Iran: The Biggest Domino

I know it’s redundant to tell people to read Charles Krauthammer – really, you are doing Friday wrong if you don’t read his column every week – but he boils down the essential stakes in Iran neatly, and reminds us that this isn’t just about Ahmadenijad vs Mousavi. Samples:

[T]his incipient revolution is no longer about the election. Obama totally misses the point. The election allowed the political space and provided the spark for the eruption of anti-regime fervor that has been simmering for years and awaiting its moment. But people aren’t dying in the street because they want a recount of hanging chads in suburban Isfahan. They want to bring down the tyrannical, misogynist, corrupt theocracy that has imposed itself with the very baton-wielding goons that today attack the demonstrators.

As Bill Clinton might put it: it’s the mullahs, stupid. Krauthammer, as always, looks at this from the broader perspective of regional/global strategic dynamics. The stakes, if the regime falls:

Imagine the repercussions. It would mark a decisive blow to Islamist radicalism, of which Iran today is not just standard-bearer and model, but financier and arms supplier. It would do to Islamism what the collapse of the Soviet Union did to communism — leave it forever spent and discredited.

In the region, it would launch a second Arab spring. The first in 2005 — the expulsion of Syria from Lebanon, the first elections in Iraq and early liberalization in the Gulf states and Egypt — was aborted by a fierce counterattack from the forces of repression and reaction, led and funded by Iran.

Now, with Hezbollah having lost elections in Lebanon and with Iraq establishing the institutions of a young democracy, the fall of the Islamist dictatorship in Iran would have an electric and contagious effect. The exception — Iraq and Lebanon — becomes the rule. Democracy becomes the wave. Syria becomes isolated; Hezbollah and Hamas, patronless. The entire trajectory of the region is reversed.

All hangs in the balance.

Krauthammer does oversimplify a bit; there are forces in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that are also crucial to the counterrevolution against democratizing and liberalizing the region. But in neither of those states do the reactionaries have full control of the government the way they do in Iran (internal Saudi and Pakistani politics being deeply Byzantine), and changing the Iranian regime would put those forces in a much weaker position within their own states in the same way it would isolate Syria.

As Krauthammer notes, and as I discussed yesterday, Obama is on the wrong side of this – not in the Ahmadenijad vs Mousavi dispute, on which he’s properly neutral, but on the broader people vs mullahs battle, in which his tepid responses and olive branches to the mullahs are effectively placing him on the side of the billy clubs. The House just voted 405-1 to “condemn” repression in Iran and stand with the dissidents; only Ron Paul, who votes against these things as a matter of course, sided with the mullahs and the White House.