Monday, June 22, 2009

Who Benefits?

Once Iran’s Supreme Theocrat (“Leader”), Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threw his support behind the current President, Mahmoud Ahmadinijad, the “winner” of Iran’s fraudulent presidential election [of course, he may also have won “fair and square”; this no one now knows], the full weight of the theocracy fell in behind Ahmadinijad. Thereafter, to oppose him is “objectively” to oppose the theocracy itself, even if all many of the demonstrators really care about is electoral fraud. For the most part, those demonstrators support another theocrat, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. The consensus view in the Western media is that a Mousavi victory is preferable to a Ahmadinjad victory; this also seems to be the view of most well-educated Iranians, women and young people especially. Perhaps they are right; perhaps a Mousavi government would be slightly more liberal than the Ahmadinijad government has been. But this was and is an intra-theocratic struggle, waged within the regime not in (revolutionary) opposition to it. In the final analysis, the leaders of the contending sides don’t differ all that much – even in comparison with (pre-Bush) Republicans and Democrats.

It looks increasingly like Ahmadinijad will prevail. The state’s repressive apparatus seems to have remained loyal to the theocracy; according to news reports this morning, it is cracking down brutally on Mousavi supporters. More importantly, Mousavi and those close to him have remained loyal too – to the regime, if not to the current incumbents of its highest offices. The masses in the streets may have been on the brink of becoming revolutionary, and the spirit of revolution could soon revive. But it would be a revolution without a clear direction; and without a cohesive and genuinely oppositional leadership to take control of the state. Lacking these things, the popular demonstrations would probably have petered out in due course. Now it seems that the theocracy will repress them into oblivion. The dynamic for “real change” (the real thing, not the debased version we in the United States know too well) was there; but the obstacles in its way were daunting and, worse still, there was no clear path forward.

Who benefits from this unfortunate turn of events? In the short run, certainly not the Iranian people; they can now expect a new wave of repression. Not Iranian elites either, since their legitimacy, both at home and abroad, will be in deep crisis for an indefinite future. But at least they will have escaped with their pious hides. The real beneficiaries are the West, especially the United States, and Israel. The Right within the West and Israel benefit most of all.

This is not just because a weakened Iran is good news for them, especially after the Bush-Cheney – now Obama! – wars in Iraq and Afghanistan massively – though, of course, unintentionally -- strengthened Iran’s hand throughout the region. It is more because the more easily demonizable Iran’s leadership is, the more the West and Israel can use the specter of Iran to gain support for their continuing ill-conceived machinations throughout the Middle East and central Asia. No one in the world today is more demonizable than Mahmoud Ahmadinijad – not even Kim Jong-Il comes close.

We can see already how Republicans and “moderate” Democrats (including almost certainly Joe Biden and very likely Hillary Clinton) are waxing “Wilsonian” again – urging Obama to intervene more forcefully or at least more conspicuously in a situation they thoroughly misunderstand. Given how “bipartisan” and prone to compromise Obama can be, they may succeed in derailing the (somewhat) wiser course Obama seemed to be forging. Israel benefits too, especially the Israeli Right. With Ahmadinjad more than Mousavi, their “existential threat” remains intact. They need that threat desperately, along with what they can label “anti-Semitism” wherever they can find it or conjure it up, to keep their own quasi-theocratic ethnic project from exhausting what little moral capital it can still call upon. Shameless exploitation of the Nazis’ industrialized genocidal campaign against European Jewry only goes so far.

Expect the theocrats in Iran to blame the West for the unrest. According to news reports, this is already happening. It is worth remarking, though, that, this time around, the theocracy’s ire seems directed more at Great Britain than the United States. Perhaps Obama’s vaunted “opening” to “the Islamic world” is bearing fruit. But, of course, this could change in an instant if the Republicans and their co-thinkers in the Lesser Evil Party get their way.

Blaming “the West” and Israel serves the theocracy’s purpose, and the West and Israel have long provided the theocrats with ample ammunition. But the larger fact is that the Iranian theocracy serves the West’s and Israel’s purposes too. It’s a vicious circle, which, in light of recent events, is not about to wither away.

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