The Closet Moderate: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force.”

If you're still interested in the unfolding Iranian situation, I wanted to recommend this Noah Millman article. Noah points out the relevant question, which is, essentially, "whither the Iranian military?"

So far, we've seen some violence perpetrated against civilians by the Basij, a pro-government militia. Depending on the level of coordination between the Basij and the government, that brutality could be read in one of two ways: either it's a signal from the government that they're not going to tolerate much more of this shit, or it's just some pro-government nuts shooting at protesters because, seriously, who the fuck are they to protest a sham election?

We still don't know where the Iranian military will come down, and that will probably determine the outcome of this struggle. My feeling is that there will be a moderate lull as both camps aggressively court military leaders (in Iran, the military is nominally controlled by the Supreme Leader) and assess more generally whether they have the political support to take action against their enemies.

There are strong cases to be made on either side, mostly rooted in the demographics of the Iranian population. More after the jump.


70% of the Iranian population is under 30. That means that they're too young to have lived through the events of 1979. That simple demographic fact may give Khamenei pause. If he chooses to use the most extreme measures at his disposal, he'll alienate a significant portion of the Iranian population for a very, very long time. To forestall an unfavorable election result, he'll essentially write the Revolution's death warrant. It's also very hard to point to an internal or external enemy to justify that sort of brutality. After all, these people are supporting a political process approved by the regime, not trying to overthrow the government. So I think the best option for Khamenei and Ahmedinejad is to ignore the protests and hope things settle down, then settle scores with the reformers behind closed doors.

Mousavi has a similar but opposite problem. The people he needs to sway in order to unseat Khamenei are the old guard, survivors of the Revolution and the Iran/Iraq war. They're almost certainly reluctant to countenance even the appearance of being dictated to by a young, uppity public. Mousavi probably can't afford to quell the protests, as they're his only defense against the will of the Supreme Leader.

As always, the military is the wild card in this confrontation. If they come down on the side of the Supreme Leader it will be immediately obvious. You can read Ahmedinejad's trip to Russia as either a "business as usual" signal, or an attempt to distance him from a brutal campaign of repression. I tend to think that state power, remorselessly applied, will always carry the day against popular demonstrations. Whether that happens is dependent on the level of institutional autonomy the military possesses, the sort of personal relationships that exist between military and political elites, and whether the military is willing to commit itself to indefinitely repressing a seething populace.

In any case, this is a potentially defining moment in Iran's history.

Apparently, the Basij are fiercely loyal to Khamenei.

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