Washington Post - Saturday, June 20, 2009
The supreme leader issues a challenge to his internal foes -- and the Obama administration.
IN ITS OWN obtuse and menacing way, yesterday's speech by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, was actually useful. Mr. Khamenei made it plain that he and the vast security establishment he heads have no intention of permitting anyone but his own favorite, incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to become president. He issued a threat to the multitudes who have bravely and peacefully denounced alleged electoral fraud: "If there is any bloodshed, leaders of the protests will be held directly responsible." And he rehearsed tired conspiracy theories, blaming the historic unrest on "dirty Zionists," the United States and Britain. In so doing, Mr. Khamenei clarified the true nature of his regime and the true nature of the challenge it poses to the United States and the world.
That challenge is, and has been, a matter of intense debate. For some in the United States, including the last administration, the very notion of negotiating with the Islamic republic was suspect. The Obama administration came to office promising a new approach, one that would treat Iran's external conduct separately from its internal character. An approach that did not threaten the Islamic republic's claim to power, the administration reasoned, would stand a better chance of restraining its nuclear ambitions and support for terrorism.
Now a previously discounted factor -- the Iranian people -- has arisen and scrambled that expectation. When Mr. Khamenei said yesterday that "the enemies [of Iran] are targeting the Islamic establishment's legitimacy by questioning the election and its authenticity before and after" the vote, he was backhandedly admitting that the people's protests pose a direct challenge to him and the system he has led for two decades. Mr. Khamenei's words will probably not satisfy his citizenry, though they might cow it. His speech's impact on the Iranian opposition will begin to show within the next few days. There are two possible results: either a change of (or in) the regime, or its perpetuation through force on a base of domestic support so narrow it would increasingly justify its existence through external conflict.
Either way, President Obama's policy cannot remain unaffected. As of today, (continues...)