Monday, June 22, 2009

Revolution in Iran

If you're old enough to remember the hostage crisis in Iran in 1979 and 1980, I don't need to tell you how much things have changed.

But permit me to reflect a little.

In November 1979, there was no internet. There were no personal computers. There was cable television service, but it was very limited and 24–hour news channels did not exist yet.

Access to information was, to put it mildly, limited. And American citizens were being held hostage by foreign captors in a foreign land. The issues confronting Jimmy Carter were different from the issues facing Barack Obama.

Fast forward 30 years.

In recent days — and in spite of attempted crackdowns on internet access and cell phone use — the whole world has been witness to the revolution in Iran that was sparked by the fraudulent elections there earlier this month.

The ugliness of the situation has not been kept within Iran's borders. As the video clip attached to this post demonstrates, the world has had no trouble seeing the brutality of the governing regime. When people see a young woman bleeding and dying in the streets of Tehran, the choice seems simple to Americans who, last year, said they wanted "change we can believe in."

But the events in Iran pose a dilemma for Obama, writes E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post. "Liberals and progressives should be natural allies of those trying to overturn the existing order," he writes. But Obama and the Democrats came to power in this country in large part because they objected to the Bush administration's use of American power in the world, and "Iraq is Exhibit A for the dangers of presuming that American power can easily remake the world."

So Obama must walk a fine line. He supports the calls for democracy and accountability in Iran, but he acknowledges the history of U.S.–Iran relations and understands that America cannot be perceived as interfering.

Even if Obama feels tempted to act — and, frankly, events may escalate to the point where he feels he has no options left — at the moment, he must accept the reality that American troops are engaged in two conflicts. The military is already stretched too thin. If America gets involved in Iran, it may well necessitate the involvement of troops — and there just aren't enough of those to go around.

I've heard some people express concerns about the flow of oil from Iran. I'm no expert on economics or global politics, but, at this point, I'm inclined to believe Iran will neither shut off its oil supply to the rest of the world nor will it arbitrarily jack up prices to customers in countries that have not been favorable to the regime.

What about those who raise concerns about the safety of ships in the Persian Gulf? Well, things can change, but the Strait of Hormuz is one of the most secure waterways in the world.

For now, Iran must accept the going price for oil — and oil prices currently seem to be following a downward trajectory.

The situation, however, will need to be monitored closely. And things could change considerably if the "Great Satan" becomes an active player in the drama — especially if no American lives hang in the balance.

It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. I believe that is true, and I also believe we have seen evidence of it recently. But it can take time for the pen to prevail.

The guns in Iran have not kept reports of tragic events from being relayed to the rest of the world — through the internet and cell phones. But, inside Iran's borders, the guns rule, bringing to mind Gandhi's admonition that, throughout human history, "[t]here have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall."

It is not only Obama — or impatient Americans — who must walk a fine line in this situation. The longer that Iran resists the movement growing among its own people, the more likely it will be to show the world the truth of the words of President Kennedy: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

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