Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran on the Precipice

Iranian students have been sending out messages that if President Obama goes along with the election results, their efforts are doomed.

What will President Obama do? If he does nothing, the Iranian efforts to obtain an accurate election tally go for naught and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad solidifies his grip on power. The failure to act will be reminiscent of President George HW Bush who did nothing while the Chinese government cracked down on democracy protesters in Tienanmen Square just over 20 years ago.

Just as the tank man stood up against a column of Chinese tanks and held the world spellbound, but which went for naught because the world didn't act upon that man's courage, Iranians are standing up against Ahmadinejad in ways large and small (via Rhetorican):

I doubt that most people anywhere in the world would have the courage to do what these people are doing. I don't know if I would. I probably wouldn't. But I recognize that kind of courage when I see it and do what I must to keep it from being forgotten.

That's why the world's reaction ever since Tienanmen Square has been so reprehensible. The world never fully appreciated that kind of courage and did what it must to see that his actions were fulfilled. Instead, we've seen the world bend over backwards so that the regime in Beijing could erase the memory of that fateful encounter. It continues to try and send it down the memory hole.

Preserving the memory isn't sufficient. Standing up alongside a legitimate democracy movement such as the one that was crushed in Tienanmen Square is needed, but in Iran, there's no such similar group to rally around; Mousavi is yet another handpicked successor for the mullahs, and it appears that Ahmadinejad had his own plans that went beyond what the mullahs had in mind.

Still, there is enough reason to support the opposition groups that are arrayed against Ahmadinejad to give them the support they need to thwart Ahmadinejad's efforts.

Jim at Gateway Pundit has much more video.

I have no doubt that there's real support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The mullahs wouldn't have favored him if he didn't have that kind of support. He favors the Islamist regime, engages in hypernationalism and has proffered a robust military buildup along with spreading the wealth among the poor outlying regions beyond Tehran. Building Iran's nuclear capabilities is a matter of national pride, and standing up against the United States always wins bonus points.

Ahmadinejad is doing all he can to retain power, by thwarting opposition groups from meeting and holding demonstrations and arresting opposition leaders.

Meanwhile, Bush derangement syndrome is alive and well on the left, including Andrew Sullivan, whose coverage has been quite exceptional, but gets serious demerits for throwing out the claim that Ahmadinejad is displaying Rovian tactics. Are you kidding me? Comparing a genocidal minded thug to a political adviser? That's beyond the pale, but par for the course with Sullivan. Perhaps Sullivan should go back trying to find Trig Palin's birth certificate or some other such idiocy, because he clearly is unserious when it comes to understanding just what Ahmadinejad is all about.

Twitter and other similar services remain a key way for obtaining information, although there are quite a few rumors that are ongoing. Right now, there's reports that Mousavi is at a major demonstration in Tehran, which would be his first public appearance since Friday. The regime is trying to paint the protesters as seditious and full of criminal elements.
The Interior Ministry is calling the protesters "seditious elements," upping the rhetoric from yesterday, when Tehran's deputy police chief said some of the protesters "have criminal records."
At the same time, Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced that they will look into claims of election fraud, which is a reversal from his earlier stance, which showed support for Ahmadinejad. It looks like he wasn't expecting the kind of outpouring of anger and spontaneous demonstrations erupting all over the country.

The mullahs and Ahmadinejad miscalculated, but they may be able to contain the situation, depending on how the players react.

Stay tuned.

Speaking of Khamenei's statements on the election, it appears that his one backing Ahmadinejad and the electoral results before the figures were tabulated appears to have inconsistencies that suggest that they weren't written by him at all.
A detailed study of Mr. Khamenei's text reveals a number of anomalies. It is longer than his usual statements and full of expressions that he has never used before. The praise he showers on Mr. Ahmadinejad is simply too much. The question arises: Did someone use the supreme leader as a rubber stamp for a text written by Mr. Ahmadinejad himself? With Mr. Khamenei's intervention, Mr. Ahmadinejad's three defeated rivals are unlikely to contest the results of the election beyond lodging formal protests to the Council of the Guardians, a 12-mullah body that has the legal duty of endorsing the final results.

Buoyed by his victory, Mr. Ahmadinejad has already served notice that he intends to pursue his radical policies with even greater vigor. At yesterday's rally, he promised to pass a law enabling him to bring "the godfathers of corruption" to justice. His entourage insists that former Presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami, and former parliament Speaker Nateq Nouri, all midranking mullahs, may be among the first to fall in a massive purge of the ruling elite.

It is too early to guess whether these dignitaries would march to the metaphorical gallows without a fight. Even if they fight, they are unlikely to win. Nevertheless, Messrs. Rafsanjani, Khatami and other targeted mullahs could influence others who wish to prevent a complete seizure of power by Mr. Ahmadinejad's military-security clique, which is determined to replace the Shiite clergy as the nation's ruling elite. Nor is it at all certain that Supreme Leader Khamenei would stand by and watch his power eroded by a rising elite of radicals.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also plans to seize the assets of hundreds of mullahs and their business associates for redistribution among the poor. In his speech at his victory rally yesterday he promised to "dismantle the network of corruption," and vowed never to negotiate about Iran's nuclear program with any foreign power: "That file is shut, forever," he said.
It's looking increasingly like Ahmadinejad sought to obtain power for himself, and the mullahs are along for the ride and they're not exactly in a position to stop Ahmadinejad since he's got the backing of the military and intel services.

Mousavi has reportedly called off a major demonstration because he got word that the police and intel services have gotten the authority to open fire on protesters with deadly force. I suspect that Ahmadinejad's thugs are busy spreading disinformation to undermine Mousavi and the opposition's ability to protest and a credible threat of deadly force reinforces that belief, given that there have already been reports of anywhere from 50-100 dead and hundreds wounded in clashes thus far.

More on the protests here. The key grafs - not the increased violence and the appearance of Ahmadinejad's thugs wielding machetes, but this:
I attended the Vali Asr demonstration of support for Dr. Ahmadinejad yesterday afternoon. The turnout was impressive, mostly families and obviously religious types (called "momen" in Farsi). Many asked that I take their pictures and the mood was festive, defiant. They were chanting, but it is critical to note that only some of the chants were against Mousavi. Almost all were directed against Rafsanjani. He is seen as the big threat. This election and its aftermath is turning out to be the climax of an outstanding feud between Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad in alliance with the Supreme Leader, Khamanei. What will be interesting is to see what Rafsanjani does next. He is regularly described as the "power behind the power," the man with real pull in Iran. What will he do?

The man who almost certainly won the presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, while known to be a man who does not back down (I know this directly from a man who worked with him directly on the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution), is also likely, like former president Mohammed Khatami, to try (at least at first) to calm the situation down, which is what we have already seen him do. This means that the movement and action out in the streets thus far lacks leadership. [Editor's Note: An organized protest called by Mousavi for 4 p.m. Monday in Tehran, 7:30 a.m. Eastern time, was apparently postponed. Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei has told Mousavi to pursue his challenge to the election results through legal means. Khamanei's words have been broadcast on state radio.
Mousavi's own restraint is working against him and his supporters maintaining pressure on the regime. Then again, that could be the point since Mousavi doesn't want to upset the apple cart so much as make sure he does his part in sustaining the regime.

AP photographer reports that shots fired at protesters have killed at least one person.
Shots were fired Monday at a rally by pro-reform presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, apparently by pro-government militia.

An Associated Press photographer saw one person shot dead and several others who appeared to be seriously wounded in Tehran's Azadi Square. The shooting came from a compound for volunteer militia linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard.

"There has been sporadic shooting out there ... I can see people running here," added a reporter of Iran's English-language Press TV.
Story continues below ↓advertisement | your ad here

More than 100,000 Mousavi backers had defied an Interior Ministry ban to cheer their leader in his first public appearance since elections he claims were marred by fraud. The government says President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election with 63 percent of the vote.
More video showing Ahmadinejad's thugs attacking protesters and people congregating on the streets:

Winston is translating events in Iran on the fly via Twitter.

Here's something that we also need to keep in mind. Nearly everyone is focused on events in Tehran, which is where the media and the bulk of the demonstrations are being covered.

What's happening in the rest of the country. Who's doing what? Is there any activity among or between the IRGC or the regular Army? That might give a better idea about whether this has legs, and whether the IRGC or Army may take action to decide matters. Or, are they letting events on the streets of Tehran dictate what will happen next. Right now, that appears to be the case, as the Basijl (the IRGC paramilitary) is busy engaging in its usual thuggery.

Winston points out there are demonstrations taking place elsewhere in the country, so the anti-Ahmadinejad groups appear to have a far wider reach than simply Tehran.

Meanwhile, others are wondering where the Obama Administration is to make a statement on the Iranian elections and what the US can and will do. It's a good question. Here's what I'd do:

Supporting the protesters right to carry out peaceful demonstrations isn't asking too much. Asking for the government to show restraint against attacking unarmed demonstrators is appropriate without showing that the Administration backs the protesters.

There are things that can be said short of open support of the protesters, giving the Administration the flexibility to act based on events as they unfold literally by the minute. The concern about saying anything has frozen the Administration into silence after that initial flurry of ill-begotten comments about working with the Ahmadinejad government.

For an Administration that is supposed to have a way with words, their silence is deafening.

Heck, you can get Press Secretary Robert Gibbs to come up to the podium to make a statement talking about the US respect for human rights and the free and fair elections and that the Iranian response to demonstrations over questions with violence undermines their legitimacy. It's a statement of fact, but by phrasing it that way, it leaves the door open to the fact that Ahmadinejad could have indeed been the winner, Mousavi could have been the winner, and still castigates the regime for the violent crackdown against protesters who see the regime's actions since the election results announcements as illegitimate. After all, Ahmadinejad claims that the elections were free and fair, so expressing a hope that Iran had free and fair elections is not controversial, but it does support the protesters who believe it not to be the case.

Add to that a statement that we support liberty and freedom against all unjust regimes around the world.

Taken together, it minimizes the possibility of being seen as meddling in the internal affairs of Iran, which could undermine the democracy movement there, but provides enough support to give them the strength to see things through in the face of an increasingly desperate Ahmadinejad.

Sky News has a running Twitter update showing news as it happens from around Iran.

Health care is in crisis, but this is merely a situation. The State Department issued a tepid statement, but no word from the White House, which didn't even bother to convene a meeting on the situation. Priorities, I guess.

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