As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said: everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Whatever position one takes on the U.S. stance on Iran and whatever one thinks of our ability to affect events there, we should be honest about what is occurring inside the heretofore Islamic revolutionary state and what the stakes are. Filling a gaping void in much of the coverage Reuel Marc Gerecht’s must-read piece explains what is transpiring — and what could transpire — in Iran:
Khamenei acted so crudely and rashly on June 12 because he’d already seen this movie. What’s happening in Iran now is all about democracy, about the contradictory and chaotic bedfellows that it makes, about the questioning of authority and the personal curiosity that it unleashes. Khamenei knows what George H.W. Bush’s “realist” national security adviser Brent Scowcroft surely knows, too: Democracy in Iran implies regime change.
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It’s not difficult to foresee the Islamic Republic spiritually unraveling. If it does, the most important experiment of Islamist ideology since the birth of the Muslim Brotherhood will have proven itself–to its own people, to the clerical guardians of the faith, and to the world–a -failure. Unless Mousavi withdraws and leads his followers in a renewed quietist retreat, the Islamic revolution, which shook the Muslim world 30 years ago, will now become either a real laboratory of democracy or a crude and violent dictatorship that might rival the Baathist regimes of Iraq and Syria in its savagery. Either outcome would be momentous.
It’s a pity that President Obama has trapped himself in a doomed outreach to Khamenei. Even if Mousavi wins the present tug-of-war, he’ll probably support Iran’s continued development of nuclear weapons. He was in office when the Islamic Republic first became serious about building the bomb; his powerful backer, Rafsanjani, is the true father of the nuclear program; and there is little reason why Mousavi would want to anger a pro-nuclear Revolutionary Guard Corps that had refrained from downing him.
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The principal issue right now inside Iran isn’t the nuclear question. It’s what it has been since Khomeini died: How do you escape from a religious revolution? Mousavi might, just might, have an answer.
To say then that there is no difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad now that a revolution is underway reflects a stubborn refusal to see what is unfolding. What started out as a choice between two pre-selected candidates has morphed into a battle for the future of Iran and of the survival of the Islamic revolutionary state. We’re not sure what would come after the mullah’s despotic regime, but everyone on the planet can now seen the true face of that regime, which, if it survives, will only become more aggressive, defensive and brutal in the aftermath of a crackdown.
When the president speaks as if everything will simply pick up where we left off after the dust settles and the blood dries he expresses his obtuseness (both moral and strategic). Either way, what emerges on the other side won’t resemble the pre-June 12 Iran. And that is because, as he suggested, the whole world has been watching.