Tehran is burning. No, not with the odd motorcycle or public bus melting into the asphalt in the aftermath of thousands-strong demonstrations. Tehran is burning with the desires and aspirations of its burgeoning post-revolutionary youth who cannot stand to chafe under the stagnant "Revolution" one moment longer. This is not about America or its beloved Israel. Nor is about about proxy warriors in Lebanon or proxy sufferers in Gaza. This is about the people of Iran attempting to forge a way forward despite four years of abysmal Ahmadinejad leadership, a global recession and a litany of tired foreign policy cliches. It gets quite old chanting "Death to America" when the opposition candidate has the same middle name as the American President. In opposition to Ahmadinejad, Mir Hossein Mousavi is not exactly a child of the Enlightenment. He presided as Prime Minister over an eight year grudge match with Iraq over a patchwork of berms, mud brick villages and oil slicked waterways that ruined both Iran and Iraq and killed approximately a million people ending in a macabre stalemate. Twenty years on, he has reconfigured his public platform as that of a Khatami-allied reformist. Iran does not appear to be in the midst of another revolution. It is doubtful prostitutes will be burned alive or Basiji leaders executed by firing squad. Those violent hallmarks of the Khomenist takeover thirty years ago that helped to entrench a begrudging Ayatollah have little relevance today.
What we are seeing is an attempt at transformation, a post-revolution, by an intelligent and decent populace that has become exhausted at its pointless isolation. It turns out that Ayatollah Ali Khameni, Khomeni's bespectacled and much less charismatic successor, is not irrefutable. Nor is is he, as it turns out, infallible. The boulevards of Tehran and Esfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, and probably every other large city are filling with people seeking change rather than an overthrow. Vocal GOP members aside, America has virtually no credibility to make a stand here. After eight years of pseudo-democratic evangelism by the Bush White House and its rogue's gallery of champions at places like the American Enterprise Institute, our rhetoric on human rights is still running on the fumes. With skeletons still in our closet from the Muhammad Mossadegh overthrow in 1953 and our cooperate support of Shah Reza Pahlavi and his despised SAVAK internal intelligence apparatus during the Cold War, America barely has a leg to stand on when the Iranian opposition would enjoy our support the most.
The Iranian power structure, headed by the Supreme Leader, seems to flailing in its response to the 6/12 crisis. It cannot simply crush this e-revolt. As we have now seen, the Iranian leadership is not the stolid Shia monolith it has been painted to be from afar. Among the flowing cloaks and binary white or black turbans, dissent is showing through. Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian President, Islamic scholar and Persian pragmatist, lost the last election to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005. Understatedly, Rafsanjani is no acolyte of Ahmadinejad's shirtsleeves politicking and third world pandering. Both Ahmadinejad and Khamenei realize that Rafasanjani, by heading the Assembly of Experts, wields enormous backstage power. The Assembly of Experts is the Shia politico-religious body that elects the Supreme Leader through consensus in Iran's spiritual capital of Qom. Though unconfirmed, the notion of a meeting of the Assembly of Experts in Qom, could reverberate through the halls of the seminaries and ministries to great effect. A dismissal of the Supreme Leader may trigger a recalibration of Iran's perpetual revolution and pull the country from pariah to participant in the international community.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei occupies a key role in both American and Israeli policy by default. His implacable place as an unelected leader with ultimate veto power over the President and the majlis (parliament) provides the perfect rationale for those with aggressive and fear mongering views on Iran's nuclear program and its neighboring guerrilla clients in the Levant and the rest of Islamic Asia who have strengthened Iran's external hand. Ahmadinejad staying in power provides a perfect negative pole for defense hawks looking to retread the Axis of Evil. A Mousavi win would put already discredited neoconservatives into a grey area in their Iran policy prescriptions and would require a difficult rethink that many pundits and think tankers (including those who've literally never set foot in Iran, you know who you are) are not so far inclined to do.
But can even a man who refers to himself as the "Supreme Leader" withstand a sustained, non-violent insurrection of millions of his subjects in the leafy, carbon clogged boulevards of every major Iranian city without being affected? It remains to be seen if this tension will be dispersed with mass violence like that of Tiananmen Square in 1989 or whether an accord will be reached altering Iran's trajectory away from its millenarian dogma captained by the Mahdi-ist Ahmadinejad toward a true, lasting dialogue of civilizations.
So Dear Supreme Leader Khamenei, it may be wise to reconsider while you have the opportunity. The world is waiting.
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