Rafsanjani’s Rashomon

I was planning on doing a post on a different subject this evening, but given the momentous news out of Iran just a short while ago, I had to change my plans.

Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is dead. There is almost no way to understate the importance of Rafsanjani in Iranian politics. He was one of the key figures in the founding of the Islamic Republic, a former two-term president, former chairman of the Assembly of Experts, and chairman of the Expediency Council, among a host of other prominent political positions. He was frequently referred to as a “kingmaker” in Iranian politics and was credited with engineering the election of the current president, Hassan Rouhani, in 2013. In his later years, he was associated frequently with the moderate and reformist factions in Iran, acting as a powerful counterweight to the more conservative and hardline factions in the powerful judiciary, as well as the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

His death will no doubt trigger a wave of literature in the coming days and weeks predicting what his passing means for the future of Iran, both politically and beyond, but I want to refrain from that at the moment. Instead, I want to highlight something I’ve noticed in coverage of Rafsanjani over the years. One which, I think, acts as a metaphor for the broader debate over the Islamic Republic that has been taking place since its founding nearly four decades ago.

One curiosity of Rafsanjani’s lengthy career was the way in which he seemed to be everything to everyone. Depending on whom you asked, he symbolized either the worst or the best elements of Iranian politics. In this way, Rafsanjani’s career embodied the “Rashomon effect.” The term refers to the 1950 Akira Kurosawa film, Roshomon, in which different individuals describe the same events in different ways. The interpretations of Rafsanjani — as a politician, cleric, and man — are similarly multifaceted and contradictory.

Even now, as the Twitter analysis rolls in, one can see the vast differences of opinion Rafsanjani and the role he played in Iranian politics. On one side, you have those who believed Rafsanjani was an evil force, lurking in the background and using his immense power to surreptitiously and malevolently craft the most beneficial outcomes for himself or his country. Ironically, hardline factions in Iran and the West shared this decidedly negative view of the man. Israelis, too, largely agreed with this assessment thanks to a passage in a 2001 speech about the feasibility of a nuclear attack against Israel. Israeli leaders of all political stripes have frequently deployed this soundbite as incontrovertible proof of the Islamic Republic’s ultimate ambitions to annihilate the Jewish State.

On the other side, there are those who saw Rafsanjani primarily as a statesman and moderating force in post-Revolutionary Iran. He played a key role in convincing the first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to accept the terms of the UN ceasefire that finally ended the bloody Iran-Iraq War after eight long years. Later, while serving as the Iranian president, he made cautious overtures to the United States to reestablish ties after years of sanctions. He was considered a “moderate” in the complex web of Iranian politics, but was sympathetic to reformists and expressed support for the Green Movement during the protests that followed the controversial 2009 presidential election. He paid a high personal price for this stance, suffering the arrest and imprisonment of his children.

In his final years, he was a prominent ally of current president Hassan Rouhani and supported the nuclear accord between Iran and the P5+1 (permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) that traded aspects of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Above all, his proponents saw him as a pragmatic and stabilizing force in the frequently tumultuous seas of Iranian and Middle Eastern politics.

In many ways, the contrasting views of Rafsanjani echo the broader narrative competition on Iran and its intentions as an international and regional power. What his passing means will only become clear over time, but the stakes, especially with a presidential election scheduled for May of this year, could not be higher.

For now, however, all that is certain is that suddenly there is a void where there was once power.

The Black Gold Rush

Iran’s oil ministry released a report earlier this week listing 29 foreign companies that they will allow to bid on Iranian oil and gas projects under the Iran Petroleum Contract model. The list includes Shell (Netherlands), Total (France), Gazprom (Russia), Eni (Italy), and Petronas (Malaysia), along with companies from China, Austria, and Japan, among others. Not surprisingly, there were no American companies listed.

Among the notable absentees was British firm BP, which earlier this week announced that it would opt out of applying for any of the new contracts in Iran. Officially, BP representatives claimed their reasons for staying out of Iran were purely commercial, but unofficially there is intense speculation that the decision has more to do with the uncertainty surrounding the incoming Trump administration’s intentions for Iran.

BP is a British-based firm, but it has extensive roots in the United States and is currently headed by an American, Bob Dudley. Independent U.S. sanctions against Iran (i.e. sanctions that remain in place even after the implementation of the nuclear accord) bar American citizens from doing business in Iran.

There is an enormous amount of money at stake here. Iran is hoping to attract $200 billion of new investment in the oil and gas sector over the next five years, according to its latest development plan. The election of Donald Trump and the subsequent intensification of American hostility toward the Islamic Republic all but guarantee that the United States will not see any of the benefits of this process. Additionally, the entrance of these international firms into major development projects in Iran means that any attempts to reinstitute economic sanctions will face fierce resistance from the countries which stand to reap the financial rewards from these contracts. It’s worth noting, as well, that there are companies on this list from three of the five countries who hold permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council: France, Russia, and China.

Once the gold rush starts, it will be incredibly difficult to stop.

Populism and the New Axis of Evil

I wrote a brief comment in response to Paul Krugman’s regular New York Times column today on “Populism, Real and Phony.” I’m a big fan of Krugman’s work, but I thought today’s column was a bit lacking in its terminological definition of what “populism” actually is. Luckily, Jan-Werner Müller is here to help. His book What is Populism? is without doubt the best thing I’ve read to date on the subject. It is useful both for understanding the motivations and methods that forged our current global political climate, as well as for starting discussion on concrete actions we might take to reduce the very real dangers now posed by populist governments at home and abroad.

The full text of my comment is below. If you like it enough, I highly encourage you to click here and “recommend” it on the NYT website.

I’m a bit surprised at Prof. Krugman’s dismissal of “populism” as an appropriate term for these recently empowered political entities, given his usual antipathy toward adhering to the “conventional wisdom” of the moment. My guess is that he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to read his former Princeton colleague Jan-Werner Müller’s work on the subject, which offers a (re)definition of the term to something much more useful for our current political moment. Müller’s work posits that populism is defined more by its moral boundaries than its numbers. The populist appeal is essentially identity-based: an us vs. them confrontation in which the populist party or candidate claims to represent the “real” people and no one else. The key difference between this version of populism and the conventional wisdom is that the populist denies the existence of a legitimate opposition to their rule, and seeks various means — race-based, anti-elitist, or classist appeals, for example — to consolidate their dominant faction against subversive “others.”

Clarifying the definition of populism beyond a vague understanding of mass political movement is of vital importance as non-populists prepare to confront this new “axis of evil.” Knowing both who and what we are dealing with will enable us to formulate a strategy and prescribe solutions to defend against the worst abuses of these governments, and hopefully, eventually, remove them from office.


The View from Iran

As Donald Trump’s administration takes shape, two things are patently obvious: domestically, the United States will be governed by a group of mega-rich oligarchs; and abroad, Iran will once again be public enemy number one.

So far, this has led to rampant speculation about what the Trump administration will do with the Iran nuclear deal. Most Iran specialists, myself included, have urged Mr. Trump to keep the deal if not in its current format, then at least something similar. But this appears highly unlikely given the rhetoric of proposed appointees like Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor, Mike Pompeo as CIA director, and James “Mad Dog” Mattis as Secretary of Defense.

But beyond the deal, what does all this mean from Iran’s perspective? Nothing good for those who still believe in the value of diplomacy.

Politically, hardliner politicians have already been emboldened by Trump’s victory. To them, his ascendancy conveys a larger message about the United States’ character and credibility. Trump, they contend, is the true face of America; his anger, bellicosity, and dishonesty far more authentic than the faux-statesmanship of Barack Obama. They are using Trump and his appointees’ words as ammunition against the Rouhani government by casting the Iranian president’s decision to negotiate with the United States over the fate of Iran’s nuclear program as a fateful error that has fundamentally weakened Iran.

Economically, non-nuclear sanctions are virtually guaranteed to remain in place, if not expand. The efficacy of these sanctions remains somewhat uncertain, however, since it is difficult to anticipate what the European reaction will be to this effort. The key question will be whether European companies eager to do business in Iran will abandon their plans when faced with possible American retaliation. Airbus’s rush to deliver Iran its first plane before January 20 gives some indication both of how eager European companies are to conduct business with Iran, and how wary they are of the uncertainty that surrounds the Trump administration’s intentions regarding Iran.

Most serious, however, are the potential military consequences. Several commentators have already pointed out the similarities between the incoming Trump appointees’ views on Iran and those of the George W. Bush administration on Iraq in the months following the September 11 attacks. There is a severe risk that the Trump administration’s confirmation bias on Iran will result in ascribing any regional conflagrations to the deviant machinations of the Islamic Republic, leading them to begin building the case for war with Iran as the only available response to the Iranian threat.

A great deal rests on the fate of the Rouhani administration in the upcoming Iranian presidential elections scheduled to take place on May 19, 2017. Rouhani has already intensified his rhetoric toward the United States in an effort to counter conservative critics who are painting him as weak on foreign policy. Following the recent renewal of the Iran Sanctions Act, he vowed a “strong response” and “decisive action” if the United States fails to adhere to the nuclear accord. He also said, “America is our enemy; we have no doubt about this.” Rouhani’s directive to Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, to begin production on a nuclear-fueled propulsion system for naval ships represents the first tangible step toward testing the resolve of the United States to maintain its commitment to the nuclear accord.

Ultimately, Rouhani’s appeal rests largely on the premise that the nuclear deal would offer an economic boon for Iran, so it remains unlikely that he will take any action that extends too far beyond what can reasonably be deemed symbolic. That could change if Rouhani fails in his bid for reelection and is replaced by a hardline conservative administration that is more willing to respond aggressively to American threats, consequences be damned. Potential Iranian responses include heightened military activity in the Persian Gulf, including more aggressive naval and air force exercises in close proximity to United States vessels; increased funding for allies in proxy conflicts, including Hezbollah in Syria, Shiite militias Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen; or an expansion of missile development programs or nuclear-related activities. This could lead to an action-reaction spiral between the United States and Iran, in which both sides’ animus not only undoes the progress of diplomacy achieved during the Obama-Rouhani overlap, but launches a race to the bottom that entrenches hardline positions on both sides and sets the stage for direct military confrontation in the future.

All the Wars to Come

If there was anything good to be said about soon-to-be National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, it’s that at least he wasn’t Steve Bannon. Sure, Flynn had numerous problems, but at least he wasn’t death incarnate.

Now, I’m not so sure. As Eli Clifton at Lobelog reported yesterday, Flynn gave an interview a day before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in which he directly attacked the basic tenets of the Muslim religion, including the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed. He said:

So a thousand years ago, the Arab world would have had all the Nobel prizes – Science, Art, Peace – they would have them all a thousand years ago, so what changed was this guy Muhammad comes into play and, honestly, we’re dealing with a text that is ancient and not helpful and a society that lives on that text and it can’t come to grips with modernity, with becoming modern.

Setting aside the fact that “this guy Muhammad” came along a couple centuries earlier than a thousand years ago, this statement demonstrates that Flynn’s conflict with Islam extends well beyond the fundamentalist sect and into the mainstream.

This information comes on the heels of a series of articles in the New York Times cataloguing Flynn’s various character flaws, including his caustic personality, penchant for promoting conspiracy theories (including the infamous “Pizzagate”) and his near-total contempt for fact-based evidence. Most alarming is the revelation that as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he instructed his analysts to confirm his gut feelings about Iran having had a hidden role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks. He declared that the attacks represented a “black swan” event, and that they would have to dig deeper to confirm what he already knew to be true. Pointing out all the deficiencies with this inane logic is hardly worth the effort. The fact that Iran is a Shiite country and the Benghazi attackers Sunnis should have been enough to dismiss Iran as a likely culprit. Apparently, it wasn’t.

But minor details such as these don’t matter to Flynn, not when an apocalyptic showdown between Islam and the Judeo-Christian world for the future of humanity is coming. Trivialities like sectarian divides, political differences, and ethnic distinctions — or, really, subtlety, in general — have no relevance in this fight. In his book, The Field of Fight, published this past June, he and coauthor Michael Ledeen (a “Freedom Scholar” at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies) wrote on the benefits and virtues of a cleansing Holy War: “This type of war is not at all new. It created our world.” They continue, “The world badly needs an Islamic reformation, and we should not be surprised if violence is involved. It’s normal.”

Flynn hasn’t stepped foot in the Trump White House yet, but it is becoming abundantly clear that war is on the horizon. The only questions now are what form that war will take, which Muslim nations will be targeted, and how many people will suffer and lose their lives as a result. The Rubicon is behind us now, the die already cast.

Fighting Sectarianism with Sectarianism

I admit that I was skeptical when I first picked up Dennis Ross’s book on the history of Israeli-U.S. relations, Doomed to Succeed. I did not think, given the nature of the United States’ relationship with Israel during his tenure as a senior diplomat, that he would be capable of writing a dispassionate historical accounting of its trials and tribulations. I was pleasantly surprised when the end result proved my initial suspicions wrong.

Which is why its so baffling to come across his latest offering in the Telegraph today. Ross, a former advisor to Presidents George H W Bush and Bill Clinton, adds to the chorus of voices yelling foreign policy advice in the new President-elect’s general direction, but his, unlike so many other Middle East experts, does so in favor of regressive and illogical policies.

Ross’s argument is summed up explicitly in the op-ed’s title: “Donald Trump must keep Sunni allies onside and shun Iran to show he is serious about Isil.” The first half of that is not particularly controversial. Yes, it is important to engage Sunni partners in order to defeat an extremist offshoot of that sect. It’s the “shun Iran” part that makes no sense here: is Ross suggesting that the U.S. fight sectarianism with…more sectarianism?

This is essentially an argument for a return to the Middle East policies of George W. Bush, whose record in the region is hardly enviable. Bush’s policy of isolating the Iranians not only proved ineffective at halting the Iranian nuclear program and quelling violence in Iraq, it also squandered efforts at diplomatic engagement initiated by Iran’s reformist President Mohammad Khatami. Bush’s decision to “shun” Iran doomed Khatami’s presidency, and prompted a hard right shift in Iranian politics that led to the election of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005.

Ross also throws around the oft-repeated hyperbole about Iran’s desire to “dominate the region,” without ever really explaining what that means. Like so many others, he fails to even acknowledge that the Iranian regime might have its own legitimate security interests with regard to those same Sunni allies. By omission, Ross appears to absolve the Sunnis — code, I suspect, for the wealthy Gulf states — of any responsibility for the region’s current woes.

Ultimately, there’s no real endgame here other than a panacea-like elimination of the Islamic State and the perpetual isolation of Iran. We’ve been down this path before. It’s time to try a new one.

UPDATE 12/1: Ross really is everywhere right now. In addition to the Telegraph piece discussed above, he also has an op-ed in the Washington Post giving Trump advice on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I won’t go into detail on it other than to say this one also makes brief mention of Iran in a not-so-positive light. Ross’s last bullet point advises that the new president realize that the prospect for Holy Land peace “may be influenced by how credible the United States seems to be in countering threats from Iran.”

Trump’s Non-Choice on Iran

Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations has an op-ed in the New York Times today speculating on the future of the Iran nuclear deal under Trump. The piece provides a good overview of the Iran-related issues facing the new president, this time from a European perspective. Basically, Trump’s choice on Iran isn’t really much of a choice at all. He can certainly try to fulfill his pledge to “dismantle” the deal if he wants, but most, if not all, of the actions he could take — reinstating old sanctions, adding new ones, etc. — won’t mean much if he can’t get the rest of the P5+1 to go along with them. At the moment, that appears highly unlikely.

For the Europeans, in particular, the financial incentive is weighted strongly in favor of maintaining the deal. When I was in Iran earlier this year, I witnessed a parade of European delegations coming to the hotel where I stayed in Iran to sign trade memorandums. I was also a co-author of a study released a few years ago that examined the potential opportunity cost to sanction-enforcing countries as a result of trade sanctions against Iran. The numbers ran into the tens of billions of dollars for several European economies. Germany was the hardest hit, followed by Italy and France. I recently updated those figures and will be releasing them in a new report in the coming weeks, and the estimated trade loss from 2010-2014 for Germany alone now approaches $100 billion. The chances that the Europeans willingly give up this kind of money to satisfy the ideological whims of an Iranophobic Trump administration are slim-to-none, so enforcement depends more on how hard the United States is willing to twist its allies’ arms to get its way.

Perhaps Mr. Trump, once he takes office, will realize the silver lining in maintaining the deal. His supposed qualification for the Presidency rested primarily on his sharp business acumen and his success as a global hotelier, so the increased tourism Iran is likely to experience with improved diplomatic and economic relations may provide an opportunity for Mr. Trump to accomplish something of actual importance to him: building a Trump hotel in Tehran.

The Trump Crusade

Looking at Donald Trump’s foreign policy team, it appears everything old is new again. Mr. Trump campaigned on a platform of taking down the Washington establishment, but his emerging cadre of foreign policy and security advisors indicates that he intends to return the United States to a past era in which the United States waged righteous struggles against an evil Islamist horde. The Trumpists are striking the banners in preparation for another crusade.

Of course, it is unlikely many have forgotten the first crusade of the modern era. It was only a little more than a decade ago that George W. Bush used the term on the White House lawn to describe the American response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Less than two years later, the United States found itself the de facto military occupier of two separate Muslim countries and engaged in an ill-defined “Global War on Terror.”

Mr. Trump can learn some important lessons from the early missteps of the Bush administration, starting with his choices of advisors and cabinet officials. Like Mr. Bush, Mr. Trump will assume the presidency with almost no foreign policy knowledge or experience, and thus must rely heavily on appointees for information and advice. So far, nearly all the positions he has announced signal an embrace of highly ideological and religiously-motivated individuals.

Three high-profile hires – Steve Bannon as chief strategist, General Michael Flynn as national security advisor, and Representative Mike Pompeo as CIA director – provide clues to the configuration of an old, but newly minted Trump worldview. These men see the world in Manichean terms, with the United States as a force for good and Islam the root of all evil, the two sides destined to confront each other in a clash of civilizations.

Mr. Bannon has been criticized for the legitimacy of his convictions, but at a 2014 conference hosted by the Human Dignity Institute, a far right European religious group, he advocated for what he called a return of the “enlightened capitalism of the Judeo-Christian West” to lift the world out of a “new Dark Age” left behind by the turmoil of the twentieth century. He decried the secularization of the West, which he sees as unfit to handle the emerging “global war” with “jihadic Islamist fascism.”

General Flynn, meanwhile, has been far more vocal in expressing his views about the nature of the United States’ current predicament. During the campaign, the former army intelligence officer consistently condemned the Obama administration’s approach to combating the Islamic State during media appearances, rallies, and on Twitter. He fixated on the administration’s refusal to use the words “radical Islamic terror” to describe the nature of the “existential threat” facing the nation. He has called Islam a “cancer,” and in his book wrote that he does not believe all cultures are “morally equivalent.”

Mike Pompeo ascends to the top position at the CIA having served just five years on the House Intelligence Committee. He was one of the three Republican Congressmen who mockingly applied for visas to visit Iran earlier this year, appointing themselves both nuclear inspectors and an Iranian election observers in the process. In a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei, they wrote, “It would be a shame if there weren’t any Americans present to validate that the elections were free and fair.” He has also openly speculated about the number of airstrikes necessary (2000, apparently) to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, calling it “not insurmountable,” and publicly declared his support for regime change in Iran. He will now oversee the CIA’s drone warfare campaign.

At present, there is at least one more soldier preparing to join the cause. Mr. Trump’s announcement of Senator Jeff Sessions, a staunch advocate of the promised Muslim immigration ban, as attorney general guarantees a watchful eye on the homefront to ensure that their campaign is not undermined by disloyal domestic elements.

It remains to be seen whether America will go to war with words or guns, and whether the latter will be open or covert. At the very least, the lessons of history caution against crusading. The crusades of antiquity achieved only fleeting success, and most Christian soldiers who marched on Jerusalem never saw inside the city walls. So far, the twentieth century version hasn’t fared much better. The Bush administration’s military misadventures destabilized the Middle East, increased anti-American resentment around the world, and brought about untold levels of death, destruction, and suffering. Rather than prove the case for Holy War, these experiences caution against allowing ideological fervor, instead of prudent consideration and debate, to guide military and foreign policy.

President Trump’s Choice on Iran: Petty Politician or World Leader?

During the campaign now President-elect Trump promised to undo President Obama’s “disastrous” nuclear agreement with Iran.  This would be a mistake for America, the world, and Mr. Trump.

Given Mr. Trump’s bluster toward Iran, including his threat to “tear up” the agreement on his first day in office, we might have expected a similarly defiant threat from Iranian leaders on the morning after his election. To be sure, no Iranian sent Mr. Trump a congratulatory telegram, but Tehran’s reaction struck a remarkable tone of reassurance. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Secretary Mohammad Javad Zarif, both of whom helped craft the now at-risk agreement, each issued statements declaring that the U.S. election will have no effect on the future of the nuclear accord.

Instead, the Iranians appear unwilling to allow Mr. Trump to find a reason to re-impose their international isolation or to thwart their efforts to participate in the community of nations. Nor are they giving up their goal of restoring Iran’s global respect, which was as important an objective for the Iranians as the economic and financial considerations that drove the long negotiations. By ending the United States’ commitment to the nuclear agreement, Mr. Trump may succeed in repositioning Iran as America’s enemy, but he would likely fail to isolate them from the nations that seek to benefit from renewed relations with Iran. Moreover, by creating the precedent of America’s failure to abide by its commitments negotiated by past administrations, Mr. Trump is announcing that it is the United States’ word, and not Iran’s, which cannot be trusted.

The Iranians understand that, short of war, the United States has more to lose than they do from any effort to return to the pre-accord status quo. For example, should President Trump decide to unilaterally reinstitute economic sanctions, they would have significantly less impact than the concerted global initiatives that drove Iran to the negotiating table. To be effective, sanctions require international cooperation, and there is little evidence that Mr. Trump could secure the assent of America’s negotiating partners, the P5+1, for his initiative. With enthusiasm for reengagement in the Iranian market at an all-time high, it is hard to imagine many countries foregoing the fruits of this hard-won diplomatic achievement. Indeed, most world leaders will find little merit in punishing a nation for cooperating with an international agreement.

Moreover, Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric did little to endear him to America’s allies.  His threats to abandon America’s traditional alliances and to extort payment from friendly nations for continued military protection are unlikely to earn their support for or goodwill toward his administration’s revisionist foreign policy objectives.

Lastly, imposing sanctions is not a cost-free action for the sanctioning country. One study estimated that between 1995 and 2012 American sanctions against Iran cost the United States between $134 and 175 billion in lost export revenue.

Rather than vengefully seek to dismantle President Obama’s signature foreign policy achievement, Mr. Trump has an opportunity to demonstrate constructive leadership. The muted reaction of the Iranians to his election invites him to recast himself as a world leader that merits respect, not as the candidate-demagogue, but as a president-statesman. By abiding with the agreement, President Trump will have more credibility to press Iran to improve its human rights record and end its support for terrorist organizations.

Ironically, it is Mr. Trump who now faces the challenge of earning the trust required for constructive engagement. The Iranians found his campaign tone so negative that the regime was unable to propagandize its content. In an unprecedented act, Iranian state television broadcast the second and third presidential debates unedited, opting to let the candidates’ words speak for themselves.

As Mr. Trump transitions from candidate to President, there is a high degree of satisfaction among Iran’s hardliners. Unlike the moderate President Rouhani, who faces reelection next year, the hardliners long for a return of the hostile relationship between Iran and the United States. They believe they can exploit Mr. Trump’s behavior in support of their own political agenda. For them, the election of Trump simply affirms their admonitions of American “arrogance” and justifies their continued distrust of the United States. They would be correct to wonder how a candidate who viciously attacks his opponents, disrespects the rights of minorities, endorses torture, and threatens press freedoms, among other challenges to the rule of law, can lecture other nations on their conduct.

If Mr. Trump chooses to pursue fulfillment of his campaign promises; if he continues to make and amplify threats against perceived enemies; and if he fails to modulate his rhetoric, it will be the United States, rather than Iran, which will be the world’s untrustworthy pariah and a threat to global security.


Hello, and welcome to the just-formed Persian Blog of Kings!

My name is Jonathan Leslie, and I am a PhD candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. My research focuses on Israeli-Iranian relations and securitization in the Middle East. My prior academic training includes a master’s degree in strategic studies from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), as well as an undergraduate degree in politics from Princeton University.

I started this blog as a place to post analysis and random musings on Iran, the Middle East, and global politics. I don’t intend to use this introductory post to launch into a long, soul-searching post about all the reasons I thought signing up for a free WordPress website to post my two cents is somehow a historical watershed moment in the field. I’m not arrogant enough to think that my IMPORTANT takes are what’s missing from the chaos of Internet political commentary, nor do think that my arrival into the forum is going to correct some horrible deficiency or blindspot within the Middle East analysis community. Instead, I’m simply here to involve myself in the conversation on a more public level, and hopefully provide some unique insight along the way.

That said, let’s begin…