I think that the Iranian elections should make everybody sit back, take a deep breath, and try to see whether they really understand the dynamics of Iranian politics. Some are covering the "developing Iranian story" from the luxury of faraway places like Washington, D.C., London, and Paris. From their air conditioned offices, they write story after story on Iran, typing away on their laptops, frantic either to meet publication deadlines, make an extra buck (if they are freelancers), or simply, add spice to an event that is seen by everybody as "a hot topic." Most of those who are writing on Iran have never been to Tehran, and never met a post-1979 Iranian politician in their lives. They fall in the trap of getting "taken away" by what Western audiences want to hear and see, basically, that the Iranian regime is about to collapse, because of fraud and corruption, any minute now.
Reading stories in the Western press reminded me of a cartoon showing ten U.S. presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush, saying: "Any minute now, Fidel Castro will fall!" Castro actually survived all of them, and stepped down at will because of illness and old age, bequeathing power to his brother, and neither the cunning of Kennedy nor the might of Reagan or the diplomacy of Clinton, were able to bring down America's cigar-chomping nemesis. Cuba was simply too strong to fall that easily. And the same applies to Iran, which has survived every US administration since Jimmy Carter. It has outlived two Reagan presidencies, Bush Senior, two Clinton administrations, two Bush administrations, and is likely to survive, Barack Obama as well. Simply put, Iran--like Cuba--is too strong to fall that easily.
Was there fraud? Personally, I doubt that a government--any government--can doctor 11 million votes, while the entire world from Tokyo to Washington, D.C., was watching. Fraud happens everywhere--we all remember Jeb Bush's controversy in Florida--and if this is really the case, then the Iranian system should deal with it, in a proper manner. Observers are drawing parallels between what is happening today, and what happened to the Shah back in 1979. That too is a misunderstanding of Iran, although by all accounts, the demonstrations of today are new, very significant, and worthy to watch as they venture into their third week. Back in 1979, the revolution had clear objectives: bringing down the Shah and setting up a theocracy, independent of Western control. That does not apply to the demonstrators of Tehran, who do not claim that they are bent on regime change. The demonstrators of 1979 had a charismatic and immensely popular leader, being Ayatollah Ruhollah al-Khomeini. It is wrong to believe that Mir-Hussein Mousavi, who recently lost the presidential race, comes even close to matching the popularity of Khomeini. But what really matters in comparing 1979 to today is the fact that the Shah only fell when Iranian soldiers decided to stop firing at the demonstrators. Any regime, no matter how strong, collapses when its soldiers decide to refuse obeying orders, and side with the people against officialdom. By all accounts, that is not the case in Iran today and there are no indicators whatsoever that the Iranian Army is about to rebel against President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, or Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Having said that, this brings us to the question put forth by the Washington Post's Panel, "What do your heart and head tell you as you look at pictures, videos, and other kinds of stories from Iran? Should the world help the protestors--and how?" I think that the worst mistake Barack Obama made was coming out and speaking in defense of the demonstrators. That immediately backfired against them, making it easy to target them as puppets of the United States. Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli snapped on Wednesday, accusing the demonstrators of being agents of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The best way to deal with what is happening in Iran is to stay out of the Iranian crisis, and realize that when the West interferes in such domestic issues, this makes the Iranians angry and bitter, and usually, makes things worse for everybody. They often unleash their anger either on the international community (in this case it was against Great Britain) or against the demonstrators themselves.
If the world really cared about Iran, it would respect the Iranian system--which is more democratic than any country in the Arab world. Since the revolution took place in 1979, Iran has had six different presidents, while certain Arab countries that are close to the U.S. (like Libya and Egypt) have had the same president in power for decades. In Egypt, Husni Mubarak has been president since 1981 while in Libya, Muammar al-Qaddafi has been around since 1969. It is pure hypocrisy for the West to criticize the Iranians for lack of democracy, yet nod and smile, to the tenures of its Arab allies. Back in 1956, Dwight Eisenhower--eager to replace Great Britain's influence in the Arab world--sided against Israel in its war on Egypt. One reason was because Eisenhower felt awkward criticizing the Soviet invasion of Hungary, and keeping silent of the Israeli-French-British attack on Egypt.
If any spirit were to be upheld on Iran today, it would something similar to what Eisenhower did in the 1950s.
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