Iran at the Cross Roads – What Should the US Do - Part 2

Mirza A. Beg

Posted Jun 25, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Iran at the Cross Roads – What Should the US Do - Part 2

By Mirza A. Beg

Part II - What should the United States do

Iran has been in turmoil since the election on June 12th. For the rest of the world, especially for the US, it is important to understand, it is about Iran and not about the United States. It is the 21st Century, not the 20th, when the super powers manipulated the events in the world with impunity.

Events in Iran are moving fast. Most of the popular punditry in the United States was initially flummoxed, interpreting events with the US-centric biases; particularly the Neo-Con infected Republican Party. In spite of all the horrible mistakes of the eight Bush years, miring the country in un-necessary and terribly mismanaged wars and driving the country to near bankruptcy, they have learned no lessons, certainly not humility. They are taking pot shots at President Obama to be more belligerent towards the Iranian government.

They do not understand that the history of US orchestration of the overthrow of the first democratically elected Iranian regime in 1953 is as fresh in the Iranian psyche as the hostage taking of Americans by Iran in 1979 is for the American mind. The US supported brutal war waged on Iran by Saddam Hussain during the Reagan administration in the1980s has not faded from Iranian memory. Iran lost about a million of its youth affecting most families in Iran. The countries that the Iranians mistrust the most are Great Britain and the United States.

The Neo-Con mindset argues, “The Mullahs in Iran accuse the US anyway, so why not support the opposition”. They do not understand an important distinction. It matters less what the government propaganda machine puts out, it matters enormously what the people believe. So far it appears that because of the election of President Obama and the change in course of the US foreign policy, the Iranian public opinion towards the US has changed from completely negative to largely favorable or ambivalent.

Obviously the killing of peaceful protestors and bystanders in Iran is of concern to all decent human beings. But it is in the interest of the Iranians, the US and the world, that the events in Iran should be handled by Iranians peacefully. If the situation deteriorates in chaos, it is the Iranians who will suffer the brunt.  The Iranian opposition has asked for moral support not belligerency towards the Iranian regime.

The United States is, and has been a super power for the last seventy years with world wide interests. It has often supported corrupt dictatorships over democracy in Asia, Africa and Latin America, while paying lip service to the idea of democracy. Mr. Reagan’s opposition of the Soviets is often highlighted by the Neo-Cons, but they never acknowledge his support of the South African apartheid regime while branding Nelson Mandela a terrorist, the support of the murderous Contras in Nicaragua and a deafening silence after the rape and murder of five US nuns and the murder of the Archbishop by the government death squads in El Salvador.

It is important to understand the present crisis in Iran and the role of major players in historical context. The Islamic Republic of Iran was born thirty years ago in a people’s revolution against the corrupt and brutal regime of the Shah wedded solely to aggrandizement of his personal power helped by the western interests. Iran is not a dictatorship as some exaggerate, but a theocratic democracy, not to our liking.

Since the revolution in 1979, Iran has had ten presidential elections, and six presidents. Three of the presidents were elected for two terms each.  All the previous elections were largely considered to be fair. The office of the President in Iran is not the highest office. It is more like the office of the chief executive officer, under the ultimate authority of the Supreme Leader (literally, the leader of the revolution).

The Supreme Leader is elected for a life time by the 86 members, Assembly of Experts. The Assembly of Experts is elected from a list of screened candidates by a direct election for an eight year term. That is how the theocracy controls the democracy. The former president Ayatollah Rafsanjani is the current chairman. He along with many in the religious establishment are supporting Mr. Moussavi.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who led the1979 revolution was unanimously elected as the first Supreme Leader. He held the office until his death in June 1989. The Assembly of Experts filled the vacancy by electing Seyyed Ali Khamenei (the president at the time) as the Supreme Leader by a two thirds majority. After twenty years he is still in power. He can only be replaced by impeachment. The reformers have tried to limit the term of the Supreme Leader. 

The candidates for presidential election in contention are the children of the revolution and were strong supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini. Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current president was seeking a second term. The challenger Mr. Mir Hossein Moussavi is a former foreign minister who became the prime minister, during the presidency of, no other than the present supreme leader Seyyed Ali Khameini from 1981 to 1989.

Many in the US, particularly in the Neo-Con circles are making the mistake of grouping the Moussavi followers to be an anti Islamic revolution. One of the most potent symbols used by the Moussavi supporters is the green color, popularly considered to be the color of Islam. This is an internal Iranian struggle for power in the Iranian context of freedom; the limit on the power of the state and for may the bread and butter issues. Both the candidates are Iranian patriots who support the 1979 revolution and do not disagree with the ideas of constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran; though gradually it is evolving as a struggle for the check on the near absolute power of the Supreme Leader.

Their foreign policy is not likely to be substantially different. While Mr. Ahmadinijad was reactive to the belligerency of President Bush and finds it difficult to change, Mr. Moussavi will perhaps be more nuanced and soft spoken in the Obama mode, but will not yield Iranian interests to the Western pressure. President Obama is appropriately using the soft power words, rather than the bluster and empty threats of the Bush era.