The high drama in Iran is beginning to seem like a bad dream, as it fades out of the news, eclipsed in part by Michael Jackson's sudden death. and also in part by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's hormonal escapade in Argentina. Sadly, the brave protesters, now in constant danger of being bludgeoned, arrested, tortured, or just plain disappeared, have largely left the streets. And who can blame them? Who can stand up to being pursued by terrifying bands of paramilitary Basiji's--gonzo Medusas armed with bulletproof plexiglas shields and electric batons, whose mobilization capacity is nearly a million--with instructions from above to kill on sight? Any challenge to the regime has now been declared, not just illegal, but punishable by death. Leaders of the unrest, according to the most recent sound of things, may be eligible for execution. It's the same old eternal order of "demonic males" all over again, glorying in their own gruesome thuggery.
It has been an incredible thing to watch history unfolding in real time. But what started as something inspirational--a huge, self-organizing, morphic field of individuals demanding justice and the right to a fair election--has changed into a nightmarish requiem scenario of scissor-sharp brutality beyond all frontiers of human decency. Watching a boot come down on a human face in real time, as Andrew Sullivan has put it, is "more than frustrating," given one's helplessness to do anything but be an aroused witness. "My own sense of helplessness," he confesses, "is abated by blogging manically. It's all I know to do." Ditto Io. (That's Italian for "me, too.") Sullivan suggests that the Iranian people revealed who they are during these past few weeks--and it is something akin to messenger angels, now tragically stripped of wings, who have had everything taken away from them.
In the past day or two, the regime has been accusing "foreign powers" of having mobilized these forces and meddled in Iran's internal affairs--everyone from Barack Obama to the BBC and the CIA. Of course we've seen our President bend over backwards to stay out of it. But the truth is, when Obama went to Cairo, and also reached out in other ways to the Middle East, he did masterfully alter the dynamics of things just by dint of who he is. And the mullahs know it. By his own account, trying to promote the mutual understanding that we all share common hopes and dreams as human beings is not just a belief for Obama. It's in his DNA. It's who he is. And, as he suggested so characteristically in a campaign speech way back in Iowa:
"The one thing I'm absolutely certain of is...that ultimately the country changes when millions of people come together, and speak out on behalf of change. Because when ordinary citizens are awakened they accomplish extraordinary things." That is the seed he plants wherever he goes, the message he brings. And then he primes the pump. He paves the way for those extraordinary things to happen.
At least, that is what the Thesaurus told me. I'd already done a reading on Obama-- asking where is he at? how is he doing? etc.--several days before I attempted a second one on Ahmadinejad (see my previous blog). The response about Obama had been every bit as cogent and insightful as the one about Ahmadinejad: (Don't ask me to explain why this works--it just does.) The heading this time was "PREPAREDNESS':
preparing, making ready, clearing the decks, preliminary steps, priming, loading, mobilization; spadework, groundwork, foundation, blueprint, prototype; hatching, incubation, cultivation, tillage, sowing, planting; preparer, coach, trainer, torch-bearer, trail-blazer, pioneer, bridge-builder; pave the way, show the way, lead up to, lay the foundation, do the groundwork, provide the basis, put in working order, tee up; cock, prime, load, crank up, get into gear.
That's exactly who he is, exactly what he does. In Cairo, in this new era of political and economic connectivity, he provided a foundation, and then he cranked it all up. As Carl Owen wrote in Politico: ""OK, let me see if I've got this right. Since Barack Obama has taken the presidential oath of office we have witnessed: a) Hezbollah lose a shoo-in election in Lebanon, b) Pakistan begin serious efforts to control the Taliban and al Qaeda elements inside its borders, c) Netanyahu of Israel mumble support about a two state solution and rethink settlements and, d) A major awakening of the Iranian citizenry against the heavy-handedness of the mullahs. .. I don't know if all this is the results of one speech in Cairo by the President but if it is I hope he gives a second, and soon."
So now that Ahmi-Khatami have shown their true colors (definitely not green), where does this leave U.S.-Iranian relations? Certainly it has badly skewed the equation. As Joe Klein comments in the current issue of Time magazine, "Whether or not to negotiate, now that the Iranian government has disgraced itself in the eyes of the world, is sure to be a defining moment for the Obama Administration."
From where I sit, it seems like the hurtling towards apocalyptic-nuclear scenarios has just accelerated big time, and that 2012 could well arrive before some of us make it to the old-folks home.