The Olympics are always a source of good metaphors, at least while they’re being broadcast, and people are familiar for two weeks with sports they never see anywhere else. I thought the poorly-designed luge track, scene of a fatal accident and a number of other training mishaps, was a fine choice for talking about Iran’s reckless rush to build the bomb.
Boy, the list things Iran’s wacky president Ahmadinejad doesn’t believe in keeps growing. Caught red-handed this time, the Iranian hard-liner, of course, still pretends that Iran has no nuclear ambitions, and that the nuclear ambitions it that doesn’t have are for peaceful purposes only. It needs those 30,000 centrifuges in a secret tunnel, which suddenly isn’t so secret, to–uh–distill water? Kudos to the Obama administration for calling the Iranians out, and for orchestrating the U.N. nuclear resolution in such a way that many of the nations which might have resisted are thus embarrassed into supporting the call for inspections and sanctions.
The genie, as they say, is out of the bottle. The hard-line leadership of Iran is trying to do two opposite things at the same time–promote a partially open society and try to control it. Having given the people of Iran, who increasingly chafe under the limits of a rigid authoritarian society, at least the illusion that they had the option of choosing reform, the conservative clerics who have run Iran since its revolution are unhappy with the results. Now they are trying to have it both ways after the fact. Having delivered a sham outcome, they are trying to calm the unrest by simultaneously ratifying the bogus election of Ahmadinejad and investigating a small enough fraction of the polling to ensure the outcome, giving the impression at least that they are looking into irregularities. The opposition is having none of it. In the classic response of all authoritarian regimes, the next step is the bloody repression now taking place. The question is whether the regime will be able to stifle the protests completely, as China did twenty years ago at Tiananman Square, or whether the Iranian society is now open enough that the hunger for change has taken hold permanently.
It remains to be seen if the current unrest in Iran leads to genuine reform, or if it will end in a bloody repression. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, apparently badly misjudged the mood of the people, and he’s clearly having trouble putting the genie back in the bottle. The Iranian population, young and eager for economic progress and a loosening of the strict Islamic rule, may well have believed that their voices would count in this election. Khamenei’s hurried endorsement of what appears to be a stolen election, followed by his tepid agreement for a limited recount, have weakened him and his puppet hard-line president, Ahmadinejad. He controls the military and the privileged classes support the status quo. It’s unlikely that he will cede much power. The question is how will he choose to restore order–with meaningful reforms, or with the gun.