Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Will Iran's Crisis and Massive Popular Opposition to the Regime Change Anything?

By Barry Rubin

As much as we all hope the best for the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Iran and the majority who voted for the two reformist candidates, the fact is that the regime is still in power there. It will use time-honored methods for keeping it that way: wear down the demonstrators through promises and repression, hope that they will get tired and cannot keep up this intense movement.

And so things will go back to normal and leave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei in control of the country. The truth is that this will probably work. Much as one hopes for a political miracle, this is the most likely outcome.

What can turn this rebellion into a revolution? Three things.

One factor that could create this transition would be a split in the ruling group or its loss of confidence, as happened for example in the Soviet Union in 1990. Of course, this conflict arose because of a split to some extent, o f course. But faced with such a challenge they are likely to stick together all the tighter. Moreover, these are not the type of people who are likely to lose confidence or make big concessions. This is still a young revolution.

The second factor would be a split in the armed forces, with units refusing to oppose the opposition or even going over to it, as doomed the shah in 1978 (along with his personal loss of confidence). That is precisely why the regime created special formations linked to it through ideology and material interest: the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Basij. Indeed, these are key allies of Ahmadinejad. No comfort in this direction.

Finally, there could be the emergence of a revolutionary leader, like Lenin in 1917 or Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. While the reformist-oriented candidates, Karoubi and Mousavi, have taken the leadership, they do not want to press a confrontation. It is understandable—even praiseworthy--that they don’t want to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, but then that’s not the stuff of which real revolutionaries are made. Both of them are also enough part of the establishment that they don’t want to see the regime overturned altogether. And moreover they may still hope for some kind of compromise.

The prospect of dramatic change, therefore, is not high. This means we are still stuck with Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. Contrary to how a Western regime would react, they will not be sobered by this experience but even more determined to prove their ideology right and buy off domestic dissent with foreign victories.

Thus, these events solve none of the international problems which Iran has presented. The idea that this regime is going to make compromises with the West is ludicrous. But at least now we clearly know that the Islamist dictatorship lacks popular support. This is not a conflict with the people of Iran but with a ruling group which does still enjoy considerable, albeit minority, mass backing. It will eventually be a ruling group with nuclear weapons.

One thing that should happen due to this open face of dictatorship and mass opposition is a sympathetic chord from Western liberals. They should recognize the nature of the regime and oppose appeasing it, as they would presumably (or should I say, in the past) to any such dictatorship, say, in South America or Africa.

Western governments should give words of encouragment for the insurgents. Will the regime use this to paint them as Western agents? Sure. But it will do that any way. Will European countries, most recently Germany, allow companies to go on making big trade and financial deals with Iran.

It wasn't enough that Iran became the world's biggest promoter of antisemitism since a former German leader ended his life in a bunker, that it was sponsoring terrorism, subverting Lebanon and Iraq, as well as other such activities. Now that it has stolen an election will this make a difference? 

Up to now, many on the left (who pretend to be liberals) have argued that since Iran hates the West, embodies a romantic revolutionary zeal, and wants to wipe out Israel it can’t be all bad. Yet it must be harder to conceal the fact that the Iranian regime is just another oligarchic, repressive, reactionary state of unfreedom. Even worse, it is a system it is energetically trying to spread through fire and sword.

The need for a strong, united Western resistance to Islamist Iran’s ambitions is needed all the more. But the likelihood of finding it has not increased one whit.

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