Charles Crawford, NR cruiser and formerly Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador in Belgrade and Sarajevo, makes an interesting point about the administration’s, ah, circumspection:
Let’s be fair and not exclude one option. Namely that in some way the Americans and maybe Europeans too have agreed with the Iran Opposition leaders not to say anything in public, so as to deny the regime the propaganda momentum of saying that the Wicked West is fomenting anti-Iranian spies and disarray.
This is what happened in the historic Serbia election of 2000. As a matter of deliberate policy the Americans did not come out publicly in favour of Kostunica against Milosevic. Instead they whistled nonchalantly and looked the other way, while quietly throwing technical and other support to the anti-Milosevic organisations.
This crafty silence led to a good outcome for Western policy, viz the giddy collapse of support for Milosevic, precisely because the whole campaign against him was not ‘internationalised’ – Serbs could think of it as a purely home-grown revolution.
Well, it’s a theory. But I doubt it very much. For all the reasons Yuval and Rich note below, Iran’s revolution does not seem imminent. Beyond that, I would imagine the State Department is still baffled as to why the regime in Teheran felt it necessary to steal the election to a degree unprecedented in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic. It’s not so long ago that Bill Clinton was saying stuff like this:
Iran today is, in a sense, the only country where progressive ideas enjoy a vast constituency. It is there that the ideas that I subscribe to are defended by a majority… In every single election, the guys I identify with got two thirds to 70 per cent of the vote. There is no other country in the world I can say that about, certainly not my own.
You don’t have to agree with President Clinton’s nutty statement to acknowledge the Islamic republic has nevertheless had a kind of authentic political life. It was never a straightforward thuggocracy, like Mubarak’s Egypt or Assad’s Syria. Until this last week, that is.
It will take us a while to figure out why the enforcers of a long exhausted Islamic revolution behaved as they did, but it’s clear that many of the assumptions made by the Foggy Bottom crowd were completely false — not least the supposed differences between the mullahs and Ahmadinejad, whom they were reported to despise for everything from his nuclear bloviating to his allegedly low standards of personal hygiene. Our concerns are largely irrelevant: Obama? They don’t care about his speeches. The nukes? They’ll happen regardless, with wide support. This election was stolen for reasons of internal survival and long-term regional strategy by a regime confident enough to snub not just a U.S. government promoting impotence as moral virtue but those allies in Europe who regularly jet in to offer cooing paeans to the vibracy of Iranian democracy.
So I doubt we’ll see a Kostunica scenario play out. Indeed, given Iran’s collapsed demographics and other structural defects, we seem on the brink not of popular revolution but of a malign mutation of the Islamic republic into something even more virulent and destabilizing.