Frankly, that’s precisely what’s going on with the developing situation in Iran. Our President is both inexperienced and naive, and in the world of foreign relations, that can be a fatal mix.
As I pointed out about Gitmo below, the president hadn’t done his homework when he announced his pre-election decision to close the prison there. And, as mentioned, his decision has been a fiasco.
Iran is the same sort of problem for him. He announced a policy of engagement as though nothing of the sort had ever been put forward before. And, in so announcing his policy, he apparently didn’t understand or chose to overlook the fact that two of the regimes about which he spoke (Iran and NoKo) had absolutely no real desire to engage him.
Part of the problem is Obama believes the hubris about his abilities. Unfortunately, the Iranian regime doesn’t and has no real reason or necessity to actually engage him. Professor Faoud Ajami takes Obama to task over his performance so far:
Mr. Obama may believe that his offer to Iran is a break with a hard-line American policy. But nothing could be further from the truth. In 1989, in his inaugural, George H.W. Bush extended an offer to Iran: “Good will begets good will,” he said. A decade later, in a typically Clintonian spirit of penance and contrition, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came forth with a full apology for America’s role in the 1953 coup that ousted nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.
Iran’s rulers scoffed. They had inherited a world, and they were in no need of opening it to outsiders. They were able to fly under the radar. Selective, targeted deeds of terror, and oil income, enabled them to hold their regime intact. There is a Persian pride and a Persian solitude, and the impact of three decades of zeal and indoctrination. The drama of Barack Obama’s election was not an affair of Iran.
Obama obviously thinks more of his abilities to persuade than are proven on the world stage. Again hubris. The magic “Cairo speech” which is assumed to have done in a week or so what wasn’t possible for decades in the region:
That ambivalence at the heart of the Obama diplomacy about freedom has not served American policy well in this crisis. We had tried to “cheat” — an opening to the regime with an obligatory wink to those who took to the streets appalled by their rulers’ cynicism and utter disregard for their people’s intelligence and common sense — and we were caught at it. Mr. Obama’s statement that “the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as had been advertised” put on cruel display the administration’s incoherence. For once, there was an acknowledgment by this young president of history’s burden: “Either way, we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons.” No Wilsonianism on offer here.
Mr. Obama will have to acknowledge the “foreignness” of foreign lands. His breezy self-assurance has been put on notice. The Obama administration believed its own rhetoric that the pro-Western March 14 coalition in Lebanon had ridden Mr. Obama’s coattails to an electoral victory. (It had given every indication that it expected similar vindication in Iran.)
But the claim about Lebanon was hollow and reflected little understanding of the forces at play in Lebanon’s politics. That contest was settled by Lebanese rules, and by the push and pull of Saudi and Syrian and Iranian interests in Lebanon.
Mr. Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo did not reshape the Islamic landscape. I was in Saudi Arabia when Mr. Obama traveled to Riyadh and Cairo. The earth did not move, life went on as usual. There were countless people puzzled by the presumption of the entire exercise, an outsider walking into sacred matters of their faith.
As someone said, it’s 3am and Obama is continuing to hit the snooze button. He needs to learn very quickly, and especially when it comes to foreign affairs, that you can’t vote “present” when you’re the President of the United States.
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I believe the answer is “yes”. It has to do with the breaking of the aura of divine authority coming from the ruling mullahs and casting doubt, among the people, on the belief that the theocracy is divinely sanctioned.
Fareed Zakaria offers an excellent summary of the point:
CNN: Do you mean you think the regime will fall?
Zakaria: No, I don’t mean the Iranian regime will fall soon. It may — I certainly hope it will — but repressive regimes can stick around for a long time. I mean that this is the end of the ideology that lay at the basis of the Iranian regime.
The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, laid out his special interpretation of political Islam in a series of lectures in 1970. In this interpretation of Shia Islam, Islamic jurists had divinely ordained powers to rule as guardians of the society, supreme arbiters not only on matters of morality but politics as well. When Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, this idea was at its heart. Last week, that ideology suffered a fatal wound.
CNN: How so?
Zakaria: When the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “divine assessment,” he was indicating it was divinely sanctioned. But no one bought it. He was forced to accept the need for an inquiry into the election. The Guardian Council, Iran’s supreme constitutional body, met with the candidates and promised to investigate and perhaps recount some votes. Khamenei has subsequently hardened his position but that is now irrelevant. Something very important has been laid bare in Iran today — legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular support.
CNN: There have been protests in Iran before. What makes this different?
Zakaria: In the past the protests were always the street against the state, and the clerics all sided with the state. When the reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, was in power, he entertained the possibility of siding with the street, but eventually stuck with the establishment. The street and state are at odds again but this time the clerics are divided. Khatami has openly sided with the challenger, Mir Hossein Moussavi, as has the reformist Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. So has Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament and a man with strong family connections to the highest levels of the religious hierarchy. Behind the scenes, the former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now head of the Assembly of Experts, another important constitutional body, is waging a campaign against Ahmadinejad and even the supreme leader himself. If senior clerics dispute Khamenei’s divine assessment and argue that the Guardian Council is wrong, it is a death blow to the basic premise behind the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is as if a senior Soviet leader had said in 1980 that Karl Marx was not the right guide to economic policy.
Once the genie is out of the bottle in this sort of a situation it is pretty much impossible to get it back in. The split among the mullahs, who have, in the past, always sided with the regime, is a critical point. Someone comes out of this being declared “wrong” (whether they actually are or not). And the split will remain even of those declared “wrong” are replaced. As Zakaria points out, the very fact that some mullahs have acknowledged that there may be some credibility to the charges of vote fraud and are willing to investigate it is a huge blow to the legitimacy of “divine authority” (which originally supposed “approved” this election), the power of the mullahs and Ahmadinejhad.
I agree with Zakaria that it is indeed a mortal blow to the basic premise behind Iran’s government. How long it will take for that blow to finally kill the regime is, as of yet undetermined. But I think the assumption that it is merely a matter of time is basically correct.
Certainly the regime may muster the force necessary to put the protests down at this moment. But the powder keg will remain, just waiting for the proper detonator event to blow it sky high. I don’t think these protests are going to stop any time soon. And at some point, if the protesters keep the pressure on, the tide is going to begin to turn. The ability of the regime to muster the will and the thugs to do this over and over again is, at some point, going to fail.
It always does.
My question is, will whatever government eventually takes the helm there see the US as a supportive ally in their quest for freedom or a country that sat on the sideline, mouthing platitudes and trying to keep their options open with the oppressive regime now gone (on this particular question, Fareed Zakaria and I seem to disagree)?
That seems to be the outcome based on the limited information about today’s events in Iran that has trickled out to the West.
Reports seem to indicate that police and pro-government militias deployed early and in great numbers to block access to the public squares where planned demonstrations were to be held. Limiting access and turning back would-be protesters seems to have taken the impetus away from the protesting groups. Additionally, given the warning issued to opposition leaders contending they’d be held personally responsible for any bloodshed as a result of protests, those that attempted to gather we’re seemingly leaderless (Mousavi officially canceled protest rallies for today).
As an added measure, the government took down cell phone service in the areas in which the protests were planned.
It appears, for the most part, that regime chose to avoid the spectacle of a bloody shootout with protesters opting to drown the protests through the use of water cannon and tear gas instead. The tactic of intercepting protesters, piece-meal, as they approached Tehran’s “Revolution Square” and other announced protest sites and driving them away in small groups seems to have successfully dispersed them and prevented them from massing, at least for today.
The only mention of numbers I could find was in a Fox News report which said police battled a crowd of 3,000 in Revolution Square. Far below what was hoped for by the opposition I’m sure. Also included in that Fox News article was a report that 50 to 60 protesters had been badly beaten by police and pro-government militia (the “Basij”- if you’re unfamiliar with them, read this – more here.) and taken to a local hospital.
CNN reports that the government is saying 7 have died in the protests, Amnesty International puts the number at 15 while another source is saying 32.
Indications are the government isn’t going to act with restraint forever (although they clearly understand the world is watching):
“We acted with leniency but I think from today on, we should resume law and confront more seriously,” General Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghadam said on state television. “The events have become exhausting, bothersome and intolerable. I want them to take the police cautions seriously because we will definitely show a serious confrontation against those who violate rules.”
It seems obvious the regime is very wary about a brutal repression of the protests, but seem to be signaling their patience isn’t infinite.
That leaves the ball in the protesters court. Do they continue to try to rally protests and ignore the government ban? Further protests will either call the regime’s bluff or force them to turn to brutality. The hope then has to be that such an act would inspire even more massive protests, leading to, at a minimum, a change of leadership.
We’ll have to see what Sunday brings and whether the protesters can figure out a way to get around the tactics the government has deployed.
The lines are drawn. “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has made it pretty clear where he stands on this “democratic” election:
“Nothing can be changed. The presidential campaign is finished,” he declared.
Meanwhile, here, the mealy-mouthed and fearful “support” from the President remains an embarrassment.
UPDATE: Speaking of the president – his latest:
The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.
As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.
Martin Luther King once said – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness.
For once, Joe Biden was right – he prophesied that within 6 months of taking office Barack Obama would be tested on the world stage.
Well, we’re a bit early, but thus for his performance has been underwhelming as it pertains to Iran. Even Biden and Hillary Clinton want to see a stronger response.
Instead we got silence, then a mealy-mouthed response and recently a bit stronger but still using language that vaguely supports the Iranian regime.
Today the House and Senate passed resolutions concerning Iran.
The Senate version “”condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones.”
It seems the House version now sounds like the Senate version, because apparently the White House was not pleased with the original version of the House resolution (it was too strongly worded for their taste), and helped the House “tone down” the resolution. Robert Gibbs then said the resolutions were consistent with the administration.
“We made it clear that we didn’t want to make the U.S. a foil in a debate that has nothing to do with us,” a senior administration told me this morning. “This is a debate among Iranians.”
The dangerous naivete? The belief that a totalitarian regime that has made the US their “foil” for 30 years wouldn’t do it at the drop of a hat when there was trouble?
And guess what? They have.
So the US has silenced itself based on the false presumption that Iran would only blame them for meddling if we said something.
Naive. Dangerous. And a sure way to loose any moral leverage in any future negotiations should the regime survive tomorrow.
We may be getting ready to see a repressive regime underestimating the power of the people or we may be on the cusp of another Tiananmen Square.
Ayatollah Khamenei didn’t budge an inch in his speech today:
Addressing Friday prayers at Tehran University, the bearded septuagenarian offered no concessions to the millions of irate Iranians who have taken to the streets this week. Instead he issued an unmistakable warning to Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the defeated candidates.
“Those politicans who have influence on people should be very careful about their behaviour if they act in an extremist manner,” he said. “This extremism will reach a level which they will not be able to contain. They will be responsible for the blood, violence and chaos.”
“The Supreme Leader has drawn a line in the sand, and he has the muscle to back it up,” one Iranian analyst said. “His speech was a polite way of saying ‘Hey – there’s a coup and we’re in charge.’ It was an absolute declaration of power.”
Indeed it was. And Fox just had a correspondent on now in Tehran who has been seeing armed militias setting up at all the key intersections in the city.
Ayatollah Khamenei demanded the demonstrations stop. “I want to tell everyone these things must finish. These street actions are being done to put pressure on leaders but we will not bow in front of them,” he said. “I call on all to put an end to this method…If they don’t they will be held responsible for the consequences and chaos.”
“Consequences and chaos” seems a pretty clear indication that Khamenei plans on taking action of some type should the planned protests materialize tomorrow.
And the opposition?
But protestors said they would attend today’s rally come what may. “If the crowd is large enough there’s nothing they can do,” Bahrooz, an engineer, said. “If they start killing people that would bring about the fall of the regime.”
“All my friends are coming and they’re bringing their families,” Taraneh, an office worker, said. ”How many people can they arrest or kill?”
Brave words. Courageous intent. I wish them well and pray for their success.
But the bottom line is the guy who presently enjoys the monopoly on the use of force in that country has, in a somewhat nuanced way, announced he’s willing to use it.
But then the protester has a point as well. I believe we’re going to see a violent crackdown. The question then is do those who will have to inflict the violence upon the protesters have the will to see it through to completion – completion being killing and/or arresting enough protesters necessary to completely gut the protest movement.
I’m not sure, but I’m afraid we’re going to find out.
I got a good laugh out of this particular characterization by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the external spokesperson for Mir Hossein Mousavi. Foreign Policy magazine interviewed him in Paris:
FP: There has been growing criticism here in Washington that U.S. President Barack Obama hasn’t said or done enough to support those demonstrating in the streets of Iran. Do you think Obama is being too careful? Or even that he is helping Ahmadinejad by being cautious?
MM: Obama has said that there is no difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. Does he like it himself [when someone is] saying that there is no difference between Obama and [George W.] Bush? Ahmadinejad is the Bush of Iran. And Mousavi is the Obama of Iran.
FP: Would Mousavi pursue a different foreign policy than Ahmadinejad?
MM: As you may know, former President Mohammad Khatami, who is supporting Mousavi at the moment, was in favor of dialogue between the civilizations, but Ahmadinejad talks about the war of the civilizations. Is there not any difference between the two?
We [Iranians] are a bit unfortunate. When we had our Obama [meaning President Khatami], that was the time of President Bush in the United States. Now that [the United States] has Obama, we have our Bush here [in Iran]. In order to resolve the problems between the two countries, we should have two Obamas on the two sides. It doesn’t mean that everything depends on these two people, but this is one of the main factors.
The only problem is there is nothing to really indicate that concerning the large issues – nuclear weapons, funding terror organizations (Hamas/Hezbollah) and keeping the Palestinian/Israeli situation stirred up, there’d be any difference at all.
As the Times of London reminds us:
Mr Mousavi, 67, is a creature of the political Establishment — a former revolutionary and prime minister who would like to liberalise Iranian politics but has never challenged the system in the way his followers are doing.
So the question remains who is this guy in reality? In fact he may be more like Obama than we imagine. He’s riding a wave of “hope and change” in Iran that may be completely different than what he’s willing or able to deliver. In other words, just as here in the US, he’s letting those who support him decide what “hope and change” mean for the purpose of putting him in power. He’d then govern as an establishment president albeit with a softer and more diplomatic touch.
The first indicator of his true colors comes today:
The moderate Iranian leader who says that he was robbed of victory in last week’s presidential election faces a fateful choice today: support the regime or be cast out.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has told Mir Hossein Mousavi to stand beside him as he uses Friday prayers at Tehran University to call for national unity. An army of Basiji — Islamic volunteer militiamen — is also expected to be bussed in to support the Supreme Leader.
The demand was made at a meeting this week with representatives of all three candidates who claim that the poll was rigged, and it puts Mr Mousavi on the spot. He has become the figurehead of a popular movement that is mounting huge demonstrations daily against the “theft” of last Friday’s election by President Ahmadinejad, the ayatollah’s protégé.
Will he stand by Khamenei or will he defy him? My money’s on him supporting the regime.
Some fascinating stuff here:
The state owned Data communication Company of Iran (or DCI) acts as the gateway for all Internet traffic entering or leaving the country. Historically, Iranian Internet access has enjoyed some level of freedom despite government filtering and monitoring of web sites.
In normal times, DCI carries roughly 5 Gbps of traffic (with a reported capacity of 12 Gbps) through 6 upstream regional and global Internet providers. For the region, this represents an average level of Internet infrastructure (for purposes of perspective, a mid size ISP in Michigan carries roughly the same level of traffic).
Then the Iranian Internet stopped.
One the day after the elections on June 13th at 1:30pm GMT (9:30am EDT and 6:00pm Tehran / IRDT), Iran dropped off the Internet. All six regional and global providers connecting Iran to the rest of the world saw a near complete loss of traffic.
Graphically, here’s what happened –
Here’s a detailed look at the abrupt stop noted above –
There’s no question, obviously, that internet traffic was almost totally blocked. And you don’t have to be a North Korean rocket scientist to know why.
So why has limited bandwidth been restored since?
I can only speculate. But DCI’s Internet changes suggest piecemeal migration of traffic flows. Typically off the shelf / inexpensive Internet proxy and filtering appliances can support 1 Gbps or lower. If DCI needed to support higher throughput (say, all Iranian Internet traffic), then redirecting subsets of traffic as the filtering infrastructure comes online would make sense.
Unlike Burma, Iran has significant commercial and technological relationships with the rest of the world. In other words, the government cannot turn off the Internet without impacting business and perhaps generating further social unrest. In all, this represents a delicate balance for the Iranian government and a test case for the Internet to impact democratic change.
Events are still unfolding in Iran, but some reports are saying the Internet has already won.
It would seem so, at least in this case, but I’m not so sure that a country which really didn’t care about maintaining the mirage of a “free” country, as does Iran, couldn’t and wouldn’t keep it shut down for a while longer than did Iran. China for instance.
What it does prove is how incredibly powerful and important the internet has become throughout the world, and how, as communications technology expands and networking options become more available (Twitter carried the day after Inet cutoff to the point that it can be asserted that there was no longer any positive reason to keep the Inet shut down), the ability of totalitarian regimes to control communications is degraded to the point of impotence. Someone is going to get the word out by some means, like it or not. And for the most part, Iran likes it not. But the ability of the communications network to bypass governmental blocks by other means may have been instrumental in making the mullahs finally take the sham election seriously and forcing them to finally address the alleged voting irregularities.
Before anyone gets too worked up about this development, it should be noted that there is probably no way to authenticate this alleged letter, and its existence comes to us via Robert Fisk (yes, that “Fisk“). Nevertheless, there is a purported letter from the Ministry of the Interior running around Iran that states the following:
Regarding your concerns for the 10th presidential elections and due to your orders for Mr Ahmedinejad to be elected President, in this sensitive time, all matters have been organised in such a way that the results of the election will be in line with the revolution and the Islamic system. The following result will be declared to the people and all planning should be put in force to prevent any possible action from the opposition, and all party leaders and election candidates are under intense surveillance. Therefore, for your information only, I am telling you the actual results as follows:
Mirhossein Mousavi: 19,075,623
Mehdi Karroubi: 13,387,104
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 5,698,417
Mohsen Rezai: 38,716
(signed on behalf of the minister)
Fisk has this to say about it:
They were handing out the photocopies by the thousand under the plane trees in the centre of the boulevard, single sheets of paper grabbed by the opposition supporters who are now wearing black for the 15 Iranians who have been killed in Tehran – who knows how many more in the rest of the country? – since the election results gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad more than 24 million votes and a return to the presidency. But for the tens of thousands marking their fifth day of protests yesterday – and for their election campaign hero, Mirhossein Mousavi, who officially picked up just 13 million votes – those photocopies were irradiated.
In a highly sophisticated society like Iran, forgery is as efficient as anywhere in the West and there are reasons for both distrusting and believing this document. But it divides the final vote between Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi in such a way that it would have forced a second run-off vote – scarcely something Mousavi’s camp would have wanted.
Could this letter be a fake? Even if Mr Mousavi won so many votes, could the colourless Mr Karroubi have followed only six million votes behind him? And however incredible Mr Ahmadinejad’s officially declared 63 per cent of the vote may have been, could he really – as a man who has immense support among the poor of Iran – have picked up only five-and-a-half million votes? And would a letter of such immense importance be signed only “on behalf of the minister”?
That the Independent’s intrepid reporter is cautioning against assuming the veracity and provenance of the letter should tell you something (and, it should be noted, “intrepid” is truly meant here as Fisk is openly and flagrantly defying the journalist ban at great personal risk, for which he deserves great praise and admiration). Whether or not it’s real, the mullahs have their work cut out for them in damage control. If the protesters are fairly enough convinced (and it would appear, for now, at least some of them are), then little more fuel will be needed for the fire. Moreover, others who have been either sitting on the fence, or who thought the election was legitimate, are convinced of a sham due to this letter, then it’s difficult to see how the regime can retain any legitimacy.
In any event, this alleged letter may have a significant effect on the outcome of events in Iran.
President Obama’s tapdancing attempt to avoid taking a stand on Iran has come to naught and made him look weak:
The Iranian government, meanwhile, accused the U.S. for the first time of interfering in the postelection dispute. Iran protested to the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. affairs in Iran because the two nations have no diplomatic ties. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that President Barack Obama stands by his defense of principles such as the right of people to demonstrate.
Even had Barack Obama maintained his silence, this was almost a given. Totalitarianism 101 – seek an external enemy to blame your problems on before you crack down hard internally (although the split in Qom among the mullahs is interesting and adds a new dimension to the story).
And I disagree with the talking heads that calling for free and fair elections is “meddling in the internal affairs of another state” such as Moorhead Kennedy was blathering on about on CNN this morning. That’s not meddling nor is it an attack on a state’s sovereignty – its a call for a state to actually do what they’re claiming they’re doing.