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Welcoming Iran@Saban

Benjamin Wittes
Monday, May 20, 2013, 10:28 PM
My Brookings colleague Suzanne Maloney today launched a blog that will interest a lot of Lawfare readers.

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My Brookings colleague Suzanne Maloney today launched a blog that will interest a lot of Lawfare readers. Suzanne is an Iran expert, and her new site---Iran@Saban---is devoted, as she writes, "to advanc[ing] a better understanding of the internal dynamics of the Islamic Republic and promot[ing] effective international strategies for dealing with the challenges its policies pose." Writes Suzanne:
We’ve timed our kick-off to coincide with the upcoming Iranian presidential election, in hopes of enriching the discussion that has already emerged around the ballot. As current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prepares to leave office, Iran's internal power struggles will enter a new phase. From now through the vote on June 14th and presumably well beyond, we’ll closely follow the twists and turns of Iran’s frequently unexpected electoral dynamics and consider what the future may bring for Iran. This discussion will delve into the major issues confronting Tehran today, especially the economic crisis and the impact of sanctions. Although the electoral interplay will consume a great deal of attention in the next few weeks, the focus of the blog will extend well beyond the events of the election and Iran's domestic dramas. We will be tackling Iran’s approach to the region and the world, its relationship with established and emerging powers, and the strategies and tactics of various players, including the United States, toward Tehran. Inevitably, we’ll spend a lot of time examining the nuclear issue, starting with the prospects for revitalizing the stalled negotiations between Tehran and the international community and discussions around alternative approaches if dialogue fails to produce a diplomatic resolution of Iran's nuclear ambitions. However, the sense of urgency surrounding the nuclear issue has narrowed the American debate on Iran in recent years, problematically in my opinion. For that reason, watch the space for a robust discussion of the range of issues and threats related to Iran, including terrorism, human rights, the peace process and the Syrian civil war, the rise of new regional and global powers, and the impact of technology and changes in energy markets on Iranian politics and the policy options of the international community.
Suzanne already has an additional post on "Why Iran's Presidential Election Matters"---advancing the counterintuitive thesis that it actually matters very much:
It would be tempting . . . to dismiss the election scheduled for June 14 as mere window-dressing or to disregard the brewing antagonisms within Iran’s political establishment as irrelevant. This would be a mistake, however, and yet another misreading of Iran’s complicated domestic dynamics. Don’t get me wrong— I don’t mean to suggest that the election will bear any resemblance to a truly democratic enterprise; even in the best of times, the Islamic Republic fell far short of meeting international standards for free and fair elections. However, while the outcome will be engineered, the element of improvisation is real, and the outcome of this latest twist in the thirty-four year power struggle within Iran will have significant implications for the future of the country and its role in the world. If the past eight years of Ahmadinejad’s antics have taught us nothing else, they have demonstrated over and over again that Iran’s presidency matters. Despite its electoral illegitimacy, its institutional constraints, and the assiduous efforts of a system built around a divine mandate, the office of the presidency has emerged as one with real power to shape the context for domestic and foreign policy. The post exerts considerable authority over the Iranian budget, the framework for internal political activities, the social and cultural atmosphere, and even the most sensitive aspects of Iran’s security policies. Whoever assumes the office in August of this year will find himself near the apex of power, at a time of unprecedented external pressure and at the cusp of generational change within the Iranian regime. For this reason, the election and its outcome will have enormous sway over the future course of the Islamic Republic.
She also has this fascinating post on the recently-failed wrestling diplomacy between Iran and the United States---and Suzanne's own experiences in people-to-people exchanges with Iran during the late 1990s. This will be a site very much worth watching over the coming weeks and beyond. (Full Disclosure: Suzanne works at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy, which my wife---Tamara Cofman Wittes---directs.)

Benjamin Wittes is editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of several books.

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