You probably haven't heard about the Andijan massacre, because it
happened in Uzbekistan, which I doubt many journalists can find on a
map. But it has important implications for what's happening now in
Between 2003 and 2005 probably not coincidentally just after the U.S.
threw out Saddam Hussein in Iraq there were a series of "color
revolutions" in which mostly peaceful popular revolts overthrew
authoritarian regimes. There was the Rose Revolution in Georgia in
2003; the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, the Cedar Revolution in
Lebanon in 2005.
The color revolutions came to a screeching halt after Andijan, where
security forces loyal to Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov opened fire on a
huge, unarmed crowd. A defector from the Uzbek security service
estimated 1,500 were killed. Many were buried in unmarked mass graves.
Iran is convulsed by its greatest civic unrest since that of 1979, which
led to the fall of the Shah. Some news organizations have estimated the
number of those in the streets of Tehran protesting the alleged
re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at more than a million (the
crowd at Monday's protest stretched five miles long). Many hope this
portends the fall of the mullahs.
That depends mostly on how ruthless the mullahs are willing to be, and
somewhat on the support the protesters receive from the outside world,
particularly the United States, because that has an impact on how
ruthless the mullahs think they can be. Syria could not do in Lebanon
what Mr. Karimov did at Andijan because the world was watching what was
happening in Lebanon.
Many in the West have a romanticized notion of what can be accomplished
by peaceful protest and world opinion. Really ruthless regimes don't
fall to popular protests, no matter how large, because they are willing
to kill everyone they need to kill to stay in power.
And world opinion doesn't matter much if the world isn't willing to back
up its opinion with more than words. The democracy protests in China in
1989 drew as much attention as the protests in Iran are today, but that
didn't prevent the Chinese government from crushing the unarmed
demonstators in Tiananmen Square. (China congratulated Mr. Karimov
after Andijan, and reportedly is providing advice on security strategy
to the government of Iran.)
The young protesters in Iran are as brave as the democracy protesters in
Tiananmen were, but whether they triumph, or are beaten to death in dank
prisons, depends mostly on whether the security services remain loyal to
There are some hopeful signs. The army has remained on the sidelines,
making it clear it will not turn its guns on its own people. The Cyrus
News Agency reported Tuesday 16 senior members of the Revolutionary
Guards Corps have been arrested for insufficient repressive zeal. The
regime's dirty work has been left largely to the Basiji, a militia
composed of young religious zealots from the countryside. But the
revolution won't succeed unless significant portions of the army and
IRGC get off the fence and support the people.
This is where world opinion can have an impact. If world leaders
strongly and unequivocably support the protesters, and credibly threaten
the regime with consequences for repression, this could influence many
fence-sitters in the army and the IRGC. It could also influence mullahs
wavering between more repression and following their Swiss bank accounts
out of the country. One reason why Syria didn't do in Lebanon what
Karimov did at Andijan is because President Bush had just made it plain
he would support democracy with more than words.
The leaders of Canada, France and Germany have harshly condemned the
repression in Iran, but President Barack Obama has yet to muster as much
indignation for the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as he has
expressed for the leader of Israel. And Mr. Obama has made it clear
there is nothing so horrible Mr. Ahmadinejad can do that will keep him
from pursuing rapprochement with Iran.
Little could encourage the repressive forces more. "Probe with a
bayonet," Lenin said. "If you encounter steel, stop. If you meet mush,
The mullahs are probing President Obama. They are not encountering