In August 1986, in the midst of what would become the Iran-Contra Affair, an Israeli adviser to the prime minister, working undercover as a US envoy, met with Hasan Rouhani, the current president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rouhani, in discussing ways to facilitate the release of seven US hostages then being held in Lebanon, gave the Israeli the following advice: “First and foremost, you have to be firm with [Iranian leader Ayatollah] Khomeini. Stand strongly before him… If you don’t bare sharp teeth before Khomeini, you’re going to have troubles all over the world. [But] if you threaten him with military force, he’ll kiss your hand and run.”
|Rouhani and friends -- Why shouldn't he be happy! Credit: Times of Israel|
This advice is in keeping with a paper by Harold Rhode, who wrote in 2010 describing The Sources of Iranian Negotiating Behavior.
Here is the executive summary:
- This analysis identifies patterns exhibited by the Iranian government and the Iranian people since ancient times. Most importantly, it identifies critical elements of Iranian culture that have been systematically ignored by policymakers for decades. It is a precise understanding of these cultural cues that should guide policy objectives toward the Iranian government.
- Iranians expect a ruler to demonstrate resolve and strength, and do whatever it takes to remain in power. The Western concept of demanding that a leader subscribe to a moral and ethical code does not resonate with Iranians. Telling Iranians that their ruler is cruel will not convince the public that they need a new leader. To the contrary, this will reinforce the idea that their ruler is strong. It is only when Iranians become convinced that either their rulers lack the resolve to do what is necessary to remain in power or that a stronger power will protect them against their current tyrannical rulers, that they will speak out and try to overthrow leaders.
- Compromise (as we in the West understand this concept) is seen as a sign of submission and weakness. For Iranians, it actually brings shame on those (and on the families of those) who concede. By contrast, one who forces others to compromise increases his honor and stature, and is likely to continue forcing others to submit in the future. Iranians do not consider weakness a reason to engage an adversary in compromise, but rather as an opportunity to destroy them. It is for this reason that good-will and confidence-building measures should be avoided at all costs.
- What Iranians really believe, they usually keep to themselves. Instead, they tell those with power what they think their leaders want to hear. This is the concept of ketman, or dissimulation. Iranians do not consider ketman (taqiyah in Arabic) to be lying. And they have developed it into a fine art, which they view as a positive form of self- protection.
- Western cultural biases regarding, and demanding, honesty make it easy to misunderstand Iranians. Iranians have learned to cope with adverse situations by being warm, gracious, polite, and obsequious. Westerners, especially Americans who place a high value on candor, straightforwardness, and honesty, are often bamboozled by Iranians who know that those in the West are easily taken in by their effusively friendly, kind, generous, and engaging behavior.
- Negotiations are opportunities to best others, to demonstrate power, and to make sure opponents know who is the boss. In politics, Iranians negotiate only after defeating their enemies. During these negotiations, the victor magnanimously dictates to the vanquished how things will be conducted thereafter. Signaling a desire to talk before being victorious is, in Iranian eyes, a sign of weakness or lack of will to win.
- When the West establishes itself as the most powerful force and shows strength and resolve, Iranians will most likely come on board. They do not want to be on the losing side. If military action is eventually required, the targeting of national symbols and leadership strongholds may be enough to demonstrate that the balance of power in Iran is quickly shifting. By applying this principle, the West may not need to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities or launch a large-scale invasion to bring down Iran's rulers and stop the nuclear program.
- Iranians look around them and see that others in their neighborhood such as Russia, Israel, Pakistan, India, and China all have the bomb. To say that Iran shouldn't have the bomb is considered an affront to Iranian patriotism. Using a little ingenuity, we could drive a wedge between the Iranian government and the Iranian people. We should make clear that we are not opposed to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. We are only opposed to the current government having a nuclear arsenal because it is the largest state-sponsor of terrorism in the world and does its utmost to undermine its neighbors and remove U.S. influence in the region. If the current government acquires nuclear weapons, it might very well use them.
- If the West is to succeed, Iranians must be convinced, in terms they understand, that America is prepared to establish itself as a powerful force and help the Iranian population liberate themselves from the tyranny under which they live.
In the 630s, Arab Muslims poured out of the Arabian Peninsula to conquer the world in the name of Islam. Within 100 years they had captured the Arab world, crossed the Straits of Gibraltar into Spain, and had expanded eastward into what is today Pakistan. By 750, most of what we know today as the Arab world – the Middle East and North Africa – had become Arabicized, linguistically and culturally. The local languages and cultures were decimated. But not in Iran.2A country that could so manipulate its conquerors is not got meekly go along with offerings of negotiations or impositions of sanctions. If Obama is serious about preventing -- at this late date -- Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, he needs abandon what he thinks he knows and quickly learn about the region he is dealing with.
During the 300 years that followed, the few Iranian documents and literature that came out of the period were almost exclusively written in Arabic and are Islamic in nature. Yet by the 900s, history notes an incredible transformation. The Persian language reemerged as the spoken and written language of Iran, albeit written in Arabic letters and with many Arabic words, but it was, linguistically and culturally, distinctly Persian.3
These Persian-speakers were now Muslims, but unlike their neighbors to the West, they did not become Arabs.
To understand how this transformation occurred is to understand the resiliency of the Iranian people. As a former conqueror, the Iranian population included senior government officials who had the experience of ruling empires. The nomadic Arabs who conquered Iran did not have experience ruling large territories and foreign peoples. They needed help.
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