|"How Much Pain?|
May 27, 2012: Iran is at war, and has been for decades. But their weapons are not the conventional tanks, warplanes and ships. Instead Iran uses cash, to buy allies (especially in Lebanon and Syria), a special force (Quds) to advise friendly dictators how to remain in power, or pro-Iran rebels (as in Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere) on how to smash the state. At home, Iran practices what it preaches, using secret police and a pro-government militia (Basij) to terrorize opponents. Iran also funds pro-Iran media support wherever it can, via pro-Iran media outlets, or simply by bribing journalists. Cash is an all-purpose weapon. In Syria, Iran is willing to provide up to a billion dollars a month to finance essential imports that are essential to keep the pro-Iran government in power. The Iranian government budget is $453 billion a year, so that billion a month is a major sacrifice for cash-strapped Iran. Because the Iranian currency is rapidly losing value against foreign currencies, the government budget's buying power outside the country is closer to $300 billion.
What annoys most Iranians the most is that all this talent and cash is being wasted on keeping a corrupt religious dictatorship going. Iranians have always been the most economically, and militarily successful group in the region, but those talents were often wasted to keep corrupt Iranian despots in power. Iranians, who leave the motherland, especially for the West, do very well for themselves. But at home, opportunities are much more limited, and enterprise and free-thinking is discouraged. Most Iranians would like a less corrupt and restrictive government, but that will take time. In the past, the corrupt and inefficient tyrannies eventually fall apart, but it can take a long time. After all, the tyrants are Iranians, and even the evil ones are a clever and resourceful bunch. Few Iranians want to start a civil war over this, and that helps prolong the misrule.
The economic sanctions have blocked the importation of a lot of basic goods Iran has been able to depend on China to prevent any shortages. Chinese goods are cheaper, and often of lower quality than Iranians are used to. But the worst part of allowing China to export whatever it can sell in Iran is the disruption it causes. In the past, Iran has restricted Chinese imports, to protect local retailers and manufacturers. But now Iran is desperate for someone able to ignore the sanctions, and the only major supplier willing to do that is China. In return, China wants no restrictions. That means thousands of Chinese are coming to Iran to set up their own retail operations. This puts Iranians out of work, and the Chinese migrants are not popular.
The Western economic sanctions are hurting, but not enough for Iran to consider shutting down its officially non-existent nuclear weapons program. Most Iranians are willing to make some, but not a lot, of personal sacrifices to keep the nuclear program going. How much pain will the public endure? That is a question that keeps Iranian leaders up nights. No one really knows.
One reason the clerics stay in power is that they don't spend a lot on the military. Most of the money goes to keeping their core supporters (about a quarter of the population who are Islamic conservatives or just willing to be bought and stay bought) happy, and providing just enough economic benefits for the rest to avoid a popular uprising. The Iranian military is presented as a mighty force, even though it is a equipped largely with worn out or obsolete equipment. Propaganda makes up for some of this, as the military is constantly announcing wonderful new weapons designed and built in Iran. But most of this stuff is crap, and little of the new gear is actually built in quantity. Besides, there are two armed forces. One is the usual army, navy and air force. The other, the Revolutionary Guard (and their reserve force, the Basij) are better equipped and trained. The regular armed forces are there to scare hostile neighbors; the Revolutionary Guard is there to scare hostile Iranians.
Bahrain will no longer use Arabsat communications satellites to send Bahraini TV news out to the Arab world. This is done to protest the refusal of Arabsat to censor Iranian propaganda broadcasts, urging Shia Arabs to overthrow Sunni Arab governments. While Arabsat is owned and operated by Arabs, it wants to maintain good relations with Iran, and convince the Iranians to halt the jamming of some Arabsat broadcasts into Iran.
Inside Iran, the government continues to jail and punish any journalists that oppose, or just offend, the government. The secret police pursue and punish real or suspected reformers. There is fear upon the land, and that's what the religious dictatorship wants."