Editor’s note: This analysis is part of Security Clearance blog’s “Debate Preps” series. On November 22, CNN, along with AEI and The Heritage Foundation, will host a Republican candidate debate focused on national security topics. In the run-up to the debate, Security Clearance asked both the sponsoring conservative think tanks to look at the key foreign policy issues and tell us what they want to hear candidates address.
By AEI's Ali Alfoneh, Special to CNN
Does an economically poor military dictatorship armed with the nuclear bomb sound familiar? If you were thinking Pakistan, you would be right. But increasingly also Iran, which is emulating its neighbor to the east.
To most Western observers this may seem odd. After all why would Iran follow the example of a failed state rather than a more successful neighbor like Turkey? The answer may lie in the perspective: Seen from Tehran, Pakistan is not a failed state, but a tremendous success.
Pakistan may be a poor country, but the Pakistani military establishment manages to protect the privileges of the officer class, which constitutes the ruling elites of Pakistan. Pakistan did experience international sanctions in the wake of its nuclear tests, but the nuclear capability has since provided Pakistan with a protective shield which makes Pakistan a beneficiary of United States military aid. This is despite a record of contribution to proliferation of the nuclear bomb, despite of being caught harboring Osama Bin Laden and despite United States Army accusations of Pakistan supporting terrorist networks killing American troops in Afghanistan.
Inspired by the Pakistani role model, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is transforming Iran into a military dictatorship, where the IRGC is not only constitutionally tasked with "safeguarding the revolution and its achievements," but also rules Iran. The IRGC is also aggressively pursuing a nuclear program the "possible military dimensions" of which the International Atomic Energy Agency has expressed its "serious concerns" about.
Iran is indeed getting poor under the weight of economic mismanagement and the international sanctions regime, but the IRGC has skillfully used the sanctions to systematically replace foreign oil and gas companies leaving development of Iran's oil and gas sector. The average Iranian will become poorer while the IRGC consolidates its position as Iran's leading economic powerhouse.
Iran becoming an economically poor military dictatorship with nuclear ambitions poses great challenges to regional security and the United States. The Islamic Republic's responses to Israeli President Shimon 'Peres statements about "a military option to stop the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons," may be indicative of the dominant views among the Iranian leadership:
An Iranian security analyst has threatened that "four Iranian missiles will make a million Zionists refugees," while the IRGC commanders threatened to retaliate against Israel in general and the Dimona nuclear plant in particular. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei addressing the Imam Ali Military Academy graduates on November 10, 2011, also parroted the vocabulary of the IRGC commanders: "Anyone contemplating to attack the Islamic Republic of Iran should prepare himself for receiving the hard slaps and the steel fists of the Army, the Guards, and the Basij [volunteer force]…"
While the official Islamic Republic rhetoric demonstrates a dangerous misreading of world politics where the United States is portrayed as a declining empire incapable of stopping Iran's nuclear ambitions, the IRGC commanders' talk of retaliation against the Dimona nuclear plant indicate the perils of the Iranian leadership's miscalculations should the Islamic Republic manage to achieve a nuclear capability. One economically poor nuclear armed military dictatorship in West Asia is one too many. Washington would not want to see emergence of second of the kind.
Ali Alfoneh is a Resident Fellow at American Enterprise Institute