There’s always a certain fascination watching tyrannies coming unstuck, and the convulsions of the Iranian regime are more colorful than most, as you’d expect from such a rich and ancient culture, and from such clever and imaginative people, who specialize in illusion. Last Friday all these qualities were on display in Tehran, at a central mosque where Hashemi Rafsanjani was preaching to the faithful. As you know by now, there were millions of people in and around the mosque, and at a certain point, in a scene that would have delighted Fellini, the two sides faced off in a chanting contest. The pro-regime crowd shouted “Death to America!” And the people responded, “Death to Russia!” Then came “Death to Britain, Death to Israel!.” And the reply: “Death to China.”
Which pretty much sums up the contemporary strategic landscape, enacted in a Persian morality play in front of a mosque in Tehran. I rather think the actors understand the stakes better than we do, for they know that the Russians and Chinese are encouraging the mullahs to emulate the repression in Chechnya and Sinjiang, while blaming the actions of pro-freedom dissidents on “outside forces,” most notably the United States. The Iranians know that a victory by the regime will be understood as a terrible defeat of America, while the fall of the regime will likely reignite the democratic revolution that toppled Soviet Communism and other nasty dictatorships from the South Pole to Siberia.
It’s high drama, and the Iranians, on both sides, understand the stakes. They know that it is now too late to “fix” the political situation. There is no conceivable consensus to bind up the wounds caused by the regime’s brutality, mass repression, and slaughter of innocents. And there is no way for the United States to avoid “meddling,” since the internal conflict is over our values and our vision. As it has been for the past thirty years, we’re the target of a war declared and waged against us by the Islamic Republic. We can win or lose, but we can’t opt out of it.
At the moment, our leaders are lamenting the “lost opportunity” for striking a glorious friendship with the butchers of Tehran, which perfectly encapsulates the American failure in Iran ever since 1979. It’s just that no president before this one has been so pathetically obvious about his desire to get any sort of face-saving “bargain,” and then run away.
The crisis of the regime is luminously clear to anyone who looks past the nonsense on the evening news, and is best summarized in an eloquent declaration by Mir Hussein Mousavi, the leader of the revolutionary forces, to Supreme Leader Khamenei: “You are facing something new: an awakened nation, a nation that has been born again and is here to defend its achievements.” Those words, taken along with the evening chants of “Death to the Dictator!” from the rooftops of the country, show that the regime has failed to crush the insurrection, and the only really serious question right now is what form the next challenge to the regime will take. Mousavi himself moved to create a new political movement, but took care to say that it was not intended to replace the popular movement. And then he permitted himself a remark that is downright Jeffersonian: “power is always inclined to become absolute, and only people’s movements can put a hold on this inclination.”
When this sort of thinking takes hold, as it has, you can hear the bells tolling for Khamenei, Ahmadinezhad and their ilk. For absolute power, in the hands of the supreme religious leader, is the short definition of the Islamic Republic.
The stench of panic is now widespread in Iran. Indeed, recent reports suggest that there have been larger and more violent conflicts outside Tehran than the ones we’ve seen on video from the capital. I’ll have more on this in future blogs. In Tehran, the major signs of the regime’s approaching downfall are political, the most recent of which is the hilarious battle over Ahmadinezhad’s top aide, one Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who, as luck would have it, just happens to be the father of Ahmadinezhad’s daughter-in-law. Mashai was officially fired on the 21st by Khamenei, but Ahmadinezhad has insisted that he will not comply. Funnily enough, the major criticism of Mashai is that he is soft on Israel. So here we have one of the world’s leading antisemites, Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad, defending his deputy against an even more important antisemite. It all reminds me of the Pete Seeger song about Masoch and de Sade: “Delightful, Dr.Masoch? ” “Delicious, Count de Sade.”
Finally, my personal thanks go to S.L. Khamenei and his loyal henchman, Hossein Shariatmadari, the managing editor of the regime’s official newspaper, Kayhan. While I was recuperating in a local hospital from hip replacement surgery, Shariatmadari came forth with the novel proposition that I am the puppet master pulling the strings of former President Khatami, who had called for a national referendum on the legitimacy of the regime.
The hardline principle-ist Kayhan daily, published in Tehran today, attacked former president, Mohammad Khatami, saying that when he spoke of “the need for a referendum”, he was “carrying out the instructions” of Michael Ledeen, prominent member of the American Enterprise Institute (NOT; I am at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies) and special aide to former US defense secretary, Ronald (sic!) Rumsfeld (NOT), and to former deputy (sic!) president, Dick Cheney (NOT again).
On Sunday 28 Tir [19 July], Khatami said at a meeting held in the office of the Combatant Clerics Society in Tehran with the families of a number of detainees, that the way to overcome the current crisis was to rely on the votes of the people by holding a referendum.
Hossein Shariatmadari, the representative of the leader of the Islamic Republic [Khamenei] to the Kayhan Newspaper and the managing-editor of that paper, strongly criticized Khatami and his referendum suggestion today in his editorial, which was entitled: “Khatami’s proposal or the instructions of Michael Ledeen?!”
Actually, Khamenei has only the vaguest glimmering of understanding of the true dimensions of the plot that now threatens him. After all, I have managed to galvanize Rumsfeld, Cheney and Khatami without ever once discussing Iran with any of them, or their superiors. You can best get a sense of the diabolical cunning at work when you consider that I was one of the first to call for Rumsfeld’s resignation (late in the first Bush term), to criticize Cheney for his near-total absence froim the public debate over Iran policy, and that I have long branded Khatami a phony reformer who was guilty of ordering the massacre of the Iranian students ten years ago.
I did it all by cleverly saying, over and over again, “faster, please.”
As I do again today.