The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Do you hear the people sing?


June 22, 2009

Three important steps in Iran over the past few days. Much of this is distilling the obvious, I think. Nevertheless…

1. The State has decided to confront the People directly, with violent force. In 1979, the Shah fled rather than order the security forces of the state to turn on the people as they revolted. Revolutions can fail and repressive often states survive uprisings through the use of repressive force. This raises the stakes considerably, as people will and have died to advance the cause of revolution.

It is at this point where the numbers really matter. Armed thugs can turn back a crowd of thousands, but not hundreds of thousands. Police can control large groups, but not hundreds of thousands of people determined to resist. If there are millions of people marching, it will take the military / revolutionary guards to repress them.

Regardless of how this ends up, the very act of the state ordering its security forces to suppress popular demonstrators in such a public fashion does rob it of its legitimacy. It is a tipping point–either tipping the regime to ultimate failure or tipping the regime to a true garrison state.

2. Based on the reporting in the Western press, there seem to be splits among the elites. This matters because these fractions within the regime rob it of its full power and ability to present a coherent counter to the resistance. As clerics and perhaps certain members of the military defect, it lends legitimacy to those countering the state. Most importantly, it impacts the calculus of the soldiers who may be asked to fire on the protesters–as they defect, the regime crumbles.

3. The position of the resistance’s leadership has “evolved” to give voice to the broad grievances the people are lodging against the government, providing a manifesto for revolution. In a sense, the leaders have finally figured out where their supporters are going and rushed to the front of the crowd. This is important, though, because revolutions need a voice, a theme, a message, a way to instill social purpose in a movement such that people are willing to put their lives on the line for the cause. With the state cracking down violently, it will be very important for the resistance to rally faith in the cause and move people to step up and stand in harms way–who will give all they can give so that a banner may advance?

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Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.