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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Tehran Rising

James Robbins's book review at National Review on Line, Khomeini Redux
As with any state, the threat to U.S. interests comes not from Iran's capacity to make mischief, but its intention to do so. Ahmadinejad's assumption of the presidency last summer brought a more bellicose tone to Iranian rhetoric, which has increased these concerns. But there is some good news. As the author notes, two clocks are racing in Iran, the "nuclear" clock and the "regime change" clock. The United States, its allies, and Iran's neighbors have a vital interest in seeing that Iran experiences a democratic transition before the current regime can realize its nuclear ambitions.

There are some indications that such a transition is on the horizon. The Iranian population is young (the median age is just over 24 years old) and most did not live under the shah's regime — which was a model of progressive liberalism compared to the darkest days of the Khomeini theocracy. They have shown little interest in Ahmadinejad's desire to restore the revolutionary virtues of two decades ago; many scoffed when the Iranian Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council issued an edict banning western music from state radio, saying that the "promotion of decadent and Western music should be avoided and the stress should be put on authorized, artistic, classical, and fine Iranian music." There is open agitation for liberal reform, and occasional riots and other forms of protest. It is possible that as the grip of the reactionaries tightens, the democratic elements could rally the Iranian people to participate in a "color revolution" of the types that have brought change in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and Lebanon. Yet, these developments seem to be moving more slowly than the nuclear program, and in any case, the current regime is probably more determined to hold power — mobs in the streets sometimes make revolutions, and sometimes are treated to a "whiff of grapeshot." Let's not forget Tiananmen Square.

So what can be done? Berman notes that U.S. policy towards Iran has been ambiguous and contradictory over the years. For example, Iran is the number-one terrorist state sponsor, and is giving support to the insurgents in Iraq, yet somehow has not been called to account even as we fight a global war on terrorism. The U.S. is vitally concerned about the proliferation of WMD technologies, yet takes a backseat to the Europeans in trying to settle the Iranian nuclear issue. (In my opinion, this may be a good thing in that it places the Europeans on the frontlines and prevents them from simply being critical of the United States as we try to solve the issue — but that political benefit must be weighed against the possibility they will not get the job done.) Perhaps, as the author suggests, we can contain Iran through a diplomatic campaign to make other countries in the region understand the magnitude of the threat. However, if they have not figured that out by now (and if the behavior of countries like Turkey is any indication, they have not), what can the United States do to convince them?
As Steve Forbes said, Iran--not Iraq--will be the global hot potato of 2006.

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