Friday, February 07, 2003
Speaking of revolutionary democratization in Iran: I am getting sick and tired of reading articles like this one, about how America is doing too little to promote it.
Iran is headed either to 1991 or 1989.
In 1991, there was an uprising in Lithuania that Premier Gorbachev half-heartedly tried to put down. His feeble response led directly to the attempted coup later that year, which in turn led directly to President Yeltsin's declaration dissolving the Soviet Union and establishing a new Russian Republic. And thus ended the Soviet Union, not with a bang but with a whimper.
By contrast, in 1989 a student-led uprising in Beijing was brutally crushed by the People's Liberation Army at the orders of Premier Deng Xiaoping. It was not obvious from day one that the army would obey its orders; there were rumors, in fact, that different armies were firing at each other in the first hours of the crackdown. But over the course of the next year or so, the Chinese Communist Party decisively crushed all opposition and consolidated its rule.
What was the difference? Well, there were differences in the sources of opposition. Yeltsin was already President, and the Soviet Union had already acquiesced in the fall of the Berlin Wall. The opposition to the Soviet Union was led not by students but by, in the first place, Polish shipyard workers, and later by many different segments of society, including within the Party. Gorbachev was also a singularly inept leader, who actually seemed to *believe* in Communism, and specifically had lost ther respect of the KGB (it's a subject of continued speculation whether Andropov, had he lived, could have kept the Soviet Union together). The Chinese, by contrast, were ruled by a strong leader with no illusions about the system he headed and what it took to stay on top of it.
Where is Iran today? Well, the revolt is far more widespread than in China in 1989. It's not just students; it's workers, business-owners, even significant segments of the clergy. The regular army reputedly despises the regime as much as the populace does. But the regular army is (a) stationed at the frontier; (b) starved of fuel and equipment; (c) not likely to be used in suppressing an open revolt. That task would fall to the internal security services, which are well-armed, stationed in the cities and strongly aligned with the regime.
So my read is: this could go either way. The people are more and more openly disdainful of the regime; the regime has lost its legitimacy and rules exclusively by force. But the leaders of the regime are more like Deng than like Gorby: absolutely ruthless and fully aware of what kind of violence it will take to reestablish control by brute force alone.
This is why it is so important for the Americans to make it clear that the regime will not be permitted to commit that violence, and make it clear publicly. We don't need to take any direct action against Iran. We just need to make it clear that the 1989 option *would* provoke such action, and thereby take that action off the table.
I've argued before in this space that Iran is, besides being the best candidate for the second Muslim-majority democracy in the Middle East (Turkey being the first), Iran is the strategic lynchpin to American interests in the region. All our other efforts - the deposing of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the coming war with Iraq, any subsequent attempt to deal with the Saudis - will necessarily enhance the power of Iran. We are taking out their enemies one by one. If they remain *our* enemy at the end of this process, we will have created a very big problem for ourselves.
And I've argued before as well - and continue to believe - that the one action that would do more than anything to simultaneously prosecute the war on terror and foment revolution in Iran would be to attack Hizballah in Lebanon. Hizballah is second only to al-Qaeda in murders of Americans, is collaborating actively with al-Qaeda, and has a relationship with Syria somewhat comparable to al-Qaeda's relationship with the Taliban (i.e. it is sometimes hard to tell who is controlling whom). Wiping out Hizballah would be a gift to the world. But in addition, it would put Iran's leadership in a bind. A major asset will have been destroyed. Not to respond would be to look weak, which would encourage the spread of popular revolt. To respond would mean potentially inviting an American attack on Iran, and a consequent massive popular uprising. The Iranian regime might possibly rally the people to the defense of the country if it were attacked out of the blue by America. But if the regime took the people to war for the sake of an Arab terrorist group (remember: the Persians *hate* Arabs), the people would tear them to pieces with their own hands.
Anyhow, that's my scenario. If we're not going to do that, the least we should do is make it clear that the violent suppression of popular revolt will provoke an American military intervention. Then pray that revolt comes soon, before this key member of the Axis of Evil buys their first nuke from the Dear Leader.