Sunday, June 14, 2009

Iran's Political Coup - and What Happens Now?

Hat-tip to Paul Woodward at War in Context (WiC has always been my most reliable go-to source) for headlining this essay from Gary Sick on Iran's political coup:
gary's choices - Iran's political coup

It's a must-read from an experienced Iran hand well familiar with the history and currents of Iran's Islamic revolutionary regime. (And I highly recommend the WiC link today. Paul has posted a number of pieces there dealing with what's happened in Iran.)

I wrote last week (at WiC) about Obama's Cairo speech having a chance to be a difference-maker in Middle East history, but what's just happened in Iran will have a much greater impact, on Iran and the broader Middle East and on US relations with Iran and Israel. Mr. Sick puts it very well:

this election is an extraordinary gift to those who have been most skeptical about President Obama’s plan to conduct negotiations with Iran. Former Bush official Elliott Abrams was quick off the mark, commenting that it is “likely that the engagement strategy has been dealt a very heavy blow.” Two senior Israeli officials quickly urged the world not to engage in negotiations with Iran. Neoconservatives who had already expressed their support for an Ahmadinejad victory now have every reason to be satisfied. Opposition forces, previously on the defensive, now have a perfect opportunity to mount a political attack that will make it even more difficult for President Obama to proceed with his plan.

With all of the demonizing of Iran in recent years, one of the things that opponents of that have pointed to is Iran's democratic process - the idea that although the Supreme Guardian does indeed have ultimate authority in the Iranian system, the people do have a strong political voice. (And this has not been an entirely recent feature of Iran's politics. The Iranian Constitutional Revolution of the early 20th-century - which was preceded by popular movements such as the late 19th-century Tobacco Protest - was a watershed in Iran's history.) Now, the electoral coup of 2009 has undercut the arguments of all those who have been advocating patience in dealing with the Iranian leadership, and they have suffered a major blow to their cause. Meanwhile, those who've been advocating a military strike against Iran now have a few more arrows in their quiver. As Sick notes in his piece, neocons in both Israel and the US were hoping for an Ahmadinejad win. It's much easier to scream Hitler and new Holocaust at him (given his record) than at a new, moderate, ostensibly "saner" and certainly less provocative president, which Mousavi likely would have been.

Assuming that the election "results" hold (and there's no reason to think they won't, especially with the Iranian army, Revolutionary Guard, and basij militias siding with Khamenei and Ahmadinejad), we face another 4 years with Ahmadinejad as president of Iran - the political version of a gun with the safety perpetually off when it comes to provocative public statements.

As Iran has progressed with its nuclear enrichment and grown its influence in Iraq, Ahmadinejad's attitude to the US and Israel has been one of, more or less, "in your face" (a basketball expression with which Obama certainly is familiar). In the next few months, a lot - I might venture to say, "world peace" itself (and the lives of thousands) - will be riding on how patient Obama can remain in the face of such provocation, how well he can resist the likely renewed and louder neocon and pro-Likud demands for forcibly imposed regime change in Iran - and, perhaps, how often and how hard the Supreme Guardian in Tehran is willing to yank his president's chain in the next months.

And one more thing: the Supreme Guardian is getting up there in age and is not in the best of physical health, and it's entirely possible that he might pass from the scene during Ahmadinejad's second term, or that, if he weakens, some others among the mullah hierarchy in the Council of Experts and the Council of Guardians might move against him, especially if they sense that Ahmadinejad's provocations (if left unsquelched by the Khamenei) are leading Iran to disaster.

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