Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Beginning of the End of Iran as We Know It

The Madoff Approach to Elections. The electoral fraud in the Iranian was massive and crude. In 2004, the clerical regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rigged the election by declaring hundreds of reformist candidates ineligible to run. This time, they assigned very similar vote totals for incumbent hard-liner president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad across provinces which had previously been distinct in their voting. It was as if the Republicans had said that Massachusetts voted the same as Texas. The biggest tip off to Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme was that he announced the same results every quarter without fail. Giving similarly huge majorities for the conservative Ahmadinejad across the board is a fraud as well.

Another fraud indication was that the regime improbably gave Ahmadinejad majorities in the home towns of his opponents and even showed him winning Tehran where he was very unpopular.

The Question of a Coup. There has been considerable talk from the camp of reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi that the electoral fraud is a "coup" on the part of the conservative Iranian establishment. What Mousavi means is that Iranian conservatives have overthrown what he calls the "sacred system" system of balancing the ultimate power of the clerical establishment with a democratically elected president and parliament.

By rigging the election, the clerical establishment is in essence overthrowing the Iranian people as an element in the political system and eliminating the popular vote as an element in distributing political power.

There might be another coup element as well. Steve Clemons writes that there are powerful clerics such as Hashemi Rafsanjani who oppose the electoral fraud and that they might attempt to remove Ayatollah Khamenei as Supreme Leader. Given Ahmadinejad's denunciation of Rafsanjani during the final days of the campaign, it seems more likely that conservatives have decided to eliminate Rafsanjani and other reformist clerics like former President Khatami as independent centers of power. The conservative power play might be a coup within the clerical leadership as well.

Clemons also summarizes this idea well:
Ahmadinejad is now genuinely scared of Iranian society and of Mousavi and Rafsanjani. The level of tension between them has gone beyond civil limits --and my contact said that Ahmadinejad will try to have them imprisoned and killed.
The outcome of such a leadership coup would be the boiling of the Iranian regime down to a form in which a hard-line conservative religious establishment holds ultimate political power with the Ahmadinejad government acting as its agent in formulating economic and foreign policy. This kind of regime would have the support of about 20% of the population (according to Juan Cole) and would keep the opposition off-balance through a combination of political marginalization, using the police and militia as agents for repressing dissent, and engaging in constant foreign policy confrontation with Israel and the U. S.

The Shape of Things to Come. I have to admit that I have a really boring triangulating kind of opinion here. The BBC assumes that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have won and that the situation in Tehran and other cities will calm down. To the contrary, Andrew Sullivan is more excited about the events in Iran than he's been anytime since the fall of the Soviet Union. My opinion is that the current coup will work temporarily but that the Iranian government will have a hard time sustaining itself over the long term. The Ahmadinejad government is too much like the Bush administration to survive for the long term. Like the Bush administration, the Ahmadinejad government is incompetent at managing the economy and domestic policy but in a country that doesn't not have nearly the cushion of wealth as we have in the United States. Now that the Iranian regime has shrunk to an authoritarian core, economic protest will inevitably gratitate toward overthrowing the regime. The Iran regime will counter domestic unrest by stirring up conflict with Israel and the United States and making patriot appeals to the Iranian public to support the government. But that strategy has already played itself out. Observers wonder whether the Iranian situation is more like the successful revolutions of 1990-1991 or the failed revolution of Tiananmen Square. My opinion is that the best analogy for the Iranian situation is the American election of 2004. The Bush administration won, but it was already on borrowed time.

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