January 8th, 2012
09:19 AM ET

Zakaria: Iran is weak and getting weaker

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

There's not much foreign policy talk on the campaign trail except for one issue - Iran. Everyone is talking about Iran's new strength and assertiveness - its missile tests, its progress on the nuclear program, its moves in Iraq. Mitt Romney, the Republican front-runner, describes Iran as "the greatest threat that the world faces over the next decade." Newt Gingrich has compared the Iranian challenge to the rise of Hitler’s Germany. More measured commentators also see Iran’s rising influence and power across the Middle East.

In fact, the real story on the ground is that Iran is weak and getting weaker. Sanctions have pushed the economy into a nose-dive. The political system is fractured and fragmenting. Abroad, its closest ally and the regime of which it is almost the sole supporter - Syria - is itself crumbling. The Persian Gulf monarchies have banded together against Iran and shored up their relations with Washington. Last week, Saudi Arabia closed its largest-ever purchase of U.S. weaponry.

The simplest measure of Iran’s strength is its currency. When Barack Obama became president, you could buy 9,700 rials with one dollar. Since then, the dollar has appreciated 60 percent against the rial, meaning you can buy 15,600 rials.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told parliament recently that the latest sanctions were “the most extensive . . . sanctions ever” and that “this is the heaviest economic onslaught on a nation in history . . . every day, all our banking and trade activities and our agreements are being monitored and blocked.” The price of food staples has soared 40 percent the past few months, Reuters reported this week.

The Iranian government's reaction to the prospects of sanctions that could hit its oil exports shows its desperation. First, one of its admirals threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, invoking the Persian expression that this would be as easy as "drinking a glass of water." But a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards - Iran's crucial power source - quickly backtracked, explaining that Tehran has no intention of blocking the strait.

Frankly it would be madness to do so because Iran would suffer more than any country. Blocking the strait would result in a near total shutdown of Iran's exports and imports; and with 60 percent of Iran's economy coming from oil exports, that would bring the government to a standstill.

Meanwhile, Iran’s nuclear program is making progress. This is inevitable: Nuclear technology is 70 years old; Iran has a serious scientific community, and it sees a nuclear program as an emblem of national security and pride. But do we think of North Korea as strong and on the rise because it has a few crude nuclear devices?

The Obama administration has put tremendous pressure on Iran on a variety of fronts — far more pressure than the Bush administration was ever able to muster. This is, in part, because the pressure has been brought to bear, wherever possible, with other countries. The United States does not buy oil from Iran. But European nations, Japan and South Korea do, and if they go along with a new round of sanctions, Iran faces the real prospect of an economic freefall.

The Obama administration seems to have concluded that the Iranian regime is not ready or able to make a strategic reconciliation with the West. The regime is too divided and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority, the Supreme Leader, is too ideologically rigid. So for now Washington wants to build pressure on Iran in the hopes that this will force the regime into serious negotiations at some point.

This strategy is understandable. But it also risks building up pressures that could take a course of their own — with explosive consequences. The price of oil is rising during a global slump only because of these political risks. Without a carefully considered strategy, these risks will grow. Weak countries whose regimes face pressure can sometimes cause more problems than strong nations.

Read more of my thoughts on Iran in my recent column in The Washington Post. For more of my thoughts throughout the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to visit the Global Public Square every day.

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Topics: Fareed's Take • GPS Show • Iran

soundoff (714 Responses)
  1. truth_alone

    sanctions are an act of war ! It kills babies as it did according to the UN 500,000 children died in Iraq in the 90s just due to the sanctions imposed and the world knew!

    dE JA VU all over again... first we were lied to about Iraq having WMD.
    Now it is Iran ... Oh how soon we forget!!!

    January 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
    • loco mofo

      Fact of the matter is that that is 500,000 ppl that will not be trying to kill Americans. Make no mistake you if are an America they will kill you too! @truth_alone

      January 10, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
  2. Heat2Hot

    Fareed always does his homework and he's right. Great article. CNN needs to give Fareed the lead and let him run with it. He's not opinionated or bias. He simply reports the facts and this is what I like.

    January 9, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Reply
  3. Anti_Fareed

    There goes Fareed again writing about a topic he has little or no knowledge of. CNN, it's time to delegate Fareed assignments that are in his area of expertise. For examples, India struggles to feed its billion of citizens, its backward caste system and culture, its corrupt government, how to improve the country's overall sanitation,etc.

    January 9, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Reply
  4. Clark

    America needs an enemy. Since the biggest bogeyman of all (USSR) went bust, the US has consistently chosen petty saber-rattling dictators to demonize as the most dangerous threats on earth. Most of them were installed in their positions by the US decades ago and then turned after they had bilked the US for massive amounts of aid, which they promptly hid away for themselves. This Iranian regime is a direct result of the US overthrowing the elected government of Iran in the 1950s and installing the Shah as absolute ruler. You reap what you sow.

    January 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
  5. vish

    Lot of people make mistakes everyday. But not the same one Mr Zakaria. At least you should learn from your own experience that bluffing can only go so far.

    January 9, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Reply
  6. Quarant

    Pure Propaganda.

    January 10, 2012 at 12:51 am | Reply
  7. Hasan

    The first reason Zakaria thinks that Iran is becoming weaker is the economic sanctions and pressures on Iran. To prove his statement he gives the fluctuated condition of US dollar in comparison with Iranian Rials in recent days as an example. On one hand, everyone knows that this fluctuated situation has a lot of reasons most of which have nothing to do with beyond the Iran’s borders. On the other hand, although Iran is under a lot of foreign pressures and economic sanctions, according to Google Public Data, Iran’s GDP, the most reliable measurement to gauge a country’s economic power, has been increased from $101.2865 Billion in 2000 to $331.015 Billion in 2009. So we cannot accept it from the author that Iran is becoming weaker and weaker in terms of economy.

    Another reason the author tries to prove his hypothesis is the adverse situation in Syria, as a supporter of Iran. First, things happening in Syria are different from what we saw in countries like Egypt or Tunisia. The Bashar-Assad’s regime has still many supporters and he can handle the problems of his country by doing some reforms. Secondly, let’s imagine the Syrian regime is overthrown. Who says that the next regime is a regime against Iran? The third point is that if we accept that the Iranian friends are changing into Iranian enemies, something that is in question, why do not we take the new friends of Iran into account. Taking this fact into account that some of them, like Egypt, even has more strategic values than others. The author says that the Persian Gulf monarchies have banded together against Iran. But he should take this fact into consideration that the these states might be against Iran but their nations are not. This is soft power. Iran governs the hearts of the nations and it has many reasons ranging from cultural issues to others.

    The author then argues the conflicts among the different branches of the Iranian state. Between the Supreme Leader and the President or others. I think not only do these conflicts make problems but they help the country progress. What we witnessed in conflicts between the legislative and the executive were all constructive conflicts not destructive. And I think what the author talks about the Revolutionary Guardian’s dictatorship, the division of the clergy and this fact that Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami are against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are journalistic ideas and not worth being discussed.

    He then starts to defend Obama Administration’s policies toward Iran and says that they were much better than the Bush’es and here he sounds very much Democrat and anti-Republican which is not beyond the expectations as he writes for the Washington Post. And finally, he puts everything he said by saying that Iran could be a potential threat.

    January 10, 2012 at 4:40 am | Reply
  8. cuace

    "But do we think of North Korea as strong and on the rise because it has a few crude nuclear devices?"

    No, we don't. But North Korea has nothing else, especially food. It's not like they can bankroll any other threat.
    The Iranians have oil and use it to try to get whatever they want. Letting them develop a nuclear weapon will only make them more dangerous. Poor arguing point Zakaria.

    January 10, 2012 at 11:47 am | Reply
  9. kat

    hi

    January 13, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  10. facts

    IRAN IS HELPING THE TERRORIST ORGANIZATION HEZBOLLAH WHICH 100 TIME WORSE THAN AL QAEDA, IRAN THUGS ARE HELPING SYRIA MINORITY GOVERNMENT WITH MONEY AND WEAPONS M IRAN PAY RUSSIA THE MONEY AND RUSSIAN EVIL EMPIRE BRINGING THE WEAPONS TO SYRIAN SEA PORT,,,,IRAN HELPING IRAQI SHIIA THUGS TO KILL CHRISTEAN'S AND OTHERS, THEY ALSO DESTROYING LEBANON BAHRAIN YEMEN AND HAMAS.....THEY ARE EVIL CULT
    , WORSE THAN HITLER..WE MUST ACT NOW, RON PAUL IS THE VILLAGE IDIOT IN THE REPUBLICAN PARTY NO BETTER THAN THIS HALF MUSLIM PRESIDENT ( OBAMA), IRAN DO HAVE WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND WHEN THEY HAVE WORSE THEY WILL USE IT THEY ALREADY MENTIONED THAT ON TV AND IN THE UN GO READ AHMEDI NEJAD SPEECH IN THE UN..... NOW IRAN HELPING CHINA AND THE COMMUNIST VENEZUELA REGIMES...AND EVEN EXPANDING TO AFRICA OPENING SAFE HOUSES UNDER PRAYERS PLACES CALLED HUSAYNIA..!!!THOSE EVIL WILL NEVER STOP UNTIL THEY DESTROY EVERY GOOD IN THIS EARTH......EVIL CAN SMILE AND LIE EVIL CAN SHOW YOU HE IS GOOD...DONT BE FOOL. WORLD PEACE , IRAN DONT HAVE PEACE IN THEIR DICTIONARY.

    January 15, 2012 at 2:32 am | Reply
  11. WebyWhern

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    January 16, 2012 at 1:15 am | Reply
  12. terefe feyssa

    Zakaria< It is understandable of Your analysis.I don't think, You may have something else.
    either way, thank you so much.

    January 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  13. COUNTER FITED DOLLARS AND IRAQI DINAR DONE BY IRAN

    علم هدهد سليمان ومن مصدر امني مهم , أن هناك طائرة نقل إيرانية تحط أسبوعيا في مطار النجف الاشرف وهي محملة بالمليارات من الدنانير العراقية المزورة من إيران وبعد ذلك يتم نقل هذه المليارات من الأوراق النقدية العراقية المزورة تحت حماية أمنية مشددة وبإشراف عدد معين من كبار المسئولين في أحزاب الائتلاف الوطني إلى البنك التجاري العراقي فرع النجف الاشرف لغرض إيداعها به , ومن ثم سحب البديل عنها بالعملة الصعبة والتي تقدر بالمليارات من الدولارات ثم تحمل سراً بنفس الطائرة لتقلع بها إلى طهران . this is a fact every week an Iranian plan fly to iraq and directly to najaf province not baghdad in this najaf province the evil province in iraq , this plan brings billions of Iraqi dinars faked Iran dinar from iran and exchange it with USA dollars in janaf under the watch of al hakeem and al maleki group, bringing billions of dollars back to iran and then give to Syria , Russia and Hezbollah. WHY USA DONT DO NOTHING , WHAT IS THE USE OF SANCTIONING IRAN AND KEEPING THE EVIL IRAQI PRIM MINSTER DOING THIS EVIL DEEDS WAKE UP OBAMA

    January 29, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply
  14. SYRIAN THUGS BASHAR AL KALB KILLED 900 ALREADY WHERE ARE YOU USA UK FRANCE UN!?

    موقف روسيا والصين هو موقف الغرب كذلك اتجاه الشعب السورى الذى يبذذ من مجرم صهيونى ويحرق من حكمهم وهذا كله امام انظار العالم وهدفهم ان لا تنتصر ثورة السوريين ولا اى ثورة عربية والحمد الشعب غير المواقف بيده وما اسعد واجمل من شعب واعى بحقوقه ويكتشف اعدائه كل يوم وصامد واقف بوجههم جميعا فوحده الشعب السورى من يغير ليس الا مواقف العالم اتجاهه بل يحل ما حل به بداخلهم ليست روسيا ولا الصين بمناى عن ما يحدث بشعوبنا لا بعيدة عن ثورة الشعب حتى بامريكا نفسها والنصر لثورتنا العربية والنصر للشعب

    January 29, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  15. g.r.r.

    Iran is NOT the real threat. They are doing front work for China. China is the dangerous one. They are in a cold war with the west and they are winning.

    February 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  16. CHINA AND RUSSIA HAVE BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS AND THEY MUST BE ELEMINATED ANY WHERE

    أكد وزير الخارجية التونسي رفيق عبد السلام اليوم السبت أن حكومة بلاده اتخذت قرارا بطرد السفير السوري في تونس، فيما أعلن الرئيس التونسي أن بلاده سحبت اعترافها بشرعية حكم الأسد، وذلك في وقت دعا فيه رئيس البرلمان العربي سالم الدقباسي الدول العربية لطرد السفراء السوريين المعتمدين لديها.

    وقال عبد السلام في مقابلة مع الجزيرة، إن قرار الحكومة التونسية جاء احتجاجا على المجازر التي جرت وتجري اليوم في حمص وفي غيرها من المدن السورية، وأوضح أن وزارته ستقوم بتنفيذ القرار في القريب العاجل وستستدعي سفيرها في دمشق.

    وتوقع الوزير أن تحذو معظم الدول العربية حذو بلاده في هذه الخطوة، وخص بالذكر مصر والمغرب ودول الخليج، وقال "نحن ننسق مع شركائنا في الدول العربية".

    February 5, 2012 at 2:40 am | Reply
  17. Yaqoot Mir

    A man born in India and raised with out knowing his culture commenting on how weak Iran is? Mr. Zakaria, Iran is no Iraq and I dont think it will be walkover. Sanctions are hurting no dought, but you are again underestimating the ability of the country to create trouble for you. Remember the revolution and how that was underestimated? look where it stands now.

    February 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  18. Yaqoot Mir

    I have no particular respect for Mr. Zakarias views they are at best choriographed to suit CNN needs on spewing propaganda against our countries. Good luck but have no interest in your views whatsoever.

    February 5, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  19. IRQI SHIIE3A, IRAN AND HIZBOALLAH SENDING MONEY AND WEAPONS TO SYRIA GOVERNEMTN

    1. ذكرت في الحلقة السابقة ( السادسة ) اطمئناني لإخواني المترجمين العاملين في القواعد العسكرية الأمريكية الذين اتصلوا بي ليعنوا في رسائلهم توبتهم الى الله والوطن والشعب والذين تم تسميتهم بالأرقام بدلا من أسمائهم الحقيقية حرصا على أمنهم وحياتهم من قوات الاحتلال الأمريكي , وعاهدتهم بأنني سأقوم بتحويل أسمائهم والمؤشرة إزاء كل منهم أرقامهم السرية الى الجهات الخاصة المتعاونة مع المقاومة العراقية وهم كل من :

    أ. المترجم التائب رقم ( 10) محافظة نينوى .

    ب. المترجم التائب رقم ( 15 ) محافظة بابل .

    ج‌. المترجم التائب رقم ( 20 ) محافظة التأميم .

    د. المترجم التائب رقم ( 50 ) محافظة بغداد .

    هـ. المترجمة التائبة رقم ( 75 ) محافظة بغداد .

    و. المترجمة التائبة رقم ( 100 ) محافظة بغداد .

    ز. المترجم التائب رقم ( 125 ) محافظة صلاح الدين .

    2. أرسل لي المترجم رقم ( 50 ) من محافظة بغداد معلومات خطيرة عن عملاء مزدوجين للقوات الأمريكية والإيرانية وموثقة بالوثائق والصور التي تثبت ذلك وهم :

    أ. العميل ( حسن سعيد حسن الكليدار ) مهنته ضابط شرطة متقاعد – محكوم سابق في زمن النظام السابق بتهمة مخلة بالشرف ( الرشوة والاختلاس ) لمدة سنين في سجن أبو غريب أثناء حكم النظام السابق .

    عمله الحالي – عميل مزدوج للاستخبارات الأمريكية والإيرانية .ويكلف الى الآن بمهمات استخباراتي داخل بغداد وخارجها وخارج العراق

    عنوانه : يسكن بغداد – الجهاد حي الأطباء

    ب. العميل ( أمرو ألقيس حسن سعيد الكليدار ) قضى حياته في السرقة والنصب والاحتيال – هارب من الخدمة العسكرية أيام النظام السابق – خدم كجندي في الجيش الأمريكي في فرقة الخيالة الثالثة – كان من ضمن الفرقة القتالية التي اقتحمت الفلوجة – أنتسب الى الجيش الأمريكي عام 2003 والى الآن .

    يعمل حاليا ضمن الاستخبارات الأمريكية في خدمة الجيش الأمريكي – عميل مزدوج للاستخبارات الأمريكية والإيرانية – ويكلف الى الآن بمهمات استخباراتية وقتالية داخل بغداد وخارجها وخارج العراق .

    – لديه ورشة تبريد لتغطية أعماله الإجرامية

    -عنوانه : يسكن بغداد – الجهاد حي الأطباء.

    ج. العميل ( مروان حسن سعيد حسن الكليدار ) خدم مترجم لقوات الاحتلال الأمريكي – أنتسب عن طريق أبوه ( حسن سعيد حسن الكليدار ) الى الاستخبارات الأمريكية عام 2004 – والآن منتسب الى الاستخبارات الأمريكية

    – يسكن بغداد – الجهاد حي الأطباء .

    د. صديق عائلة حسن سعيد حسن الكليدار العميل المزدوج ( مازن التميمي ) يسكن مدينة السماوة ويعمل معهم ويرافقه في كل شي وهو احد أعضاء المجلس الأعلى للثورة الإسلامية (فيلق بدر)

    د. صهر امرؤ ألقيس أي زوج بنت حسن سعيد واسمه العميل ( إبراهيم حربي إبراهيم القيسي ) وهو نائب ضابط سابق في الجيش العراقي ويعمل الآن مع القوات الأمريكية وقد نسبته القوات الأمريكية لحماية امن السفارة الألمانية وبعدها عمل في المنطقة الخضراء وكان يركب سيارة كولف حمراء .

    عنوانه : منطقة المنصور حاليا .

    3. إليكم الوثائق الموثقة بالصور أدناه للعملاء الجواسيس أعلاه ومعهم الكثير من العملاء العراقيين الذين باعوا دينهم وشرفهم للمحتل الكافر الأجنبي من الضباط والجنود الذين خدموا الاحتلال الأمريكي راجيا من أبناء العراق النشامى وفي حالة معرفة كل من يظهر في هذه الصور ان يزود المقاومة العراقية بأسمائهم ومناطق سكناهم او تزويد الشبكات والمواقع التي ستنشر هذه الاعترافات بأسمائهم وعناوين سكناهم وأية معلومات أخرى يعرفونها عنهم , والوثائق هي :

    • اسمه ( أمرو ألقيس حسن سعيد الكليدار ) قضى حياته في السرقة والنصب والاحتيال – هارب من الخدمة العسكرية أيام النظام السابق .

    • خدم كجندي في الجيش الأمريكي في فرقة الخيالة الثالثة

    • كان من ضمن الفرقة القتالية التي اقتحمت الفلوجة

    • أنتسب الى الجيش الأمريكي عام 2003.

    • يعمل حاليا ضمن الاستخبارات الأمريكية في خدمة الجيش الأمريكي .

    • عميل مزدوج للاستخبارات الأمريكية والإيرانية – ويكلف الآن بمهمات استخباراتية وقتالية داخل بغداد وخارجها وخارج العراق .

    • لديه ورشة تبريد في منطقة المنصور لتغطية أعماله الإجرامية .

    • يسكن بغداد – الجهاد حي الأطباء.

    والعميل الجاسوس : امرؤ ألقيس حسن سعيد حسن الكليدار : هو من مدينة سامراء ومن عائلة الكليدار التي تسكن المدينة وهي عائلة مشهورة بالالتزام الديني والتقيد بالعادات والتقاليد , نشأت هذا العميل في بغداد , والده شرطي واسمه حسن وهو معروف بسقوطه الأخلاقي وانحرافه وقد حكم عليه سابقا بالسجن (10)سنوات بتهمة الاغتصاب والرشوة وطرد من الخدمة .

    February 8, 2012 at 10:08 am | Reply
  20. almahdi is lusefer

    iran must be attacked, iran is not a muslim country, all the muslims 1 billion are sunni and the shiia are only 150 milions iran 65 millions are not all muslims , they have 10 million sunni and 5 million kurds, and 3 million christeans and jews etc...iran is evil and we dont consider them muslims. teh shiia cult is a devil worship called almahdi he the son of lusefer the devil

    February 24, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  21. IRAN AND syria shiia are EVIL

    The world waited while Germany rearmed itself...all in the name of self-defense and national self-esteem following the Armistice in 1918. The result of waiting was more than six million innocent jews murdered by a fanatic who wrote his plan years earlier. Iran has made it clear through words and its ongoing sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah (not to mention the murderous Assad regime) that they are without honor, cannot be trusted, and will kill as many Jews (and Americans) they can. I can never forgive them for the Iran Hostage crisis. There support of terrorist acts through the 80's and 90's including the killing of an American in a wheelchair is a testament to the evil of the Iranian government.

    March 7, 2012 at 4:42 am | Reply
  22. Gute Filme

    Hello, Neat post. There is a problem along with your website in internet explorer, may test this? IE still is the marketplace leader and a large portion of folks will omit your excellent writing because of this problem.

    April 2, 2012 at 5:17 am | Reply
  23. editorjp

    Zakaria is an idiot or a liar:

    "Iran has a serious scientific community, and it sees a nuclear program as an emblem of national security and pride. But do we think of North Korea as strong and on the rise because it has a few crude nuclear devices?"

    What kind of high-school sophistry is this? WAKE UP, Fareed, North Korea doesn't have Iran's " a serious scientific community".

    Zakaria, master of taquiya.

    April 17, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply
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