OPINION

Iran and the Rubicon

Former US President George W. Bush made no bones about the fact that the US attack on Saddam Hussein was the first link in a chain toward his reshaping the Middle East. The next targets were to be Syria and Iran. The plan was never carried out because the Americans became bogged down in an Iraqi quagmire. Taking Iraq was easy, but maintaining the occupation proved to be militarily and politically painful. That postponed the threat of invading Iran, although Israel continued to press for military action against Iranian nuclear installations. In fact, it was the threat of attack that made the Islamic regime switch priority to their nuclear program as a deterrent. With the changing of the guard at the White House came a change in strategy. President Barack Obama made an impressive political overture to the Muslim world in general and to Iran in particular. Tehran reacted cautiously but it was clear that its anti-American rhetoric was no longer enough. Obama had sharpened pre-existing contrasts, not only within Iranian society but within the ranks of the Iranian regime. Iran’s presidential elections were overshadowed by those contrasts. According to all indications, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s high election outcome was due to vote-rigging. He could have won the elections even without it, due to his influence over the working classes. But interference with the will of the electorate detonated an explosion of accumulated sociopolitical dissatisfaction. Mir-Hossein Mousavi is a creation of the Islamic regime but his candidacy rallied a sector of society ranging from those who want a more moderate Islamic regime to those wanting to overthrow it. Obama carefully avoided any criticism, so as not to give credence to the hard core’s claim that the West had incited the demonstrations to undermine the Islamic regime. That may have been possible, but would have been insignificant politically. The protest movement has social roots. In practice, it means that Iran has crossed the Rubicon.