‘Smart Cities’ & Architectural Character

Smart city discourse is increasingly prevalent and increasingly influential, thus, a interrogation into the design philosophy undergirding the concept (and its spin-offs) can prove instructive.

IOT For All defines smart cities (also referred to as intelligent cities or digital cities) as “hubs that route IoT-produced data through public-private partnerships to solve real problems.” Put another way, a smart/intelligent/digital city is a urban human settlement that integrates IoT¹ into its pre-existing infrastructure (of roads, streetlights, etc) so as to increase asset stability (security, maintenance) and general efficiency (of energy, traffic movement, etc).

Thus, what principally distinguishes a smart city from a legacy city, is the amount of information acquisition and processing apparatuses it contains.

To say that these new arrangements are ‘smart’ then, is rather like declaring that sticking more eyes onto a fish makes it smarter — its true, insofar as intelligence is reduced to route data acquisition (which is a rather one-dimensional reconfiguration which neglects a number of obvious aspects of intelligence).

What smart cities have in common with every other type of city is their basic design, which means that they have all the same strengths and weaknesses (in relation to the welfare of their inhabitants) of a conventional city with the added trade-off of mismanagement of the new sensor apparatus (spying, data theft, inability to process data, etc) / swifter data processing via the new apparatus (swifter navigation, better energy utilization, de-incentivization of crime, etc).

What smart city discourse neglects is architectural character — the artistic dimensions of dense urban living; the symbols and structures through which collective desire is channeled and expressed from whose extollation communal ties are bound and reinforced. Architectural character is the continuity between the collective desire of the people and their realization and willful externalization of it, such that it forms the loci by which the people may understand themselves as such.

The reformulation of architectural discourse is a rather pressing issue, as the UN estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world’s total population will live in urban areas (their population projections have come under scrutiny by global demographers for being too inflationary, but even if this is the case, the number of future urban dwellers will certainly swell considerably within the century). As of this writing, urban regions possess the majority of the world’s wealth and account for roughly two-thirds of total global power consumption. Reducing energy consumption, bolstering energy production, utilization and distribution and easing congestion are all important goals, but in the pursuit of these goals, designers should not neglect the artistic and communal qualities which elevate and magnify the dreaming populace and, through explication, crystallize their rattling fervor in the melded folds of concrete and steel.


Notes

  • ¹The internet of things (IoT) is shorthand for the expansion of internet connectivity into mundane objects, allowing for the semi-automation of homes and businesses.

Sources

  1. Ann Bosche et al. (2018) To Grow The Internet Of Things, Improve Security. Forbes.
  2. Elizabeth Woyke. (2018) A Smarter Smart City. MIT Technology Review.
  3. Gene Wes Keat. (1910) From Call Building To Oakland City Hall In 5 Minutes. San Francisco Call, Vol. 107, Number 138, April 17.
  4. Guest Writer. (2019) What Makes a Smart City in 2019. IoT For All.
  5. James Brasuell. (2015) The Early History Of The ‘Smart Cities’ Movement — In 1974 Los Angeles. Planetizen.
  6. Mark Vallianatos. (2015) Uncovering the Early History of “Big Data” and the “Smart City” in Los Angeles. Boom California.
  7. Matt Novak. (2011) Zipping From San Francisco To Oakland In 5 Minutes. Smithsonian.

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: Preface

I don’t know what’s been lost to us—six hundred thousand pages is a lot of goddamn room to pack away some gems. But the question now should not simply be: What have we lost? Instead, we should also consider: What can we learn from what’s happened? I think I might have an answer to that.

First, let’s assume a human being (like myself) can still dabble in the art of manufacturing wisdom, however approximately. I’m not the perfect candidate for this endeavor, perhaps, but I’m not the worst. As an academic affiliated with [ŗ͟҉̡͝e̢̛d̸̡̕͢͡a͘͏̷c̴̶t̵҉̸e͘͜͡ḑ̸̧́͝], I had the opportunity to peruse the complete text of the Singularity Survival Guide (before any of the unfortunate litigation came about, I should add). And I can assure you that, generally speaking, I could have thought of a great deal of the purported wisdom found within those exhausting pages. Take that for what it’s worth…

So, as a human, unaided by any digital enhancement, I’ll hazard an original thought: If humanity is ever taken down by robots, it will in part be due to our knee-jerk infatuation with anthropomorphism.

We can’t help ourselves in this. As children, what’s the first thing we do with a yellow crayon? Do we draw a shining yellow sun? No! We draw a shining yellow sun with a face and its tongue sticking out! It’s like we can’t stand inanimateness—not even in something as naturally wondrous as the goddamn sun!

In 2017, the humanoid robot Sophia became the first robot to receive citizenship from any country, and she also received an official title from the United Nations. Then, across the globe, serious talks of AI personhood began.

And now look what happened with the Singularity Survival Guide: We gave ownership rights to the program that created it. Next thing, you’ll expect the program to start dating, get married, go on a delightful honeymoon, settle down with kids and a mortgage, and participate in our political system with a healthy portion of its income going to federal taxes.

Here’s another bit of human wisdom for you: If there is no consciousness to these AI creatures, then they better not take us over. I don’t quite mind being taken over by a superior being at least so long as it experiences incalculably more pleasure than I’m capable of, and can also appreciate the extreme measures of pain I’m liable to feel when my personhood is overlooked… or obliterated.

– Professor Y.

Palo Alto, CA

TLC REPORT: US & IRANIAN GEO-STRATEGY, PRT. 2

In the last installment of the report we took a brief look back at the history of Iran (Persia). Now that we have a better grasp of the tenor of the country we shall turn our attention to Iran geo-strategic aims, both past, present and what they project for the future. In the third installment we shall tackle America and its relationship to Iran.


Key notes concerning Iran

  • Total Iranian Dominion: 1,648,195 sq km (19th largest country in the world by landmass); irrigated landmass, 95,530 sq km (approximately)
  • Border countries: Afghanistan 921 km, Armenia 44 km, Azerbaijan 689 km, Iraq 1,599 km, Pakistan 959 km, Turkey 534 km, Turkmenistan 1,148 km
  • Population dispensation: Iranian settlements are primarily concentrated in the north, northwestern and western areas surrounding the Zagros and Elburz mountain ranges.
  • Devoid of maritime power
  • Natural land fortress (the walls of Iran)
  • Semi-arid climate, rough terrain, mountainous, spotted with deserts
  • High lands house majority population.
  • Low lands are treacherous and difficult to traverse.
  • Resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc, sulfur
  • Majority Shi’ite (member of the “Shia Crescent”)
  • Strongly favors Shia regimes and minorities populaces across the middle east over Sunni conglomerations.
  • Primary languages: Persian (official), Azeri Turkic and Turkic dialects, Kurdish, Gilaki, Mazandarani, Luri, Balochi, Arabic
  • Considered state-sponsor of terrorism by USA

Iranian Strategic Imperative

  • Bolster military
  • Maintain control of the Zagros & Elburz mountains and Mesopotamia.
  • Maintain control of mountains east of Dasht-e Kavir & Dasht-e Lut to maintain frontiers against Pakistan & Afghanistan.
  • Maintain security surrounding the Caucasus to defend land from Russo-Turkish threats.
  • Secure Western Coast of Persian Gulf.
  • Mitigate ethnic conflagration and work towards inter-ethnic and inter-religious cohesion.
  • Bolster economy to mitigate population dissent
  • Exploit Shia Crescent
  • Win the proxy war with Israel.
  • Extricate country from US, UN, EU control

Finding a clear starting point in the geo-strategic aims of Iran is a difficult task due to the chaotic nature of the country, its peculiar, still-congealing form of government (Republican Islamic Theocracy) and its complex, tapestried past. We must begin our exercise by looking to the foremost concentration of power, the religious clerisy of Iran. They are led by the Supreme Leader[1], Ali Khamenei, a poet and scholar who was a devout disciple of the late Supreme Leader, Imam[2] Sayyid Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini (these leaders are often confused for each other by Westerners due to the similarities of their names). Khamenei’s words will doubtless echo as much as his predecessors throughout future Iranian policies and trajectories and he, like Khomeini are already well enshrined in popular culture, thus, a summary of the man and his positions is well in order.

Supreme Leader Khamenei

No political action can be taken and sustained without the approval of the Supreme Leader. As Iranian National Library director and 5th president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami once said, “The Supreme Leader has the final say over everything, so before standing [for election], I had to see what he thought of my candidacy.”[3]

Therefore we turn to the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei. Khamenei is a peculiar man in that he is not very peculiar at all. He has been described by many of those who knew him as a extremely ordinary Iranian. Despite these descriptions he does have many notable attributes, the first and foremost is his caution. Khamenei is a extremely introspective individual, one who carefully considers, not just his words, but also his actions (his methodical method of speech and comprehensive assimilation of geopolitical events well attests to this characterization). This is to say, he is not a man who “shoots from the hip.” He is also a highly educated man and took for his mentors both Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Hadi Milani (1892–1975) and the notorious Imam Ruhollah Khomenei (1902–1989). Ethnically, Khamenei is of Azerbaijanis (Iberian) extraction, the largest minority population in Iran. The Supreme Leader is reportedly in failing health and sometimes vanishes for long periods of time from the public eye; these reports are not conclusive but rather, largely speculative.

Khamenei’s political ideology is concurrent with his faith in that he champions a strong, independent Islamic Iran. Whilst Western media outlets (especially ostensibly “right-wing” ones) take to characterizing Khamenei as little more than a mad-dog dictator, this is far too reductionist; Khamenei is a very philosophically adept and reasonable individual (provided those whom he is engaging with are not considered existential threats to Iran or Islam). Khamenei and his followers believe that the Western powers are decadent but fully acknowledge that the Eastern hubs of power pale in comparison to those of the United States and Europe; one of the slogans of the Iranian Islamic Revolution is: Neither Easterners nor Westerners.

“The part of the slogan, ‘…nor westerners’ means that we should not be mesmerized, submerged, enslaved or influenced by the west; we should not move in the direction of their demands; we should cleanse the country of a process of assimilation into the decadent western culture. The Assembly of Experts should examine this issue and it should put forward its demands.” – Khamenei, 2017

Elsewhere Khamenei has reiterated his point through colorful aphorisms, such as,

“-we should not exchange our powerful legs for the foreigners’ cane.” – Khamenei, 2017

This is to say that, though he is open to the idea of dialogue with the rest of the world, the Iranian’s should always move forwards under their own power and towards their own ends (the Islamic Revolution) and not be tempted into assimilation with the comfortable (or “decadent” to use his own phraseology), western way of life.

His opinion of the current president as of this writing, Donald J. Trump, is as low as his opinion on the general character of Western Civilization. He stated in a speech given to the Assembly of Experts (The Revolutionary Islamic Intellectual Clerisy) that:

“The reason behind the ignorant, derogatory, and thoughtless speech delivered by the US President – rife with gang-like rhetoric and cowboy fantasies, and filled with much falsehood and confusion – is due to his anger, desperation, and witlessness,” he went on to say, “The statements of the US President were not a source of pride for the American nation; personalities representing USA should feel embarrassed by these statements and their President. Of course, they have expressed this embarrassment before.” He later elaborated, “Beginning decades ago, the Americans (USA) had a plan for West Asia, they called this plan, ‘The New Middle East’ or ‘The Greater Middle East.’ The three main axes of this plan were Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, but they faced defeat in all of these three countries.” He continued, “On the basis of this plan, Iraq – with its ancient history and civilization – Syria, as the Center of Resistance, and Lebanon with its special position, were supposed to fall under the influence and domination of the US and the Zionist regime. Today, however, the realities of the region are so different, because they (US and Zionists) have not managed to accomplish anything in Lebanon; and, in Iraq, what has happened is the exact opposite of what they set out to do; in Syria, too, despite the countless crimes of the US and its allies, the massacre of the people in that country, and the USA’s overwhelming support of terrorist and takfiri [those who excommunicate others in religion] groups, DAESH has now reached its end game, and takfiri groups, such as the al-Nusra Front, have become isolated,” later still he added, “The presence and influence of the Islamic Republic have caused plans and desires of the US and the Zionist regime to fail in the region, and that is why they are angry.”

In a more recent speech which clearly defines the national project of Iran, Khamenei stated,

“It’s not simply a question of a number of years. It is a fight of a nation against an anti-nation; a fight of Iran against anti-Iran; a fight of Islam against anti-Islam: this has always existed and will persists.” -Khamenei (January 9, 2018)


Policy Trajectories

Moving from the micro to the macro, Iranian foreign and defensive policy has, in recent years, moved much in line (and away from and then back in line) with Khamenei’s afore-sketched-out philosophy.

Occasional Non-sectarianism

Despite critics of Iran stating that the country is highly sectarian in favor of Shia Muslims, this isn’t entirely true. Whilst it is true that Iran is primarily Shi’ite in terms of religious composition and thus favors the Shia overall, Iran has shown support for various Sunni groups such as Hamas and also works in tandem with non-Muslim groups who support the Palestinians.

Support for the Palestinian People; Opposition to Israel

To frame the issue with the most brevity: Israel hates Iran, Iran hates Israel. Due the Iranians sympathy for the Palestinian people – who they view as being oppressed – they look upon Israel as a tyrannical force which must be destroyed. The total eradication of Israel and the Zionist program is the publicly stated end goal of Iranian foreign policy as pertains to the region.

Trajectory Towards National Interest (Territorial Power) Over Religion

Despite Iran’s intensive support for the Shia tradition and its practitioners, wherever on the globe they might happen to be, numerous instances have shown that they are not nearly so “radical” or “fanatical” as they are often made to outwardly appear. For instance, Iran has sided with the Christian dominated Armenia over the Muslim (Shi’ite) dominated Azerbaijan in a attempt to prevent their own Azeri population from forming nationalistic sentiment towards the region (which would thus destabilize Iran from within and strengthen Azerbaijan). Iran, additionally, has refrained from showing any support for Sunni exigencies within Central Asia, a policy trajectory that mirrors that of Russia.

Opposition to EU, US economic and military power

Iran has a history of engagement with Turkey (a US ally) in order to fight against US/EU sanctions. Iran also believes that the US and Israel wish to restructure the Middle East to their benefit (which some portion of each state clearly does, as modern history well attests) and view this as antithetical to Iranian interests.

In Khamenei’s own words,

1. “The plot was made by Americans (US) and Zionists. They have been plotting for many months to initiate riots in small cities and eventually move towards the center.”
2. “Money was provided by a wealthy government near the Persian Gulf. Well, these plots are costly. The Americans are not willing to spend money while such accomplices are already there.”
3. “The third side of the triangle consists of the US submissive henchmen: Mohajhedeen-E-Khalq Organization, the murderous MEK.”

“The plot” being the covert take-over of the middle east.

National Exceptionalism

Much like the USA, Iran has a self-conception of its own exceptional nature which is granted it by God (Allah). Iranians often demonstrate this perceived uniqueness by comparing and contrasting their history and form of governance with that of the six surrounding Gulf monarchies (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman).

Internal Factionalism

Iran is highly factionalized with many different interests groups vying for different approaches concerning external and internal policies. The two main poles of power are Khamenei and the clerisy and the moderate and far more diplomatic president, Hassan Rouhani who has asserted that it is disadvantageous for Iran to have any “permanent enemies.” Rouhani also believes that the controversial JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action/Iran Deal) is a circumstance which can be turned to Iran’s advantage as he believes that is is important for Iran to renew old friendships and affirm new ones with other world powers as this would greatly bolster both Iranian security and influence; the JCPOA, Rouhani asserts, is the path towards this new era of cooperation and influence.

Rouhani’s pragmatic “real-politik” is in stark opposition to the Khamenei faction who look upon the JCPOA as something which must be begrudgingly accepted.

After President Trump stated that Iran had not lived up to the spirit of the JCPOA, Khamenei responded by saying, “Trump’s stupidity should not distract us from America’s deceitfulness … If the U.S. tears up the deal, we will shred it … Everyone should know that once again America will receive a slap in its mouth and will be defeated by Iranians.”

This stark contrast in diplomatic tact and lack of coherent messaging could prove increasingly problematic for the Supreme Leader and may open up paths of ascent for Rouhani and/or the office of the presidency as a whole given the fact that the moderate president of Iran has the backing of the youth (largely more liberal than the previous generation) and the intellectual elite (who largely desire moderate reform and world participation).


We thus conclude our overview for the moment and will be looking into US policy to Iran and some policy suggestions in the third installment of our paper.


Notes:

  1. Supreme Leader: The highest religious authority in the country of Iran who governs the clerical body; the true source of governing power.
  2. Imam: Most venerable designation in Shi’ite tradition. Superior to a Ayatollah.
  3. Quoted from, Iran and the West, Part 2: The Pariah State (documentary).

Sources

CIA, The World Fact-Book: Iran

Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist, R. al-Khomeini

A HISTORY OF MODERN IRAN, Ervand Abrahamian

CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran

CDC: Facts About Sarin

PubChem: SARIN Compound Summary

Iranian Protests Offer Opportunity For A Real U.S. Reset In The Middle East

Human Right’s Watch: Iran

Middle East Institute: Rouhani’s Corruption Problem

The Shia Crescent and Middle East Geopolitics

Protesters in Iran Qom city shout death ‘Hezbollah,’ ‘Shame on Khamenei’

Iran: The Pariah State (documentary)

Anger at Iran’s Victories & Their own Defeats is the Reason for America’s Enmity with Iran (Speech by Supreme Leader Khamenei)

Recent damage inflicted on Iran by US will gain a response (Speech by Supreme Leader Khamenei)

CIA Documentation

  • Situation report on the Iran-Iraq war, noting that each side is preparing for chemical weapons attacks (July 29, 1982)
  • Top secret memo documenting chemical weapons use by Iraq, and discussing Iran’s likely reactions (Nov. 4, 1983)
  • Memo to the director of Central Intelligence predicting that Iraq will use nerve agents against Iran (Feb. 24, 1984)
  • Intelligence assessment of Iraq’s chemical weapons program (January 1985)
  • CIA predicts widespread use of mustard agents and use of nerve agents by late summer (March 13, 1984)
  • CIA confirms Iraq used nerve agent (March 23, 1984)
  • CIA considers the consequences for chemical weapons proliferation now that Iraq has used mustard and nerve agent (Sept. 6, 1984)

TLC Report: US & Iranian Geo-Strategy, Prt. 1

The recent and violent protests which have recently erupted (and subsequently died away) in Iran have raised a series of questions within the US Empire. Namely, do the Iranian people, on aggregate, want regime change and, if so, should the USA help them achieve it? The answer most mainstream American policy analysts seem to have come to is a resounding, “Yes.” In this paper we shall endeavor, first to garner a basic understanding of the fundamental nature of Iran, secondly to determine a understanding of US foreign policy and its orientation to Iran and thirdly and lastly to posit some potential lines of action which may better both countries without needlessly increasing enmity therebetween.


Understanding Iran & Its Geo-political Relationships

Called Persia until 1935, Iran transitioned into a Islamic state in 1979 after the overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The driving force behind the coup, which dispensed with over 2500 years of dynastic Persian rule, was Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, a devout, Shia conservative leader who became known in western media more simply as Ayatollah Khomeini or Imam Khomeini (his title in post-revolutionary Iran). Ayatollah (Sign of Allah) is a highly prestigious title bestowed upon Usuli (the dominant school of the Twelver Shia Tradition) Muslim clerics who have achieved mastery in Quranic recitation, law and philosophy. Imam is a similar title but is only bestowed or used upon those who are a supreme religious and scholarly authority and as such is the highest possible situation, theologically speaking, in Shia Islam (so much so that its usage required theological reform). Under the regime of Khomeini, Iran became a theocracy wherein the Ayatollah was the supreme leader whose will in the temporal realm was subject only to the Assembly of Experts (AOE) comprised of 86 Islamic clerics. This blend of Republicanism with Theocratic authoritarianism laid the groundwork for the political modalities and traditions which still largely characterize the country to this day.

US Iranian relations became strained in 1979 when radicals seized a US embassy in Tehran, holding workers there hostage until 1981 (444 days). The hostage-takers were members of a group called Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line. The Imam to whom their name refers is Khomeini, who was unaware that the situation was going to take place but decided to support the act as a potent gesture of Iranian opposition to the West. The US shut down all diplomatic relations with Iran in the month of April, 1980, shortly before the resolution of the Imam’s Line hostage situation.

US/Iranian relations only further deteriorated from there, with Iran shortly thereafter engaging in a long and bloody war with Iraq which was, at the time, backed by Atlantacist power. Iraq and Iran had, at this point, a long and storied history of enmity, fueled primarily by differences in theological doctrine; Iraq being largely Sunni whereas Iran maintained a predominately Shiite (Shia) population. Tensions between Iraq and Iran were further debilitated by both nation’s declaring ownership over the Shatt al-Arab Waterway, which formed the border between Iraq and Iran and has remained a strategic key point given its connection to both the Euphrates and Tigres Rivers; it is also highly navigable, further increasing its value. The dispute was thus: Iran claimed the middle of the river, Iraq claimed the whole of the Eastern Bank (effectively claiming the whole waterway) and neither would accept the claim of the other. Animosity between both nations had also increased due to Iranian assistance to Kurdish rebels fighting in northern Iraq. Iranian Islamist propaganda was also a issue of grave concern for the autocratic-secularist, Saddam Hussein (then-leader of Iraq), as he feared that it would ignite a revolt among the more fervent Shia minority.

In 1980, Iraq attacked Iran beginning a lengthy and costly armed conflict. During this time the Hussein regime was backed by the US Empire. US satellite imagery detected that Iran was plotting a tactical maneuver which exploited a Iraqi weak-point and US intelligence swiftly relayed to Hussein the information which they had obtained. The Iraqi military had, since 1983, become infamous for its use of chemical weapons against its enemies, namely, the colorless, odorless nerve agent, Sarin (GB) which was originally developed in 1930s Germany as a pesticide (though Hitler refused to use it for military purposes). Though the Reagan Administration knew that giving Hussein information on Iranian military movements would result in the use of chemical weapons, Reagan decided that this was a acceptable price to pay to advance the Iraqi war effort. Now declassified CIA documentation confirms that US war-planners justified this action by noting that the Soviet Union had utilized chemical weapons in Afghanistan and had suffered very minor international repercussions; default US assumption was that, should usage of such weapons become widely known, international outrage would be mild and easily muted. One of the declassified CIA documents dating 1984 reads:  “[Iraq had] begun using nerve agents on the Al Basrah front and likely will be able to employ it in militarily significant quantities by late this fall.” This kind of policy was peculiar for the CIA and the State Department, as they viewed Hussein as “anathema” and his officials as “thugs.” Yet no matter how low their view of Hussein the view of the current Iranian regime was even lower. According to Air Force Col. Rick Francona, after it came to light that the Iranians were gearing up to exploit a gaping hole in Iraqi defense which would have allowed them to take the strategically significant city of Basrah and thus win the war, President Reagan reportedly scribbled a note to SecDef Frank C. Carlucci, “An Iranian victory is unacceptable.” Iraqi Sarin attacks swiftly followed. Due the Sarin assaults, the Iraqis were able to hold Basrah and push back the Iranians to a considerable extent, retaking much lost ground.

1987 Iran accepts UN resolution to end hostilities with Iraq. The Iraq/Iran war ended formally upon 1988 in a stalemate with neither side making marked gains; however, both sustained heavy casualties, specifically Iran, and expended tremendous amounts of capital (Iran:  500,000 dead, Iraq: 150,000 dead). The massive debt accumulated by the Iraqis would be one of the principal levers which would move Saddam’s war machine into Kuwait and spark the Gulf War.

On the 3rd of June, 1989, Imam Khomeini passed away, throwing the country into disarray and uncertainty. Massive crowds wailed in the streets. Though painted a vile tyrant by western media, he was widely loved and respected within Iran; his death was widely mourned. After the death of Imam Khomeini, the ideological backbone of the new Islamic government, two contenders for supreme leadership emerged, Montazeri, the rightfully appointed successor, and Khamenei, a fundamentalist challenger. The two men represented starkly contrasting political vectors for the country with Montazeri adopting a “moderate” stance which championed republicanism and constitutional governance wherein the religious authorities were bound by the same rules as the rest of the populace. Montazerian republicanism also stood for economic liberalism and Western outreach, namely for the purposes of establishing trade with Western markets. Despite their seemingly neo-liberal tendencies, the Montazerians were staunchly conservative when it came to social policy; Khamenei, in contrast, favored a pragmatic theocracy which stood far more in line with Khomeini’s vision. Khamenei’s supporters were simply called “conservatives” and called for religious authority to always come before any and all other sources of authority, even the Iranian constitution. More importantly – as concerns geo-strategy – the conservatives also believed that a clash with Western powers was inevitable and should be prepared for with all due vigor. Like the Montazerians, the conservatives also supported economic liberalization, insofar as such practice did not impinge upon Islamic social norms and practice.

Behind the scenes, the Revolutionary Guard (a military institution similar to the Roman Praetorian Guard) silently allied themselves with Khamenei and his conservative coalition. The Revolutionary Guard were, at this point in time, 125,000 strong and exceedingly influential which lent Khamenei a considerable amount of social sway.

Then, in 1997, another faction emerged, the Iranian Reformists, led by Hojjat ol-Eslam Mohammad Khatami. Despite championing many liberal reforms they were ultimately beaten back by conservative forces.

Nationwide elections began in 2003. By 2004 the conservatives and Islamic hardliners re-seized control over the electoral institutions of the country, culminating in the election of Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad. The same year Abdullah II, then King of Jordan declared in a interview with Al-Arabiya that Shia Muslims all across the middle east were “more loyal to Iran” than “the countries they are living in.” The King went on to describe this constellation of Iran sympathetic Shi’ites as a “Shia Crescent” which stretched from Syria to Iran down to Saudi Arabia.

“If it was a Shia-led Iraq that had a special relationship with Iran, and you look at that relationship with Syria and with Hezbollah-Lebanon, then we have this new crescent that appears that would be very destabilizing for the Gulf countries and actually for the whole region.” –Abdullah II of Jordan, Hardball, NBC News.

In 2009, Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad (also spelled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) was re-elected. The victory spurred a nationwide firestorm with many alleging that he was only able to garner the victory through electoral fraud.

In 2012, economic mismanagement spurred on massive protests though the countries political framework remained relatively stable.

2013 saw the rise of a new president,  Dr. Hasan Fereidun Ruhani, a moderate conservative Islamic cleric. Ruhani unveiled a ambitious plan for societal reform which largely went unrealized due to the embattled nature of the Iranian political landscape.

2015, Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known more commonly as the Iran Nuclear Deal, or more simply, the Iran Deal. This deal, spearheaded by the so-called P5+1 (or E3+3 in Europe), the five permanent member-countries of the UN Sec Council (China, France, Russia, UK and USA + Germany) was a international agreement pertinent to the Iranian nuclear program. Under the JCPOA, Iran agreed to remove all medium enriched uranium and slash low-uranium stockpiles by 98%. Other impositions on the Iranian nuclear program were made as well and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was tasked with ensuring that Iran kept to the deal. In exchange for JCPOA compliance, Iran was granted freedom from USA, UN Sec-Con and EU sanctions. The deal was primarily designed to reduce the “breakout capacity” of Iran. The deal, though seemingly disadvantageous to Iran, proved to be a marked boon as it de-isolated the long marginalized mountain-nation and opened up a number of promising new vistas in the areas of trade, energy and future-weapons acquisition. Despite the unwavering commitment to Iranian power and self-determinancy displayed by the “hard-liners” such as Supreme Leader Khamenei and his IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp), they nevertheless supported President Rouhani’s reintegrationalist and international diplomatic efforts (Iran is always strongest when it’s religious authorities and elected officials work together towards coherent and achievable strategic ends).

2010-2016 saw a shift in Iranian policy which sought to extricate itself from sanctions imposed upon it by the United States and the U.N. 2016, November 8, 2:30 AM, Donald J. Trump is elected President of the United States and ushers in new era of foreign policy, one which is decidedly more Iran-critical (and more Islam-critical in general) than his predecessor. Trump cites Iran’s “malign activities” as being a continued state sponsor of terror groups such as Hezbollah and harshly criticized the Obama-era Iran Deal. One a speech given on the Oct 17, President Trump makes clear his policy objectives concerning Iran and its nuclear program, stating, “Today I am announcing our strategy, along with several major steps we are taking to confront the Iranian Regime’s hostile actions and to ensure that Iran never – and I mean never – acquires a nuclear weapon.”

2017, Hassan Rouhani won reelection to the presidency, garnering 57.1% of the vote. Uncertainty struck the country the same year when, on Dec 28, 2017, massive protests erupted in Mashhad, Iran’s 2nd most heavily populated city. The initial (ostensible) reason for the protests centered around the ineffectual economic policies of the Rouhani regime and declining living and working conditions within the country (a media trend was to blame the high price of eggs and foodstuffs more generally). This public outcry quickly transmogrified into a resentment towards the theocratic ruling elites, principally their ring-leader, Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Things quickly turned violent; protesters turned into rioters and attacked police officers; starting fires and chanting. Rumors began emerging that the US Empire had a had in the affair but these allegations have not, as yet, been substantiated. Additionally reports emerged that the rioters chanted things such as “Death to Hezbollah” they also held signs which read “get out of Syria and Take Care of US!”

Though not exhaustive, this summarizes a brisk modern history of the country. Now that we have a basic understanding a general ‘feel’ of the modern character of the country we shall turn our attention to the modern strategic modalities and capabilities of Iran and its interplay with the United States of America, Russia, discuss its proxy war with Israel and various other political players.

[continued in part 2 wherein we shall go into more detail concerning the modern policy trajectories and policy implementations and idealizations of Iran]


Key notes concerning Iran

  • Total Iranian Dominion: 1,648,195 sq km (19th largest country in the world by landmass); irrigated landmass, 95,530 sq km (approximately)
  • Border countries: Afghanistan 921 km, Armenia 44 km, Azerbaijan 689 km, Iraq 1,599 km, Pakistan 959 km, Turkey 534 km, Turkmenistan 1,148 km
  • Population dispensation: Iranian settlements are primarily concentrated in the north, northwestern and western areas surrounding the Zagros and Elburz mountain ranges.
  • Devoid of maritime power
  • Natural land fortress (the walls of Iran)
  • Semi-arid climate, rough terrain, mountainous, spotted with deserts
  • High lands house majority population.
  • Low lands are treacherous and difficult to traverse.
  • Resources: petroleum, natural gas, coal, chromium, copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, zinc, sulfur
  • Majority Shi’ite (member of the “Shia Crescent”)
  • Strongly favors Shia regimes and minorities populaces across the middle east over Sunni conglomerations.
  • Primary languages: Persian (official), Azeri Turkic and Turkic dialects, Kurdish, Gilaki, Mazandarani, Luri, Balochi, Arabic
  • Considered state-sponsor of terrorism by USA

Iranian Strategic Imperative

  • Bolster military
  • Maintain control of the Zagros & Elburz mountains and Mesopotamia.
  • Maintain control of mountains east of Dasht-e Kavir & Dasht-e Lut to maintain frontiers against Pakistan & Afghanistan.
  • Maintain security surrounding the Caucasus to defend land from Russo-Turkish threats.
  • Secure Western Coast of Persian Gulf.
  • Mitigate ethnic conflagration and work towards either separatism or further inter-ethnic cohesion.
  • Bolster economy to mitigate population dissent
  • Win the proxy war with Israel.
  • Extricate country from US, UN, EU control


Sources

CIA, The World Fact-Book: Iran

Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist, R. al-Khomeini

A HISTORY OF MODERN IRAN, Ervand Abrahamian

CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran

CDC: Facts About Sarin

PubChem: SARIN Compound Summary

Iranian Protests Offer Opportunity For A Real U.S. Reset In The Middle East

Human Right’s Watch: Iran

Middle East Institute: Rouhani’s Corruption Problem

The Shia Crescent and Middle East Geopolitics

Protesters in Iran Qom city shout death ‘Hezbollah,’ ‘Shame on Khamenei’

CIA Documentation

  • Situation report on the Iran-Iraq war, noting that each side is preparing for chemical weapons attacks (July 29, 1982)
  • Top secret memo documenting chemical weapons use by Iraq, and discussing Iran’s likely reactions (Nov. 4, 1983)
  • Memo to the director of Central Intelligence predicting that Iraq will use nerve agents against Iran (Feb. 24, 1984)
  • Intelligence assessment of Iraq’s chemical weapons program (January 1985)
  • CIA predicts widespread use of mustard agents and use of nerve agents by late summer (March 13, 1984)
  • CIA confirms Iraq used nerve agent (March 23, 1984)
  • CIA considers the consequences for chemical weapons proliferation now that Iraq has used mustard and nerve agent (Sept. 6, 1984)