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Ed Driscoll

Iranian Negotiations: Can Obama Find The CTRL, ALT, DLT Keys?

June 23rd, 2009 - 11:16 pm

At Pajamas HQ, Jennifer Rubin writes that “Reality is catching up to the president.” Jonah Goldberg adds, “Here is the one immutable fact of Barack Obama’s foreign-policy agenda as it relates to Iran: It’s over. The rule book he came in with is as irrelevant as a tourist guide to the Austro-Hungarian Empire”:

If the forces of reform and democracy win, Obama’s plan to negotiate with the regime is moot, for the regime will be gone. And if the forces of reform are crushed into submission by the regime, Obama’s plan is moot, because the regime will still be there.

Politics and decency will simply demand that the world condemn or shun the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei if they come out on top. Even the most soulless realists will be repulsed by the blood on the regime’s collective hands.

Before June 12, Obama’s eagerness to negotiate with Ahmadinejad — ridiculed by his conservative critics — was hailed by the establishment and the Left as proof of his high-minded faith in diplomacy, a healthy antidote to George W. Bush’s allegedly close-minded approach.

For some reason, Obama cannot fully accept this. In his press conference Tuesday, the president finally condemned the outrages in Iran in terms he should have used a week ago. But he also kept alive the idea that the current Iranian regime could be a fruitful negotiation partner, despite what has already happened in that country. “It’s not too late,” Obama explained, for the regime to negotiate with the international community. He wouldn’t even cancel plans to invite Iranian officials to Fourth of July barbecues at American embassies.

On Saturday, the Washington Note’s Steve Clemons wrote, “Khamenei’s Mystique Shattered in Eyes of Iranians:”

A few moments ago, author of Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation and one of DC’s best Iran experts Barbara Slavin wrote to me through Facebook and said:

steve, iran ceased being an islamic republic a week ago. now it’s just another military dictatorship.

She is right. And given that collapse of legitimacy and the mystique of the Islamic Revolution, Ali Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and those who organized the head-crackers to assault Iran’s citizens will probably have a fragile grasp on their lives from here on out.

Sadly, that’s not necessarily true. As Steve Green mentioned in the opening segment of this past weekend’s PJM Political, George Friedman of Stratfor recently noted that this isn’t the first time that possible “Western Misconceptions Meet Iranian Reality:”

In 1979, when we were still young and starry-eyed, a revolution took place in Iran. When I asked experts what would happen, they divided into two camps.

The first group of Iran experts argued that the Shah of Iran would certainly survive, that the unrest was simply a cyclical event readily manageable by his security, and that the Iranian people were united behind the Iranian monarch’s modernization program. These experts developed this view by talking to the same Iranian officials and businessmen they had been talking to for years — Iranians who had grown wealthy and powerful under the shah and who spoke English, since Iran experts frequently didn’t speak Farsi all that well.

The second group of Iran experts regarded the shah as a repressive brute, and saw the revolution as aimed at liberalizing the country. Their sources were the professionals and academics who supported the uprising — Iranians who knew what former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini believed, but didn’t think he had much popular support. They thought the revolution would result in an increase in human rights and liberty. The experts in this group spoke even less Farsi than those in the first group.

And as Michael J. Totten wrote last week at Commentary, by (quite understandably) focusing on the dissenters, we may be again missing a crucial element to what’s currently going on just under the surface of Iran, as its brutal government reshuffles its deck:

Nearly lost in all the media coverage of protests and people power in Iran is what one faction of the divided Iranian regime establishment just did to the others.

A few days ago at RealClearWorld, Kevin Sullivan called it a coup.

Iran hawks prefer to label the Iranian police state as simply “The Mullahs,” but the legitimate clerics in this dispute are the ones standing with Mir-Hossein Mousavi against ONE Mullah and his secular police apparatus. If the election has been rigged in such a fashion, then what you are in fact seeing is the dropping of religious pretense in the “Islamic” Republic of Iran. This is a secular police state in action.

Yesterday, Danielle Pletka and Ali Alfoneh at the American Enterprise Institute published a piece in the New York Times detailing how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent the last four years placing Revolutionary Guard officers in positions of power all over the country. He and “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei heeded warnings by Guard commanders that the Islamic Republic might eventually succumb to a “soft regime change” or an “orange revolution” if hardliners weren’t firmly in control of the country.

“In the most dramatic turnabout since the 1979 revolution,” they wrote, “Iran has evolved from theocratic state to military dictatorship.”

If this analysis is correct – and right now, it looks like it is – the White House may need to start over from scratch. Iran is the same country it was a week ago, but it no longer has quite the same government.

Which brings us back to Jonah’s latest op-ed. The rule book for Iran that President Obama came into office with is indeed now hopelessly out of date. But do we know the rules of engagement (one way or another) to follow?

(Unfortunately, I doubt Jules Crittenden’s excellent ideas for a fun fourth of July kegger at State will likely be implemented, at least not until Jules’ equally inspired choice for the next Secretary of State is actually in charge there, sad to say…)

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