Tankman, Redux?

Tankman, Redux?

Iran is front and center in all major new outlets these days. Iran has been the errant relative of the international community the last few decades, and has shot into prominence since George W Bush’s moronic invention of the ‘Axis of Evil’. Iran fared prominently in the last major international political event – the US Presidential Elections. John McCain chanted ‘bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran’, but thankfully, the majority of the US electorate saw that as completely unnecessary. Conservatives kept talking of Regime Change in Iran by hook or by crook, though, so now that Iran is showing signs of the same ‘by hook’, the US audience in particular and the international community in general, is understandably excited.

But beware! We have seen this spectacle before. Never forget what happened in Tiananmen Square in China, but also, don’t overlook what happened in China afterwards. Western media got very excited during the Tiananmen incident, and waited with bated breath in anticipation of change. The Tiananmen Massacre was not the beginning of their attempt at a revolution – it was the end. The Party found its spine in the days before the massacre and decided to deal with an iron fist. Many people died, but that is always the cost of revolutions. What you might miss is that the Party learnt from it. It learnt that free media is detrimental to the survival of a totalitarian regime. It also learnt that just blocking free media is not enough – you need to provide bread to your populace to evade dissidence. Most ordinary people are going to accept a lot of hardship and suppression if they still believe that they can earn the daily bread for their family and a little more.

So, the Party adapted and gave people just enough freedom and opportunity to keep them docile. In return, they took away their memory and free thinking. The Party learnt to make deals with the Capitalist west to bring in their wealth. It gradually figured out that it can go beyond mere sustenance for China into complete dominance of world manufacturing. And the party controlled the theater every step of the way by controlling dissidence and distribution of information. I know of no mainland Chinese who knows any substantial detail about the Tiananmen Massacre, or has the motivation to learn about it. The Party has succeeded brilliantly in subverting the populace to bring it into compliance.

I believe the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, is capable enough to learn from the Chinese example. Rafsanjani helped bring Khamenei into power in 1989. But in 2005, it was Rafsanjani who lost power to Khamenei through the puppet that is Ahmedinejad. The world stays fixated over the figurehead Ahmedinejad, and that provides the right smokescreen for Khamenei to make his authority absolute. Khamenei did underestimate the role communication would end up playing in the current election. And he is paying the price for it. But he still has the upper hand, and he’s already showing signs of adapting to the situation. SMS communications are already shut down for the most part, and I predict a significant censoring of Facebook and Twitter pretty soon.

The reason I believe they will succeed in filtering outlets like Facebook and Twitter is China. Iran has oil. China wants oil and natural gas. Iran needs China’s censoring and dissidence-control knowhow. The price of oil in the open market is taking a beating anyway – so Iran has nothing to lose by offering China long term oil purchase contracts. And once China gets in the game, we will see a repeat of the Tiananmen incidents followed by a victory for Khamenei.

But it won’t stop there. Obama wants to normalize international community’s relationship with Iran. Khamenei will readily allow that to happen. Iran will become another low-cost outsourcing nation of some sort in the next few years. Unemployed youth will start working and forget all about dissidence, civil liberties and revolution. Khamenei will ‘mend’ the educational institutions to make them preach the Islamic ‘values’ that keep the flock sheepish. The West will happily look the other way while buying at low from Iran. Everything will be nice and dandy … until a decade from now, when we get hit by another international economic crisis that $3 Trillion of ’stimulus spending’ won’t be able to counteract. But more about that later.

So, here is to hoping Mousavi prevails and Khamenei cracks. As they say, shoot for the moon. If you miss, you still end up in the stars.