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June 16, 2009

The Tehran Beat - UPDATED
Posted by Michael Cohen

None of us really know what's happening in Iraq right now - or what's going to happen. We're truly in the midst of "interesting times."

Since everything I know about Iran I learned in a great seminar with Nasser Hadian at Columbia University (and that was 7 years ago), I'll do my best to pass along smart analysis of the situation.

At TNR, John Judis makes a great argument as to why the Obama Administration should say less not more about what's happening in Iran:

The Obama administration has to be very careful about backing, or even placing great hopes on, someone like Iran's Moussavi and even on his impassioned followers. If we are seeing the beginning of another revolution--or structural transformation--in Iran, it is worth remembering that before the dust clears on this events, Kerensky can become Lenin and Bani Sadr can become Khomeini. The U.S. should use its influence--and get European countries to use theirs--but we should be careful and not allow ourselves to get into crusading mode where we think we can protect or defend one side against the other.

This take from Noah Milman is worth a read:

America should be playing it pretty cool right now. There are states that could plausibly bring pressure to bear in support of proper democratic procedures and against stealing elections or shooting protestors, but they would have to be states with real credibility both as democracies and as friends of Iran – i.e., places like Germany or India, not us. But it’s not obvious to me why Germans or Indians would want to interfere like that. We, unfortunately, can’t do much more than watch.

Finally, Trita Parsi tells us all to get a grip . . . sort of:

What's often forgotten amid the genuinely awe-inspiring spectacle of hundreds of thousands of long-suppressed people risking their lives on the streets to demand change is the fact that the political contest playing out in the election is, in fact, among rival factions of the same regime. Ahmadinejad represents a conservative element, backed by the Supreme Leader, that believes the established political class has hijacked the revolution and enriched themselves and is fearful that the faction's more pragmatic inclination toward engagement with the West could lead to a normalization of relations that will "pollute" Iran's culture and weaken the regime. Mousavi is not really a reformer so much as a pragmatic, moderate conservative who has campaigned with the backing of the reform movement because it recognizes that he has a better chance of unseating Ahmadinejad than one of their own would have.

Also keep an eye on Andrew Sullivan and Nico Pitney and Spencer Ackerman who are all on top of this in a big way.

UPDATE: Laura Secor has a fascinating post as well over at the New Yorker blog:

This is uncharted territory for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Until now, the regime has survived through a combination of repression and flexibility. The dispersal of power throughout a complex system, among rival political factions, and with the limited but active participation of the voting public, has allowed a basically unpopular regime to control a large population with only limited and targeted violence. There have always been loopholes and pressure points that allow the opposition and the regime to be dance partners, even if one or both of them is secretly brandishing a knife behind the other’s back. That has been less true under Ahmadinejad than in the past. But the culture of the organized opposition under the Islamic Republic has tended to remain cautious and moderate. Many of the protesters of recent days are not calling for an end to the Islamic Republic. They are calling for their votes to be counted. More nights like last night, however, when some seven protesters were allegedly shot, could swiftly change that.

So is there any way Khamenei can dial the situation back even to the unhappy modus vivendi of June 11th? He could have the Guardian Council concede that the official figures were wrong, and assert that the vote was close enough, after all, to send the election to a second round between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad. If this had been the initial announcement from the Interior Ministry on June 12th, it would have been entirely plausible. Ahmadinejad has a reliable base that could comprise as much as thirty per cent of the country, as well as all the advantages of incumbency, including access to state television; his conservative challenger, Mohsen Rezai, had amassed little momentum; and, at least until Mousavi’s late surge, there was a real contest between Mousavi and Karroubi for the hearts of the uncommitted. A split vote and a run-off would hardly have raised an eyebrow in the first instance. But to call one now, after having already endorsed a landslide victory for Ahmadinejad and called out riot police to enforce it, would be an admission that a brute power grab had been attempted and abandoned.


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