“Bomb, bomb, bomb – bomb, bomb Iran”

Never interfere when an enemy is committing suicide.

It seems to be a catchy tune that some people don’t get tired of humming.  Alex Kuperman is the latest.

There are lots of good reasons not to pursue this option, of which the most obvious is that it’s probably not technically feasible.  We can drop bombs, but it seems unlikely that doing so would prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

But the strongest reason not to get into a military confrontation with Iran is that doing so would be a huge favor to the present regime, which is encountering more domestic opposition than it has since the revolution of 1979.  Now it’s not just the urban middle class that’s unhappy:  a big chunk of the clerical leadership has lost patience with the Supreme Leader, and most of them never had any regard for the President.  If Ahmadi-nejad has been even more provocative than usual recently, it may be precisely in hopes of provoking a showdown with the Great Satan, in hopes of getting a “rally-round-the-flag” surge in support at home.

William III is supposed to have said, about one of the non-jurors, “He is determined to become a martyr, and I am determined to frustrate him.”  That seems to be the game Obama is playing, though of course even if I’m right about that he can’t say so.  An attack on Iran now would violate Churchill’s principle of not interfering when an enemy commits suicide.

Patience, patience!   Regime change in Iran may be about to fall into our lap.

Update Dan Drezner finds the analysis in the  Kuperman piece “so radically incomplete as to  be f***ing insane” and wonders whether the Times ran it precisely in order to discredit the case for war.

No longer the final word

The key association of Islamic scholars in Qom calls the election result bogus.

The main group of Islamic scholars in Qom, Iran’s center of Islamic learning, says the election was bogus, putting them squarely at odds with the Supreme Leader. Up until now, his prestige and skill have made his word a conversation-ender. No more.

This is good in itself, and also good as a sign that the uprising may be quiescent but isn’t dead. These folks are putting themselves on the line; hard to believe they’re doing that in a no-hope cause.

Meantime, we can all give thanks that, because a bunch of men two hundred and thirty-three years ago exercised the sort of civil courage that is being exercised in Qom and Tehran today, very few Americans today need to exercise that virtue in anything like the same degree. Back when I was routinely calling the President of the United States a war criminal, it never occurred to me that I might be risking the loss of my job, let alone a knock on the door in the middle of the night.

How do you say “Yoo” and “Cheney” in Farsi?

The Iranian regime embraces “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Looks as if the Khamene’i/Ahmadi-nejad regime has decided to embrace “enhanced interrogation techniques”: sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, prolonged isolation, slamming people’s heads into walls. Who says America can’t lead by example?

And of course if you believe the confessions extracted at Guantanamo, there’s no reason to doubt that the current Iranian uprising is a Western plot. Why, the plotters confessed to it themselves!

Of course there’s a difference. In America, we have a Constitution, and courts to enforce it. But we also have two political parties, one of which did its level best for eight years to erase that difference, while the other mostly stood by passively and watched, and neither of which is currently willing to demand an accounting.

Sorta makes you proud, doesn’t it?

Happy Independence Day, everyone.

The distasteful vs. the catastrophic: Iran edition

A reader with a very Yiddishe name and a very goyische kopf rebukes me for being enthusiastic about the prospect of Moussavi forcing Ahmadi-nejad from power. “One anti-semite replacing another,” he huffs.

Well, yes. I also recall rooting for Lech Wałęsa against Gen. Jaruzelski: or rather, for the Solidarność movement and its allies against the Communist tyranny in Poland. I didn’t actually know that Wałęsa was an anti-Semite at the time: I only learned that when his Presidential campaign used anti-Semitic themes. But it wasn’t exactly a huge surprise. And if I had known, I still would have been enthusiastic.

Of course there are degrees of anti-Semitism. Moussavi is anti-Israel; Ahmadi-nejad is a Holocaust denier. But just as what’s going on in Iran isn’t about America, it isn’t about the Jews, either. Some people seem to have a hard time remembering that.

[UPDATE/AMPLIFICATION]: I hope Mark will forgive me for appending the following classic story:

An old man was walking, deep in thought, through the Tiergarten. Suddenly a crowd of people rushed towards, and past him. One stopped, breathless, grabbed him by the shoulders, and said “Run! Run! The lion has escaped from his cage!”

The old man stood transfixed by the problem as the crowd rushed past, saying audibly to himself, “The lion has escaped! Remarkable! Now…is this good for the Jews, or bad for the Jews?”


Homage to Tehran

From a colleague’s student: compelling eyewitness account of life and terror in Tehran.

On Monday, UCLA colleague Joshua Dienstag posted on his Facebook page an eyewitness account from Tehran. He writes: “I received this amazing letter on Saturday night (Sun morning there) from a former student. I am reposting it, with permission, having deleted all identifying information. Even when the revolution is televised, there is something compelling about a first-hand written account. Again, I have no reason to doubt its authenticity but of course I can’t know that everything it says is true.”

I am okay, back home now but things are crazy. it’s now 11:30 AM on Sunday morning right now, it’s almost noon and the streets are starting to be filled up again. last night included very loud “Allaho Akbar” chants going on again People are crying out “Mir Hossein” and I heard this one child’s voice the clearest from a building nearby.

Saturday was bloody, they shut down the subways to keep people from entering into the main areas of Tehran. Basiji paramilitary are everywhere like swarms of dirty disgusting bees. I dislike them so much, I have never been a pacifist, but now I can better understand why violence is perpetrated against them. I can understand human nature more.

they lied about the mosque blowing up. Nothing was even blown up. I saw pictures of it on state TV and all that happened was broken windows, no fire, no fire damage, nothing. They claim that the person blew themselves up outside… everybody here highly doubts that. The people know that they are doing this because Mousavi announced a few days ago that he would seek refuge there. The Basiji have been going into apartment buildings over the last few days and going down into the parking structures and vandalizing all the cars… like breaking every single car window in parking structures that house 10 – 70 cars. And they claim that the “hooligan youth” are the ones doing… yeah right, nobody believes them about that either. They are trying to turn the people on the protestors, they are calling them rioters and indivduals who are being influenced by the west, that they have disease and need God…. yeah right, not their God. If there is a God he is not with these people, if anything this is the work of pure corruption and evil. Period.

Continue reading “Homage to Tehran”

An Obama effect in Iran?

Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment says that Obama’s conciliatory approach removed the pressure Iranian political actors felt to sustain national unity in the face of foreign attack.

Terry Gross on NPR asked Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment how the Bush Administration would have handled the current Iranian crisis. Sadjadpour’s answer: this crisis couldn’t have happened under the Bush Administration. As long as Iran was under the threat of military attack, even those disposed to be hostile to Ahmadi-nejad didn’t want to say or do anything that would weaken national unity. The easing of that threat reduced the pressure to rally ’round the flag, and thus enabled fissure within the ruling group that made the current revolt possible.

Moreover, Sadjadpour said, the continued hostility of A-n in the face of Obama’s make-nice approach made it clear to Iranians that the problem was in Tehran, not in Washington.

Sadjadpour also says that the supporters of the Khamene’i/Ahmadi-nejad regime constitute a small minority, not only of the nation, but even of the ruling elite. He doubts that the regime could count even on the Revolutionary Guard if the order were given to fire into crowds.

Why I’m rooting for Moussavi

No, he’s not one of us. But one of us wouldn’t be a player in Iranian politics. Moussavi represents a funamental challenge to the current tyranny. If he wins, he wins with the support of all those marchers-in-the street, who on average are much more anti-clerical than he is. Conditions in Iran, and Iran’s relations with the world, will be better if Moussavi and Rafsanjani pull off their coup than if Khamene’i and Ahmad-nejad manage to cling to power.

Yes, Rafsanjani is a crook.

Yes, Moussavi said and did some terrible things, back in the day.

Yes, they were both accomplices of Khomeini, not just in overthrowing the Shah but in setting up the Islamist tyranny.

No, neither of them is going to have a good word to say for Israel (though Moussavi might say something nice about the United States).

Of course that’s all true. And so what?

No one who said and did the sort of things that you and I, dear reader, would approve of could be a political player in today’s Iran.

The survival of an unpopular ruling elite depends on a certain amount of cohesion among its leaders. (And yes, we know the regime to be unpopular. Forget the details of how this election was stolen: the mullahs already knew they couldn’t win free elections, which is why they have the Guardian Council to vet the candidates.)

The members of a tyrannical ruling group may hate and fear one another and plot against one another, but they must all draw the line at actions that threaten the tyranny itself. Rafsanjani and Moussavi have crossed that line, and in doing so they have seriously damaged the credibility of the regime. If they win, they win with the support of all those marchers in the street, who are, on average, much more hostile to clerical rule than are Rafsanjani and Moussavi.

The result won’t be a liberal republic, but it will be much more liberal (about private life) than anything Iran has had since 1979 and much more republican (about political life) than anything Iran has had since the overthrow of Mossadeq. It won’t be friendly to the United States or Israel, but it will be much less bellicose than Khamene’i and Ahmadi-nejad have been, and much less bellicose than they will be now, after using anti-Americanism as their main weapon agaist the insurgency.

In politics, the difference between “bad” and “worse” is all the difference in the world.

A question on the “Cheerful” News from Iran

I’d be a little more cheered by Mark’s report of potential news from Iran if the leading vessel for reform were not Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Assuming that Mark’s cheerful report is true, it’s still not clear at all what it means. I have a very hard time believing that anything out of Rafsanjani is anything more than tactical: he wants more power for himself and his cronies, not a true opening of the system.

Now, maybe that’s what would occur anyway were Rafsanjani to succeed: overthrowing the Supreme Leader by clerics might make it clear that the clerics themselves could be pushed aside, but that could take a very long time.

Put another way, the Eurasianet report suggests that Rafsanjani’s aim might be replacing the system of a Supreme Leader with a more “collective leadership.” To me, that sounds like Khruschev, not Gorbachev or Yeltsin. It sure beats the hell out of Stalin, though.

In any event, if reformers are putting their money on Rafsanjani, that’s the political equivalent of a sucker’s bet.