A Few Thoughts on Iran
The evident electoral theft in Iran is obviously a bit outside the normal purview of this blog. But I feel uncomfortable ignoring it totally. This is a very big deal in very obvious ways. New Yorker writer Laura Secor's take is, I think, largely correct:
There can be no question that the June 12, 2009 Iranian presidential election was stolen. Dissident employees of the Interior Ministry, which is under the control of President Ahmadinejad and is responsible for the mechanics of the polling and counting of votes, have reportedly issued an open letter saying as much. Government polls (one conducted by the Revolutionary Guards, the other by the state broadcasting company) that were leaked to the campaigns allegedly showed ten- to twenty-point leads for Mousavi a week before the election; earlier polls had them neck and neck, with Mousavi leading by one per cent, and Karroubi just behind. Historically, low turnout has always favored conservatives in Iranian elections, while high turnout favors reformers. That’s because Iran’s most reliable voters are those who believe in the system; those who are critical tend to be reluctant to participate. For this reason, in the last three elections, sixty-five per cent of voters have come from traditional, rural villages, which house just thirty-five per cent of the populace. If the current figures are to be believed, urban Iranians who voted for the reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami in 1997 and 2001 have defected to Ahmadinejad in droves.
What is most shocking is not the fraud itself, but that it was brazen and entirely without pretext. The final figures put Mousavi’s vote below thirty-five per cent, and not because of a split among reformists; they have Karroubi pulling less than one per cent of the vote. To announce a result this improbable, and to do it while locking down the Interior Ministry, sending squads of Revolutionary Guards into the streets, blacking out internet and cell phone communication and shuttering the headquarters of the rival candidates, sends a chilling message to the people of Iran—not only that the Islamic Republic does not care about their votes, but that it does not fear their wrath. Iranians, including many of the original founders and staunch supporters of the revolution, are angry, and they will demonstrate. But they will be met with organized and merciless violence.
There are a couple things to say about this, all of them depressing. First, those of us who have long argued for the fundamental rationality of the Iranian regime have seen our case fundamentally weakened. A rational regime might have stolen the election. But they would not have stolen it like this, where there is no doubt of the theft. This is like robbers leaving muddy footprints and a home address. Tehran's evident vote-tampering is tempting both domestic revolution and international isolation. That they appear to fear neither says something very unsettling about the mental state of the regime.
The second is that it is likely to disrupt what was, to my mind, a very positive trend in the United States: the long-overdue effort to pressure Israel on the settlements. Among America's points of leverage was that Israel desperately needed our help to handle Iran. Among the trends freeing our hand was the apparent quieting of Iran's drumbeat of provocations. Now that Iran appears to be more of an independent problem and less likely to fall into a period of relative quiet, it's hard to imagine either Israel or America spending too much time worrying about their relationship with each other.
The third is that energy prices tend to dislike turmoil in the Middle East. The economist James Hamilton has previously argued that rocketing oil prices were the key driver behind the recession of 2008 and 2009. Conversely, some of the recent pick-up in the economy is presumably related to the fact that energy costs had fallen pretty sharply (due, in part, to the slackening demand brought about by the recession). In recent weeks, however, oil had been trending back upward, and if things devolve in Tehran, we can expect it to spike. And a spike in oil prices is exactly the sort of things that could choke off an emergent recovery.
(Photo of reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi taken by AP Photo's Ben Curtis)
June 15, 2009; 9:10 AM ET
Categories: Foreign Policy
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