Looking around this morning amidst the good and the bad news, there is one good thing that I think is pretty certain regardless of how events turn out in the next few months. The Neocon-bomb Iran crowd will never be able to insinuate that Iran is some unified fanatic nemesis waiting to go off and destroy the world. The demonstrations displayed millions of people who elicit compassion. Now that there are many different faces of Iran in the public consciousness besides scowling and foreign-looking Ayatollahs, support for bombing should be harder to come by. The Iranian people possess diverse opinions and this diversity materialized in the clergy too in the last 10 days. SEE Montazeri's Letter, there are others as well. Khamenei and the hard-liners may still hold power, but that clearly could change. When that change comes, it will not likely take the form a new Revolution.
Now, that won't stop NeoCons and their expat/SAVAK/Shah people from pushing their agenda. Reza Pahlavi's appearance before the National Press Club yesterday is certainly part of such efforts. If you missed it, it is worth a look:
He certainly had some valid things to say, but there are some major problems with his remarks:
- Because of his father's regime, he is really in no position to be talking about any government acting unjustly. The Shah's injustice is directly related to the excesses and ferocity of the Revolution. Moreover, among the people who support him are expats who stole billions of dollars from the people of Iran during the Shah's regime, and ex-SAVAK people who I suspect still participate in our intelligence community. When these people return the money they stole, and stand for their crimes against the Iranian people, then maybe they have the right to an opinion on the future of Iran. When your governance distorts a country to the point where a violent revolution is required to get you to change, you have failed.
- Very few people in Iran or the diaspora take Reza Pahlavi seriously. He has absolutely no credibility. That includes many who are diametrically opposed to the current Islamic Republic. There are supporters, but they are a tiny minority. To make a comparison, Reza Pahlavi is significantly less qualified to do anything regarding Iran than Ahmed Chalabi in Iraq. We know how that turned out.
- There is no single "moment of truth." Any solution will develop over time. The people and the protesters in Iran have no doubts about "who stands with them." Does the never-Shah think that someone will be able to intervene? Does he think that the protesters are expecting the US to ride in like the cavalry? More thoughtful people need to push back pretty hard against this kind of political grandstanding. I'm pretty certain that Mr. Mousavi would laugh at this display if he saw it.
It remains difficult to predict how things will turn out in Iran. However, Power Struggle provides a more useful framework of description for events than comparisons to the 1979 Revolution. See this excellent article by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam in Today's Guardian. The Shah fell because there was widespread opposition to his rule, and his horrible mismanagement and injustice unified that opposition. Today, there are distinct camps and a much more even split. This split goes back to the early days of the Revolution, but it did not surface too clearly because of the united cause against Iraq from 1980-1988. During that time they fought for their survival, but as soon as the war ended the rifts surfaced again. Mousavi left politics and the position of Prime Minister was eliminated. Montazeri (assumed to be heir to Khomenei) began to slip because the hard-liners won out in the power struggle of 88-89. He's been under house arrest for years, but as Grand Ayatollah, he is untouchable. So what will happen now? Who knows.
Elections in Iran do matter--the protests clearly attest to that. The power struggle we are seeing also shows that the outcome matters. If Khamenei and Ahmadinejad succeed they will have power, but they will also be fearful. The result will be oppression. If that occurs the world should not condemn and disengage. In order for Khamenei and Ahmadinejad to survive they must be able to constantly point to a hostile outside world. Part of their gambit here might be to turn further to the right to bring about more isolation of Iran. An isolated Iran is the one they will be able to continue ruling. One can hope that saner, less fanatic heads prevail.