The convergence of… — mass mobilization and elite infighting — has produced the most serious threat to the survival of the Islamic Republic since the early years of its existence. However the election turmoil plays out, it has irreparably shattered the Islamic Republic’s most important underlying assets — elite cooperation and popular participation….
Four weeks ago in these pages, I reviewed why “elite cooperation” was key to Iran’s complex decision making. Whether the consensus forming mechanisms can be restored is indeed a vital question.
The closest parallel to the current protests is the mass mobilization that preceded the 1979 revolution. Then, as is happening now, disciplined crowds spanning Iranian society’s traditional cleavages among generations, ethnic groups, and social classes poured into the streets…. The dissent that Mousavi is encouraging violates the central tenet of the Islamic Republic’s political culture, which is based on a shared commitment among “khodi,” or insiders, to the preservation of the system….
Maloney is less convincing on where this is going, yet provocative:
“The reformists on the streets and in the corridors of power have emphasized the moderate nature of their demands; neither group is seeking to overturn the Islamic system. This caution may help enable the regime to prevail, but its short-term survival may leave it fatally weakened. In the aftermath of a stolen election, Iranians will remain mobilized in unprecedented numbers against their government and the leadership will be undercut by profound internal cleavages…. What follows will — in either the short or long term — represent a genuine improvement for both the Iranian people and the international community.”
2. Anything by Roger Cohen, including his on-the-street account on Sunday, and especially his take in tomorrow’s NYTimes on “The Children of Tomorrow.”
Among keepers in his Sunday essay, Cohen observes how Supreme Leader Khamenei “factionalized himself” by taking sides in a dispute central to the system. Instead of soothing the wounds, last Friday’s sermon catalyzed further broad demonstrations by “people of all ages. — an old man on crutches, middle-aged office workers and bands of teenagers.”
To Cohen’s doubts about whether the world, or the UN could help the protesters, one woman tellingly realized: “So, we are on our own.”
Even as the world indeed is watching, “in the end that is true. Iranians have fought this lonely fight for a long time: to be free, to have a measure of democracy.” Therein may be their best “weapon,” in the Iranian context — self-reliance.
For tomorrow’s column, Cohen movingly writes:
“I believe the loss of trust by millions of Iranians who’d been prepared to tolerate a system they disliked, provided they had a small margin of freedom, constitutes the core political earthquake in Iran. Moderates who once worked the angles are now muttering about making Molotov cocktails and screaming their lungs out after dusk. Moussavi is trying to calm their rage and coax the multiple security forces to his side….
Ten days on, however, the brutal use of force and [Leader Khamenei’s] polarizing speech have drawn many more Iranians toward an absolutist stance. Having wanted their votes counted, they now want wholesale change. If Moussavi wants to prevail, he must keep his followers tactically focused on securing a new election.
Cohen juxtaposes thuggish Basijis with those like shot-through-the-heart Neda Soltan, who risk everything to resist their youthful counterparts:
“I bow my head to the youth of Iran, the youth that is open-eyed, bold and far stronger and more numerous than the near-beardless vigilantes.”
3. As for what the US should be doing, consider first Eric Hooglund’s sober review in the Guardian of six reasons for why the US should “stay out:” Eric highlights cautions that Helena and I have separately raised, including:
“Given the nature of Iranian politics, any US statements or other efforts aimed at influencing the current debate are likely to assist the conservative advocates of government guided by religious principles – because they can tar the reformers with the brush of being agents of Washington.”
4. Andrew Parasiliti is more nuanced in commending the Obama Administration for its restrained balancing of principle and realism in today’s Chicago Tribune.
Timing is everything. If you are right at the wrong time, you are still wrong…. The U.S. should not pre-empt what might be a historic opportunity for U.S.-Iran relations and the Middle East…. The U.S. would be better served by a result that favors Iran’s reform movement led by Mir Hossein Mousavi. But that outcome in Iran is uncertain and the administration has the responsibility to best position the United States for all contingencies.
Andrew also notes that Obama “may be able to tap into a constituency for change in Iran regarding relations with the U.S. and create a kind of popular pressure on Iran’s leaders, whatever the outcome of the current political turmoil in Iran.”
It seems to me he already has. Obama’s No Ruz and Cairo speeches robbed Ahmadinejad of an easy American bogey with which to pound his critics. All three of his opponents proposed foreign policy changes in their campaigns — to seek a “new face to the world.” (among the Musavi slogans)
The incumbent President, knowing the potential appeal of the charge, shrewdly countered that it had been precisely his bold style, rather than alleged previous groveling, that brought the Americans to their senses.
The Iranian voter, quite aware of Iran’s flagging reputation in the world, understood the extraordinary significance of the debate. It’s an as yet unresolved argument.
5. Excellent interview with Fardideh Farhi, also on the Council on Foreign Relations web site. Note especially her ending hope for how the “clash of titans” might yet resolve itself:
“[W]e have these robust contenders–titans in some way–in a confrontation. To assume that this will lead ultimately to a victory of one over the other is unrealistic as well as dangerous because it may come at the cost of tremendous violence. My hope is that the path is opened to some sort of a compromise that allows, for example, a backing down on the part of Mr. Khamenei, perhaps some sort of a truth commission or a reelection, while at the same time he can maintain power, perhaps reduced power.”