Fareed Zakaria at PostGlobal

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek International and often The Washington Post. He is a member of the roundtable of ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanapoulos" as well as an analyst for ABC News. And he is the host of a new weekly PBS show, "Foreign Exchange" which focuses on international affairs. His most recent book, "The Future of Freedom," was published in the spring of 2003 and was a New York Times bestseller and is being translated into eighteen languages. He is also the author of "From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America's World Role" (Princeton University Press), and co-editor of "The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World" (Basic Books). Close.

Fareed Zakaria

Editor of Newsweek International, columnist

PostGlobal co-moderator Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International, overseeing all Newsweek's editions abroad. He writes a regular column for Newsweek, which also appears in Newsweek International and often The Washington Post. more »

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Behind the Scenes, Iran's Opposition Builds Strength

What is happening in Iran? On the surface, the country has returned to normality. Demonstrations have become infrequent and have been quickly dispersed.

But underneath the calm, there is intense activity and the beginnings of a political opposition. In the past week, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the candidate who officially lost last month's presidential election, has announced his intention to create a "large-scale social movement" to oppose the government and press for a more open political system. Mohammad Khatami, the reformist former president, has called for a referendum on the government. Another powerful former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has criticized the regime's handling of the election and post-election "crisis." All three have demanded the release of politicians and journalists imprisoned over the past month and held without charges. (Those prisoners include Maziar Bahari, Newsweek's Tehran correspondent, who is a Canadian citizen and an internationally recognized documentary filmmaker.) These are not dissidents in the wilderness. Between them, the three men have been at the pinnacle of power for most of the Islamic Republic's existence.

More striking has been the revolt of the clerics. Iran has only a score or so grand ayatollahs, the highest rank in the Shiite clerical order. As far as I can tell, not one has publicly supported President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (unless you count the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Ayatollah Mohammed Yazdi, who are considered grand ayatollahs by some). On the other hand, according to the Web site of the indispensable Tehran Bureau, an independent news operation, six grand ayatollahs have publicly criticized the regime. Last week one of them issued a fatwa (a religious ruling) declaring that it was appropriate to boycott Ahmadinejad's inauguration as president. He also directly criticized Khamenei. The clerics' actions highlight a shift in power in Iran away from the religious establishment and toward the military. Ahmadinejad represents this change, being a layman, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq War and a man with close ties to the Revolutionary Guards, the parallel military created by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini because he distrusted the shah's officer corps. While in office, Ahmadinejad has directed state funds away from the religious foundations dominated by clerics and toward the military and the Guards.

The tilt from mullahs to the military has been somewhat obscured by the role that Khamenei has played as part of both camps. He is, of course, a cleric, but he has always been close to the Revolutionary Guards and cultivated their support. Ahmadinejad, however, is clearly not of the clerical establishment. He has even defied Khamenei, his key backer, by initially refusing to withdraw his choice for first vice president despite the supreme leader's objections. While it is difficult to know exactly what the dispute between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad reflects, it is surely a sign of an increasingly divided ruling elite.

The hyperbole in America and Israel about apocalyptic mullahs with nukes missed the big story in Iran, which was that the mullahs were not apocalyptic, and they were fading in influence anyway. One might have said that the Islamic Republic of Iran is losing its distinct religious basis of power and becoming another Middle Eastern dictatorship - except that it now hosts an opposition movement that does not seem ready to quiet down.
What does this turmoil mean for Washington and the world's dealings with Iran? Obviously it makes negotiating with Tehran close to impossible right now. Any talks with Ahmadinejad would confer legitimacy on a regime that has lost it at home. And any gains agreed to in talks with a regime that is searching tactically for legitimacy might well prove to be temporary.

The best strategy is to do nothing. Hillary Clinton implied as much when she put off the question of negotiating with Iran. In fact, the ball is in Tehran's court anyway. In April, the West presented Iran with an offer of talks that is serious and generous. Let Khamenei and Ahmadinejad figure out how to respond, as they keep claiming they will. The West faces constraints, but Iran's leaders face many more.

Some argue that this allows Iran to inch closer to a bomb. But the best way to blunt that threat - which is still not imminent - has always been deterrence and containment, a policy that worked against Stalin and Mao and works against North Korea, a far more unstable and bizarre regime. Again, Clinton correctly outlined such a policy last week. (On being offered a nuclear umbrella, Israel criticized the United States, which is a sign of the current Israeli government's poor relations with Washington.)

Time is not on the current Iranian regime's side. Amid all this confusion, we have a clear answer to a crucial puzzle. We always wondered, are there moderates in Iran? Yes, it turns out - millions of them.

The writer is editor of Newsweek International and co-host of PostGlobal, an online discussion of international issues. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

Comments (4)

homeland1 Author Profile Page:

Mr. PRESIDENT, Ms. POLOSI & CO.:

"Ho Ho OBAMA & YOU Must Surely GO!"

"HO HO, OBAMA & CO. must Surely GO!"

"YO YO, OBAMA Gots To GO!"

-Prof. GATES, not Bill Gates, Not Asst. Sec. State Gates.., Must GO To Jail asap For almost (Conspiring) insighting a National & Possibly International (RACE BASED) RIOT!? The TERRORISTS & CO., are LOVE-N THIS!

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..........(||)RACE-GATES(.||)
............|"""""""""""""""""""""|......
...|ACTS AGAINST AMERICANS|...

Mr. OBAMA. Please, like an EX-Friend, Distance yourself from Mr. "Racist-GATES", not P.O. Crowley, like ye didth with REVrend/Brother Mr. Wrong, ooopps Meant your Ex-Friend Rev. Jeramiah (Bul{Frog) Mr. Wright!

--Or Else: "DOWN with OBAMA & CO., comes 2012/13 and beyond!"

"Ho Ho OBAMA & CO. Must Surely GO!"

"HO HO, OBAMA & CO. must Surely GO!"

"YO YO, OBAMA Gots To GO!"

PS: Its a good "PROBABILITY" that Prof.? Gates Wanted To Get Busted. All he had to do was smile, look into P.O. Crowleys eyes and ask, "Why are you Here Sir/Mams"? And simply sing, "Yazza Mon or No-Mon to questions! And Hope He/Cops go away w/good REASON&CAUSE&SATISFACTION! Nothing Complicated!

clearthinking1 Author Profile Page:

Dear Mr. Zakaria,

About Iran, you write:
"The best strategy is to do nothing" and
"But the best way to blunt that threat (apocalyptic mullahs with nukes) has always been deterrence and containment."

On March 1 2009 you wrote about Pakistan:
"The Pakistani government is hoping that this agreement will isolate the jihadists and win the public back to its side. This may not work, but at least it represents an effort to divide the camps of the Islamists between THOSE WHO ARE VIOLENT AND THOSE WHO ARE MERELY EXTREME.
Over the past eight years, such distinctions have tended to be regarded as naive. "We won the war in Iraq chiefly because we separated the local militants from the global jihadists," says Fawaz Gerges, a scholar at Sarah Lawrence College, who has interviewed hundreds of Muslim militants. "Yet around the world we are still unwilling to make the DISTINCTION BETWEEN THESE TWO GROUPS." Anything that emphasizes the variety of groups, movements and motives within that world strengthens the case that THIS IS NOT A BATTLE BETWEEN ISLAM AND THE WEST." {Capitals added}

I criticized your analysis then as being disingenuous. I have respected your status as a premier foreign policy analyst in America for years, but now we must all question your objectivity and credentials. You have presented yourself as a secular Indian from Mumbai without a specific allegiance to Islam. However, your recent articles seem to betray at least a subconscious attempt to deflect blame directed at Islam for violence and terrorism. This desire to deflect blame directed at Islam seems to be significantly limiting your ability to objectively analyze the challenges facing America and the world from Islamic terrorism.

I find it hard to accept that someone with your knowledge about Pakistan, Iran, Islam, and terrorism would rationally conclude that "the best strategy is to do nothing."
We are all still waiting for your follow up article on the merits of the Swat Valley deal.

ordak100 Author Profile Page:

1. Your choice of sensationalist vocabulary makes it plain--crisis, revolt, hyperbole, apocalyptic, the bomb..... you are the one itching for a fight or revolution, not Iranians!

2. When 80-85% of eligible voters turn out and vote, anywhere, it is no longer a "regime" as you call it, but an elected government working according to its own constitutions. They also have demonstrations and rallies in Iran....unlike China, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the the other Sunni lot.

3. So, Newsweek's man in Iran, an Iranian, has been arrested in accordance to his own country's rule and laws that applies to all 72 million Iranians. Big deal! The law applies to every one, no? Including those that sign up for an election according to those laws, win or lose?

This game of trying to cast doubt on Iran is old and does not work. It has not worked for the last 30 years and those "crazy, mindless, apocalyptic...." Iranians have not attacked any one, have not invaded countries with wars of choice (ehm, Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind) and have not bombed the occupied (Gaza). And all those "restrictions" and sanctions has taken Iran from strength to strength as THE real regional power, and the "Smart West" has to live with it. Plain and simple!

Tell that to the lobbyists that put you up to writing this kind of article!

Citizenofthepost-Americanworld Author Profile Page:

It has been asked repeatedly (tongue in cheek?) what the real aim was in that recent campaign, literally 24-7, to delegitimize Iranian leaders and to destabilize the country.

Some have argued, quite rightly it would now seem, that given the U.S. (and vociferous Israel) did not really want negotiations to take place with Iran (need we say to "engage" Iran?), the objective was therefore to first ensure no such negotiations would take place. For anybody to make it sound publicly, today, as though negotiations with Iran have become near to impossible or would prove a waste of time is, one will readily admit, a significant first step in that direction.

Witness: "What does this turmoil mean for Washington and the world's (?) dealings with Iran? Obviously it makes negotiating with Tehran close to impossible right now. Any talks with Ahmadinejad would confer legitimacy on a regime that has lost it at home. And any gains agreed to in talks with a regime that is searching tactically for legitimacy might well prove to be temporary. The best strategy is to do nothing. Hillary Clinton implied as much when she put off the question of negotiating with Iran."

The next step implies duplicity. It consists in putting the onus on the other side to offer to negotiate, under the pretence of, in fact, having ourselves wanted (and offered!) to negotiate all along.

Witness: "In fact, the ball is in Tehran's court anyway. In April, the West presented Iran with an offer of talks that is serious and generous. Let Khamenei and Ahmadinejad figure out how to respond, as they keep claiming they will."

The hope is of course, that the other side will not, and that no negotiations will take place.

That is called: 1. not wanting to negotiate, 2. doing everything so as not to have to, 3. putting forward excuses for not doing so, 4. continue to claim to be "serious and generous" in wanting to negotiate, 5. put the onus on the other side to do so on our own terms, and 6. ultimately give to understand that it is the other side which does not want to negotiate, and probably never wanted to negotiate in the first place.

There is nothing new here. This has always been typical Israeli and American strategy in the Middle-East.

What is new is: 1. that some consider that this strategy is ENTIRELY NEW AND ORIGINAL, 2. that they believe for one second that it is part of a so-called RADICALLY NEW OBAMA (AND AMERICAN!) FOREIGN POLICY FOR THE MIDDLE EAST.

What is not new, unfortunately, is to meet so many people who still consider this kind of exercise in subversion and in duplicity something absolutely CLEVER, when in fact it remains unmitigatedly short-sighted and, let's face it, plain dumb.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.