Just as Rwanda paid the price for Somalia, the Obama administration appears to have “overlearned” the lessons of the Iraq war and George W. Bush’s freedom agenda, warns Nader Mousavizadeh a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Consequently, “an opportunity to provide legitimate support to the popular movement when it mattered most was lost” and “a signal was sent to those very same hardliners that the United States’ eagerness to negotiate would override its solidarity with the protesters.”
The administration’s loss of nerve will have dire consequences:
First, a movement for greater pluralism and the rule of law that was manifestly to the advantage of the United States has been silenced. Second, an emboldened hardline leadership will likely present even greater conditions for meeting with the United States and, at those negotiations, prove more reluctant still to seek common ground.
But Fareed Zakaria welcomes President Obama’s reluctance “to be seen as grandstanding and taking ownership of the protest movement” and he cautions against comparing the unrest in Iran with the momentous events of 1989.
“As a historical precedent, it has not proved a useful guide to other antidictatorial movements, he writes. The democratic revolutions of 1989 reflected a unique constellation of forces. “The three most powerful forces in the modern world are democracy, religion, and nationalism [and] in 1989 in Eastern Europe, all three were arrayed against the ruling regimes.”
Obama may be unable to find a credible interlocutor in Tehran, writes Amir Taheri, given that the Islamic Republic’s core institutions are split, including the politically active elements of the Shiite clergy, senior technocrats, the influential merchants of the bazaar, and even the military and the Revolutionary Guards.
He cites unconfirmed reports that at least 17 mid-ranking Guard officers have been relieved of their posts and that a senior commander who led the elite “Master of the Martyrs’ Division,” has been “reassigned” after refusing to deploy troops against demonstrators.
Much will depend on the “party of the wind” – those who side with the probable winners. But Taheri warns that the split “could lead to a bloody showdown, at the end of which the winner will launch a massive purge.”
The divisions extend into the Revolutionary Guards – also known as the Pasdaran or the Sepah – and the paramilitary Basij, says Mohsen Sazegara, a former founder of the Guards. “Many of the commanders in the Sepah have children who are in their twenties and who have joined the recent protests,” says Sazegara.
The Basijis’ aim was “to militarize civil society to prevent currents that the Islamic Republic is opposed to,” notes one analyst.
“There are many Basijis who were in support of Mousavi,” says a former member. “Many Basijis are upset that the recent violence has been attributed to them.”