The Closet Moderate: Dateline Iran: Shit => Fan

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dateline Iran: Shit => Fan

So, this weekend some serious shenanigans went down in Iran. Before I get into the "literature" review, I'll try to lay out the timeline as I understand it:

June 12th

Mousavi is informed by the interior ministry that he is the winner of the election and that he needs to prepare a victory speech. He is urged to refrain from bragging or otherwise alienating conservative elements within the Iranian political elite. Supreme Leader Khamenei may or may not have flipped the fuck out when informed of the results, and may or may not have told the interior ministry to call it for Ahmedinejad. IRNA (state news) calls it for Ahmedinejad. The interior ministry is surrounded by concrete blockades and soldiers.

June 13th

Supreme Leader Khamenei bypasses the traditional 3-day certification period and congratulates Ahmedinejad on his victory the day after the polls close, calling for everyone to unite behind the winner. Facebook goes dark and text messaging service is blocked. Foreign correspondents are harassed or expelled. Twitter, Iranian bloggers and leaks from within the Iranian government become the main sources of information about what's going on. Mousavi is rumored to be under house arrest.

In other words, shit got real. Real fast. There's so much going on that covering it all in one blog entry is kind of impossible, so I'll outsource this to my sources and you can draw your own conclusions after the jump.


So, for more on what's going on in Iran, including mass resignations at the university, storming of a student dormitory with tear gas, demonstrations in the street, gunfire at said demonstrations, and other signs of chaos, I recommend reading the following blogs:

Attackerman (Spencer Ackerman), The Daily Dish (Andrew Sullivan), Nico Pitney @ HuffPo, Gary Sick (Columbia Professor), Informed Comment (Juan Cole), and Daniel Drezner. I also highly recommend 538's article on why the election results are almost certainly fraudulent.

So what's the takeaway? Honestly, not much at this point. This game is being played on two levels, that are interconnected in a way that's impossible for a non-expert (me) to unravel. However, there are a couple of things I'd like to say. Ahmedinejad's quip that Mousavi "ran a traffic light and got a ticket" indicates pretty clearly that the election results were unacceptable to powerful members of the clergy, and so they changed the outcome. In other words, this is coup carried out by the conservative faction within Iran against the reform wing. At the same time, the popular will was thwarted in a particularly bald and shameless way, provoking a response from the populace. So that leaves two questions as yet unanswered:

1. Can Mousavi use the popular resistance to the attempted coup to push through an outcome that's favorable to him and to reform politicians, and how does he define that outcome? Can his movement be bought off with offices, delaying the final confrontation for an additional cycle, or will he double down and try to win the office he was elected to? Are those even things he's in a position to do, or is he in so much danger that he has to essentially suck it up?

2. When it comes to Khamenei, what are his acceptable outcomes and how far is he willing to go to preserve them? If Mousavi proves intractable, will Khamenei fully unleash the machinery of state power against him and his supporters, or is that a bridge too far for the interests he represents?

As I said, I have no idea what the answers to these questions are, but I suspect they're at the heart of what will transpire in Iran over the next few days. The courage of those Iranians who have taken to the streets is beyond reproach, but ultimately this will be resolved by compromises (or lack thereof) among the Iranian political elite. Given the chaos, the opaque nature of the Iranian political process, and the attempted news blackout, it seems likely that we'll discover these things after they occur.

And, of course, we have the usual suspects tripping all over themselves to make the case that Ahmedinejad won fair and square. What happens to the neoconservative agenda if the face of the Iranian regime is something other than a bombastic, holocaust-denying caricature of the middle eastern autocrat? Nothing good, I'll wager.

One final note: the Obama administration has wisely kept the focus on US interests, and refrained from commenting on the internal politics of Iran. The fact that we have essentially zero leverage in a situation that impacts almost every major US foreign policy goal in the region is a testament to two things: the usefulness of bilateral relationships and the abject failure of decades of US policy with regard to Iran. If we had some pre-existing relationship with the Iranian leadership, we might be able to do something. As it is, we have to sit back and watch as THE country that shares a border with both Afghanistan and Iraq descends into chaos. Also, Iran is a major oil producer, and this will almost certainly produce a spike in oil prices, which is a very bad thing in the middle of a global recession.


"Ahmedinejad called us dust, we showed him a sandstorm." - Twitter, 6/15/09

1 comment:

Silent Cal said...

I think our lack of leverage here shows why the six-party talks in Korea are so much better than one-on-one with Kim Jong Il. If we sass Iran, they will only get more popular by ignoring us, but if Obama can get our allies to come out against this shit, it might have more force, since Iran has to actually deal with Britain and France and the rest. But what are the odds of Russia or China condemning a fraudulent election? Bit of pot-and-kettle, that is.