"Mizanan, ya na?" (Will they hit or not?) In Tehran these days, this question is the talk of the town. The "they" is seldom spelled out. Yet everyone knows that it refers to the United States. . . .
The bulk of the Khomeinist leadership, including the "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, however, take the threat seriously and are preparing public opinion for a climb-down by the Islamic Republic. The American naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, the new U.S. offensive against Iran's agents and armed clients in Iraq, Tehran's failure to seize power in Beirut through its Hezbollah proxy, and plummeting oil prices are all cited by Ayatollah Khamenei's entourage as reasons why a climb-down might be necessary.
Sometime in the next few weeks, Iran is likely to offer a "compromise formula" under which it would suspend its enrichment program, as demanded by the Security Council, in exchange for a suspension of sanctions. This will be accompanied by noises from Tehran about readiness to help the U.S. in Iraq, plus possible concessions in Lebanon and over the Palestine-Israel issue. . . . .
So, what should the Bush administration do when, and if, the mullahs unveil their compromise formula? First is to see the mullahs' move as deja vu all over again. Each time the mullahs are in trouble they become the essence of sweet reasonableness. They deploy their traditional tactics of taqiyah (obfuscation), kitman (dissimulation) and ehtiat (caution) to confuse the "infidels" and divide their ranks. The Iranian leadership did this in the early days of the Khomeinist revolution in 1979 by persuading the clueless Jimmy Carter that the ayatollah was the only force capable of preventing Iran from falling into communist hands. In 1984 and '85, they seduced the Reagan administration with an offer of releasing the American hostages in Beirut in exchange for the secret U.S. arms deliveries Iran needed to stop the Iraqi advance. In 1987 they stopped their attacks on Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf after an American task force sunk the Revolutionary Guard's navy in a 10-hour battle.
In 1988, fear of an even bigger U.S. military attack persuaded Ayatollah Khomeini to "drink the cup of poison" by agreeing to end his eight-year war with Iraq. In 1998, the mullahs offered a "grand bargain" to the Clinton administration as a means of averting U.S. retaliation for the Iranian-sponsored killing of 19 American soldiers in an attack in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. . . .
The Khomeinist revolution has not succeeded in destroying the plurimillennial idea of Iran as a nation-state. But each time the Khomeinist revolution found itself on the defensive, the Western powers, including the U.S., helped it restore its legitimacy and regain its breath. The same illusions that produced the détente, which arguably prolonged the life of the Soviet Union, have also helped the Khomeinist revolution survive long after its sell-by date.
Today, Iran is once again facing the schizophrenia imposed on it through the conflict between state and revolution. A majority of Iranians, including many in the ruling elite, wish Iran to re-emerge as a nation-state.
The U.S. has no interest in helping the Khomeinist revolution escape the consequences of its misdeeds. This does not mean that there should be no diplomatic contact with Tehran or that pressure should be exerted for the sake of it. Nor does it mean that military action, "to hit or not to hit," is the only question worth pondering with regard to the Islamic Republic.
No one should be duped by a tactical retreat in Tehran or a temporary modification of the regime's behavior. What is needed is a change in the nature of the regime. The chances of setting such change in motion have never been as good, and the current showdown should be used to communicate a clear message: As a nation-state, Iran can and will be a friend. As a revolution, it would always remain a foe.
This is very interesting. Perhaps we should not be duped by a Tehran retreat, but that does seem to be what has happened in the past. I don't think the politics being played in Washington these days gives me any reason to think that our national political leaders will not be duped this time around as well.