Thursday, June 25, 2009

the iranian election part iii

As all the world knows, nonlethal has turned to lethal violence in Iran and a stolen "election" looks increasingly like an incipient coup d'etat by the right wing (Ahmadi-Nejad/Khameini) forces. Whatever one thinks of the US response--I think it's generally been a day late and a dollar short--things look grim for the Good Guys in the short run. But it pays to take a somewhat longer view.

There are always at least two stages in a regime's collapse. The first is when its ideology is discredited in the eyes of everyone except (or sometimes even including) the regime itself. This is also the stage at which the regime ceases to be a model for thinking people located outside the country. That is, more or less, where Iran is today.

The second is the actual physical collapse of the regime. How long this takes depends on the internal cohesion and ruthlessness of the regime, and to some degree on outside forces. In the Soviet Union this took less than a decade, although rather longer if measured against the entire Soviet Bloc, where the failures of the system were visible much earlier. In South Africa it took several decades. China has gone twenty years since Tian An Men with communism effectively dead as an ideology but the system clinging to life based on a combination of repression, economic growth, and a claim (however improbable) to have inherited the authority of the former Chinese emperors.

The bottom line is that a system which loses its underlying legitimacy may take a long time to collapse, but it always will, and it is generally speaking better to be ahead of the curve than behind it. That doesn't mean that one should ignore the country completely in the interim, or that outside intervention will necessarily make a positive (or any) difference. But one should be clear which side one is on, as the people of Iran have done this past week, and as the rest of the world--with infinitely less at stake--has an obligation to do, as well.


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