In a game of chicken of massive and momentous proportions, it appears that Iran’s clerical leadership has blinked ever so slightly. I wouldn’t start celebrating just yet as a lot remains to be seen. But maybe, just maybe, there is someone home there:
Hundreds of thousands of people marched through central Tehran on Monday to protest Iran’s disputed presidential election in an extraordinary show of defiance that appeared to be the largest antigovernment demonstration here since the 1979 revolution.
…The protests began hours after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for a inquiry into opposition claims that the election was rigged in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The ayatollah’s call — announced every 15 minutes on Iranian state radio throughout the day — was the first sign that Iran’s top leadership might be rethinking its position on the election. But it was too soon to tell whether the announcement, or the government’s decision to let the enormous rally in Tehran proceed, indicated more than a superficial shift. Many in the crowd said they believed the government was simply buying time, and hoping the protests would dissipate, as smaller protest movements have in 1999 and 2003.
The Times’ report said that, impressively, the rally was entirely silent (except for Moussavi’s address), to emphasize the non-threatening, non-violent nature of the movement. Clearly, it is important to the protest leaders to reassure the putative leadership that they are not seeking to overthrow the system, but rather to democratize it. This does not mean that the Ayatollah will not continue to see the movement as a threat. But it does give him one less piece of ammunition with which to bash them in the domestic media.
Moussavi’s wife had earlier called for a general strike tomorrow though the Times is reporting only another demonstration. Tomorrow is another day on the road toward freedom (one hopes at least).
There are several related developments here in the U.S. which are alternately hopeful and distressing. First, Israeli media are reporting that Dennis Ross, Iran hawk, has been relieved of his State Department responsibilities regarding Iran:
Dennis Ross, who most recently served as a special State Department envoy to Iran, will abruptly be relieved of his duties, sources in Washington told Haaretz. An official announcement is expected in the coming days.
The Obama administration will announce that Ross has been reassigned to another position in the White House. In his new post, the former Mideast peace envoy under President Bill Clinton will deal primarily with regional issues related to the peace process.
Washington insiders speculate that a number of reasons moved the administration to reassign Ross. One possibility is Iran’s persistent refusal to accept Ross as a U.S. emissary given the diplomat’s Jewish background as well as his purported pro-Israel leanings. Ross is known to maintain contacts with numerous senior officials in Israel’s defense establishment and the Israeli government.
Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem surmised that another possibility for Ross’ ouster is his just-released book, “Myths, Illusions, and Peace – Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.”
Frankly, I was rather astonished to read this promotional e mail from Ross’ publisher, Penguin-Viking, that played up precisely the most bellicose and alarming (to those like me opposed war with Iran) aspects of the book’s contents:
U.S. envoy Dennis Ross…raises the possibility of the use of military force against Iran should negotiations fail to head off Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Tougher policies – either militarily or meaningful containment – will be easier to sell internationally and domestically if we have diplomatically tried to resolve our differences with Iran in a serious and credible fashion,” they wrote.
I wondered to myself how Ross’ publisher could so bald-facedly promote pro-war provocation while the co-author sat in the State Department ostensibly promoting constructive U.S.-Iran engagement.
Personally, I think either Clinton or Obama just grew tired of reading stories like these which telegraphed Ross’ discomfort with the current administration line toward Teheran. And with an even more intransigent, entrenched regime now in place it became even more important for our ducks to be in row when dealing with Iran.
That’s why I’m delighted Ross has been removed from a sandbox in which he could do much harm. Having him in a senior position dealing with the Iranian issue is like putting the fox in the chicken coop. If you want mischief I can’t think of a better way to get it.
In a related matter, United Against Nuclear Iran, a group neocon on whose board Ross sat, has begun a TV ad campaign touting a hardline message concerning a nuclearized Iran. I’m shocked that Ross wouldn’t have completely dissociated himself from this group considering his government role and the fact that UANI is advocating a position that not only is dangerous and contrary to current U.S. policy, but mirrors Israel’s interests and the goals of its military and intelligence apparatus.
Folks, we’ve got to cut out this s(&t. It only helps Ahmadinejad and his lackeys drill the locks tighter on Iranian democracy and freedom. There are those in the U.S. and Israel who actually prefer things that way. These people not only want a war, they want regime change. So as far as they’re concerned, the worse the Iranian government. the more the world will eventually clamor for toppling the mullahs. They’re got a retro version of George Bush’s fever dream about overthrowing Saddam Hussein. And were we to go that way, we’d end up in precisely the same place that we’re in right now regarding Iraq: troops committed and dying, a nation in the midst of mini-civil war. A total disaster. We must not let this happen with Iran.