Seven thoughts about Iran
A number of assumptions have been bandied about regarding the current predicament of Iran, and I don't find them convincing:
- That Mousavi wants a US-style democracy, and is prepared to enter into a Faustian bargain with the US to get into office.
- That there is much demand for Mousavi outside Tehran, i.e. the blood on the streets of Tehran is part of a national movement. It could be that Ahmedinejad might have won regional areas fair and square (just as support for Bush in the Ozarks or Texas outweighed Democrat support in major cities like New York).
- That there is much that the US can actually do to destabilise the Iranian regime. Iran is much, much more complex than Iraq. US intelligence on the ground in Iran is non-existent. Anything Obama did would be clumsy and counterproductive, apart from his Cairo speech which is playing on the minds of those on both sides in Iran. Who would the US send to help democracy along, anyway? The Marines? Chicago community organisers, or Democratic machine operatives?
- It is one thing for people to support the Iranian protesters; it is quite another for governments to step in. The governments of the US and other countries have to work with whomever the Iranians elect. Politicians scorn those in their profession who lack political power, regardless of party or voting system; I'd argue that Ahmedinejad is so compromised that he'd be laughed at in Washington, Beijing or wherever else he showed his face. This has implications for the regime's attempts to project itself onto the world stage, and address its economic problems.
- The idea that things will go back to normal in Iran as happened with China after 1989 is not sustainable. Despotic regimes are not stable, they are brittle and this one has been weakened. Whether it takes weeks or years, the fissures here are deep and real. The fact that the demographics are against the old mullahs is significant, as they have not renewed their revolution so that people who weren't involved in the original movement nonetheless give it their allegiance. Compare them with Castro, whose talk about revolution means that he only claims credit for the things he wants to claim credit for, and for the rest he urges people to join his struggle rather than struggle against him.
- From reading the US media it seems that the people who believe that Ahmedinejad lost in 2009 are the same people who believe that George W. Bush won the 2000 election. Just sayin'.
- The three overtly Muslim regimes in the world today are Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The mullahs think they can hold Iran together like the Saudis do their country, but the Saudis are better both at making money, keeping their economy going and keeping on the right side of the Americans. This leaves Pakistan; nobody, not Mousavi or anyone else, wants their country to dissolve into warring fiefdoms as seems to be happening in Pakistan, and if that's what democracy means in a Muslim context then nobody would wish that upon themselves. I don't believe that Mousavi wants a US-style democracy, and is prepared to enter into a Faustian bargain with the US to get into office: but I'm starting to repeat myself so I'll stop here.