A.D. 2009 in the Islamic calendar is 1430 A.H. (Anno Hegirae, which began with the prophet's flight from Mecca to Medina). But in strife-torn Iran it felt more like A.D. 1430, approaching the end of the Middle Ages, when religious bigotry and cruel fanaticism ruled Torquemada's era in which some 2,000 burned at the stake.
For Ali Khamenei, Iran's superannuated supreme leader, America is still the main enemy. So whether President Barack Obama reacted with a vocal twig or subsequent big stick as hundreds of thousands demonstrated in the streets of Tehran would not have made a particle of difference. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who stole his re-election, even had the chutzpah to demand an apology from Obama, now no different from President George W. Bush.
Neda Aga Soltan, who was shot through the heart by the Basij militia -- described by the Carnegie Endowment's Iranian expert Karim Sadjadpour as a cross between Hells Angels and al-Qaida and thirsty for the blood of young girls -- rapidly became the worldwide face of Tehran's street rebellion. Her family was ordered out of their home. Basij goons snatched back Neda's body, then canceled Mosque mourning ceremonies.
Iran is yet to fall into the category of rogue regimes, but it's inching to the precipice, now only a question of time before countless thousands of cowered voices "Twitter" back to put their lives on the line for democratic change. Seventy percent of 70 million people are under the age of 33, and they want freedom from religious dictatorship and the "morality police."
Iran's totalitarian theocrats gave Ahmadinejad a lopsided 2-1 victory and another four years in power, even though he was rejected by the overwhelming majority of Iranians. Quoting sources in the election headquarters of the Interior Ministry, the Iranian resistance movement exposed a confidential directive by the supreme leader to announce voter turnout at 35 million and declare Ahmadinejad the winner in the first round.
It would behoove us all to take a deep breath and assess how the cards have been reshuffled in the latest Iranian upheaval. The Hoover Institution's Abbas Milani, an American-Iranian historian and Iranologist, said this week Iran's fraudulent balloting was in reality "an orchestrated coup – [by] the group of commanders in the Revolutionary Guards that have been in alliance with Ahmadinejad … a well-planned, long, strategically calculated move for the Guards essentially to seize power" and use the aging mullahs as a security blanket. All the important positions of authority, adds Milani, are now held by Guards, including three-quarters of Ahmadinejad's ministers.
Aligned against Ahmadinejad are some powerful figures whose clout rests with the now subdued streets: former Presidents Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani; Mehdi Karroubi; and Mir Hossein Mousavi -- today known as the four reformers. But none has endorsed a change in Iran's nuclear ambitions.
There is no shortage of testosterone in Washington when it comes to Iran. Hawks were all over Obama's case as a weak-kneed leader of the free world who chickened out when confronted by flat-Earth medieval clerics whose Iranian sand castle was about to be overwhelmed by the incoming high tide of popular anger.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., skirted the edge of advocating intervention. McCain proposed "sanctions and other measures … to end this tyranny." The only sanctions that might be a game changer would hit Iran's vital imports of gasoline. A huge oil exporter, Iran's chronic shortage of refining capacity requires the import of 40 percent of its gasoline needs.
But a naval blockade would be seen by both friend and foe as a casus belli that would require at the very least a highly unlikely U.N. Security Council vote. Failing that, Congress would have to authorize a blockade of Iran's ports from Abadan, a few hundred yards from Iraq's oil installations in the northern Gulf, down to the Strait of Hormuz and on to the Gulf of Aden.
Can an Iranian regime that "deceives, represses and kills its own people," asked the conservative Heritage Foundation, "be trusted to abstain from developing nuclear weapons?" Of course not. The mullahs, assisted by Pakistan's ace nuclear black marketer, have been at it for a quarter of a century. Five of the world's eight nuclear powers are in their regional neighborhood -- Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan, and the United States, whose military power is on Iran's eastern, western and southern (aircraft carriers) borders.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu believes the current global revulsion at the mullah's murderous crackdown favors an Israeli pre-emptive strike with deep penetration bombs against Iran's principal nuclear facilities. Israel believes this would set back Iran's program several years. And the onus of "world opinion" would not be quite as vociferous as it might have been before the theocracy's Basij cracked heads in Tehran.
Moreover, key Arab states, from Morocco to Egypt to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, are increasingly alarmed about a nuclear-armed Iran throwing its weight around the gulf that bears its own name -- the Persian Gulf. Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait recently decided to strengthen their ties with established nuclear power countries as they move toward setting up their own nuclear programs. And the object of their fear is more Iran than Israel.
Three former CENTCOM commanders and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen are convinced any bombing of Iran's nuclear facilities would trigger bloody asymmetric retaliation against U.S. interests throughout the Middle East and beyond. Not to mention Russian and Chinese support for Iran.
This currently dominant group of four-star generals and admirals advocates learning to live with an Iranian bomb, just as the United States learned to live with Soviet and Chinese nuclear weapons in the days of Stalin and Mao, arguably more threatening in their days than Iran's current crop of aging ayatollahs.
Other retired generals, notably a recently retired senior Air Force commander, speaking not for attribution, agree with McCain (and Israeli leaders) when he says there's only one thing worse than bombing Iran -- and that's an Iranian nuclear bomb. Those who want the bombing option off the table (Obama still has it on the table) have argued in favor of accepting Iranian nukes, as we did Pakistan's, as part of a major geopolitical deal. Iran would call off its pit bulls (Hezbollah and Hamas), pledge non-interference in a democratic Iraq, and assist NATO's effort to pacify Afghanistan -- sans Taliban. Don't hold your breath.
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