Those of us that spend time listening to the ‘talking heads’ are hearing concerns about whether, and how much, the US should be getting involved in the uprising in Iran. At this point (Friday, June 19th), the administration is making only general statements not wanting to fall into the trap of being perceived as the ‘great instigator’. Congress, on the other hand, has been less cautious.
Thus far the political analysis has mainly focused on the behavior of the people and the government in Iran since 1979 but a more basic understanding is essential. That understanding is of the fundamental relationship between a leader and his followers.
There is a half conscious understanding between a leader and his followers that he is going to satisfy their needs and desires. Perhaps it was best put by Yasser Arafat in an appearance on the Charlie Rose show some years ago. Arafat was quoting Charles De Gaulle who was told by someone that public opinion was a ‘window of opportunity’. De Gaulle’s response was that was the wrong metaphor. Instead, De Gaulle said that “public opinion was like a galloping horse and you have to ride it”.
Throughout history autocrats have been overthrown when they have failed to understand this. The disconnect between themselves and the population occurred through either their own insularity and confidence in the permanence and righteousness of their positions or through the notion that their power was derived from their relationship with God and not from the people. The Iranian ‘Supreme Leader’, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, like King Louis XVI and Czar Nicholas II before him, is squarely in that camp.
Clearly, he is not a politician who owes his success to his understanding of the public mood. This Ayatollah sees himself as enlightened by the Word of God and thinks that the Iranian population buys that as well. This means that he believes that his view trumps those of all others. Negotiations and influence are accordingly going to be of little value. The final chapter, then, will occur when the populace becomes desperate enough and knowledgeable enough to end his reign.