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Jewish World Review Nov. 26, 2002 / 21 Kislev, 5763

Michael Ledeen

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How Tyrannies Fall: Opportunity time in Iran | If the American government, or the chatterers, or the academy were at all serious about trying to understand the real world, we would be in the midst of a discussion of the potentially earth-shaking events in Iran. And the main topic of discussion would be how close we are to the downfall of the mullahcracy in Tehran. Last Friday something like half a million Iranian citizens took to the streets to demonstrate their disgust with the regime of the Islamic Republic (the very same Islamic Republic with which some of our diplomats unaccountably continue to make deals, and which our secretary of state unaccountably refuses to condemn in the same clear language used by the president, the national-security adviser, and the secretary of defense). Contrary to what little you have been able to read in the popular press, these demonstrations were not limited to Tehran, but spread all over the country, with amazing results. And it was particularly noteworthy that there were very large numbers of female participants; in Tehran, some people I spoke to estimated that between one-half and two-thirds of the demonstrators were women.

In some cities - notably Isfahan, traditionally the epicenter of political unrest in Persia - the regime's thugs attacked the demonstrators, only to be driven out. Over the weekend, it was unclear just who was in control in Isfahan, Tabriz, Shiraz and Mashad. By Sunday, the fanatical Basij - the volunteer thugs who are responsible for "order" in the streets - were busily attacking and arresting anyone who did not meet their standards, and the regime's top leaders were issuing warnings to the nation - and to us.

Sunday's demonstration in Tehran was held in front of the old American embassy, and the Revolutionary Guards and Basij who gathered there were treated to fiery rhetoric from the RG leader, Safavi, and former president (and one of the two most powerful men in the country) Rafsanjani. Both blamed the United States for the unrest, and for those who think we can make a deal with these people to help us fight Saddam Hussein, Safavi had a clear message: "An American presence in Iraq is totally unacceptable to us." As I have been saying for many months now, the regime is preparing to attack us when/if we finally liberate Iraq.

Rafsanjani declared war: "They (the Americans) are pushing us from all sides, but we will push back somewhere else," no doubt referring to the recent wave of Islamic terror in Indonesia, Jordan, Israel, and Kashmir, echoing his earlier warning that Iran would respond to the Axis of Evil speech "in the American heartland," and perhaps prefiguring attacks against us in Afghanistan, where their creature Hekmatiar is said to be preparing a terrorist spectacular of some sort.

But, for the first time in many years, there are clear signs of internal division, now between Rafsanjani and the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei. Last Friday, a special committee of the Basij openly decried widespread corruption within the government and the regime, and demanded that Rafsanjani himself account for his vast personal wealth (a question that could probably be best answered by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, for Dubai serves Iran's rulers as playground, merchant bank, and transshipment terminal for smuggled Iraqi oil and a cornucopia of weapons headed for Iran, Iraq, and the Palestinian Authority). It is close to certain that the Basij would never have made such a demand without the supreme leader's approval. At the same time, the Basij stormed the education ministry, under the pretext of searching for evidence that the minister was secretly supporting the student demonstrations.

Rafsanjani and his allies are preparing still greater repression for the suffering people of Iran, due o be launched on Wednesday, and already on Sunday members of the failed reformist movement were telling the students to calm down, so as not to provide a pretext for the looming crackdown. But it is by no means clear that the regime has the blind loyalty of the security forces any longer; during the recent demonstrations there were several instances of defections to the demonstrators' side, and even the Revolutionary Guards have been subjected to repeated purges, as the mullahs seek desperately to find willing killers and torturers.

Which brings us back to the debate-that-is-not-happening. How can we tell when a regime is about to fall? The key ingredient is not the sort of thing that the political scientists talk about in the academies, because it can't be measured, only smelled: It is a combination of failure of nerve at the top, and resolute desperation from below. On both counts, the trends are encouraging, but brutal repression is invariably successful if it is delivered with overwhelming strength, and the would-be revolutionaries cannot effectively cope with it.

We do not know how this will play out in the coming days and weeks, but one thing is already luminously clear: The Bush administration has missed an opportunity to strike a massive blow against the terror masters. If, instead of winking and nodding at various Iranian emissaries and back channels, we had supported the Iranian people with money, effective radio and television, and modern communications gear, the regime could very well have been smashed this past weekend. We may well have similar opportunities in the future, even the near future, and it would be wise if the deep thinkers in Foggy Bottom started pondering how to fulfill our revolutionary tradition rather than how best to appease Iran's oppressors.

It would help, too, if some of our misnamed "major media" devoted some energy to this hugely important but almost totally unreported story. Students have been on hunger strike in Isfahan for weeks, but not a word about it has been published or spoken over here. The monster Friday demonstrations received only token coverage, and most of that spoke as if the regime had put them down with little difficulty.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post, to its great credit, ran a fascinating front-page story on Sunday about the dreadful implementation of Islamic law (sharia) in Nigeria. For those who read it carefully, there was a telling statement from one of Nigeria's activist Islamists, who noted that the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was the great turning point in the spread of radical Islam in West Africa. "If they could do it in Iran, why not here?" he said.

When the Islamic Republic finally comes down, and we get to read the files, I'll bet you a dollar to your doughnut that Nigerian Muslims got - and today get - lots of help from Tehran. The mullahs have extended their network deep into the biggest Islamic countries, from Nigeria to Indonesia. Sooner or later our leaders, and maybe even our journalists and intellectuals, will figure this out. Let's hope it doesn't take a whole series of September 11-type disasters before they get there.

Faster, confound it!

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, The War Against the Terror Masters. Comment by clicking here.


11/22/02: The Blind Leading the Blind: The New York Times and the Iranian crisis
11/13/02: The Temperature Rises: We should liberate Iran first --- now
11/05/02: End of the Road: Iran's Mohammed Khatami, on his way out
10/29/02: The Angleton Dialogues, Contnued: What George Tenet doesn’t know
10/24/02: The Iranian Comedy Hour: In the U.S., the silence continues
10/16/02: Sniper, Saboteur, or Sleeper? Channeling James Jesus Angleton
10/01/02: The real foe
09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen