agree with that. But I guess I would just add one point to it, which is nothing has strengthened Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard more than eight years of Axis-of-Evil rhetoric, more than threats from Israel about attacking Iran. This aggressive posturing of the United States and Israel for the last eight—now nine years gave that regime everything it wanted to create a public opinion within Iran that we’re the only ones that can defend your national dignity and sovereignty. This rhetorical partnership, if—’cause I guess it was very—.

ENGDAHL: It’s a perverse kind of yin-yang between the two sides. It’s interesting on that point, Paul, is that Netanyahu just reappointed the head of the Israeli Mossad, the foreign intelligence arm, and on his reappointment he made a comment saying thank God that we don’t have Mousavi as our counterparty as president of Iran, because Mousavi would have been an absolute disaster to work with. Implicitly what he was saying is: better the evil that we know than the one that we don’t know; and that Ahmadinejad is an easier counterparty for Israel to deal with in the world’s public opinion. And I think that’s probably their thinking on that. I have no reason to [think] otherwise.

JAY: Yeah, I mean, if they really do plan an attack on Iran, it’s a heck of a lot easier to attack an Ahmadinejad Iran than a Mousavi Iran with all the green flags waving around.

ENGDAHL: I think that’s a good point.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, William. Look forward to doing it again.

ENGDAHL: Thank you, Paul.

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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F William Engdahl is an economist and author and the writer of the best selling book "A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order." Mr Engdhahl has written on issues of energy, politics and economics for more than 30 years, beginning with the first oil shock in the early 1970s. Mr. Engdahl contributes regularly to a number of publications including Asia Times Online, Asia, Inc, Japan's Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Foresight magazine; Freitag and ZeitFragen newspapers in Germany and Switzerland respectively. His newest book is called "Gods of Money: Wall Street and the Death of the American Century". He is based in Germany.