Friday, June 26, 2009

Masquerade In Iran

Are Mousavi and his followers in Iran an actual reform movement and a positive democratic change in Iran? The pictures of student demonstrators in Tehran being brutalized by the basij and Iranian security forces present a heart-rending spectacle. But there is very little evidence that the label of "democratic reform," attached to Mousavi and many of his followers, is anything but a masquerade.

Mousavi is not some democracy-minded reformer. All candidates for elective office in Iran are handpicked and only allowed to run for office by the express permission of the Supreme Council of Guardians and its leader Ayatollah Khamenei. All candidates agree to follow orders. On issues that matter to the West -- Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, threats of genocide aimed at Israel, interference in Iraq and Afghanistan, support for Islamist terrorism and any reasonable compromises with the West on these issues -- the two candidates were virtually the same.

Mousavi is a longtime proponent of Islamist triumphalism and terrorism, a hardliner on Iran's illegal nuclear weapons program and an anti-Semite who has called for Israel to be destroyed. He was a key aide to Ayatollah Khomeini during the Islamic revolution in 1979 and played a part in the decision to overrun our embassy and take American diplomats hostage. As Iran's prime minister between 1981-89, Mousavi was vociferously anti-Western and anti-American. He had a major hand in the creation of Hezbollah in Lebanon. His handpicked interior minister, Ali Akbar Mohtashami, was Mousavi's liaison when the Iranian government formed and funded that terrorist group. One of Mohtashami's first major operations was the murder of 240 US Marines in Lebanon.

The reason Mousavi was on the ballot in the recent Iranian "election" was not because he is a reformer. He was there because of political differences between groups centered on Mousavi's chief patron in the Iranian government, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- and loyalists to Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. All sides have a long history of political rivalry. Aside from the simple jousting of who's in and who's out, the main point of contention was whether it would be advantageous to dump Ahmadinejad in favor of a new more "moderate" seeming face to buy more time to complete Iran's nuclear weapons program.

After President Obama's self-abasing speech in Cairo and his clear signals that he had no problem with a nuclear Iran, any changes were seen to be simply unnecessary by the Mullahs. Khamenei was able to swing the majority of the Supreme Council in his favor and get his man, Ahmadinejad, back in office.

If Obama's speech had been hard line and Mousavi -- or more accurately Rafsanjani, his patron -- had taken power, absolutely nothing of importance would have changed in Iran.

There is nothing about Mousavi or his supporters that particularly merits being championed by Americans. We simply don't have a dog in this fight. And in any case, Ahmadinejad is in and he will stay in as long as he does what the mullahs tell him to.

If one looks at what actually passes for democracy in the Middle East, it usually consists of one election where tribalism and Islamism always wins. That's been true in the Palestinian territories, in Egypt (where Mubarak had to curtail the vote to stop the Muslim Brotherhood from winning), in Turkey, and everywhere else in the Muslim Middle East that has actually had an election. The exception was in Lebanon -- where Hezbollah was defeated primarily by Christian votes. And Islam still reigns in Iraq, although with some interesting differences I will get to shortly.

While some of Mousavi's followers might actually be pro-democracy, their viewpoint is not likely to be the one that would prevail in the event of a second Iranian revolution. A great many Iranians who supported the ouster of the Shah in 1979 learned that the hard way, when the revolution was co-opted by the Ayatollah Khomeini and his hardliners into something very different than the pro-democracy forces had imagined. Mousavi's supporters, who claim to be for real democratic reform in Iran, may have forgotten that Mousavi and his patron Rafsanjani were a key part of the process that turned the revolt from democratic freedom against the Shah into Khomeini's Villayat-e faqih, a revolutionary Islamic republic.

If Mousavi prevails, would he somehow split Iran's clerical establishment and allow for the ascendance of a more open, less Islamist society? Mousavi's entire history, the views he has openly expressed, and the basic structure of Iranian society as it now stands, say no. Mousavi's followers may be Tehran sophisticates, but they claim the Islamist color green as their emblem and shout "Allahu akbar!" as a battle cry from the rooftops. There are Iranians who yearn for liberty, but their number is dwarfed by the ones that embrace Islamist piety.

Iran is a theocracy, ruled, ultimately, by Allah and his representatives here on earth, the Mullahs. The Islamic revolution is what is important. The holy revolution trumps everything. Hoping for any kind of reform through what passes today for Iran's electoral process is an exercise in futility. True reform will only happen if the Pasdaran and the armed forces either join a revolt against the mullahs or stand aside, as they did in 1979.

The turning point of any revolution comes when the security forces of the regime begin fence sitting and wait to see which way the wind blows. So far, there's no evidence the wind has changed in Iran.

Khameini has spent years cultivating the "young guard" in the security forces, which is how he became Supreme Leader rather than Rafasjani in the first place. Given the continued patronage extended by Khameinei throughout the Iranian security forces and the personal loyalty to the regime of the Pasdaran and the basij, the idea of Iranian internal security abandoning the regime is highly unlikely.

Still, if Iran's genuinely fascist, clerical regime isn't overthrown from within, the whole sorry mess has had some value: the regime's true character has been shown to the world. The election debacle might just give the Obama Administration second thoughts about acquiescing so readily to idea of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Is Iran ready for a truly democratic revolution? One indicator may be to compare what's going on in Iran with what happens next door in Iraq. In fact, the situation in Iraq might be fueling some of the unrest in Iran. Iraq is a Shiite dominated Islamic Republic with a constitution based on Sharia and the same emphasis on tribalism and Islam found throughout the Arab Middle East, but with important differences.

Largely because of the US occupation, the various factions in Iraq were able to conduct relatively open elections. Even though those elections broke down on the normal tribal lines, the US was able to grease the various players with enough money so that America was able to midwife a federation agreement between the various factions. Our money and military presence saw to it that the Sunnis and the Kurds were never pushed to the point of violence and the ensuing break up of the country. In many ways, what the US did in Iraq was similar to what the French did in multi-ethnic Lebanon before they left. The French put together a governmental framework that constitutionally shared power among various ethnic groups. That arrangement worked quite well before Yasir Arafat and the PLO arrived to wreck the system and spark a civil war.

How long the balance between Iraq's factions will survive after we leave is an open question. But what many Iranians see when they look at Iraq is what they might want in Iran: a government that has a huge dose of Islam but is run by secular politicians, has transparent elections, and doesn't require the Iraqis to give up some of their quaint prejudices against Jews, stop persecuting Christians and homosexuals or other "undesirables," and actually be something a little closer to a western style democracy.

President Bush spent over a trillion dollars and over 4,000 American lives to build what exists in Iraq today with the idea of creating a model for Muslim democracy that would spill over into the rest of the region. What happens ultimately in Iran could very well be a referendum on how well his idea actually worked.

(This piece originally ran in American Thinker)


Anonymous said...

While I don't disagree with your point of view on Mousavi, I do believe most of the demonstrators are risking their lives because they want genuine reform. Sometimes an individual can become the focus of a reform movement even though that individuals motives aren't particularly praiseworthy. The Magna Carter came about because of a squabble between a king and his nobles. Gorbachev and Yeltsin started out as only wanting to have a less corrupt system. It's possible that this movement could amount to something someday if it's encouraged, which I'm not expecting with Obama in office. Where I differ with you is that I do believe we have a stake in this, even if it's only a small one.

Freedom Fighter said...

Hi Anonymous,
I appreciate the reasoned tone of your response.

I wouldn't differ with your central premise, that reform can sometimes come from unlikely sources.

I do differ with the example you gave, especially as it apllies to Iran.

Gorbachev didn't want a 'less corrupt system' in my view. He was a committed communist who was trying to preserve the Soviet Empire. That society embraced democracy ( temporarily, as has been proven) because they collapsed and had no choice. Iran is not at that place yet...especailly since we refuse to do anything to help such a collapse along, as Reagan did with the Soviet Empire.

Mousavi and Rafasjani are ogligarchs from Iran's wealthy classes who helped put the present system in place - which they did by co-opting the revolt against the Shah. It's a power struggle, NOT democracy vs. the Mullahs.

Again, in Soviet Russia, people had seen that the regime had collapsed and imploded. In Iran, Islam still trumps democracy, and I would continue by saying that the two don't play well together.

Iraq is intersting because the US spent a great deal of blood and treasure while occupying the country to graft a sort of democracy on Islam there. It remains to be seen whether that experiment is a success or simply reverts back to Islamism and tribalism.


Dave Schuler said...

I think you may be underestimating the influence of Ali Sistani in the difference between Iraq and Iran a little. He's the most senior cleric in Shi'a Islam and his rejection of Khomeinism may not only be important for Iraq but, ultimately, for Iran as well.

I agree with your assessment of Mousavi.

Freedom Fighter said...

Hi Dave,

Could be, my friend...but remember Sistani is an Arab, not a Persian and especially not an Iranian.

Nor is he as moderate as he's been painted, in my opinion.

Remember, he kept the US from effectively dealing with Al-Sadr fro a long time, and has been very involved in the setting up of a Shiite dominated Islamic republic in Iraq with sharia as its basis that enthusiastically participates in an anti-Israel boycott that's against US law and that persecutes Christians, homosexuals, and other 'undesirables'.

Hopefully, you're right on this and I'm wrong, but I don't particularly see Sistani as moderating the regime in Iran.