Belmont Club

Who am I speaking to?

Michael Totten thinks a showdown in Iran is imminent. He cites signs that both the regime and demonstrators are girding for casualties.  “I am frankly surprised the last few days in Iran have not been more violent, but I doubt the relative ‘peace’ is sustainable.” Michael Ledeen says essentially the same thing.

The regime is massing two Revolutionary Guards divisions for an assault on the dissidents–something like twenty thousand soldiers from outside Tehran–and the Mousavi people don’t want to give them time to organize and prepare their attacks. No doubt there are all kinds of secret meetings going on, as the various military, militia, religious and political leaders try to read the chicken entrails and guess their destiny.

The fact that Ahmadinjad is leaving for Moscow may be so that he can distance himself from any events that follow. It will make things that much easier for President Obama to talk to him again. But I think Michael Ledeen has it right when he says that events are now driving things. “I think that many pundits insist on thinking about the Iran-that-was-five-days-ago, instead of the bubbling cauldron that it is today. The same mistake is repeated when people say that Mousavi, after all, is “one of them,” a member of the founding generation of the Islamic Republic, and so you can’t expect real change from him. The president made that mistake when he said that he didn’t expect any real difference in Iran’s behavior, no matter how this drama plays out.”

I made the same point explicitly some posts ago in response to the question of whether we should support the demonstrators politically. The key thing was to recognize that Mousavi, whatever his defects, was riding a wave of genuine disenchantment with the regime. And it is this wave which should be supported at all events.

I don’t think it’s all for nothing. Someone wrote that Mousavi’s great qualification was that he is not Ahmadinejad. Someone should tell Obama, who keeps trying to talk to Ahmadinejad, that that a current of illegitimacy runs through the current political structure. So the protests aren’t all for nothing. But they are not about putting one candidate in power.

I hate to interpolate my own experiences into current events because the parallels are inexact, but back in 1986, when Marcos’ Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile rebelled against the dictator, a million people rushed out to build a human wall around a man who only weeks before, was their arch-enemy. That was the EDSA Revolution. In the strange calculus of conflict, the enemy of the enemy is my friend. Yet the fundamentals remain. Enrile was no democrat and he was soon marginalized because most people understood that opportunism, not principle, led him to turn away from his dark master. He was forgiven his trespasses, but never trusted.

The right lesson to draw here is that the character of the current Iranian regime is suspect. You can trust it as far as the people of Iran trust it; that you can rely on any agreement with it that the people of Iran would rely on themselves. Which is to say, hardly at all. The wrong lesson would be to assume that simply if Mousavi took office, then a Velvet Revolution had taken place. …

I think we should help the demonstrators, and to the extent that denouncing the election irregularities helps one candidate or the other, then so be it. But I think it is important to make the mental distinction between supporting a particular candidate and supporting the democratic process.

Michael Totten also noticed the long preparations within the regime to defeat any Velvet Revolutionaries. He suggests, and it may be the right interpretation, that what we are seeing is an Ahmadinejad-Khamenei coup over the other members of the ruling class. “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.” That is one more reason why Barack Obama’s engagement policy, if not obviously ill-advised, is at least blatantly ill-timed. Obama’s attempts to engage Iran are like a telemarketer trying to strike a deal with parties fighting for the control of the receiver on the other side. The salesman plods serenely on, reading from his screed, oblivious to the thumps, screams, and gunfire over the phone. It might be better for Washington to avoid extending guarantees to the Iranian regime and begin engaging the people of Iran on the basis of their interests. But that would mean the end of engagement based on “behavior change”.

Let’s see what the next few days bring.

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