Another great moment in compassion from Ahmadinejad's cronies:
A close aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested that Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a reformist critic of the president, appeared so gaunt during his televised confession this month because he himself had decided to take off some weight.
"It's natural that when someone has become fat, in prison he understands that his fatness harmed his body and spirit," said Ali Akbar Javanfekr (left)."So maybe Mr. Abtahi took advantage of this opportunity to lose weight."
Not that I claim to really understand the forces at play in Iranian politics, but the "let-them-eat-cake" arrogance displayed by Ahmadinejad and his supporters (comparing opposition supporters to soccer fans, for instance) is confusing. Having dragged the Islamic Republic into the worst crisis of legitimacy in its history, does Ahmadinejad really have reason to feel cocky?
Given the apparent degree of frustration with Ahmadinejad among members of the clerical elite, do the Ahmadinejad loyalists really gain by mocking a prominent cleric, even a reformist one, like this?
So much for hopes that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would by chastened by the events of the last few months:
"A new period has begun," he told the Association of Basiji Scholars at a meeting in Mashhad last Thursday, according to a report by the news website Farda News.
"Let me take the oath of office, and wait for the government to begin its work," he told the Basiji members, who are affiliated with the militiamen clubbing demonstrators in the streets.
"Then, we'll seize them by their collars and stick their heads to the ceiling," he said.
Iran watchers are anxiously anticipating Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's upcoming prayer service at Tehran University. Some expect, or hope, the former Iranian president will come out strongly in support of opposition candidate Mir Hossain Mousavi, who has said he will attend along with former President Mohammad Khatami.
Kayhan, the mouthpiece for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has warned Rafsanjani to "avoid supporting the hooligans" -- meaning the opposition. We'll see what happens, but I'm skeptical that Rafsanjani will say anything too daring. After all, the man couldn't bring himself to stick his neck out when people were taking to the streets of Tehran in the tens of thousands. Why should he do so now, when it looks like the protestors, brave as they are, have been beaten into submission?
One interpretation of the former president's motives, a version of which Geneive Abdo explains here, is that this is all about Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He's only out for No. 1, and is using the reformers to get a leg up on Khamenei. Or, he's simply in a fight for survival -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has all but accused him of gross corruption and is clearly out to get him and his family -- and is hedging his bets. Either way, it's clear he's no reformist himself.
But this could be a defining moment for Rafsanjani. As Carnegie Endowment analyst Karim Sadjadpour puts it, "This Friday is probably the most important speech of his career. He's nearly 75 years old, and his legacy has always been important to him. If he complains about personal slights and electoral improprieties but submits to the will of the Leader 'for the sake of the 'glorious revolution', history will remember him not only as a crook but also a coward. I've learned to have low expectations of the courage and integrity of Iranian officials, and hope that I'll be pleasantly surprised."
One other interesting aspect of Rafsanjani's speech will be how the crowd behaves. Mousavi supporters are planning to turn out in large numbers, but so are Ahmadinejad's people -- and it could get ugly. These are not very nice people.
UPDATE: It's not completely clear from this Reuters account just how assertive Rafsanjani was, but it does look like he called for called for those arrested to be released, called the current situation a "crisis," and said that many Iranians had doubts about the election's validity.
"Today, we are living bitter conditions due to what happened after the announcement of the election result," he said. "All of us have suffered. We need unity more than anytime else."
The LA Times' Barzou Daraghi says that Rafsanjani criticized the Guardian Council, the 12-member body that supervised the elections. But the bottom line seems to be this: "Rafsanjani's long-awaited sermon neither poured water on the ongoing fire of protests or added fuel to the dispute within the ruling establishment and Iranian society over the election results." Developing...
"Death to America" and "death to Israel" chants may be a widespread feature of politics in the Middle East, but Iran's leaders seem unique in the degree to which they detest the British. This week Ayatollah Khamenei described Britain as the "most evil" of the Western nations interfering in Iran's internal affairs. It does seem a little odd that Khamenei should find Britain -- a country with which the regime does have some (albeit strained) diplomatic relations -- more "evil" than Israel and the United States, two countries where actually attacking Iran has recently been a topic of mainstream public debate.
But Iranian Anglophilia is nothing new. Ali Ansari gives some needed background in the Times:
Perceptions of Britain as the “wily fox” run deep in the Iranian political class - some are even convinced that American foreign policy is dictated by Whitehall - and, if this is tinged with admiration, it nonetheless betrays a profound anxiety about the role of Britain in modern Iranian history.
Britain, or more accurately England, has enjoyed relations with Iran stretching back to the beginning of the 17th century, longer than those it has with many European states. But formal diplomatic relations were not established until the beginning of the 19th century when Britain sought to secure Iranian friendship against the ambitions of Napoleonic France and, later, Tsarist Russia, in defence of British India.
These relations crystallised at a time when Iranian power was in decline and the British Empire was in the ascendant, so it was never a relationship of equals. The Iranians felt this loss of power acutely.
Iranian politicians often struggled to balance the demands of Russia and Britain as the two imperial powers struggled for dominance in the region. Russia was always the more brutal of the two, but Britain left deeper political scars. Quite why this should be so is a matter of some debate - but the meddling of the British Imperial Bank of Persia, and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company played a part. It was the nationalisation of the oil company in 1951 that led ultimately to the Anglo-American coup against the nationalist Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. This last event, in particular, has left a deep impression among Iranians, although its exploitation by the Government in recent years has been opportunistic.
That is not to say that those who push this anti-British agenda do not believe in it. President Ahmadinejad's world-view, largely supported by the Supreme Leader, is deeply antithetical and suspicious of the West. But Britain, not America - whoever is in the White House - has been the target of their wrath.
An interesting report on EurasiaNet.org, written without a byline, alleges that former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is making headway in his attempt to mount a clerical challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:
A source familiar with the thinking of decision-makers in state agencies that have strong ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there is a sense among hardliners that a shoe is about to drop. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- Iran’s savviest political operator and an arch-enemy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s -- has kept out of the public spotlight since the rigged June 12 presidential election triggered the political crisis. The widespread belief is that Rafsanjani has been in the holy city of Qom, working to assemble a religious and political coalition to topple the supreme leader and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"There is great apprehension among people in the supreme leader’s [camp] about what Rafsanjani may pull," said a source in Tehran who is familiar with hardliner thinking. "They [the supreme leader and his supporters] are much more concerned about Rafsanjani than the mass movement on the streets." [...]
A reformist website, Rooyeh, reported that Rafsanjani already had the support of nearly a majority of the Assembly of Experts, a body that constitutionally has the power to remove Ayatollah Khamenei. The report also indicated that Rafsanjani’s lobbying efforts were continuing to bring more clerics over to his side. Rafsanjani’s aim, the website added, is the establishment of a leadership council, comprising of three or more top religious leaders, to replace the institution of supreme leader. Shortly after it posted the report on Rafsanjani’s efforts to establish a new collective leadership, government officials pulled the plug on Rooyeh.
The article, if the sourcing is solid, builds on analysis by FP contributor Geneive Abdo, who writes:
Given the tools at Khamenei's disposal, it should be no surprise that during this past week there have been few clerics either permitted or bold enough to express their views on the present crisis. Nevertheless, some are likely working behind the scenes against Ahmadinejad. Clerics such as [dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali] Montazeri oppose the president not only for his repressive policies used against the Iranian people, but because he believes in ideas that theologians view as heretical -- such as the return of the hidden imam who will come to Earth after a world war in which Islam is victorious.
We'll have to see what happens on the street tomorrow and over the next few days, but I would be very surprised if Rafsanjani does pull the trigger at this point. The protests have died down, especially outside Tehran, and the organizers are being rounded up. As Steve Walt says, the security forces show little to no sign of breaking with the regime. Even Mohsen Rezai, one of the losing candidates and a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, is reportedly withdrawing his complaints about fraud. And keep in mind that most Iranians aren't getting their news from the Internet and Twitter -- they're watching state television that is doing its best to discredit Mousavi and his supporters. And there are signs that the regime is laying the groundwork now for Mousavi's arrest.
So it strikes me as highly unlikely that Rafsanjani would make his move now, with all the momentum seemingly with the regime. He's nothing if not a canny political operator. Moreover, it's worth pointing out that plenty of clerics have opposed the concept of a supreme leader and velayat-e-faqih for a long time now, with little discernable consequence for Khamenei.
One interesting historical footnote. During the Iran-Iraq war, Mousavi and Montazeri were considered among the hardest of the hardliners, and Rafsanjani and Khamenei were considered pragmatists and allies. Now, Mousavi, Montazeri, and Rafsanjani are all seemingly on one side, with Khamenei on the other. But at least for the time being, it seems the supreme leader has the upper hand.
With euphoria about the magic of Twitter starting to wear off, analysis of Iran is turning toward what will actually happen to the regime.Two key questions are: 1) Will the security forces unflinchingly support the regime? and 2) When (if ever) will they shoot at demonstrators?
Unsurprisingly ahead in the first line of questioning, National Interest editor Nikolas Gvosdev wrote yesterday about what he has not heard out of Iran, essentially, information about the things that actually matter for revolution: police defections, army sympathies, behind-the-scenes talks, and economic impacts.
Protests are the energy behind any “color revolution” but what makes them successful in the end is when the security services say they will be neutral and key elites negotiate the terms of change—as happened in Georgia and Ukraine and Lebanon.
As Neil McFarquhar reported in the New York Times, very little has emerged so far about potential divisions in the security services. And, as FP blogger Stephen Walt wrote after reading the NYT article:
If the Basij, Revolutionary Guards, and other security elements remain willing to follow orders -- and that seems to be the case so far -- then Iran's current leaders will remain in charge.
Iran's military and theocratic leaders knew some time ago that regime survival could eventually depend on military control. AEI's Ali Alfoneh observed in a report from September, 2008 (via Andrew Sullivan) that Iran's leaders took explicit steps for "internal security" issues more than a year ago. Specifically, the elite Revolutionary Guards, tasked with protecting Iran's government, became more focused on internal deployments than external security. Additionally, the less-vetted but politically loyal Basij militiamen were increasingly integrated into normalized forces.
Assuming that security forces remain loyal and that protests continue, the next question is will confrontations turn even bloodier? Shadi Hamid observes that while Iran's crackdown on protesters has been vicious,
it has not reached the level of brutality that we've seen elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly in countries like Syria (1982) or Algeria (1991-2), where the opposition was literally massacred en masse or rounded up and put in desert concentration camps.
In the calculation of the current regime, Hamid concludes, the costs of such explicit violence still outweigh the alternatives.
A final point, however, is that as Iranian forces try to disband and discourage protests, the regime may not be able to dictate exactly how violent its enforcers get, even if it does not order them to open fire. Ohio State political scientist John Mueller argued in a relatively well-known article in International Security, "The Banality of Ethnic War" (.pdf), that mass violence in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia was less the result of "ancient hatreds" than was often previously alleged.
[Instead] the violence seems to have been the result of a situation in which common, opportunistic, sadistic, and often distinctly nonideological marauders were recruited and permitted free rein by political authorities.
Tasked with harming civilians, Mueller notes, formal security agents like those in the army and police often refuse, as they did in Yugoslavia, and it is paramilitary groups that do much of the damage.
Applying this to Iran, while joining the Basij may open some social and political doors (and not as many as the Revolutionary Guards), it may also be an outlet for the more violent and power-hungry types to feel important. Does anyone really think the regime ordered a sniper to shoot a nonthreatening unarmed girl? Or that it ordered other beatings to go as far as they have? The more Iran's current rulers rely on and arm paramilitary groups like the Basij, the less hierarchical and organized control they have over what happens on the streets. No matter what Obama says.
Another anonymous dispatch from Tehran:
22 June, 2009
There are two main areas in Tehran that are full of good bookstores:
the area around Tehran University and Enqelab Square and the Karimkhan Bridge – just down the street from Haft-e Tir Square. Enqelab has been the site of the biggest demonstrations and most violent protests since the elections; Haft-e Tir has also seen its share of action. The huge street battles that took place on Saturday that you saw on the news happened around Enqelab. At any rate, today I decided to speed up my book buying because if the situation keeps deteriorating here I won’t stick around; I headed down to Enqelab.
To say that there was an eerie calm on the street would be an understatement. People walked by the stores and carried out their daily business under the gaze of a massive security presence. Every block on Azadi Street had dozens of baton-wielding police officers standing alongside the road, some twiddling their thumbs, others
staring you down, others staring off into space. The side streets
around Azadi were full of Basiji militiamen wearing helmets and
holding batons. Inside the stores business had obviously slowed down and there was a clear reluctance by some to talk about what’s going on. Perhaps they thought I was a journalist:
“Anything going on here today?”
"It was pretty bad a couple days ago, though, huh?”
“Yeah. You were here?”
“No. I saw pictures.”
“It was bad.”
And that was it; nothing more from this man. I thanked him and left. The few other places that I stopped by weren’t much better. One man told me that he was planning on closing at 1:00pm today, like he had the past two days.
“It was chaos a couple days ago,” he said.
“Is there going to be something today?”
“Yeah, now at Firdousi Square and they just announced Haft-e Tir.”
One of the random emails that I’ve been receiving in the past four or five days said that everyday there will be a protest at Enqelab at 5:00pm. Perhaps that’s why the police presence was so heavy. I don’t know who sends these emails and who else receives them.
Perhaps one of you is sending them? They come from cryptic email addresses with names like “Free Iran”, “Payandeh Iran” (Iran Forever), “A Friend”. They contain announcements that apparently come from Mousavi or Karroubi, information about where demonstrations are being held, how to access the web via proxies and filter breakers (none of which work anymore, by the way), how to treat gunshot wounds, why you should bring cigarettes with you to protests as a means to fight the effects of tear gas and other things. Where and who these come from remains a mystery to me.
It was nearly 5:00 when I left and still no signs of anything on the
street. There were so many police and militia men standing around that one would have to be rather stupid to stage a protest there.
Leaving Enqelab I got into a shared taxi going towards the Sayyed
Khandan Bridge, where I get another one to go further north where I’m staying. The taxi took off making its way through streets that started crowding up just before rush hour. Near the Karimkhan Bridge traffic came to a total standstill. I asked the driver what was going on, he didn’t know. The other passengers were just as clueless or were acting they didn’t know like I was. The helicopter circling above our heads made it impossible to think that it was simply bad traffic or a car accident. As we inched forward, I, like many of the other passengers in the taxis around us, got out and started walking towards the square. Hopefully there I could catch another taxi and go up to Sayyed Khandan. I was maybe a half mile away from the Square when I used a pedestrian bridge to cross the street and hopefully get a glance at what was going on further ahead. You could see that people had gathered, but that was it. You needed to get closer if you wanted to see what was happening.
It was at that moment when I heard men chanting…screaming “Ma’ sha’ Allah! Hizbollah! Ma’ sha’ Allah! Hizbollah!” (What God wants! The party of God!). I turned around and saw maybe 40 men wearing
camouflage vests, helmets and carrying batons heading towards Haft-e Tir, ostensibly coming from the direction of Enqelab or Valiasr
I hurried down the steps and made my way forward, gaining another few blocks when people starting screaming and running back towards my direction. I asked what happened and in response received “Run! Go! Run, Run! They’re beating people!” I looked at the street and saw a young man trying to flee from two older, much bigger men who had grabbed him by the neck and were screaming at him to stop moving. The young man kept trying to run away but the other two wouldn’t give. It was now apparent that they were plainclothes police or part of some other security apparatus. They were both wearing earpieces and had revolvers at their side. One started kicking the man, who by now had his shirt ripped off. He kicked him in his stomach and he keeled over. The crowds kept running back, there was more screaming. I ducked into a bookstore and the owners shut the door and pulled down the metal gate down. Students were walking back, all dressed in black and telling others standing on the sidewalk and the street to go to the university. They were going to take their mourning there; this was one day after a young woman was killed.
About a half an hour later I left the store and made my way to Haft-e
Tir Square. The traffic and slowly started to make its way down the street and taxis were picking people up. I hopped into one heading in my direction and looked at the massive security presence at the
square. There were dozens of Basij in the square itself, and probably
hundreds on the streets. Trucks full of men in camouflage, all with
batons standing around the square, some stopping cars. The riot police in full body armor and armed where stationed along the other side of the street. The woman in the back of the taxi asked if the driver or I had seen what just happened. Did they beat people? Did you see the man being pounded by the police? Did the basijis start beating people? Will there be a strike tomorrow? The woman was talking and taking pictures on her phone at the same time.
I looked back at her, “Be careful with that! They’ll kill us all if
they see you.”
I turned my head around and saw that our car had been stopped. There was a Basiji in front of us screamed at us to stop taking pictures. He opened the front passenger door where I was sitting and started screaming at me, “What are you taking pictures of! Get out of the car! What’s in your bag!?! Get out!” I remained seated. A second later someone else had opened the back door and screamed the same questions at the passengers seated in the back. “It was the woman! That woman!” one of them said. They pulled her out of the car. I still didn’t get up. The man who had opened my door looked the other way for a split second and I pulled by camera out of my bag and tossed it under the seat. I didn’t take any pictures, but I didn’t want to deal with questions and I don’t think that my excuse of being an American student studying in Iran was going to fly over so well with these people. They pulled the woman over to the sidewalk and the driver sped off. “Oh God! She’s going to be stuck there until night…God knows what they’re going to do to her.”
That's all for now. There was a call for a strike today, but I don't
think it happened, though I have no idea since the media here would
never talk about it and most other news outlets have been scrambled or blocked. Apparently there is also a protest planned for tomorrow in front of the Guardian Council's building. Again - I don't know if it's true. I don't even know who told me as it came from one of those emails. The sense that I get from people about what is going on now and where, when and how this will all end can generally be summed with the sentence "I don't know."
Call me a cynic, but I somehow doubt most of the experts and pundits on the other side of the Atlantic have a much better sense of what's going to happen.
The blog Art We Love has a great post on Mir Hossein Mousavi's art career, as well as that of his (better known in this respect) wife Zahra Rahnavard:
A believer that art plays a secondary role to political engagement, Mousavi once wrote that “the paint brush will never take the place of the communal struggle for freedom. It must be said that the expressive work of any painter or artist will not minimize the need to perform his social responsibilities. Yet it is within the scope of these responsibilities that his art can provide a vision for a way of living in an alternative future.” A press release for one of Mousavi's exhibitions in Tehran described his work as an "exploration in designs, motifs and a kind of dreamlike intuition of lines, volumes and ascending forms on the context of an Oriental and poetic aesthetic.... The paintings have both the touch of primordial memories and look upon modern milieus and innovative experiences."
(Hat tip: Marginal Revolution)
Trust The Nation's "Deadline Poet" Calvin Trillin to find it:
The Private Thoughts of a TV Anchor as He Observes the Iranian Election
A president like Moussavi
Would fill me to the brim with glee:
For anchors not completely lame,
It's easy to pronounce his name.
But this was not to be. Oh, God--
I'm stuck with Ahmadinejad.
In a surprising capitulation to Iranian tyranny, Newsweek (who recently redesigned the interior of the magazine) boldly and officially renamed their magazine NewsAyatollahs, starting with the cover of the June 29th issue.
With crafty image editing, Dernavich decides to rename several magazines in a similar fashion and to create his own. The images are a must see. My favorite is Ayatollahs Illustrated.
As the world watches Iran, one unexpected country is paying particularly acute attention: Uganda. That country's oil-exporting future lies -- for now at least -- in the hands of whoever sits in power in Tehran.
The country's President Yoweri Museveni recently concluded talks with Iran's President Mahmood Ahmadinejad for the construction of an oil refinery in the East African country. At least some of the funding for the refinery will come from Iran (reports vary on how much -- for example here and here). Tehran also promised to instruct Ugandans at its University of Petroleum Studies and invest throughout the oil pumping chain.
Uganda is a newcomer to the world of oil export. Its resources, now estimated at 2 billion barrells (Iran, by comparison, has reserves of about 130 billion), are just now beginning to come online. The deal with Iran is aimed at making the country's oil industry self-sufficient and value added; unlike other exporters on the continent such as Nigeria, crude oil will be refined in country and sent as a finished product for export. In theory, that could save the country some money -- and the need to ironically re-import its own gasoline. But some wonder if the refinery, at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion, will really be cost effective for a country looking to pump out just 100,000 barrels per day.
Either way, it's somewhat disconcerting to imagine Uganda following in Iran's path as an energy giant. The behemoth of oil revenues failed to improve the country's lot last year; and instead, economic calamity set in. If Uganda looks to that example, Iran's election outcome isn't the only gamble in the country's future.
I'm beginning to think that the real Obama effect is the process by which any issue, international or domestic, comes to be discussed primarily in terms of how it relates to the president.
I'm glad Obama publicly stated his support for the protesters in Iran today. It was the right thing to do. But I don't really anticipate either action significantly changing the dynamic of the situation in Iran. It's not as if the demonstrators were waiting for Obama to tell them they are "on the right side of history.” And the Iranian government obviously doesn't really care much about winning Obama's approval.
When Fox News's Major Garett asked Obama "What took you so long?", I had to wonder what he (or John McCain) thinks would have transpired differently if Obama had made a similarly strong-worded statement a week ago.
I haven't yet seen any indication that the Iranian opposition really wants Obama to say more. Mousavi's international spokesman may have criticized Obama in an interview with FP last week for comparing Mousavi to Ahmadinejad, but he never said that more vigorous support would be welcome, despite how some others have characterized the statement.
The heads of a number of states, including France, Germany, and Canada, have already publicly questioned the elections results and voiced support for the protesters, but I haven't seen any examples of opposition leaders or protesters mentioning this support.
On the other hand, the argument of Obama's defenders that stronger support would imperil the protesters seems a little unconvincing as well. Iran's leaders have never lacked for pretexts under which to blame foreign meddling for internal dissent. The government was blaming the U.S. for interfering in this election before Obama had said a word. I'm not sure I understand why they're any more or less likely to crack down or make concessions based on what the U.S. president says.
The fact of the matter is that the United States doesn't have a whole lot of diplomatic leverage or ability to influence what's going on in Iraq right now. The Obama administration still has to face the question of whether the likely fraudulence of Ahmadinejad's victory should change the approach to nuclear negotiations, but that seems like a question that can be addressed down the road. This latest round of the engagement vs. confrontation debate is becoming becomign increasingly tiresome and less pertinent to events outside the beltway.
(For the record, inviting Iranian diplomats to a White House Fourth of July party is a terrible idea. The White House might not be able to talk the regime out of abusing their own people, but that doesn't mean they should have them over for barbecue.)
From the scattered, fragmented reports coming out of Tehran today, it seems the Iranian regime was successfully able to prevent demonstrators from assembling en masse. Riot police, like the ones shown above (who may also be Rrevolutionary Guards in riot gear) beat back or tear-gassed the protestors in the streets. In some cases, like that of this woman shown here (warning: graphic), demonstrators were shot in cold blood. It looked a lot like chaos.
U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement calling on the Iranian government to "stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people."
"Martin Luther King once said," he continued, "'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."
It's hard to tell who has the upper hand, but it seems like there are still plenty of people willing to beat, maim, even kill their fellow Iranians. That's bad news for the good guys. Roger Cohen, the New York Times columnist who's in Tehran, tells of a police commander who pleaded with demonstrators to go home because, "I have children, I have a wife, I don’t want to beat people." From what I can glean from Twitter and various reporting, the regular police aren't quite as eager to beat heads, in contrast with the hard-line Revolutionary Guard and basij militiamen. If we start seeing cracks in those forces, or the regular army, then the regime will really be in trouble. But it will take sustained pressure -- more demonstrations, strikes, and smart politics -- to get there.
As for Mir Hossain Mousavi, the unlikely leader of this uprising, he has reportedly declared his readiness to become a martyr and sent a letter to the Guardian Council demanding a new election. In it, he sounds reluctant to admit that he's past the point of achieving redress through the system. All he seeks, he says, is the restoration of the Islamic Republic -- not its destruction. That makes sense for political reasons, since he needs as broad a coalition as possible and can't afford to alienate potential conservative supporters. He's still hoping to attract the support of the clergy, who could lend his movement enormous weight.
But the clear implication of Mousavi's actions is that he no longer sees the supreme leader as the legitimate, unquestioned ruler of Iran. I'm sure an increasing number of Iranians feel the same way, even if the regime ultimately beats them into submission as we watch helplessly, glued to our monitors. And that will spell the end of the Islamic Republic in the long run.
Carnegie Endowment Iran analyst Karim Sadjadpour sends along an update to his Q&A with CFR:
Q. In light of Khamenei's firm speech Friday indicating he was not going to support a new election, what do you think will happen? Do you think the opposition will have to retreat?
First, it was expected that Khamenei's first response would be very firm, that's his modus operandi as a despot: Never compromise in the face of pressure, it only projects weakness and invites more pressure.
Khamenei is [a] shrewder politician than Ahmadinjedad. Whereas Ahmadinejad has a penchant for alienating even hardliners, Khamenei reached out and for now seemingly co-opted some of those that seemed to be previously be sitting on the fence, namely Speaker of the [P]arliament Ali Larijani and Mohsen Rezai, both of whom are tremendous opportunists.
The weight of the world now rests on the shoulders of Mir Hossein Mousavi. I expect that Khamenei's people have privately sent signals to him that they're ready for a bloodbath, they're prepared to use overwhelming force to crush this, and is he willing to lead the people in the streets to slaughter?
Mousavi is not Khomeini, and Khamenei is not the Shah. Meaning, Khomeini would not hesitate to lead his followers to "martyrdom", and the Shah did not have the stomach for mass bloodshed. This time the religious zealots are the ones holding power.
The anger and the rage and sense of injustice people feel will not subside anytime soon, but if Mousavi concedes defeat he will demoralize millions of people. At the moment the demonstrations really have no other leadership. It's become a symbiotic relationship, Mousavi feeds off people's support, and the popular support allows Mousavi the political capital to remain defiant. So Mousavi truly has some agonizing decisions to make.
Rafsanjani's role also remains critical. Can he co-opt disaffected revolutionary elites to undermine Khamenei? As Khamenei said, they've known each other for 52 years, when they were young apostles of Ayatollah Khomeini. I expect that Khamenei's people have told Rafsanjani that if he continues to agitate against Khamenei behind the scenes, he and his family will be either imprisoned or killed, and that the people of Iran are unlikely to weep for the corrupt Rafsanjani family.
Whatever happens, and I know I shouldn't be saying this as an analyst, but my eyes well when I think of the tremendous bravery and fortitude of the Iranian people. They deserve a much better regime than the one they have.
Certainly are some strange things happening on the interwebs these days. From Wired's Danger Room:
Anonymous Iran is a collaboration between The Pirate Bay — operators of the world’s largest torrent site, convicted in April of copyright infringement — and Anonymous, the prankster collective dedicated to exposing “Scientology’s crimes.”
The new site offers tips on how to navigate online in private, upload files through the Iranian firewall, find the best activist Tweeters, and launch attacks on pro-government websites.
A friend who wishes to remain anonymous e-mails from Tehran:
It's been nearly a week of nighttime riots and daytime protests. At
night things seem to have quieted down just a bit here, although I
should say that I'm not going all over the city looking for a fight
after dark. This is mostly due to the checkpoints everywhere. The
checkpoints that I've seen so far are not run by the police at all –
they're basij -- one of the few militia groups that run around the
country "keeping things (Islamically – the way the IRI likes it)
safe." It's true that a lot of the young men who get pulled into the
basij do it for the 'benefits' like getting into college and finding a
job and maybe even because all their friends are doing it, but times like this seem to really put one's commitment to the test. A few blocks before the checkpoint traffic is directed over to one lane and you are instructed to drive past a number of men who are oftentimes camouflaged and usually have batons and occasionally a machine gun.
If you’re lucky one of these men will ask you where you’re going and what you’re doing and where you’ve been, and if you’re really lucky, he’ll tell you to pull over, whence you’ll be asked by a fatter man the same questions. If you’re really, really lucky you’ll then have your car searched, while you stand aside and see how long your luck will last.
The past two nights the car I was in made it to stage two, i.e. the second man -- older and fatter -- who repeats the same questions, but our luck ended there and we were told to go along. I don’t know if it helped that all four of us were on the verge of shitting ourselves from fear and shouting out our excuses, but we weren’t searched.
If you’re having trouble picturing what this is like, imagine this: an
America where the neo-cons are running things and, after an election where they don’t like the results and the ensuing unrest in the country, they call upon the most right-wing, conservative, crazy men to make sure the streets are safe. These men are given uniforms, batons, shields, guns, and authority. Some are told to stay at a certain position; others are told to drive around with their friends on their motorcycles in big, noisy packs. This is fairly similar to what’s going on here – only these guys are way hairier.
If you think this sounds both ridiculous and terrifying, you’re right.
Just to reinforce that last point, let me tell you what happened to a friend of a friend last night. He and his wife were driving home when they came across a checkpoint and were told to pull over. A boy not older than thirteen and dressed in camouflage then came over and asked the man who was driving for his documentations for his car. The man told him to go get someone older because he wasn’t about to have to prove his ownership of the vehicle to a middle-school-aged child. A few minutes later an older basiji came over and asked for the documents, and then asked the man to open the trunk. He found a poster of Mousavi and started giving the driver trouble and asking him why he has this poster. He responded by saying that it was from before the election and, anyway, since when was it a problem to have a poster of a presidential candidate who declared the not-president less than a
week ago? After a short argument and torn poster the man was told to go on his way. Pretty lucky considering what could have happened.
Anyway, tonight, unlike the previous two nights, mobile phones worked past 6:00pm (with the exception of text messaging, of course). There have been two more huge rallies during the day in support of Mousavi in Tehran and Saturday there is supposed to be another one. Tomorrow everyone is to stay in. As for the nighttime street chaos - two nights ago in the western part of the city apparently all hell broke loose and people blew up a few cars and tore up sidewalks to throw at the militias who ran away.
No one seems to know how long this will go on for or what the end
result will be. The optimists think it will lead to definite changes,
while the pessimists are waiting for the government to crackdown hard and start killing. The next few days should be quite telling.
And here's an earlier dispatch from June 17:
This is a protest. No slogans. No shouting. Be quiet. This was the only noise that I heard yesterday -- June 16th -- on Valiasr Street in Tehran. The crowd wasn’t as large as the prior day where perhaps a million people gathered between Azadi and Enqelab
Squares, but it was significant. It filled the street for over a couple kilometers and brought traffic and business to a total standstill; thousands of people and not a single scream or one person shouting slogans. Those are to be saved for the rooftop, at night from 10:30 -- 12:00.
I don’t know what media there is saying, but there is a marked
difference between these protests and what goes on at night. The
burning of tires, clashes with the Basijis, and general destruction
that has taken place isn’t what these people are going for.
Everyone that I spoke with condemned that and most of them questioned who the real perpetrators of it have been. Even the official televised news denies that the people who have broken bank windows and burned cars are real supporters of Mousavi. Of course, this is immediately before they tell everyone that Obama and the presidents of most European countries support the rioters, who are enemies of the state.
Don’t listen to anything that that tells you that the green movement here wants to get rid of the Islamic part of the Islamic Republic of Iran. From what I can tell, people want reforms and change – not upheaval. They don’t buy the numbers that the government has fed them from the election and they’re not about to stop and step aside. I don’t know how long this will go on, but I don’t think it’s about to stop soon.
Those who have questioned the legitimacy of this movement seem to conveniently overlook the fact that the state is doing all it can to shut everyone up. Yesterday, in addition to blocking SMS messages – which has been going on since Friday – all mobile phone service in Tehran was cut off until the morning. BBC Persian is completely jammed and even with a filter breaker it’s very difficult to get a decent internet connection. If you’re wondering where the pictures are, this is the reason.
A number of Iran experts have begun speculating that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have to dump the evidently unpopular Ahmadinejad in order to save himself. The Carnegie Endowment's Karim Sadjadpour picks up the banner here in an interesting interview with CFR's indefatigable Bernard Gwertzman:
The supreme leader's decision to delegate responsibility to the Guardian Council was classic Khamenei in the sense that he doesn't cede authority--the Guardian Council is essentially under his jurisdiction--but he buys time and deflects accountability. He was calculating that if he could buy time, the scale of these protests would gradually diminish. So far, that hasn't been the case. He may eventually be faced with a situation of whether to sacrifice President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose "reelection" he announced, or go down himself with the ship.
It's interesting to note that Ahmadinejad has been strangely quiet of late -- a sign of either overconfidence or muzzling from the top. And then there's this bit of back-pedaling:
Mr. Ahmadinejad released a largely conciliatory recorded statement on state television Thursday, distancing himself from his past criticism of protesters he has compared to angry soccer fans and "dust.'' "I only addressed those who made riot, set fires and attacked people,'' the statement said. "Every single Iranian is valuable. The government is at everyone's service. We like everyone.''
It would be incredibly convenient for Khamenei to wash his hands of this mess and blame all the recent excesses on the president. But would it work?
UPDATE: After this speech, it's going to be hard for Khamenei to walk away from Ahmadinejad. It looks like we're headed for some real brutality now.
Since Twitter started getting coverage for its role in the goings-on in Iran, commentators have expressed concern over which Twitter feeds are fake, and whether Twitter could be used to spread disinformation. The unofficial Twitter watchdog Twitspam has a list of "fake Iran election tweeters," and their feeds make for fascinating examples of reverse propaganda in action.
Their techniques have different approaches and levels of subtelty. Some simply make up silly stories, like one user's claim "BREAKINGNEWS: Ahmedinejads plane take off from Russia 2 hours ago & lost over BlackSea! Does he know how to swim? confrmation?" or another's insistence that "Mussavi concedes, pleads halt to protest." Others take a more egotistical approach, such as this user generously volunteering to become the leader: "Saturday - small groups organized by "ERAN SPAHBOD RUSTAM" will attack government buildings and basij.women,children stay home." Finally, some Tweeters, in their rush to spread violence, seem rather unclear as to correct grammatical usage of Arabic words: "Get a mask and gloves - lets intifada tonight on the streets of Teheran - My group will barricade one street. Make your group 2. kick ass"
The most pernicious fake Twitter user, though, has been Persian_Guy, who's not only provided fake news ( "Mussavi overheard: 'We don't need a black man's help, that's humiliating, at least not arab.'") and calls for violence (""non-Iranian Arabs waving Hamas/Hezbollah flags around the protests. Kill Arabs now, they are scums!"), but has even brought Twitter into the fake narrative. According to this user, "Twitter's staff are ecstatic by what's happening in Iran, "We're so glad there's chaos in Iran, finally Twitter is 'useful.'"" Somehow, I doubt that will endear him to his fellow Tweeters.
David Paul Morris/Getty Images
Shanghaiist has a very interesting roundup of Web message board reactions to Iran's election from China, a country that knows a thing or two about the government stifling dissent. Many of those commenting faulted the government not for cracking down on the protests, but for bothering to hold sham elections at all, and allowing the protests to get out of hand:
"The Iranian presidential election evolved after decades but now is triggering so many protests and riots; I am not sure how the liberal wings of the party would think? Use the army. Whoever fights against the government should be killed. There are so many people in Iran so killing several hundreds of thousands is not a big deal. What does the army do? Foolish (Iranian government)."
Barack Obama's caution also doesn't seem to have convinced Chinese netizens that the U.S. isn't behind all of this:
"America is always opposed to the other countries' democracy because American politics is a fake democracy; it is really the 'presidential dictatorship.' However, America asks other countries to be 'fake democracies' -- killing the real democracy!"
"When Bush was elected as the American president, he cheated too. But Al Gore was rational and admitted that he lost because of national stabilization. Mousavi has America as his biggest backer but not many Iranian supporters. He should admitted that he lost."
It's a very small sample size and I'm sure not universally representative of Chinese opinions, but telling nonetheless.
(Hat tip: Josh Kucera)
I see that a number of people are still throwing up their hands, unsure if the Iranian election was really fraudulent.
Give me a break, folks. It's true that Ahmadinejad is popular. But he's just not that popular. There's no need to throw up our hands and say, "Aw shucks, it's all too complicated and we'll never know if he really got 24 million votes." This was fraud on a massive scale.
The Guardian is now reporting that many towns in Iran reported turnout figures in excess of their population:
In the most specific allegations of rigging yet to emerge, the centrist Ayandeh website – which stayed neutral during the campaign – reported that 26 provinces across the country showed participation figures so high they were either hitherto unheard of in democratic elections or in excess of the number of registered electors.
Taft, a town in the central province of Yazd, had a turnout of 141%, the site said, quoting an unnamed "political expert". Kouhrang, in Chahar Mahaal Bakhtiari province, recorded a 132% turnout while Chadegan, in Isfahan province, had 120%.
Ayandeh's source said at least 200 polling stations across Iran recorded participation rates of 95% or above. "This is generally considered scientifically impossible because out of every given cohort of 20 voters, there will be at least one who is either ill, out of the country, has recently died or is unable to participate for some other reasons," the source said. "It is also unprecedented in the history of Iran and all other democratic countries."
The claims are impossible to verify, but they are consistent with comments made by a former Iranian interior minister, Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, who said on Tuesday that 70 polling stations returned more completed ballot papers than the number of locally eligible voters.
But even if we can't verify such reports, common sense ought to suffice to persuade us that Ahmadinejad and co. cheated. As one Iranian intellectual put it, "A president that has received 24 million votes doesn't need to imprison hundreds of people and cut all lines of communication."
Most Iranians seem to grasp this point intuitively. Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American journalist and author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, explained at an event yesterday why the rigging has Iranians so upset. "The vote is the one thing Iranians still had," he said, saying that presidential elections -- within the parameters set by the Guardian Council -- had generally been considered fair until now. "There's a rage that comes from that."
Neil MacFarquhar tries to count the votes on Iran's Assembly of Experts, the only institution with the (theoretical) authority to remove the supreme leader. If these numbers are right, things could get interesting:
The analysts say about a third of the Assembly members are loyal to [former President Ali Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani. Of the other members, perhaps a quarter are considered loyal to Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a mentor to Mr. Ahmadinejad and a staunchly conservative figure who has suggested that allowing the public a voice in elections serves only to sully God’s laws. The rest are viewed as independents who could vote either way.
This bit is also interesting:
Analysts suspect that Mr. Rafsanjani’s message to the rest of the religious establishment is that they are about to be eclipsed by the military, which supports the government.
There is a certain delicious irony to the idea that we're hoping a bunch of black-robed clerics in Qom will challenge Ahmadinejad and Khamenei. Just a week ago, we would have been talking about the need for Iran to reduce the influence of the mullahs. Now, there's an outside chance they could be the deus ex machina that helps bring Mousavi to power.
AMIR HESAMI/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday, James Downie wrote about the U.S. State Department's request to Twitter that a scheduled maintenance period be postponed — so that news could continue to stream out of Iran. Twitter apparently complied, delaying the outage until 5 p.m. EST yesterday.
But, says Twitter CEO Biz Stone, the State Department in fact had very little to do with Twitter's decision to push off its server downtime:
'When we worked with our network provider to reschedule this planned maintenance, we did so because events in Iran were tied directly to the growing significance of Twitter as an important communication and information network.
'We decided together to move the date. It made sense for Twitter and for NTT America to keep services active during this highly visible global event.'
This explanation seems to dovetail with current circumstances on multiple levels. For one, it makes good business sense — the defiant use of the social networking tool in Iran makes for good publicity. And for another, it shores up U.S President Barack Obama's statements pledging non-intervention.
The ongoing tumult in Iran over the country's election results got another jolt of international attention today, as members of the Iranian soccer team wore green wristbands to their World Cup qualifying match with South Korea — in a show of support for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Dan Senor and Christian Whiton have an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal with some suggestions for how the United States could effectively help the reformists in Iran. It's a tricky subject and creative thinking is certainly welcome (my colleague Chris Brose has weighed in on this), but Senor and Whiton's bold declaration that "Our own experience with dissidents around the world is that proof of concern by the U.S. government is helpful and desirable" worries me a bit, paritcularly in their choice of Ukraine's 2004 Orance Revolution as a model:
Mr. Obama should deliver another taped message to the Iranian people. Only this time he should acknowledge the fundamental reality that the regime lacks the consent of its people to govern, which therefore necessitates a channel to the "other Iran." He should make it clear that dissidents and their expatriate emissaries should tell us what they most need and want from the U.S. This could consist of financial resources, congresses of reformers, workshops or diplomatic gatherings. The key is to let the reformers call the shots and indicate how much and what U.S. assistance they want. Simply knowing we care, that we are willing to deploy resources and are watching their backs -- to the extent we can -- often helps reformers.
The 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine is a model. In that case the West joined Ukrainians in refusing to accept the results of a stolen election. This combined effort helped to force a final run-off vote that reflected the people's will. In Iran, this would mean not only redoing elections but also allowing a full field of candidates to run. As with Ukraine and the Soviet Union before, Mr. Obama could at least make it clear that the U.S. will separate the issues of engagement and legitimacy. Our engagement of the Soviet Union in arms-control talks did not prevent us from successfully pressing human-rights issues and seeking an alternative political structure. So it can be with Iran. Engagement without an effort to talk to the "other Iran" would not only be a travesty but tactically foolish as well.
Not every revolution is a "color" revolution. The visuals from Tehran may resemble Kiev in 2004, but the message from the streets is different. Both are nationalist movements in addition to democratic movements (as most successful democratic movements are) but Ukrainian and Iranian nationalism are very different beasts.
In Ukraine that nationalism could be directed against a government dominated by an outside power, Russia. The orange coalition (like the Polish Solidarity movement, which Senor and Whiton also cite) welcomed overt U.S. signs of support because it counteracted the support the pro-government forces were receiving from the Kremlin. The coalition billed itself as pro-Western.
In Iran, the protesters are crying allahu akbar from the rooftops and marching behind a fairly conservative hero of the 1979 revolution. They're protesting a probably rigged election, yes, but the nationalist rhetoric coming out of the movements leaders is not about rejoining the West but about protecting the Islamic state from Ahmadinejad's corrupt and bungling rule.
On a more practical level, U.S. NGOs were involved in the run-up to the Ukrainian election, supporting poll monitoring and training activists so when the trouble started, they were in place to help out. This is certainly not the case in Iran.
This is not to say that a Mousavi presidency wouldn't be better for the United States, or that the U.S. government shouldn't be seeking out ways it can help (Evgeny Morozov has one novel idea) but it seems odd to assume that the young people marching in the streets of Tehran would welcome the outspoken support of the U.S. president just because other young people marching in other streets have welcomed it in the past.
The Iranian regime's crackdown is proceeding apace, with new detentions of reformist leaders and new restrictions on journalists and social networking tools.
As always, treat unconfirmed report with caution. This from the Guardian:
There were also unconfirmed reports that Mohammad Asgari, who was responsible for the security of the IT network in Iran's interior ministry, was killed yesterday in a suspicious car accident in Tehran. Asgari had reportedly leaked evidence that the elections were rigged to alter the votes from the provinces. Asgari was said to have leaked information that showed Mousavi had won almost 19m votes, and should therefore be president.
The article also notes that Isfahan's prosector general -- who seems like a real peach -- warned that the penalty for organizing protests could be death. "We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution," he said.
Also of note: Ayatollah Khamenei reportedly referred to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's "elected president," which tells you as much as you need to know about the integrity of this recount business.
And here, via NIAC, is an intriguing nugget from Reza Aslan:
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.
Bill Keller describes what it's like outside Tehran. Horror:
At one point, a white S.U.V. with a red ambulance-style light raced up behind a knot of protesters and smashed into them, running one over before racing a few blocks to the protection of the riot police.
Bands of Basiji, the authorized plainclothes vigilantes riding motorbikes and wielding long truncheons, were let loose by the hundreds to sow fear far afield from the actual unrest. Many wore the green headbands of the opposition — possibly to camouflage, or to confuse.
At one point a group of bystanders (including one journalist with a gift for being in the wrong place) was cornered on the ancient Si-o-Seh Bridge and faced a choice between getting their heads broken or tumbling 20 feet to the dry Zayandeh River bed. At the last minute, the thugs were distracted by other prey to beat on.
Are we approaching a point where political information is processed so fast that an event happens, information elites weigh in to shape the discourse surrounding it, the conventional wisdom is communicated to Congress, and elected leaders formulate reactions based on public opinion... all before most of even the formerly plugged in members of the public ever learn what on earth is going on, or have a chance to form an opinion? Is anyone who works at a company that blocks their Facebook feed going to be meaningfully disadvantaged in the political process? Egalitarian concerns aside, are the information elites going to set a course, ossify as they always do in their opinions, and influence the nation's course too hastily? Are we on course for a kind of political singularity?
In short, no.
Let's remember that those of us who are obsessively following Iranian Twitter feeds and refreshing NIAC, Andrew Sullivan, Nico Pitney, and The Lede are kind of freaks. And the truth is, we don't really need to know all of the details we're sorting through when we do -- we're just fascinated by what is going on in Iran and want to stay on top of the news. For most folks, the Nazila Fathi/Michael Slackman stories offer plenty of rich information and context, while filtering out details.
As many other outlets have remarked, Twitter has been a critical lifeline for news coming out of Iran, with bloggers combining Tweets and grainy cell phone footage for indispensable running coverage (the best example of this has been Andrew Sullivan, who George Packer rightly calls "the number one source for Iran news these days"). The role has been so critical that when Twitter announced a temporary shutdown last night for an important network upgrade, even the State Department asked it to delay the upgrade:
The US government asked Twitter to delay maintenance plans in order to allow Iranians to communicate while their government banned other media following elections, a US official said Tuesday.
The official said the State Department had asked the social networking firm to delay shutting down its service to "highlight to them that this was an important means of communications... in Iran."
The State Department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity that the Twitter service was all the more important because the Iranian government had shut down other websites, cell phones, and newspapers.
"One of the areas where people are able to get out the word is through Twitter," the official said. "They announced they were going to shut down their system for maintenance and we asked them not to."
Twitter eventually postponed the upgrade until later today. Some might say this is an example of American interference, but, as (ironically) CNN points out, Twitter is just as crucial an information source for the State Department as anyone else:
Because the US has no relations with Iran and does not have an embassy there, it is relying on media reports and the State Department’s Iran Watch Offices in embassies around the world. The largest such offices are in Dubai, Berlin and London, all home to large Iranian expat communities.
But officials say the internet, and specifically social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, are providing the United States with critical information in the face of a crackdown on journalists by Iranian authorities[...]
While officials would not say whether they were communicating with Iranians directly, one senior official noted that the US is learning about certain people being picked up for questioning by authorities through posts on Twitter.
“It is a very good example of where technology is helping,” the official said.
NIMA DAYMARI/AFP/Getty Images
Given the agency's, er, controversial past in the country, the best thing the CIA can do for the cause of regime change in Iran right now is probably to stay as far away as possible. But CQ's Jeff Stein reports that the U.S. intelligence community is looking to take advantage of this week's situation:
Iran's political crisis provides the CIA with an opportunity to provoke the defection of Iranian military, intelligence and diplomatic representatives abroad.
(After the Soviet Union crushed the "Prague Spring" in 1968, Czech officials defected in droves to the CIA.)How it handles a similar scenario now, and the possible windfall of inside information on the Iranian leadership and its nuclear program, will be far more beneficial than clumsy attempts to manipulate the protests sweeping Tehran.
Yesterday and today, a plethora of U.S. editorials and articles and blog posts have forcefully debated whether incumbent conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or challenging reformer Mir Hossein Mousavi won the Iranian election.
"The shock of the 'Iran experts' over Friday’s results is entirely self-generated, based on their preferred assumptions and wishful thinking," Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett wrote in Politico, in an article titled "Ahmadinejad won. Get over it."
The word most commonly used elsewhere, though, is "theft." Senator John McCain, for one, called for Obama to "condemn the sham, corrupt election" to "make sure that the world knows that America leads."
Certainly, the evidence of tampering is everywhere. Millions of paper ballots were counted in just two hours. Mousavi lost his home district. (Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight has excellent empirical posts on the subject.)
But we have no smoking gun and no decisive determination of what happened -- no sure way of knowing if Ahmadinejad stole the election from Mousavi, or the election was fair, or Ahmadinejad stole an election he won.
And, in some way, I find the uncertainty of what happened in Iran a bigger concern than obvious fraud. We know how to respond to election-thieves. But how do you react to a question mark?
France and Britain have come out against the results. The Obama White House, characteristically, has responded with a light touch, little more than prudent-seeming and non-speculative statements -- condemning the violence and offering respect for Iranian self-determination.
But with no sense of what really happened in Tehran, it's hard to assess the policy responses as well. If Ahmadinejad tamps down rebellion and continues on the same path, what would be the best response, then?
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