Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Monday, June 15, 2009

The US and Iran

OK, so the protests in Iran are continuing and becoming more violent. Reports are now that at least one person has been killed by pro-Ahmadinejad paramilitary groups. The opposition leader who supposedly lost the last election is using words like "pay any cost" to contest the election. There are reports of hundreds of students disappearing from the dormitories of closed universities but, of course, given the chaos in the streets it's hard to say if they've been arrested or are simply out in the streets.

This rapidly getting to the point where this will either lead to an attempted revolution or to a Tianiman square style crack down. I don't know anything like enough about Iranian politics to make a prediction about the short term outcome of these unfolding events.

I will say this though. I don't think this could have happened so long as Bush was President. Bush was so confrontation with Iran (calling them "evil" etc) that it served to rally people around Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, Khameni. Bush all to often made the US, its policies and relations with it, the central focus of political debate. By adopting a more open minded approach, Obama made the issue Ahmadinejad and Khameni and their rule of the country.

Today, Obama spoke at a press conference with Silvio Berlusconi about Iran. Obama said that he did not want to make the United States the issue inside of Iran. But he said he was "deeply troubled" at the scenes of violence and hoped that the "people of Iran" would be allowed to determine their political future. I think this is a dicey situation for the US. On the one hand, the US has done good by encouraging pro-democracy movements in places like Poland. On the other hand, the Middle East is famous for support from the US becoming political poison.


The Law Talking Guy said...

Today, Khamenei backed down a bit and allowed for an "investigation." That is cover to allow the religious leaders to make another choice, if they want to, and to buy time. I think the situation in Tehran scares them. They know this is how they came to power in 1979, in a moment of opportunity.

Whatever happens in Iran, I am heartened. The vigorous opposition of the ordinary people always matter. Mousavi will probably lose, but Iran will win in the end. Even in victory, Ahmadinejad and the clerics will be a lot more cautious.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG, I think you are justified in thinking that this will lead to more restraint from the Supreme Leader and his regime. But thinking back to our recent discussion about the prospects for democratization in Iran, I think this "election" and subsequent violence shows how little chance for real democratization there is there - short of a revolution. In other words, the current regime cannot smoothly transition into a democratic regime. The religious dictatorship is too firmly entrenched in the system - from candidate selection, to election management, to legislation.

Raised By Republicans said...

The Iranian Guardian Council (appointed by the Supreme Leader or by people appointed by the Supreme Leader) has announced that they will conduct a "recount" of the votes. The problem is that they have already endorsed Ahmadinejad both before the vote and after. So their objectivity is suspect. Also, there are reports of local officials being ordered to toss out votes for Mousavi. What's worse for a recount, there are many illiterate voters in Iran and it is apparently common practice for local election officials to "help" them vote. The literacy rate in Iran is only 77% so this could be a problem for a large share of the votes.

Mousavi has announced he will not accept the results of a recount but demands instead a new election. It sure sounds like Mousavi is daring the government to make a martyr of him.

Raised By Republicans said...

Another update: The BBC is reporting that Iranian government officials have clamped down on foreign journalists. Foreign journalists are now required to get permission from the government before leaving their offices to cover any story. This is not a good sign. It is beginning to look like the Supreme Leader intends to unleash the military and paramilitary forces on the demonstrators.

USwest said...

One thing to consider here is that there is more going on than meets the eye.

The problem with Iran is that you never really know who is in charge. There is always someone in the shadows. Nothing in Iran is overt. What we can be sure of is that Ahmadinejad is a propaganda tool. He was handy against Bush. He won't be so handy against Obama.

There has been talk about the possibility that Khamenei isn't as powerful as one would think and that there is something of a coup a foot. My Iranian sources tell me that the Khamenei has been quietly challenged lately by his son who has made connections in the military. The speculation has been that Khamenei knows the rules of the game and the social situation, and would not have been likely to declare a winner so quickly if left to his own devices. He would have finessed this a bit. My Iranian friends speculate that Khamenei may have been "forced" to announce a leader by his son or by the situation that his son's challenge has created.

Raised By Republicans said...

"The problem with Iran is that you never really know who is in charge. There is always someone in the shadows."

It does seem a lot like the old Soviet Union where an oligarchy of party big shots competed with each other to be the top guy to wave at the missiles on May Day. Only in Iran it's not party apparachiks in poorly fitting suits and fedoras, it's mullahs in turbans. Same game, different uniforms.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Reports are coming today from independent journalists that Monday's rallies in Northern Tehran consisted of half a million people or more occupying some 12km of a main street. These are unbelievably huge crowds, of the size that can and do topple governments. If you've ever seen such a crowd, it's mind-blowing (I saw one during the 5/1/06 immigration demonstrations in LA from atop of the coutrhouse). It is frightening to see that many people in one place. I think the leadership of Iran is in shock. A crackdown may be coming, but they are learning their vulnerabilities. I think China's government would have collapsed post-1989 if it had not set resolutely on a course of economic reform that changed the game. Iran's leaders have no such cards to play. If they do a massive crackdown now, they will simply have to maintain control. They are likely looking for some way out.

Raised By Republicans said...

I've seen some reports on CNN's website that corroberate US West's take on this that this is as much an internal split among the ruling elite as it is a popular uprising. Mousavi was a protege of Khomeini apparently and has lots of supporters in the government and Republican Guard.

It would not surprise me at all if Mousavi is as stunned by this as Khameni and Ahmadinejad seem to be. It could well be that he started this thinking he could use the mob to force a factional change at the top. But the mob often has other ideas.

I fear a crack down is coming. I doubt there is a unified force around which the demonstrators can organize but they are clearly in no mood to stop. So the only choices at the moment seem to be continued chaos or a bloody massacre.

Either way, Iran's image and position as a regional power is almost certainly taking a HUGE hit with this. As Iran's main opponent in the region, the US will stand to benefit from this regardless of how it plays out.

It would be great if we saw some indication that the demonstrations are repudiation of theocracy but I don't see any obvious evidence of that so far.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I saw a great little cartoon. Two Iranian protesters are talking. The first says, "Sure, we could stay home and accept the results of a fraudulent election..." And the second shakes his head and says, "But we reject the American way of life!!"

USwest said...

RBR makes an important point. The protesters are not asking for revolution. They aren't wanting to topple the system. They just want a fair election. That seems to be the main demand.

Bob said...

Re USwest:

That's how revolutions start. When the people "just want" something just, and the power structure can't accommodate them.