Saturday, June 20, 2009

Thoughts on Iran

With the incredible events going on in Iran, I couldn't keep this blog silent. A few thoughts, though I'm woefully incapable of adding anything meaningful (and certainly not unique) to the conversation.

First... incredible, amazing, stunning - words don't do the people of Iran justice. The courage they're showing by stepping out on the streets every day, in the face of arrest, beatings, and death, is truly indescribable. If, by any chance, you've remained out of the loop as to what is going on in Iran, this video will catch you up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g1aPejT0izs (WARNING - this is a very graphic clip of a woman who was killed during one of the demonstrations today). Many have lost their lives, and I fear many more will as well.

On the domestic front, the response to the events have been somewhat disheartening. Obama has, in my mind, played it perfectly, minus his comment about the similarity of Ahmadinejad's and Mousavi's policies. His point was accurate - on the question of nuclear development, the two do have similar stances - but his words were too open ended (they should have left no doubt he meant only in regard to nuclear issues), and the setting of expectations that he wanted to achieve was outweighed by the negative impact of his comment.

More importantly, the Republican (specifically, the neocon) response has been absurd and saddening in that we can't stand as one behind our President, who is clearly doing the right thing. Conservatives from John McCain to the folks at the Weekly Standard have lambasted Obama for not supporting the reformers more explicitly. Why they don't see that this is a dumb strategy that plays right into Ahmadinejad's hands (for heaven's sakes, there are reports that Iranian State TV is playing an Obama clip and then translating it as something like "Obama supports the protests") is beyond me. To maximize the legitimacy of the reform movement, the US needs to have as little a role in it as possible. We're not going to give military support (yet), so vocal support will only serve to embolden the Ayatollah and Iran's establishment.

Past that, it's anyone's guess as to how this is going to play out. I certainly have no clue, but I'll offer a guess - basically, if Mousavi and his legions of supporters can keep the military out of the conflict, I think they have a very good chance of prevailing. At that point, it becomes the Basij (the Ayatollah's millitia) against the protesters. Though the movement is nonviolent, that's a numbers game that the Basij will lose, in that public opinion domestically and worldwide will turn against the Ayatollah to the point where the oppression will have to be stopped (hopefully).

The question is how does a nonviolent movement navigate the endgame of a revolution - it's complex indeed, but part of the answer lies with the military, I think. If the hearts of the soldiers can be turned against the Basij to the point where they are willing to protect the defenseless protesters, the regime can be ousted, perhaps without too much bloodshed.

It's a thought, a hope. We'll see what happens. If anything, one glimmer of hope strikes me from all of this - that the Iranians will provide the blueprint for a new kind of Revolution - a nonviolent revolution. Armed not with guns but the teachings of Gandhi and MLK, change-seekers around the world may have a new rallying cry.

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