Interactive Moderation Discourse in Iran's Foreign Policy

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ali Akbar Asadi
PhD Candidate, University of Allameh Tabatabaei & Expert on Middle East Issues

The 11th presidential election in Iran has led to the rise of a new discourse based on interactive moderation in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This discourse can be considered as the product of the synthesis between two dominant principlist and reformist discourses, which is emerging and taking control of the foreign policy of Iran as a centrist and balanced approach. During three decades that have passed since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the metadiscourse of Islamism has been in control of the Iranian foreign policy. However, during various periods of time, secondary discourses have made their debut within framework of the main Islamist discourse of the country, have taken control of the foreign policy apparatus, and have been then marginalized. After the election of the incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the reformist discourse was marginalized in the foreign policy of Iran as a result of which the principlist discourse dominated Iran's foreign policy. Now, with the election of Mr. Hassan Rouhani as the new president of Iran, the former discourse will be gradually replaced with a new discourse as the dominant discourse of the country’s foreign policy, which can be called an “interactive moderate” discourse. A simple review of the ideas, performance and remarks made by the Iranian president-elect and his plans for Iran's foreign policy will be a good way to analyze the main principles of this new interactive moderate discourse. Those principles include strategic moderation, constructive interactivity, realistic idealism, comprehensive pursuit of national interests, and critical pragmatism.

Strategic moderation

Moderations, is the most important element and concept which can be underlined in the discourse of the interactive moderation. It means that no form of extremism in strategies as well as in implementing the country’s foreign policy will be adhered to by this new discourse. As a result, proponents of this discourse believe that the ideals of the Islamic Revolution and the national interests of  Iran should be pursued and realized through moderation in strategies and tactics. In doing this, neither passivity and overlooking the national interests and rights of the country can be acceptable, nor extremist and aggressive strategies which may cause the country to face unnecessary challenges and threats, and pave the way for regional and international consensus to be formed against the Islamic Republi. In other words, moderation can be considered as a concept which does not allow for going to the extremes in both the strategies and achievements. This means that instead of seeing all international conditions and players in a black and white manner, and seeking to achieve either absolute win or seeing the failure as absolute defeat in foreign policy cases, this discourse takes a moderate and realistic approach to all foreign policy matters. The adoption of a moderate strategy, however, will never mean to give up one’s ideals and the viewpoint which is based on religious values in return for total relativism. On the other side, the new discourse seeks to follow moderate, centrist, and logical views and strategies in its effort to realize the country’s ideals and interests. It also means to take advantage of all political resources and groups and the collective wisdom.

Constructive interactivity

Constructive interactivity is another important element of interactive moderate discourse in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The constructive interaction approach can be considered as the opposite of two other options which include the confrontation and hostility approach, as well as the approach involving futile and unreasonable interaction. Thereof comes the argument that the most important and prominent approach to safeguarding the country’s national interests and ideals is to avoid creating unnecessary tension and crisis in foreign relations in addition to engaging in constructive and purposive interaction with non-hostile players in international environment. In line with this policy, the government should try to maintain the country’s ability to face all kinds of threats by taking advantage of all domestic potentials and through cooperation with its foreign allies. It should also engage in constructive interaction as an axial approach which paves the way for making the most of the opportunities, eliminating threats, and reducing unnecessary costs of the country’s policies in international and regional arenas. Within this framework, removing tensions and hostilities between Iran and the highest possible number of international players as well as building confidence with them should be taken into account as the most important options for the reconstruction and improvement of the country’s international conditions and also to increase the level of Iran's national power.

Realistic idealism

Realistic idealism, as part of the interactive moderation discourse, means that the Islamic and revolutionary goals and ideals are still of high priority and importance in Iran's foreign policy. Therefore, necessary efforts and plans should be made to realize those goals and ideals. The key point, however, is that the pursuit of ideals should be done on the basis of practical realities and should take advantage of the potentialities of the country’s national power as well as the existing power equations and balance in international and regional arenas. As a result, such Islamic principles and ideals as opposing the world hegemonic system, supporting Palestine and other Islamic and freedom seeking movements across the world, and development of all-out relations with the Muslim world will still be high priorities on the Islamic Republic of Iran's foreign policy agenda. However, in view of practical realities, adjusting strategies and tactics to those realities and setting priorities for achievement of the country’s ideals and principles are necessary steps to be taken for the gradual realization of those goals and ideals.

Comprehensive pursuit of national interests

Comprehensive pursuit of national interests is another important component of interactive moderation discourse in the area of foreign policy. It means that all the national interests of the country, in the true and comprehensive sense of the word, should be put on the top of the Iranian foreign policy’s list of priorities and serve as its guiding beacon. Of course, determination and definition of the national interests is a controversial issue which should be dealt with within the framework of the political establishment of Iran, with special attention to the country’s large-scale documents and general policies. It should be noted that in their true sense, the national interests include several groups of a country’s interests which consist of identity-related and cultural interests, revolutionary and Islamic expediencies and interests, security interests, territorial integrity as well as political and economic interests. However, all these interests should be considered as a consolidated whole, and should be followed and assessed on the basis of the exigencies and requirements of the country and the foreign environment. At any rate, it seems that due attention to economic interests and development of the country is one of the most pressing requirements of the interactive moderation discourse which gives priority to strengthening of a developmental foreign policy approach.

Critical pragmatism

Critical pragmatism, as a component of interactive moderation discourse, means that it would not be possible for the country to achieve all its interests by merely putting emphasis on the ideals and goals through lip service and empty remarks of the foreign policy officials. However, the country should make a gradual move toward the realization of its goals and interests in accordance with the plans and strategies which should have their roots in the realities on the ground. More importantly, putting too much emphasis on slogans and official remarks without due attention to diplomatic customs and international norms in foreign policy can lead to misunderstanding, and create tension and crisis in the country’s foreign relations. Another important point is that while exercising pragmatism, necessary criticism of and protests to various issues should take place within principled and logical frameworks and all tools of power should be taken advantage of to achieve the country’s interests in the best possible manner. The critical pragmatism can be also considered to mean that Iran has its own objections to and is a critic of many of the existing international structures and mechanisms. However, it believes that pragmatism is a solution for moving toward the realization of global and regional ideas.

On the whole, one may say that the rise of interactive moderation discourse in the foreign policy of Iran should be considered as the emergence of an alternative discourse which stands midway between the two dominant principlist and reformist discourses. As a result, in its comprehensive pursuit of Iran's national interests, it pays simultaneous attention to all the principles and fundaments of Islam and the Islamic Revolution as well as the country’s economic, political and security interests. At the same time, it also says no and has serious objection to all kinds of extremism, sloganeering, creation of tension and superficial measures taken in Iran's foreign policy. While rejecting exaggerated optimism toward the existing power structure in the international system and the behaviors of many players in global environment, this discourse considers the reality of power as important and turns down an entirely pessimistic view which only sees a totally dark image of international relations and power equations. Consequently, the interactive moderation discourse can be considered as a novel discourse in the foreign policy of Iran. It consists of moderation in strategies and methods, constructive and purposive interaction with the outside world, an idealism which has its roots in the realities, an overarching and comprehensive concept of national interests, and finally, criticism and protest combined with pragmatism, which are among the most important elements of this discourse.

Key Words: Interactive Moderation Discourse, Iran's Foreign Policy, Strategic Moderation, Constructive Interactivity, Realistic Idealism, National Interests, Critical Pragmatism, Asadi

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