Thursday, June 25, 2009

Ask The Reader: Theocracy or Military Regime?

It is becoming increasingly likely, I think, that Iran, which was always a strange hybrid, is going to become more like a traditional military regime and less like a theocracy. The legitimacy of the Clerics has been undermined by their positions on the election, and the last week has demonstrated that Ahmadinejad has effectively stacked the key institutions with members of the Revolutionary Guard. So, which is better for the Iranian people, if significant reform is not going to happen? And which one is better for the neighbors?

Let me suggest a couple of things, despite the fact that my knowledge of Iran is pretty close to zero:
  • A Revolutionary Guard-led regime with much less ideological cover might actually have to be a bit more careful than Ahmadinejad has been the past few years, as support can only come through coercion (well, that and bribes, given the Rev Guards' increased role in the economy--hints of China). Regime maintenance will have to become the focus of all efforts and cannot be taken for granted. Indeed, the clerics may end up presenting a significant threat once they realize they have been sidelined.
  • Under the good old days of unquestioned theocracy, Iran did aggressively support terrorism around the world, as far away as Latin America and with great consequences for Lebanon. So, it is not so clear that we should be rooting for the clerics.
  • Unfortunately, it is pretty clear that a coercive regime is going to be worse for the Iranian people than what they have been living with. Dissent has been and will be met with repression.
  • And what we know about repression from the decades of scholarship is that it can work and it can fail. We have no simple equation or theory that tells us if the use of force here will succeed at squashing dissent or not. Most of the work in this area is frustratingly contingent.
  • We do know more about military regimes, but not in comparison to theocracies. Again, it really comes down to who is willing to shoot whom, and, thus far, the current regime has built up a robust support system through various coercive arms of the state.
So, I leave it to the readers: which do you prefer: theocracy or military regime? And why? In whose shoes are you putting yourself?

1 comment:

KathyS said...

Military regime. A military regime is concerned with dissent, but less with social repression. A military regime does not have additional goals beyond keeping itself in power and money. A military regime is less likely to burn people at the stake or conduct public executions. A military regime is more willing to bargain and less likely to stick to a strict ideological position. Consequently, they are also more open to bribery, black market operations, etc. A military regime is easier to overturn, on average. A military regime is more subject to change. And so on. So you've got places like Burma, but overall military regimes usually give you a better shot. Of course, I'm counting things like Hamas and North Korea as theocracies, so your definitions may vary.