OUR INSPIRATIONS | Dr. Marvin Weinbaum

Weinbaum Marvin

Marvin Weinbaum is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and scholar-in-Residence at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. where he provides analyses on Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, terrorism, development issues, political economy, and democratization. He also lectures at the Foreign Service Institute and has held adjunct fellowships at Georgetown and George Washington universities.

He previously served as an analyst in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research for Afghanistan and Pakistan. His research, teaching, and consultancies have focused on the issues of national security, state building, democratization, and political economy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Weinbaum received his education from Brooklyn College (BA), University of Michigan (MA), and Columbia University (PhD). He is the author or editor of six books and has written more than 100 journal articles and book chapters. Selected publications include: Egypt and the Politics of U.S. Economic Aid (1986); Food, development, and politics in the Middle East (1982); Pakistan and Afghanistan: Resistance and Reconstruction (1994).


If any one of them, however, though, went public in any way, then he would be picked up by SAVAK. SAVAK had its political prisoners. I visited one of the prisons, model prison, so called, where it kept political types. It was in Karaj which is a city just outside of Tehran, and I came away from that just utterly broken, myself, watching how these individuals, many of them in there for white-collar kind of crimes, rather than hardcore dissidents, a lot of white-collar-crime people there, and they were just broken individuals, groveling at the feet of the SAVAK guy who had gone along with my friend and myself as we visited the prison. So these elements did exist there, but the ultimately, the dissident movement in Iran would gain many supporters as things became more difficult… after 1973.


Emperor Without His Clothes

The newspapers were now free to write what they want. There was free speech. I’m talking about 1977, and it was really an opening here, and what happened was that the more he made concessions, the more people took advantage of it. In other words, it was the emperor without his clothes. They saw him as a figure of weakness rather than someone with strength, who could make decisions because they were in his interest. He was more or less responding to pressures, and the more he responded, the more pressures built against him.


Sunni Fanatics

So when the Taliban first appeared in Afghanistan, and certainly by the time they took over Kabul, Iran was looking very suspiciously at the Taliban. It saw them as Sunni fanatics, and the word was that the Taliban are probably agents of the Americans, in order to weaken the shah and the revolution, that is. This was the, I think, the basic way of viewing them, so they did take attention here, and in 1998, when Iranian diplomat spies, whatever they were, were killed in Mazar-i-Sharif, here is when Iran threatened, in fact, an invasion. And they did move troops up to the border, but the word is that when it became clear what the economic costs were gonna be to Iran of taking military action in Afghanistan to punish the Taliban, that Iran pulled back. In any case, it never mounted that kind of attack. Again, the picture I’m trying to paint here is one of seeing Afghanistan as a backdoor neighbor, one that you paid attention to only when you had to.