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The Coming Conflagration

August 10th, 2010 - 2:09 pm

I’ve always been fascinated by those brilliant souls who think they can see years ahead.  I usually warn my corporate clients that whenever they hear somebody talk about what’s going to happen in the next five years, they should run.  Fast.  Nowadays you’re doing well if you can anticipate the events of next month, sometimes next week.

That’s one of the features of living in a revolutionary moment.  Times of relative stability are different.  During the Cold War, for example, you could analyze a large part of the world according to the situations of the two superpowers.  We knew the rules of that game — within limits — and so did most of the world’s policy makers.  We also knew the rules of the international economy — again, within limits — and Wall Street called most of those shots, so one could make forecasts with some degree of confidence.

But the old paradigms are shattered, and if the new ones have taken shape, we don’t know what they are.  Thus, forget about the forecasters.  It all depends…

Above all, it all depends on leaders.  These are times when leaders have a greater-than-usual capacity to shape events.  Men can make their times.  Which is why the comings and goings of leaders are so important just now.  As they have been for some years, ever since Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, John Paul II, Lech Walesa, King Juan Carlos of Spain, and the others in that amazing generation dismantled the old paradigm and opened the floodgates to this age of revolution.

(ASIDE:  Interesting, isn’t it, that many, maybe even most, of those revolutionary leaders were branded “conservatives” at the time?)

So if you want to deploy your crystal ball, get it to focus on leaders, keeping in mind that, whatever they may be saying today, there is such turbulence in The Force that they may turn out to be very different tomorrow.  And keep in mind also that celebrity and leadership are very different.  Some leaders are very boring, and some celebrities can’t lead worth a damn.

Two examples:  Obama and Mousavi.

A recent essay in the Middle East Quarterly, relying on statements from Iranian Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi during last year’s election campaign, states flatly that “There is no hope at all that if Mousavi ever comes to power he will do more than a little regime house-cleaning.”

Yet anyone who followed the campaign of 2009 should have seen that Mousavi was changing, and becoming more outspokenly revolutionary.  In fact, even during the campaign — and much more thereafter, once the demonstrations started — you could see that he intended to dismantle the Islamic Republic.  The clearest evidence came from his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, who, while proclaiming her own Islamic convictions, called for toleration of all religions, and of non-religion, and said that women should be permitted to dress as they wished, even if that meant abandoning the veil on their heads.  Since the Islamic Republic is based on misogyny, the Mousavis’ intent to do away with the theocratic tyranny was quite clear.  And it has become ever clearer in the fourteen months thereafter.

To be sure, Mousavi and his associates often speak in code, but it isn’t very hard to see what they are up to:  relentlessly demanding investigations of the regime, exploiting the many divisions within its ranks, trying to produce an implosion.  Nobody knows if it will work, but it’s an audacious enterprise.  The mission is to create a new kind of government (he has often said that the Constitution is not a sacred text, and can be reformed whenever the people desire it) based on popular sovereignty.

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