On Iran

Ben’s been following the Iranian election saga fairly aggressively, and it has piqued my interest.  I’ll reprint an excerpt from one of my comments there by way of summary.

While the media with its perennial ADD likes to portray Mir Hossein Moussavi as a reformer, it is worth remembering that he was formerly Prime Minister throughout the bulk of the Iran-Iraq War, supported death threats against Salman Rushdie, backed the taking of American hostages, and doesn’t recognise Israel’s right to exist any more than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad does.Moussavi is a reformer only in the sense that he would centralise more law-enforcement power in the office of the President (rather than that of the Supreme Leader, where it currently resides). And he would like to see the creation of privately-owned media.

Moussavi is essentially right-hand man to the architects of the 1979 Revolution, very much an insider. He was editor-in-chief of one of the revolution’s propaganda organs in 1979, and was a senior member of the Republican Islamic Party. He was rewarded for his competence and service by being the Islamic Republic’s very first foreign minister in 1980, until he was elevated to Prime Minister a year later. He served until the post was disestablished in 1989. Even his wife was an advisor to former President Khatami.

Ahmadinejad was the real outsider, with no close ties linking him back to the founding of the Islamic Republic—his main prior claim to fame was being a well-known mayor.

There will be change, all right. Just not the sort that anyone is really hoping for. More like solid, boring leadership that still maintains the clerics’ stranglehold on political life.

On the one hand, it is tempting to believe that what we are seeing is the wellspring of a genuine democratic movement in Iran.  On the other hand, I can’t quite see how the mullahs could pull of an audacious plan involving the discrediting of Ahmadinejad, the anointing of Moussavi as the people’s “reform” choice, and the whole thing not collapsing into something genuinely seeking reform, with or without Moussavi.

Nor can I see how Moussavi, a man with impeccable old-guard credentials, could plausibly decide to break—in a real and consequential way—with the clerics and system he helped bring into power.

Part of me would like to take this nascent rebellion at face value, and the realist part of me says there is no way the mullahs would permit it to escalate beyond their control.

The Soviets died out because contrary to Marx’ predictions, the socialist states of the Warsaw Pact stagnated while the capitalists grew stronger.  Governmental legitimacy was still (in theory) derived from the people, even if the people were brutally repressed and largely isolated from the decisionmaking process.  However, empirical evidence of the failure of Marx’s model was plainly evident in the privation and subjugation inherent in daily Soviet life.  The people were clearly not happy with the way things were.  The ruling class lost their nerve, and were no longer willing to spill blood to preserve the October Revolution.

I can’t see Iran’s Guardian Council of the Constitution falling prey to similar loss of resolve.  These are clerics who see their right to rule mandated by heaven and justified by their submission to a self-defined brand of Islam.  Rebellion of the populace in this mindset doesn’t indicate a loss of civil confidence so much as a lack of conformity to the Council’s Islamic principles.  There are no external factors that would demonstrate a failure of the Islamic model, short of Mohammed returning from heaven on a flaming Harley to tell them to lay off.  Their solution, then, would not be to abandon the people to their own selfish ways, but to continue to impose Islamic governance until the people’s submission is made more perfect.

So I gauge the odds of Iran imploding (without massive violence) as low.  Honestly, though, no one (aside from the Council themselves) know how the mullahs intend for this to play out.

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