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June 19, 2009

Khamenei's Defiant Speech
Posted by Michael Cohen

I start off by saying that I am far from an expert on Iran so take my comments here with a grain of salt, but reading Ayatollah Khamenei's incredibly defiant speech today from Tehran I'm just having a hard time understanding what he's thinking.

By portraying the opposition, and in particular, demonstrators as virtual enemies of Iranian democracy he has seemingly put himself in a political box. What if the demonstrations continue, even in the face of violence?  For example, there is a major rally planned for tomorrow in Tehran. If it goes forward, Khamenei seemingly has two unpalatable choices - a bloody crackdown or do nothing. If he chooses the former well there is no guarantee that stops the protests and what if elements of the military and police are unwilling to wreak violence on their countrymen? And isn't there a distinct possibility that sustained violence may actually spur not stifle the protests?

And if Khamenei he chooses the latter course and doesn't order a crackdown his credibility is completely shot. At this point it's going to be pretty hard to offer concessions to the opposition after his rhetorical assault on them today. It does appear that Khamenei is misjudging the depth of anger among Iranians and he has seriously overplayed his hand.

Yet one thing does seem clear, for all the silliness coming from Krauthammer and others about the need for the US to get more involved, the future of Iran is in the hands of the Iranian people. If they march tomorrow in large numbers; if they defy their Supreme Leader it won't matter much what Barack Obama says. The Iranians, themselves, will have decided the fate of their country.

Andrew Sullivan makes a similar point:

I fear deeply what is about to happen. But I also sense that the Gandhi-strategy of the majority is a winning one. If they can sustain their numbers and withstand the nightly raids, and if they can overwhelm the capital tomorrow in another peaceful show of strength, then they can win. And the world will change. This is their struggle now.


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I always enjoy your insight on the subjects you discuss. It is much appreciated! I hope you are moving to a place with a little more sunshine!

You say that you're far from an expert on Iranian issues.. I'd concur.
Surely silence can be the most eloquent of responses.

Imagine that millions of americans had taken to the streets after the 2000 election. They say the election was rigged, and they aren't going to put up with it, and the government has to do something. They block traffic and break things even while they claim they're nonviolent.

Wouldn't we say that we have to follow the Constitution? That mass demonstrations by a disgruntled minority are no substitute for due process? Wouldn't we argue that the legal process should play out, that whatever recounts are justified should be done, that the election should be handled by the rule of law and not by rioters?

How is that different from what is happening in iran? Well, for one thing there appear to be election irregularities in iran. Oops! That isn't different. Well, but their people are divided and many of them feel disenfranchised, not represented by the four choices. Different?

Of course the situation is very different. They aren't putting up with it, while we put up with Bush for 8 years.

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