Iran’s Top 7 Issues – They are all Systemic

Here’s my take on the top 7 issues facing Iran:

  1. Water crisis
  2. Opioid Crisis
  3. Financial Systems
  4. Corruption
  5. Regional Instability
  6. Human rights crisis
  7. Democracy crisis

I’ve probably missed a few and if you have suggestions share them with me. But, as I look at this list and I post articles and review comments, I see one COMMON thread among many Iranian ‘commentators’, It goes something like this: ‘we must unite around a new leader’, or ‘who should lead the revolution against the mullahs’; AND my routine response is we DON’T need a new leader, NO, we don’t need a knight on a white horse to come in and ‘rescue’ Iran! AND, no, we don’t need the West or Israel to come in and bring in ‘their’ leader! No, No, No! Iran’s problems are systemic!! New leadership in the form of the Rajavists or Monarchists won’t do a thing –  Iranians need a whole new approach to addressing their issues.

I just don’t believe this is fundamentally understood or even appreciated! This feedback is going over people’s heads! In through one ear, out the other side!

Why? Because ordinary Iranians and even Iran’s elite DO NOT UNDERSTAND the difference between systemic and non-systemic problems, and root causes! One fundamental reason why in places like Japan and the West, there is consistent economic growth and stability is their leadership is truly very – very competent, and they understand the difference between Systemic and non-Systemic problems. And ONE reason why they have developed some astounding leadership is: they even have a system for developing and ensuring the rise of great leadership!

Trump, aside, you sometimes must take your hat off to some leadership in the West and wonder how is it that they got to where they got to – was it a coincidence?

Consider a simple problem: There is a school, that for some reason keeps getting poor testing scores in standardized exams. After an initial investigation, it was verified that students taking tests in the final period of the school day got lower scores. Further investigation revealed that late in the day, the students lacked ability to focus. Even further investigation revealed that the reason for the lack of focus was hunger. So, the root cause of the poor testing scores was hunger, remedied by moving the testing time to soon after lunch! Bang, test scores rose! It wasn’t that the students were stupid, they were just placed in a ‘more’ difficult circumstance!

A systemic problem is a problem due to issues inherent in the overall system, rather than due to a specific, individual, isolated factor.

In the world of aviation, people analyze accidents to find out if there was pilot error, user error, or a mistake – or an issue more fundamental like the layout of an airport, or a flight path!

A change to the structure, organization or policies in that system can often alleviate the systemic problem. You must study cause-and-effect links, or the real source of the problem and therefore the common cause, rather than a special cause.

A good technique for appreciating Systemic issues is the ‘Five Whys’ method. If you define and describe issue properly, then by consistently asking why you can establish a root cause, and the ‘systemic’ cause.

Take any major issue Iran is facing, and you will very soon realize that the root cause is NOT resolved by having a ‘new’ leader come into power on a white horse that can somehow quickly alleviate it. The problems are far more complex. In fact, any objective analysis, places the root cause in ‘interesting’ places!

So as a thinking exercise, lets do a 5-whys on some of the critical issues Iran is facing.

Water Crisis:

  1. Why does, Iran have a water crisis? Well, there is a general shortage of water, and many of Iran’s largest bodies of water are evaporating at a much faster rate than they are being ‘fed’ by rivers and ground water. The Caspian Sea too is evaporating at an accelerated rate.
  2. Why are they evaporating so fast? Global warming, climate change – you name it. Its a regional problem in Central Asia.
  3. Why is there climate change? Because of massive increases in fossil fuel use.
  4. Why is there massive use of fossil fuels? Petroleum and gas have historically been the cheapest form of energy – hence their use by a growing (energy hungry) world
  5. Why are hydrocarbons the cheapest form of energy? Because they have never been taxed for their collateral impact on the planet, and other energy sources such as nuclear and solar have suffered from a late start technologically, and relative under investment compared to investments in Hydrocarbon infrastructures.

So, what is the underlying cause? Hydrocarbon use? What do you do to solve the water crisis?

  1. Shift the country’s (and other countries) energy infrastructure away from oil and gas. i.e. nuclear and solar – hard to do quickly!
  2. Make massive investments in water infrastructure, to control water use, and add water to existing (depleting) rivers, and lakes – easier, quicker solution!
  3. Establish a multilateral approach to addressing issues involving the Caspian Sea – can be done, but only regionally.

Now, tell me something, how is a different leader flying into Tehran on a French government paid, Air France 747, to a cheering crowd of opportunists, going to address the water crisis? No, my friends – nothing would change. There’s no point talking about democracy when people don’t have water to drink or to water plants?


Opioid Crisis

  1. Why does Iran have an Opioid Crisis? Iran has always had high Opioid use, with primarily Opium itself being used recreationally. But the situation, has been exasperated since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan with massive quantities of opiates being shipped to Iran, resulting in roughly 10 percent of Iranian adults using opiates ‘more regularly’.
  2. Why are massive quantities being shipped into Iran? Because after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, there was record production of opiates – which in turn resulted in imports into Iran (given its long, unprotected border with Afghanistan)
  3. Why is there record opiate production in Afghanistan? The U.S. did NOT want to undermine the Afghan economy, and actively, looked the other way while Afghans started farming their highest value crops. The US, and the Afghan government were seeking to establish some level of political support.
  4. Why are (Opiate) poppies the highest value crop in Afghanistan? The terrain is poor and does not support many other crops. And, there is no ‘cost’ to planting illegal plants. With that, in a lawless country, there is a huge illicit infrastructure to refine, and distribute opiates – which provides highest revenues for opiates that is simply not available for any other agricultural product(s).
  5. Why is there no cost to illegal activity and no other infrastructure for higher net revenues for other plants? There is no central government, no means of imposing taxation on opiate revenues. The whole infrastructure is illicit (which includes illicit elements inside the Afghan government, as well as Iran, Pakistan and the U.S. just to name a few). Very simply, Afghanistan’s central government has not and will not exert any controls on opiate production (fearing a back clash and loss of popularity), the U.S. does not see its role (while present in Afghanistan) as involving drug eradication. There is no control!

So, what is the underlying cause, lack of controls in Afghanistan, resulting in a flood of cheap drugs into Iran. And what do you do to solve the problem?

  1. There must be strong, effective enforcement in Afghanistan
  2. There must be good alternatives to poppy cultivation in Afghanistan
  3. At the end of the day, nothing can be accomplished in Afghanistan without total regional coordination with its neighbors, especially Iran, and Pakistan.

Now, tell me something, how is a different leader flying into Tehran on a French government paid, Air France 747, to a cheering crowd of opportunists, going to address the opiate crisis? No, my friends – nothing would change. There’s no point talking about democracy when 1 in 10 adults are walking around thinking how they are going to get their next hit?

Democratic Crisis

  1. Why does Iran have a democratic crisis? Elections in Iran are centrally ‘controlled’, and candidates are vetted for ‘essentially what amounts to allegiance to the Theocracy’.
  2. Why are candidates, vetted? Because the regime fears loss of power.
  3. Why does the regime fear loss of power? Because it knows it is unpopular, and wants to ‘force’ its religious agenda on the population at all costs. Those that do not like the regime, are thought to be unfaithful – and therefore seditious.
  4. Why does is the regime unpopular and imposing its will? It believes its popularity is undermined by “western” anti-Islamic propaganda, and external forces. It doesn’t believe elections can be held on a level playing field when external forces continuously, try to impact Iranian politics. It also feels, it knows better, and that their ‘beliefs’ are sacred, and so they do not fundamentally trust the Iranian electorate to make the ‘right’ decision. So they believe they must narrow down choices for the electorate and maintain the status quo; preserve religion as central to governance.
  5. Why does the regime feel it knows better? One the one side, they are fundamentalists with unchangeable beliefs. On the other, the regime’s operatives have massive economic interests. Any back clash would challenge their massive political stranglehold.

So, what is the underlying cause? A regime that wants to maintain power at all costs because it wants to maintain its economic control and impose its faith and thus fears a back clash. Interestingly, by contrast, regime change in the U.S. for example, does not result in President Obama being placed under house arrest, or George Soros closing his trading offices.  And so, what do you do to solve the problem?

  1. The regime’s economic interests must be completely undermined. The military and the religious foundations must not be allowed to participate in for-profit economic activities. It’s clear – and very simple. Economic sanctions by the west will NOT accomplish this. It’s the exact reverse, open, direct relations that allow for every single (religious) monopoly in Iran to be broken. The regime controls the economy, precisely because they have a monopoly in every industry in Iran. The West is playing its hand badly. Fundamentalism thrives, when it is the ONLY vehicle for personal (economic) advancement!
  2. There must be evolutionary, change in Iran’s electoral systems to first address the fear factor i.e. incumbents must not fear back clashes, at the same time, central control must be replaced by regional control (as in every other functioning democracy). No central force, should be allowed to vet candidates. The key to this is have distributed electoral control. And thus to reinforce local elections, and local control in Iranian political life.
  3. At the end of the day, elections must be scrutinized at a higher level than the sitting government itself. Without an independent judiciary (and Iran under the control of the Larijani brothers i.e. Britain), the only other possibility is the creation of a regional union (like the E.U.) that can monitor elections without influence of Iran’s government. The creation of a regional union, could help address Iran’s democratic crisis too.

Now, tell me something, how is a different leader flying into Tehran on a French government paid, Air France 747, to a cheering crowd of opportunists, going to address the Democratic crisis? No, my friends – nothing would change. There’s no point talking about democracy when the new regime would do EXACTLY THE SAME stuff every single other autocratic regime in Iran has done. People have short memories, I remember how the Shah’s family were busy building their own economic empires. And don’t think for a second, the Rajavists would not do the same. The ‘religious’ foundations, sequestered all the assets of the super-rich in Iran, and replaced themselves as the defacto owners after the revolution. Nothing will change.

These are mere examples, but, the bottom line is the pattern is clear. The root causes are systemic. New leaders imported from outside Iran will not do anything. There must be a wholesale shift in Western policies towards Iran. And there is a significant role for a regional union and regional solutions to virtually every single crisis Iran is facing. The problems are systemic.

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