The Islamic Republic of Iran has sealed its fate with the ruthless repression of its opponents, shelving the vote fraud, and granting legitimacy to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second term in office. And if we do not do anything against this development, we will have sealed our fate, too.
In these days, two battles have been waged in Iran and their results will define the future of Iran, the region and the world. In both battles, our interests and the values of freedom, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence have been defeated.
It is evident that demonstrators rallying in the streets of Tehran to vent their protest against obvious voter fraud started progressively to express in more clear terms their desires for deeper change, for a life in freedom and away from the Ayatollahs’ rigorous impositions. The repressive instruments of the Islamic regime and the passivity of the West towards the Ayatollahs’ excesses have unfortunately crushed any hope of change once again. Iran’s democrats have lost because the democratic world abandoned them in their hour of need and let them fall prey to tyranny. In time, Iran’s democrats will recover, because nothing is more powerfully appealing than the idea of freedom; however it is yet to be seen if we can regain their trust since we are the ones who have preferred to deal with the barbarians instead of betting for change.
The second battle has been developing in the background; yet it is as important and it has pitted traditional religious leaders against the new emergent ones whose prime representative is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Although it may seem paradoxical to us, the duel is between the Qom clan that has personally profited from the 1979 Islamic revolution and the Revolutionary Guards who are committed to the protection itself of the revolution and seek to export it to other areas of the world. For them, with Ahmadinejad at the helm, the religious leaders have become soft and corrupt and it is these guardians’ obligation to drive back Khomeini’s ascetic and radical spirit thirty years after the first revolution and twenty years after his death. The radicals have actually become the winners of this recent confrontation to revive Khomeini’s memory.
If there was any hope to start a new relation with the Iran of the Ayatollahs, that hope is gone now and it is time to face the crude reality instead. The Iranian regime, which Khomeini created thirty years ago now, was never just another regime. This fact is something that Westerners often tend to forget. It is a theocratic, fundamentalist, and revolutionary regime. And, in that sense, its structures are not subject to reform and it is incorrigible in its nature. Nonetheless, victory has a price.
Three are the immediate consequences of Ahmadinejad’s stay in power. This man, as we know all too well, is an “enlightened” radical awaiting the coming of the Mahdi, the Twelfth Imam, and the triumph of Islam via chaos and violence; Ahmadinejad sincerely believes that he is the one called to speed up this development. The first consequence is the need to acknowledge that do-gooding and having a conciliatory attitude with the regime in Tehran will only lead to failure. Obama has been wrong about extending a hand to Tehran, thinking that it would suffice to change things in Iran. The Europeans were just as wrong when they believed that radical and “enlightened” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would lose at the ballot box to the apparently more moderate Mir-Hossein Mousavi – or as wrong as those who believed that the accusations of election fraud would culminate in a recount favoring not Ahmadinejad but another candidate or repeating the presidential elections.
Actually, with a good overdose of good will, it is easy to build one’s hopes up over Iran. Yet reality is very different. As I said before, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not your average regime. It is a theocratic, fundamentalist, and revolutionary regime. In that sense, the regime’s structures are not subject to reform and it has an incorrigible nature. Khomeini created this regime thirty years ago to reify Koranic law on earth and his spirit continues to inspire. The Revolutionary Guards are there to ensure that no reform can be carried out. In fact, Ahmadinejad represents the triumph of an elite preferring confrontation to arrangement.
The second problem has to do with Iran’s nuclear ambition. Ahmadinejad is popular among Iranians due largely to his advocacy of the atomic program and nothing can make him think that he must give it up now. He has threatened Israel repeatedly and nothing has happened to him; he has interfered as much as he has wanted in Iraq, where Iran was actually in open warfare against American and British forces and neither Washington nor London did anything against this affront. Iran is notoriously present in Afghanistan, complicating the security of this country and threatening coalition forces due to the aid that Iran renders; yet the Persian country has not suffered any punishment for its deeds. Ahmadinejad has just won a new term in office that has provoked a blood bath; however, all that one can hear is some weak international protests and the great American willingness to enter into talks with him. Why is he going to change now? – particularly when, for the first time, one can observe important policy differences between the White House and the government in Jerusalem.
In fact, during all these days when the world’s attention was centered in the hope of achieving real change in Iran through street demonstrations, Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and their people have gone ahead with Iran’s nuclear program as if nothing had happened, even announcing that the Bushehr plant is now finished and ready thanks to Russian aid. According to what we know from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, the centrifuges have not halted their uranium enrichment process. If everything goes on as today, Iran will have enough enriched uranium to build its first nuclear bomb – if it chooses to do so. And Iran does want to do so.
The third consequence could be much more useful to us if we were able to learn the right lessons: According to what the world has seen – and not seen – in the streets of Iran until now, it is possible to state that the regime of the Ayatollahs need not to be eternal and that it can collapse just as the Berlin Wall did twenty years ago when nobody expected it. However, for Mousavi to rise to the stature of Gorbachev, it is necessary to have a Ronald Reagan among us – and there is none around just yet. While the American president and his partners in the European Union give priority to dialogue and negotiation regarding a change of regime, there will be neither serious negotiation nor any change of regime. To think otherwise is just chimerical.
Granting legitimacy through international forums when the Iranian regime has clearly lost it domestically and extending the promise of starting a new relationship would be a moral abomination and a political crime. The Western community will also be digging its own grave because the Iranian leaders want the bomb to guarantee the success of its Islamic revolution – something that inexorably involves the support and management at will of groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza; extending instability in the Gulf region; and clashing with the West.
Just until recently, we could have chosen between change and the Apocalypse. With Ahmadinejad, we have chosen the Apocalypse. Worse yet, we do have the time to change that and opt to finish with him, his bomb, and his henchmen. It would suffice to actually want it so.
Rafael Bardají is the founder of the Strategic Studies Group in Madrid and a Strategic Advisor to the Atlantic Council. This essay originally appeared at the Strategic Studies Group.