the question of what Iran is. This isn’t just about whether it’s a dictatorship. What kind of dictatorship? To get the answer right is to know what kind of pressure can change its behavior or break its back.
The conventional wisdom is that it’s a dictatorship with democratic characteristics, and that it’s riven between hard-liners who want to make it more repressive and militant and reformists who want to make it less. Western policy, according to this analysis, should do what it can to encourage and reward the latter at the expense of the former.
But the analysis fails to explain why, for instance,
- the number of executions in Iran rose under the ostensibly reformist leadership of President Hassan Rouhani.
- It doesn’t account for Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif laying a wreath in honor of Imad Mugniyeh, the Hezbollah terrorist responsible for killing hundreds of Americans. And it doesn’t explain
- Tehran’s hyperaggressive foreign policy in the wake of the 2015 nuclear deal, which was supposed to inaugurate its opening to the rest of the world.
A better way of describing Iran’s dictatorship is as a kleptotheocracy, driven by impulses that are by turns doctrinal and venal.
.. Note how quickly the provincial protesters turned their sights on the supreme leader: Maybe it’s because they know better than most how thoroughly he’s fleecing them.
.. a supposedly charitable foundation controlled by Khamenei, known as Setad, had assets worth an estimated $95 billion.
.. “Setad built its empire on the systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians
.. the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, estimated to controlanother 15 percent of the Iranian economy.
.. But it also means that the kleptotheocracy is uniquely vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.
.. All Islamist movements take the concept of justice (as opposed to freedom) as their organizing political concept, and all of them ignore it at their peril.
.. Ken Weinstein of the Hudson Institute has argued that the U.S. government “should release details on the billions in stolen assets” held by the I.R.G.C. and the supreme leader. That — and making sure ordinary Iranians learn about them, one scandalous disclosure at a time — is the right idea.
.. put Setad, along with its scores of front companies and subsidiaries, under U.S. sanctions for corruption. The Obama administration did such a thing in 2013, only to reverse course as part of the nuclear deal.