Sunday, June 21, 2009

Some Father's Day Ruminations on Iran

1. I have no real understanding of Iranian culture and history, but it seems to me that the current regime is digging itself a hole by insisting on a greater legitimacy with the middle and educated classes than it has. It has become, in effect, the Holy Roman Empire for the 21st Century. If there is to be an Islamic Reformation, or even an Islamic Renaissance, it may well begin in Tehran in 2009.

Update 6/22: I should note that the "Islamic Reformation" in this case appears to be entirely urban and mostly young. As far as I can tell from what I read and hear the rural population of Iran still supports the mullahs; the unrest is in the cities. Bill Lind discusses how the split between urban and rural interests was a fairly common feature of the pre-Westphalian state.2. A real question is to what degree the armed forces will support the mullahs with armed force. Rob Farley has a terrific discussion of the issue here in the context of the aniversary of Tianenmen Square. His money graf reads:
"The thing is, Tank Commander is far more dangerous than Tank Man. Tank Man can simply be shot; most seem to believe that Tank Man was later executed, far out of sight of the international media. The regime survives if Tank Man dies, even if the death of Tank Man isn't the optimal outcome. The regime dies, however, if Tank Commander refuses to run over Tank Man."
3. For all the lying of the Right, any attempt by an American government to intervene seems likely to produce the opposite of the intended effect.


  1. To all those dads out there, I wish you/us all the best.

    I think the comparison with China in 1989 is apt. I too claim to know nothing about Iran, but perhaps I do know something about revolutions having lived through one in 1989 in Berlin.

    What brought about the collapse of the Communist state in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) imo was not the lack of tank commanders willing to run over "tank men", but the lack of tank unit commanders who were willing to order their tanks in to put down the uprising at all. The Chinese in 1989 did not lack either, whereas the GDR lacked the unit commanders but not the actual tank commanders willing to shoot into the crowds. I know this since I talked to some of those "tank commanders" in the months after 9 November 1989.

    Which brings us to Iran. They have no shortage of any three. Had the GDR had the unit commanders then the next question would have been what to do about the military, since they had identified those elements considered trustworthy and those not. If you use violence to put down the crowds then you have to be willing to chance the fact that this may divide your military, with some of the troops/commanders even willing to join the revolt. Then of course we get into what can be a very bloody uprising. The leaders in the GDR were unwilling to take this step, whereas those in China were operating on much firmer ground.

    Something tells me that Iran in 2009 fits somewhere in between the GDR of 1989 and China of 1989. Still I suspect the "tank men" and women, will decide that the time is not yet ripe, or move the revolt in another, less confrontational direction, but then we´re talking about a movement, and not an organized one at that. . . should they suddenly find a leader. . .

  2. I read a NYT article today that went pretty in depth on Iran, written by their main Iranian affairs correspondent (who isn't Iranian and had just been kicked out of the country).

    This guy's take is that the rebellion is serious and the government (led by Khatami (sp?)) is splintering. His proof of the latter statement is that he claims that members of families of high government officials are on the lists to be arrested.

    The other key fact in this journalist's opinion is that individual police and military units feel considerable sympathy towards the students and women who make up the rebellion and are not willing to move against them. In fact the journalist speculated that some units would join the rebellion and wondered if enough of them would join to tip the balance.

    I have no idea of whether the journalist is accurate but the NYT is usually pretty good with stories of this type.

  3. Pluto: My understanding is that the mullahs remembered their lessons from 1979, when the Shah's army started to refuse to shoot down the islamic students and the regime succumbed. Most of the dirty work at the Tehran crossroads has been done by the Revolutionary Guards and the Basjis, who seem to show little sign of sympathy with the demonstrators. As long as the level of violence they can offer is enough to do the job, I suspect that the current regime will leave the Army in its barracks. However, if the demonstrations and resistance grow to the point where real armed force is needed - tank commanders and tank units both - then the loyalties of the Army become a factor.