Saturday, June 20, 2009

the iranian election part ii

The increasingly obvious fraud in the Iranian election, and the incipient use of force (albeit mostly nonlethal) against protesters, mark a point of no return in the situation. As Fareed Zakaria wrote in a fine post today, the regime may well survive, but its ideology--the notion of divine sanction combined with broad popular support dating from the 1979 revolution--is pretty much dead. In this sense, although not in the level of violence, the crisis resembles Tiananmen Square 1989, when the Government retained political authority but Chinese communism as an ideology disintegrated.

The implications for US policy will take time to sort out. Commentators like Roger Cohen of the NY Times, who admits he understated the evils of the Iranian regime (but asks others to admit they underrated the Iranian people), deserve great credit. The Obama Administration, I think, deserves somewhat less. While keeping a judicious silence is perhaps a wise strategy, at times the Administration seemed almost to want the who affair to go away, as if its policy of "engagement" with Iran was more important than any particular change in that country.

In reality, as Cohen and Zakaria's comments suggest, events have already passed Obama by. The issue now, as in 1979, is not engagement vs. confrontation but how to adjust to a new reality in Iran, in which the old alternatives are fast becoming irrelevant. In remaining a step or two behind the action and appearing indifferent to a popular uprising--one which he may have helped to inspire--the President has made a slow start. Here's hoping that he will prove wiser in the long run, and put U.S. policy on the side of history rather than on the sidelines.


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