Sunday, July 5, 2009


Maybe, as a friend recently e mailed me, the public dissent of mullah’s in the holy city of Qom is “the most meaningful news thus far out of Iran.” All news from Iran should be measured against this central fact: we do not know who won the election and with how many votes.

A friend in Iran who voted for the supposed loser and who very much wants reform, told me Amadinezhad won because of strong support from nationalists and by virtue of his populist appeal among poor and rural voters.

His opinion was supported by foreigners inside Iran and by polls taken by at least one credible group that used phoned into Iran using non-profit groups and pollsters speaking Farsi. The pollsters talked to over 1000 Iranians in all 30 provinces and showed Amadinezhad leading Mousavi 2 to 1, approximately the same as the reported vote count. Note, phone polls are hardly likely to be biased for the poor.

It reminds me of how many people in all parts of Russia have told me over the years how Stalin’s death brought millions of people onto the street shedding genuine tears. National leaders who seem certifiably nuts from outside a country can enjoy long period of majority popularity among their own people—Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, Juan Peron. Large protests that dominate foreign media are not valid polls.

The Iranian vote may have included fraud and manipulation in both the campaign and the actual vote and its count. That does not mean Amadinejhad doesn’t have a majority. At least one commentator has suggested that the non-Muslim media are suffering from “cell phone myopia.” They believe that if cell phones are dominated by a certain opinion, then that appears to be the opinion of the nation as a whole.
The existence of any opposition in places like Iran is a positive. Even more interesting that religious leaders in Iran’s holy city speak publicly against the Khamenei approved president. More important, what are they in favor of? Truly democratic elections? A different theocracy? Respect for the sovereignty of other countries, including their embassies and diplomats?

Western governments and Arab governments in the Middle East that fear Iran can only hope that what are almost certainly minority protest voices can become a large enough force to topple Khamenei and his man, Amadinejhad.

The European Union whose diplomats were arrested in violation of international law, has done nothing but tell Iran’s ambassadors that the situation is “unacceptable.” That’s diplomatese for we’re still thinking, don’t call us, we’ll call you. Maybe.

There is one country where “unacceptable” usually leads to a remedy, and both Europe and the US seem to be leaving the solution of what they really fear in Iran—the bomb—up to Israel. Vice President Biden said "Israel can determine for itself — it’s a sovereign nation — what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else." That’s diplomatese message to Iran—if you get near having a bomb, we’ll sic Israel on you.

President Obama’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullens, said, “I think it’s very important, as we deal with Iran, that we don’t take any options, including military options, off the table.” (Was he quoting George Bush?)

We might sum up both US and European three pronged policy on Iran as hope, change, or duck-- talk more and hope, leave it up to the protestors to change Iran’s direction, or let Israel bail us out and duck.

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