Rafsanjani (1989-1997) and Foreign Relations with Iraq

Rafsanjani and the New Normal

For most countries, periods of revolution and/or war are the exception, not the rule. Both are extreme conditions that place atypical demands on a state and its citizens. Yet from the moment of its birth in 1979 until the 1988 Iran-Iraq War ceasefire, that is all the Islamic Republic had known. Rafsanjani’s term as president marked the first opportunity the IRI had to emerge from more than a decade of turbulence and begin to function like a normal state (Arjomand 2009). Though a foundational member of the Islamic Republic’s leadership, Rafsanjani nevertheless urged Iranians to “...give up some of the short-sightedness, some of our excesses, and some of our crude aspects.of the early stages of the revolution.” After assuming office, he filled his cabinet with technocrats, rather than ideologues (Parasiliti 1993, p. 229).

When countries operate under more ordinary conditions, there is usually greater political space—more room for different factors to affect the conduct of foreign policy. For the Rafsanjani administration, that meant policymaking in an environment with factions and competing organizations battling in a republican system, and where power was shared between different formal and informal institutions (Banuazizi 1994; Rakal 2007, p. 177). The basic principles of the president’s foreign policy were not so very different from the foundational precepts articulated by Khomeini. Foreign policy was to be Islamic, non-aligned, independent and suspicious of great power interference. But while the canon remained the same, Rafsanjani’s foreign policy differed from the past in its priorities (economic development) and in its approach (pragmatism) (Parasiliti 1993, p. 229; Milani 1996, pp. 89-91).

The core priority for the new president was economic growth and reform, and Iran’s foreign policy was an instrument in service to that objective. That translated into trying to rebuild diplomatic and trade relations with regional and international actors, most of which had supported Iraq during the war (Marchall 2003, p. 101).

It is worth noting, too, that Rafsanjani came to office at a particular moment in history. Iran had just come out of a grueling, bloody war that had taken a tremendous toll on the Iranian people. The death of Khomeini and the passage of a new constitution established a new context for Iranian policymaking. Internationally, the Soviet Union and its empire were unraveling and its departure into history would leave the US as the sole remaining superpower (Rakal 2007, pp. 164, 176).

Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein embraced a second, major miscalculation, this time invading Kuwait. Hussein’s folly managed to thereby unite the Arab world, the US, and practically the entire world against him—this, a mere two years after having agreed to a ceasefire with Iran (Brands and Palkki 2012). Once again, Iraq’s missteps would define Iran-Iraq relations.

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