Reality and Iran

Amir Taheri:

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Ahmadinejad has the great merit of seeing the problem for what it really is.

Fantasists such as Javier Solana, the European Union's ineffective foreign-policy czar, have tried to present the Islamic Republic's uranium-enrichment program as a technical issue. Others, like French President Jacques Chirac, have advised acceptance of what they regard as a fait accompli.

For Ahmadinejad, however, the issue is political in the grand sense of the term - with nothing less at stake than the survival of the Khomeinist regime.

The 1979 revolution had a tripartite slogan: "independence, liberty and Islamic government" - and the regime that emerged tried to build its legitimacy on that basis. Over the last quarter-century, however, it has failed to deliver.

In practical terms, Iran today is more dependent on the outside world than before the Khomeinists seized power. In 1977, Iran imported 11 percent of the food it needed; today, it imports almost half. In 1977, Iran was an overall exporter of crude oil and petroleum products; today, it imports more than 40 percent of its gasoline.

In 1977, there were no outside forces in the Gulf. Today, the United States and its allies control the waterway. Iranian ships passing through the Gulf, and aircraft flying over it, have to clear their routes with the Americans.

As for liberty, most Iranians today know that they are much less free, especially in social and cultural terms, than they were before the mullahs seized power. A recent study by the International Monetary Fund shows Iran experiencing the largest brain-drain of any country in history, largely because the educated elites are fleeing an oppressive atmosphere.

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Thanks to Ahmadinejad, the nuclear issue has become a regime-change issue.

If the Khomeinist regime emerges victorious from the current confrontation, it would move to a higher degree of radicalism - thus, in effect, becoming a new regime. The radical faction would be able to purge the rich and corrupt mullahs by promoting a new generation of zealots linked with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and the security services. It would also move onto the offensive in the region, seeking to reshape it after the Khomeinist revolution's geostrategic interests.

If, on the other hand, the regime is forced to back down on this issue, the radical moment would fade, while the many enemies of the regime regroup either to topple it or to change it beyond recognition, as Deng Xiaoping did with China's Maoist regime.

We are witnessing the start of what could be a long, complicated conflict - not a prelude to the sharp, short exchange that many expect. What is at stake is the future not only of Iran but also of the place of American power in the world. This showdown cannot end without a clear winner and loser.

That is why the possibility of any negotiated agreement on the issue is remote especially with the current regime operatives. Their weak show of force war games only give away their current weakness and their future goals which makes opposition to them more important. It is the attitude of the Europeans and the Democrats that lacks realism.

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