Hearts and Minds

At spes non fracta.

We have to presume, absent notable developments to the contrary, that Iran’s rulers will emerge from this extraordinary moment with their power intact. They are, after all, following a familiar script: Declare a god-blessed landslide victory, throttle communications, label the opponents anti-revolutionary, arrest as many opposition leaders as you can, throw some hardware on the streets.

But their power, until now, has been maintained under a pretense of legitimacy. It may not be a government beloved by its people, but the millions voting in Friday’s election weren’t calling for an insurrection — they were calling for reform. And, until Friday night, they were confident it would happen, or at least be given a decent chance. This was not an angry election.

Those hopes, brutally dashed, will not go away. Except for two highly unlikely outcomes — Mousavi being declared the winner after all, or a fresh election conducted fairly — the fate of Iran has been cast. A predominantly young population, its collective will thwarted, will not soon forget.

Consequences of their new enlightenment will emerge quickly — assuming their rulers are unwilling or unable to continue throttling the Internet until the Prophet returns. We cannot presume they will be so bold as to organize in the face of an oppressive regime, but before the election, Iran was celebrated for having the third-highest concentration of bloggers in the world.

At the very least, we will be hearing many interesting stories in the months ahead. And although nobody can predict what form their resentment will ultimately take, it won’t be to the benefit of their rulers.

Continuing Coverage:

Andrew Sullivan

niacINsight [National Iranian American Council]

Tehran Bureau [Independent Iran news]

The Lede [NYT]

Nico Pitney [HuffPo]

Photo: Naghshe Jahan Square, Iran, June 16, 2009 [HuffPo]


We have to presume, absent notable developments to the contrary, that Iran’s rulers will emerge from this extraordinary moment with their power intact.

I’m still not convinced. There is a lot of backroom wheeling and dealing, and Khameini may be the big loser in all of this; he may succeed in quelling riots and installing Mahmoud into a weakened Presidency, but the power base he has been building all these years appears to be made of shifting sand.

My lunch on Sunday over persian delights should be revealing.

The Mullahs of Iran will ignore the same lesson ignored by authoritarian fools everywhere.

The way to win hearts and minds is not by grabbing them by the (metaphoric) balls and stomping them.


I dunno, the US still hasn’t figured that out. Americans still fervently believe that they can “help” people by torturing, shooting and bombing them.

At the end of the day, we need to stay the hell out of it. Especially since we’ve never acknowledged our criminal behavior that brought the Revolution on in the first place and reinforced their power (ex. overthrowing Iran’s democracy and installing the dictatorial Shah, paying Saddam Hussein to use chemical weapons against the Iranians in a genocidal war, constantly threatening to attack them during the Bush II years). You sure as hell won’t be reading any of that in the state-run US media.

The mullahs will end up with their heads on sticks. The Americans will write a check to the most savage freak in the military who will murder the opposition, disappear tens of thousands of dissidents and erect a crushing junta that will be a focal point of scandals involving American misadventures in the region for years to come.

@Nabisco: Reza Aslan, last night on CNN:

There are very interesting things that are taking place right now. Some of my sources in Iran have told me that Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who is the head of the Assembly of Experts — the eighty-six member clerical body that decides who will be the next Supreme Leader, and is, by the way, the only group that is empowered to remove the Supreme Leader from power — that they have issued an emergency meeting in Qom.

Now, Anderson, I have to tell you, there’s only one reason for the Assembly of Experts to meet at this point, and that is to actually talk about what to do about Khamenei. So, this is what I’m saying, is that we’re talking about the very legitimacy, the very foundation of the Islamic Republic is up in the air right now. It’s hard to say what this is going to go.

Great work, nojo!

TJ/I Fight the DJ is back. Still have some tinkering to do.

Daily Kos reports that the Iranian news agency has been Photoshopping pro Ahmajinedad crowds to make them look bigger.

@Serolf Divad:
Photoshop, the celebitard and dictator’s best friend.

Still, you’d have to admit that this, thus far, is a pretty weak response from a dictatorship.

One: they had an election in the first place. And not an election like the ones they have in, say, Burma or Cuba or North Korea, but one with an actual veneer of legitimacy.

Two: only eight killed? Shit. Kim Jong-il probably has twenty dissidents shot every time he yawns.

[Sidebar: if and when North Korea ever gets liberated (and that’s a word I use advisedly, given its imperialist, sense-of-superiority overtones and whatnot), there probably will be scenes from the gulags that will rival those in Bosnia in 1990s. Or perhaps even Nazi concentration camps.]

Point being: the fact that they had an election in the first place that was not automatically dismissed out of hand as being a farce is a sign of weakness in the power structure over there. They may have sensed, over the past years, that there is something inherently fragile in their system, and that overcooking the tyranny might cause the entire system to collapse.

@chicago bureau:

Well they are sitting on a demographic time bomb and they know it.



@mellbell: Is it wrong of me to wonder where he got that suit?

@Original Andrew: Didn’t Prez Hope reference the US involvement in the coup that brought the shah back to the peacock throne in the Cairo speech?

@chicago bureau: The worst is the systemic starvation of the population in N Korea. There was an advocacy project that worked to get cheap, small video cameras into N Korea. The images they returned was of pandemic near-starvation with the entire country apparently running about 600 calories a day beneath the minimum to maintain any kind of normal weight. In effect, all of N Korea is a concentration camp.

@Nabisco: I’m still not convinced.

Presumption, not prediction: Khamenei is backed by the Revolutionary Guard (for now…) and tie goes to the guns. And the presumption itself is for the purpose of pointing out that whatever happens, this isn’t going away. Something fundamental has shifted. We may see exciting results this week, but if not, we’ll still be seeing consequences a year from now. The population is still young, and the economy is still in the shitter.

@blogenfreude: This is why I smell transformation, rather than either revolution or civil war. Transformation can still suck of course; think about what it did to FM radio!

@FlyingChainSaw: True dat. A sad fact however is that most of the HR advocates working the Tumen river gig are as obsessively passionate about the cause as the average Paultard was during the height of the Blimp. I guess you can only parry crazy with more crazy.

@Nabisco: Oh, yes. You ever spent much time in China? The most abused minister of the most obscure directorate will quote Mao and tell you where in town he stayed, etc. My head!

@chicago bureau: Iran became a dictatorship Friday night.

Not that it was a glorious democracy before, and not that the 2005 election itself was free of well-grounded suspicion, but it was what it was, and there was a grudging acceptance of it. The Supreme Leader held the decisive power, but the elected president had authority to run the economy.

Within limits imposed by the Guardian Council, of course — they were the Party of No the last time a “reformist” president was in office, and they were vetoing decisions right and left, as is their prerogative.

People expected an honest election. They expected the rulers to abide by the terms of Iran’s convoluted constitution. That’s the “legitimacy” that’s now lost, that’s why folks started calling this a coup very quickly.

And while “only eight killed” may not rank in the Dictator League standings, the rulers are still trying to maintain the narrative that what we’re seeing are football hooligans after a crushing loss. I would submit that a low body count is the only way they’re going to survive this alive, never mind in power — if the martyrs start piling up, all bets are off.

@Benedick: Barry has mentioned the CIA coup more than once, which is stunning for somebody in his office. But he hasn’t mentioned the events leading up to the revolution, which is probably more than the American political regime can handle.

@blogenfreude: There have been rumors/reports all week that Rafsanjani is counting votes in Qom. And the Assembly of Experts indeed has the formal authority to toss out Khamenei on his arse.

But I can’t help thinking we’re in a situation where the response would be, “How many legions has the Pope?” Khamenei controls the Republican Guard — or it may be the Republican Guard controls him. If you’re going to exercise that formal authority, you’ll want to make sure in advance that the gentleman holding the Kalashnikov over there assents.

nojo: I think you and I are on the same wavelength here. I said “there is something inherently fragile in their system, and… overcooking the tyranny might cause the entire system to collapse.” You said “a low body count is the only way they’re going to survive this alive, never mind in power — if the martyrs start piling up, all bets are off.”

(You’ve said it better than I did, though. Bastard.)

Anywho: the parallels to Tiananmen Square are striking. At the beginning of that uprising, there were rumblings of support from persons within the government, before the brutal crushing of the revolt. You’re seeing some of that here, too. And we all suspect that a vicious blowback is coming. The only difference, maybe, is that the media is not completely on lockdown within Iran — the state media control is not nearly as strong as it is in China.

@chicago bureau: You’ve said it better than I did, though. Bastard.

Well, being freelance with little hackwork to distract me right now, I have more time to contemplate bon mots. Plus my neighbor has Kurdish family in the region, so I’m getting a lot of practice polishing my talking points.

Everyone (including me) has raised the spectre of Tiananmen; there’s also Prague Spring, and just now I heard Burma enter the comparative conversation — all of which come to the same bad end, which everyone legitimately fears.

One important difference, however: the relative freedom of the election prior to the theft, and the hopes of a lot of people who voted that day. This isn’t some student-led revolt that sprang out of nowhere — this was a crime committed in plain sight, followed by more crimes the past few days.

None of us here (again including me) are experts in Iranian politics and history, but the emotions of the moment are very easy to understand: Once people have died in your cause, you don’t back down. As I’ve been saying to the neighbor (and here), I don’t know what the operative number is, but there is a tipping point beyond forgiveness and peaceful resolution.

These people were happy — joyful — last Friday. It really pains me to contemplate where this is heading.

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