Khamenei, from a Position of Weakness, Threatens a War on Youth
By Al Giordano
In the first stanzas of his 90 minute public speech today, an event usually reserved only for the anniversary of the revolution or high holy days, Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, offered up the scapegoat for his nation’s tumult:
Our youth are in a materialistic world
In a time of turmoil
They don't know what to do,
They need to understand spirituality,
They need to get back to spirituality,
But they don't know how…
I would like to speak about the issue of the election which is the important issue in our country…
The youngsters in our country showed especially,
that they are partaking in the political process since the beginning of the revolution.
Now we'll see the same responsibilities from them that we saw during the Iraqi Aggression War...
Okay. Take a step back and ponder that reference to the Iran-Iraq war of 1980 to 1988, during which Iran utilized a tactic of “child soldiers” sent into certain martyrdom. From Wikipedia:
A tactic used in this advance noted throughout the world was the encouragment of heroism among young Iranian basij volunteers who sought martyrdom in human wave attacks on Iraqi positions. The volunteers were inspired before battle by tales of Ashura, the Battle of Karbala, and the supreme glory of martyrdom, and sometimes by an actor (usually a more mature soldier), playing the part of Imam Hossein himself riding a white horse, galloping along the lines, providing the child soldiers a vision of "the hero who would lead them into their fateful battle before they met their God."…
In the Basra offensive, or Operation Ramadan five human-wave attacks were met with withering fire from the Iraqis. The boy-soldiers of Iran were particularly hard-hit, especially since they volunteered to run intominefields, in order to clear the way for the Iranian soldiers behind them. The Iranians were also hard-hit by the employment of chemical weapons and mustard gas by the Iraqis.”…
It cost Iran an estimated 1 million casualties, killed or wounded, and Iranians continue to suffer and die as a consequence of Iraq's use of chemical weapons. Iraqi casualties are estimated at 250,000-500,000 killed or wounded.
The Supreme Leader didn’t say it outright (and therefore what he really meant is subject to interpretation and much disagreement), but from a psychohistorical perspective, his call upon the youth to assume “the same responsibilities” of that 1980s adventure in ritual human sacrifice of the nation’s own young men came pretty close to saying: Oh, youth of Iran. Get ‘spiritual’ (read: off the streets of protest) or be sacrificed as you were two decades ago.
But then, the Supreme Leader blinked, and started to backpedal, praising endearing qualities among these youth that, just a minute ago, had been portrayed as lost, materialist and without spirituality:
If our young didn't have any hope,
They wouldn't partake in the election
If they didn't feel freedom, they wouldn't vote.
Faith in the system has been shown by the massive participation.
So, the speech began with a veiled threat to the nation’s youth, but followed with some hedging. Okay, everybody be good little boys so we don’t have to send you out to test the land mines.
The next section of the speech contained less veiled threats against opposition political leaders:
...political party leaders should be very careful about what they say and do
if they do anything extremist, their radical moves will moves will take them to where it won't be solvable
if political elite want to fix someone at the cost of another thing
to BREAK the law
they would be responsible for the bloodshed
In other words, “bloodshed” is the only response this old man can think of when it comes to peaceful street protests. The question for him seems not to be “to repress or not to repress.” Repression is all he knows in this kind of a situation. Rather, he is obsessed upon who gets blamed for it, both in the immediate news cycles, and by history.
For a man who claims to be against the West, he certainly showed today that his instincts in a moment of crisis are nearly identical to those of George W. Bush and his doctrine of a "war on terror" than of any Eastern or original alternative. Here, Khamenei essentially says that there are “terrorists” who use demonstrations as a “cover” for their activities, and therefore anybody who calls a demonstration is “responsible” for such terrorism:
if after every election those who haven't gotten votes start to have street camps and invite their followers to come to the streets,
And the winners' followers take their followers to the streets,
Then why did we hold elections to begin with?...
For terrorists it is different
infiltrating terrorist will hide behind these people.
if you make covers for them, then who's responsible?
people have been killed from ordinary people and the Baseej
But then, for the second time in the speech, he steps back from the brink, acknowledging that innocents have been caught in the repression:
attack at universities,
Good students were beaten up
not the ones who were involved in riots.
Some days ago, I noted that the regime seemed caught between two conflicting options on how to deal with the unrest and that by trying to do both it was doing neither very well. By calling for a partial recount of last Friday's vote, it adopted toward the Mexican model of 2006, which successfully tired out a post-electoral movement against a mammoth electoral fraud with legalistic gymnastics, suckering the opposition into playing by a fixed set of rules. But the Supreme Leader's words today, hinting at violence and repression – more arrests, beatings, killings, torture and censorship, which is itself a form of violence – tilted more toward the Chinese model Tienanmen Square of 1989.
Although the censorship part of the Chinese model has utterly failed in Iran, thanks to the citizen media from below, it seems in this speech that the regime has now rejected the Mexican model - he didn't mention the partial recount at all - and has opted for threats of repression and ritual sacrifice in the hope it will cause the leaders to back down and cancel the protests. (In fact, one of the best things that could happen would be if the “leaders” – Mousavi et al – chickened out; a vacuum would be created for new, non-electoral, leadership to emerge, but Khamenei is in such an obvious position of weakness that that’s not going to happen, at least not right away: Mousavi will, instead of hiding, pounce.)
Toward the end of the speech, the Supreme Leader reiterated:
I want both sides to put an end to this
then the responsibility of the consequences should be shouldered by those who aren't putting an end to it.
by thinking that by turning out onto the streets that you can pressure the officials your demands is wrong.
In sum: To the opposition political leaders, back down, or I’ll kill many of our youths, and our propaganda machine will blame you for it.
I'll repeat. The speech today makes evident that the Supreme Leader is speaking from a profound position of weakness. He can’t control the latter part of his threat: the blame and infamy for a massacre will fall on him and his regime alone. No opposition leader is going to swallow in fear thinking that he would be blamed by the people and by history for state repression against peaceful marchers. And the former part – to engage in more brutal and widespread violent repression than before – depends upon his being able to mobilize the Iranian Armed Forces, who have so far chosen to decline such disgrace upon them (if anything, the Army has protected demonstrators from the Basij militias in a few instances already reported).
I don’t know how the Supreme Leader wiggles out of the corner he has just painted himself into. The demonstrations aren't going to stop. Tomorrow may see the largest yet. He either has to convince the Armed Forces to send young soldiers to massacre the youth of a young nation, or he can’t carry out the threats he has just made. More “low intensity warfare” of the kind waged so far is only going to increase the ranks of the resistance and lose him the population in the middle. And I think it’s a safe bet that Mousavi and Rafsanjani and the others he was trying to convince to back down also see that he is speaking from a position of weakness, and aren't going to be cowed.
I frankly expected to hear a more savvy Supreme Leader than the doddering fool we heard from today, caught in a world that has already passed him by, without a clue of what to do next.
Many people’s reactions to his speech were along the lines of “oh no, this doesn’t look good, here comes trouble.” But it is not at all clear that this man has the power any more to deploy sufficient force to quell a revolt of millions.
Who holds the cards right now in the correlation of forces? The Irani Armed Forces, which has so far not signed up for repressive duty against its own people. Unless the Supreme Leader has them up his sleeve – and I doubt very much that he does – look for Saturday’s marches to be larger than any before in this great game of chicken. Does the Supreme Leader then try to carry out his veiled threats with only those Revolutionary Guards and militia members that are loyal to him? Their numbers aren’t sufficient to do anything but cause enough blood to shock the world yet without scaring off the resistance. Or does he blink, keep the batons and guns in the holsters, and prove, 24 hours later, that all his veiled threats were more veil than threat?
Saturday is going to be another big important date in history. My guess is that Khamenei's blundering all-turban-no-cattle (in the comments section, Erik Siegrist corrects; "all-turban-no-camel") attempt to defuse the mega-marches planned for tomorrow only succeeded in making them larger.
Update: The mega-march in Tehran is now CONFIRMED for 4 p.m. (7:30 a.m. ET) at Enghelab Square.
Update II: Mousavi has been silenced. His spokesman, Mohsen Makhmalbaf writes:
I have been given the responsibility of telling the world what is happening in Iran. The office of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who the Iranian people truly want as their leader, has asked me to do so. They have asked me to tell how Mousavi's headquarters was wrecked by plainclothes police officers. To tell how the commanders of the revolutionary guard ordered him to stay silent. To urge people to take to the streets because Mousavi could not do so directly...
Some suggest the protests will fade because nobody is leading them. All those close to Mousavi have been arrested, and his contact with the outside world has been restricted. People rely on word of mouth, because their mobile phones and the internet have been closed down. That they continue to gather shows they want something more than an election. They want freedom, and if they are not granted it we will be faced with another revolution.
Thirty years ago we supported each other. When police used tear gas, fires would be lit to neutralise its effects. People would set their own cars on fire to save others. Since then, the government has tried to separate people from one other. What we lost was our togetherness, and in the past month we have found that again.
I'll repeat that the State's removal of Mousavi, if it continues, will likely have the effect of strengthening the protests, because it will clarify that this is not about one man, but about one people. Remove Mousavi, and you remove his negatives from the equation, too. Then the big picture becomes much clearer: the people against an illegitimate regime.