So How’s it Going in Iran?
Michael Ledeen - Jun 15, 2009
To start with, the BBC, long considered a shill for the regime by most Iranian dissidents, estimates between one and two million Tehranis demonstrated against the regime on Monday. That’s a big number. So we can say that, at least for the moment, there is a revolutionary mass in the streets of Tehran. There are similar reports from places like Tabriz and Isfahan, so it’s nationwide.
For its part, the regime ordered its (Basij and imported Hezbollah) thugs to open fire on the demonstrators. The Guardian, whose reporting from Iran has always been very good (three correspondents expelled in the last ten years, they tell me), thinks that a dozen or so were killed on Monday. And the reports of brutal assaults against student dormitories in several cities are horrifying, even by the mullahs’ low standards.
Western governments have expressed dismay at the violence, and Obama, in his eternally narcissistic way, said that he was deeply disturbed by it, and went on to add that freedom of speech, etc., were universal values and should be respected by the mullahs. I would have preferred a strong statement of condemnation–stressing the evil of killing peaceful demonstrators–but he finally said something.
He probably thinks he’s in a bind (he isn’t, actually). He probably thinks that if he condemns the violence, and the regime wins, that will lessen his chances to strike the Grand Bargain he so avidly desires. Somebody might remind him that Ronald Reagan was unstinting in his criticism of the Soviet Union (”The Evil Empire”), but negotiated no end of bargains with them, including quite dramatic arms reductions.
It’s always better to assert American values, both because he’s our president and he should be speaking for all of us, and because catering to the tender sensibilities of the murders in Iran won’t gain anything. It will only increase their contempt.
What’s going to happen?, you ask. Nobody knows, even the major actors. The regime has the guns, and the opposition has the numbers. The question is whether the numbers can be successfully organized into a disciplined force that demands the downfall of the regime. Yes, I know that there have been calls for a new election, or a runoff between Mousavi and Ahmadinezhad. But I don’t think that’s very likely now. The tens of millions of Iranians whose pent-up rage has driven them to risk life and limb against their oppressors are not likely to settle for a mere change in personnel at this point. And the mullahs surely know that if they lose, many of them will face a very nasty and very brief future.
If the disciplined force comes into being, the regime will fall. If not, the regime will survive. Can Mousavi lead such a force? If anyone had said, even a few days ago, that Mousavi would lead a nation-wide insurrection, he’d have been laughed out of the room. Very few foresaw anything like the current situation, although I will claim credit for predicting that neither side in the electoral circus would accept the official verdict.
Does Mousavi even want to change the system? I think he does, and in any event, I think that’s the wrong question. He is not a revolutionary leader, he is a leader who has been made into a revolutionary by a movement that grew up around him. The real revolutionary is his wife, Zahra Rahnavard. And the real question, the key question in all of this, is: why did Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei permit her to become such a charismatic figure? How could he have made such a colossal blunder? It should have been obvious that the very existence of such a woman threatened the dark heart of the Islamic Republic, based as it is on the disgusting misogyny of its founder, the Ayatollah Khomeini.
I was told months ago that Khamenei and Mousavi had made a deal. Mousavi would run, and win, and then slowly introduce greater freedom. I didn’t believe it at the time, but it has seemed more and more plausible. When somebody at the Interior Ministry called Mousavi on election night to tell him to prepare a victory statement, that was part of the deal. But by then, the mullahs had seen their doom, and used the only weapons at their disposal: lies and violence. Some have asked why Khamenei used such grossly implausible numbers to “reelect” Ahmadinezhad, but that bespeaks ignorance of the mullahs: there is no lie that will shame them. No, the real question is why Zahra Rahnavard was given a free hand, and the real answer is that the mullahs, with Khamenei in the lead, made a blunder.
In any event, all of that is irrelevant now. The only thing that matters is winning and losing. Whatever plans Mousavi had for a gradual transformation of the Islamic Republic, they have been overtaken by events; the issue now is the survival of the system. Mousavi has called for a general strike on Tuesday. That is the right strategy, since he must demonstrate that the overwhelming majority of Iranians want an end to the regime. And the dissidents must show that they are not afraid of the thugs. Mousavi has said that they must use flowers, not guns, since he must aim at the disintegration of the armed killers, not at winning a gunfight.
There are reports of members of the Revolutionary Guards defecting to the dissidents. There is this report from an Iranian website (the only place I’ve seen it) according to which 16 senior Revolutionary Guards officials have been arrested:
“These commanders have been in contact with members of the Iranian army to join the people’s movement. Three of the commanders are veterans of Iran-Iraq war. They have been moved to an undisclosed location in East Tehran.”
If true, it’s very important, but, as I have often noted, the regime has distrusted them for some time. The young Islamic revolutionaries of the late 1970s are now middle aged, and do not wish to slaughter their neighbors. That is why the mullahs have imported killers from abroad: the five thousand or so Hezbollahis who, according to Der Spiegel, have been brought in from Lebanon and Syria. Dissidents on Twitter report clashes with security forces who do not speak Farsi, and there are even some rumors suggesting that Chavez has sent some of his toughs from Venezuela. Who knows?
The other great threat to the regime comes from the upper reaches of the clergy. Do not be surprised to see some senior ayatollahs denounce the regime; many have done so in the past (Ayatollah Montazeri has been under house arrest for years, and Ayatollah Boroujerdi has been subjected to horrible torture for criticizing the lack of freedom in Iran). We are still quite early in this process.
But the key element is the people. They are only just beginning to understand the reality of their situation. Virtually none of them imagined that they would be in a revolutionary confrontation with the regime just two days after the electoral circus, and few of them can realize, so soon, that they can actually change the world. I think the Mousavis now understand it (they know that they are either going to win or be destroyed). It remains to be seen if they can instruct and inspire the movement.
Much will depend on their ability to communicate. The regime has been waging a cyberwar against the dissidents, shutting down websites, cell phones, Facebook, and the like. As most people have learned, the basic communiations tool is Twitter, which somehow continues to function. Bigtime Kudos to Twitter, by the way, for postponing its planned maintenance so that the Iranians can continue to Tweet. Would that Google were so solicitous of freedom.
We don’t know who’s going to win. The Iranian people know that they’re on their own; they aren’t going to get any help from us, or the United Nations, or the Europeans. But paradoxically, this lack of support may strengthen their will. There is no cavalry on the horizon. If they are going to prevail, they and their unlikely leaders will have to gut it out by themselves. God be with them.