It’s impossible to get excited about this. The moment is passing as we dither. Right now, at this very minute, is when the gas would need to be drying up for the Iranian regime, if we wanted its loss to do the reform protestors any good. This is obvious to other nations as well, and the likelihood of anyone joining us in a gasoline embargo declines with each passing hour.
Maybe Obama has been affected only by polls and criticism in the US, in his recalibrated level of outrage. Maybe he has been affected by increasing certainty that the existing regime is going to win this one. He now knows more about what’s going on in Iran than the rest of us do, through the national intelligence apparatus.
I’d really love to be wrong on the likely outcome here. But at this point, I assess the following as about equally likely, with a slight edge for the second:
1. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad remain where they are.
2. There is some shuffling of personnel on the Guardian Council, and in the national executive, and that is what is taking time right now. An outcome along these lines is being negotiated. It will be designed to prevent complete loss of control by the hardliners, represented by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, but institute some pro forma power-sharing with reformers. The intention of this would be a gesture, not an opening to true liberalization, and what would take the time is coming up with a permutation of power position assignments that would hold things together as much through tension as through loyalty or cohesion.