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UK Foreign Policy: What About Iran?

by John Brian Shannon

Not since the 1979 Iranian revolution have so many people participated in large-scale protests against the government.

Indeed, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari has yesterday declared the defeat of “sedition” in the country, referring to recent anti-government protests. Yet many Iranians believe that more and larger public demonstrations are on the horizon.

In the United States, President Donald Trump regularly tweets against the Iranian regime and America’s foreign policy seems increasingly to be an anti-Iranian-regime policy. However, let’s hope the Americans are done with regime change — for the simple reason that it doesn’t work.

Yet much good could still be accomplished if Western nations were to adopt the right policies for the region (with a focus on long-term interest) and not sleepwalk into another catastrophic and costly intervention.

When policymakers are looking at the symptoms of a problem, it’s sometimes difficult to remember what the underlying conditions were that led to the present situation. It’s problematic to Iran’s religious leaders and the Iranian government, it’s gut-wrenching to the citizens of Iran, and other countries in the region are looking-on with concern. No one, not even the Iranian leadership wants this situation to continue — the trick is, as always, trying to find ways to resolve it without making it worse.


For much of the 20th century, Iran was ruled by a Royal Family (the late Shah, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi) that was mainly ‘good’ for the country although it could be argued it was autocratic (as monarchies tend to be) consequently the government spent its time attending to the specific decrees of the Shah and not much else.

The religious aspect in the country was made up of mainly Shia Muslims, however pre-revolutionary Iran had significant populations of Jewish, Christian, and other faiths — and they all got along just fine.

Prior to the Iranian revolution of 1979 the largest population of Jews living outside Israel and the U.S.A. was in… wait for it… Iran.

Iran’s problems began in the early 1950’s when foreign interference began to change the nature of the country. Although Western companies were then able to make higher profits (but not as high as promised) the 1950’s era regime change guided by Westerners has been negative for everyone in the region, especially the Iranian people.

As with most things in life it’s all about balance, not how fast you can run. And so it is with countries; Each country has its own particular model, and if the model works, voilà! you have a working country.

Until the Western intervention of the 1950’s Iran was a functioning and peaceful country (some might even say a ‘sleepy’ country) where citizens of any belief system could live happy and fulfilling lives.

How Countries Should Work

Since the introduction of democracy by the ancient Greeks over 2500 years ago, the most successful democracies have shared power in the following manner; 30% of the total power was held by a monarchy or a government, 30% by a religious establishment, and 30% by academia (or a military, in the case of militaristic nations) and the remaining 10% was held by citizen groups.

This power sharing model works to share power among several groups, and just by virtue of the existence of such power centres — each serves as a check and a balance on the others.

Only in recent years have monarchies and religions slipped from their typical 30% (each) power ranking in many countries, with governments, militaries, and corporations greedily absorbing those gains.

Whether that ratio is held by a combination of monarchy or government / religion or corporate culture / academia or military what’s important is that the mix is appropriate to the country in question.

Of course there are some exceptions where theocracies or benevolent dictatorships have worked for a majority of citizens in a given country. But they tend to be few and may not last as long as vibrant and diversified nations with a traditional power sharing mix.

How to Fix Iran

Let’s make it a point to remember that Iran was a fully functioning nation-state until the Western intervention of the early 1950’s before we proceed.

At present, the country’s religious elite seem to be holding 2/3rds of the power in Iran with the Iranian government holding the other 1/3rd, which is a recipe for failure in any country regardless of who is holding that much power.

Internal destabilization in Iran is certain to occur within a few months or years — even without foreign intervention — and such dangerous power vacuums tend to propel the wrong types of people to power (Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, many others) who oppress their competitors but help their followers to live extravagant lifestyles — thereby setting up cycles of inequality and the resulting social angst which does nothing to help the majority of citizens, the country itself, the region, nor world peace.

The next 24 months will be pivotal for Iran; Either the religious establishment won’t allow changes to the present 66/34 power mix and citizen protests will increase, thereby drawing the attention (and sometimes the wrong kind of attention) from the world community — or Iran’s religious elites will find a way to retain a reasonable power base of about 30% of the total power base in the country and Iran will return to a condition of internal stability and other countries in the region can resume their historic (good) diplomatic relations with Iran.

What Can Western Governments Do?

Putting all kinds of pressure on the Iranian Ayatollahs and Mullahs isn’t going to work to cause them to share power with other power centres in Iran, that’s numero uno.

Second, if ‘Soft Power’ won’t work, then ‘Hard Power’ really won’t work.

In fact, making war on Iran is more likely to backfire, causing Iranian citizens to rally ’round an outside threat, further empowering religious leaders to take the country where they want but this time with the strong support of citizens. Whether by so-called ‘surgical strikes’ or by outright occupation of Iran, the aftermath of such conflict would create massive power vacuums and populist (and completely uncontrollable by the West) leaders could gain power and pursue any agenda they want.

(See Iraq War, Afghanistan War, Arab Spring, Syria, Lebanon, Soviet/Afghan War, etc. for examples of intervention where the result was massive power vacuums that turned those nations into dysfunctional states after the war ended)

But promoting equitable solutions, such as returning to a governance model that once worked well for Iran, might work wonders for the country, its citizens, and the region.

Unfortunately for those trying to help Iran, this isn’t a ‘sexy’ solution — it’s all about low-scale, low-speed, steady-as-she-goes professional diplomacy hidden from the public eye. And even if all UN-member countries worked with Iran to resume the previously successful paradigm, such a plan could take years to come to fruition although it would be almost guaranteed to work as advertised. Which is about 100% better than any Hard Power plan to help Iran regain stability.

The UK Policy on Iran

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson could decide to embark on a long-term plan to help Iran, its people, and the Middle East region, while saving UK taxpayers billions of pounds sterling (compared to the cost of a failed-state Iran, or compared to yet another costly military intervention) and make it easier for Iran to return to a stable condition by helping to promote a more equitable power sharing arrangement within the country.

The softest use of Soft Power would be for the sole male heir of the late Shah of Iran, Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi (who has lived in Maryland, U.S.A. since the 1979 Iranian revolution) to be invited to meet with Queen Elizabeth II at his earliest opportunity, and for other Kings, Emirs, or Queens around the world to meet him to help lift his international standing.

Of course, even with a new Shah, the government would still make all the day-to-day decisions while the religious authorities would return to publishing their religious decrees.

Therefore, the new Shah would stand for the people of Iran, while the government would run the country, and the religious elites would continue to run their religion — but not the whole country. All in all, a more sustainable power sharing arrangement that wouldn’t unduly punish any single group.

If the Ayatollahs can hand-off a percentage of their power (to a known individual like Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi who isn’t going to attack them) the country will be better for it, citizens will be mollified, and the new Shah could engage himself in the welfare of citizens of Iran and make himself available for ceremonial duties when a new government is elected and during state visits by foreign dignitaries, etcetera.

For as long as the situation continues to deteriorate, practical solutions like this will become harder to find, making the present the best time to begin working towards such a goal. Millions of Iranian citizens and millions of people in the region are crying out for solutions to the imbroglio in Iran — even as pundits continue to look at only the symptoms of an unbalanced power structure — instead of looking at restoring the previous working model, updated for the 21st century.

Theresa May’s New Year of Hope

by John Brian Shannon

As far as years go, UK Prime Minister Theresa May must be glad to see the end of 2017 as are many others in Britain and around the world. In matters Brexit, it was a year of low-level chaos and unfulfilled expectations — lots of ‘churn’ but not much actual progress.

Yet the Prime Minister did make some exceptional speeches and unexpectedly reached-out to EU citizens to assure them that while Britain was leaving the European Union, it wasn’t leaving Europe. Well done on both counts, Theresa.

She also told EU citizens living in the UK that their situation wouldn’t change, aside from having to register their residency with the Home Office and pay a nominal fee to retain their ‘settled status’. And while that didn’t seem to impress small numbers of EU negotiators, it brought great comfort to millions of expats living in Britain.

Of course, it’s all contingent upon reaching a final ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ between the United Kingdom and the European Union, but it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that the UK would act unilaterally to guarantee the rights of EU citizens working or studying in Britain in the case of no agreement.

Theresa May also offered £40 billion of UK taxpayer money to the European Union; Everyone is unclear what this is for, as nobody from the government has bothered to explain it to citizens.

Many people think that the UK’s share in the EU Parliament buildings and in other EU properties and assets should be sold off to the other EU27 members and the £9.65 billion (estimated) value could be used to pay future UK liabilities to the EU and that there is no need to pay £40 billion. Which seems reasonable.

If there is an actual need for the UK to pay £40 billion to the EU, surely British taxpayers have the right to know what they’re paying for, and to whom.

But if Theresa May has agreed to continue paying the £8.6 billion annual net payment to the European Union until Brexit completes within 2 years (approximately) plus 2 more years to cover the transition period, then that seems pretty reasonable too. If that’s how the £40 billion is being arrived at, there’s not much to complain about there.

With all this reasonableness going ’round it’s no wonder that EU negotiators agreed to move to Phase II of the Brexit negotiations — trade — a hyper-important part of the post-Brexit relationship on both sides of the English Channel.

Negotiating a mutually beneficial trade agreement between the UK and the EU in 2018 is Job Number One for negotiators on both sides.

Trade between the United Kingdom and the EU27 ranks as one of the most robust trading relationships in the world

  • 44% of UK exports are sold to the EU27, making them Britain’s most important trade partner.
  • 16% of EU exports are sold to the UK, making Britain the EU27’s most important trade partner.

Which makes the whole ‘getting an agreement’ discussion largely academic — as there will be an agreement or hundreds CEO’s on both sides of the English Channel will be breathing fire down the necks of UK and EU negotiators every day until an agreement is reached. “Don’t even think about coming home without an agreement!” (Yes, just like that)

UK/EU Trade: Where do United Kingdom Exports Go?

Where do UK exports go? UK Office for National Statistics 2015.

UK/EU Trade: Where do European Union Exports Go?

The EU's largest single export market is the UK. European Commission Export Helpdesk.

So There We Have It: They Can’t Live With Each Other, But They Can’t Live Without Each Other!

Which is a very good thing.

And because companies on both sides need to keep their biggest export market open and flourishing, there absolutely will be a reasonable trade deal — one that both sides can live with. There is simply no alternative.

Which neatly explains the title of this blog post ‘Theresa May’s New Year of Hope’ because Job Number One for Brexit negotiators on both sides must be working a successful trade deal — and every CEO in Europe will be watching with keen interest, to put it very mildly.

You don’t want to be the trade negotiator coming home without a deal and having to tell the CEO of Volkswagen or BP that you were too incompetent to get a deal. Yikes!

There will be an excellent UK/EU trade deal in 2018, a trade accord that both sides will be rightly proud of — one that works for CEO’s, citizens and governments throughout Europe.

Trade As Saviour

As the focus will be on trade in 2018 (something that both sides must preserve if today’s politicians want to keep their jobs) the new year looks to be one of the better years for relations between the UK and the EU27.

Let’s hope that Phase II of the Brexit negotiations move smartly along and that (if a Phase III is required) the momentum that gets built throughout 2018 works to facilitate friendly and workable solutions to any remaining issues between the two blocs.

Politicians and negotiators on both sides of the Brexit divide have everything to gain by bringing home a fair and workable trading agreement and everything to lose if they don’t.

Therefore, let 2018 be ‘The Year of Hope’ as 512 million European citizens are counting on their politicians and negotiators to open windows of opportunity as big as the sky, and to create even more justice and fairness for all Europeans, no matter where in Europe they may live, work, or play.

No matter which side of Brexit you’re on, we at Letter to Britain wish you a Happy, Safe, and Prosperous New Year!


Day 548: Pass the Eggnog and Where Are We On Brexit?

by John Brian Shannon

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

Oops, that was another lifetime. But in the here and now, London rain still falls in torrents, violent winds sweep up and down the streets, and the flames of freedom still struggle against the forces of darkness.

Our protagonist is of course the redoubtable Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who has given repeated assurances since her July 2016 inauguration that “Brexit means Brexit” and “Brexit will occur on March 29, 2019” and has repeated many similar expressions of intent.

But not much has changed.

For all the talk by Remainers and their skulking ‘Project Fear’ campaign, none of their shrill accusations have materialized; The economy didn’t crash, unemployment didn’t skyrocket, the deficit hasn’t increased, and governments haven’t fallen.

It’s been a rather bit dull, hasn’t it?

For all the talk by Leavers and their loud promises to save £350 million per week (and redirect the money to the NHS) and to save UK taxpayers £8.6 billion (net) per year, and the largely unfulfilled increase in British exports due to renewed interest in UK goods, not much has happened there either.

In fairness to the Leave campaign, as Brexit hasn’t yet occurred they can’t be faulted on promises which can’t be kept until Brexit completes.

So, What Has Happened?

Politicians on both sides of the Brexit line have been talking, and they’ve decided to talk some more.

Apparently, the talks are going so well that one side wants to pay the other side £40 billion in advance of gaining a bespoke trade deal, while the other side say that talks have progressed so well that they’re going on to ‘Phase II’ — more talk — but this time the talk will be about trade.

Oh, and March 29, 2019 appears to be the mutually agreed official Brexit date, but negotiators on both sides have created a policy ‘Mulligan’ allowing them to postpone the official Brexit date in case one side misses the target date by a few days or weeks.

How very European.

And you must know they agreed on the Mulligan as the first order of business, but then delayed announcing it until concluding their ‘Phase I’ negotiations.

Hehehe, I love the Europeans. Really I do, while knowing full well that if an alien attack ever occurs, the interstellar invaders will be told in the most indignant of tones “Oh no old boy you mustn’t attack now, it’s tea-time — and as civilized people we must agree to delay the start of the war.” (Or some variant of that)

Here in North America such concepts as missed deadlines aren’t tolerated. ‘Get it together or you’re fired’ is how deadlines are kept in the U.S.A. (and no Mulligans)

What’s on the Horizon?

Next-up appears to be working towards a trade deal by October 29, 2018 — as a lack of agreement by that date will indicate a WTO-style Brexit.

NOTE: October 29, 2018 is cited by many as the latest possible date to sign a Brexit trade deal and still have time for industry and government to properly implement such agreements.

Newspaper columnists are wondering aloud about a CETA-style deal between the UK and the EU. (CETA is a trade deal between Canada and the European Union that took 7 years to negotiate and even into the 8th year isn’t fully implemented)

Still, CETA is an excellent basis upon which to build a future trade relationship with the European Union. The UK could do worse than using CETA as a template to forge a new trading arrangement with the EU. Such an agreement could be further tailored in later months or years to meet specific needs on both sides of the English Channel.

But as of December 2017 we’ve not seen much urgency for trade discussions. However, as October 2018 draws close, the speed at which things happen will increase exponentially.

Nobody wants to fail at getting a trade agreement — UK and EU industry would crucify politicians who didn’t sign a viable and timely trade agreement — and voters would likely punish their respective politicians at the following election. Yet, if some horsepower isn’t soon applied to the slow-motion Brexit discussions, policymakers on both sides are likely to find themselves speaking from the opposition benches after the next election.

Either Way, We’re On Our Way to a Cordial Brexit

Whether a trade deal is signed in time or not, in typical European fashion a cordial parting looks set to occur.

Three years will have passed from the June 23, 2016 Brexit referendum and the only variable seems to be whether politicians will manage to negotiate a free trade deal that is ready to sign by October 29, 2018 thereby leaving enough time for implementation ahead of the final Brexit date of March 29, 2019.

Only 461 days to go, Prime Minister…

UK Brexit, PM Theresa May.

With Theresa May at the helm for the foreseeable future it may take plenty of time to arrive at certain Brexit waypoints. Yet irrespective of ongoing Brexit frictions — UK relations with the European Union are likely to improve even from their present (high) level. Which in the final analysis, means that quiet diplomacy is the most profound of Theresa May’s political qualities.

Wishing you all a very Happy Holiday season and a safe and prosperous New Year!