Quo Vadis, Iran?

BERLIN – Iran is in the process of wasting the biggest historical opportunity the country has had since the revolution of 1979, and perhaps even in the last hundred years. This opportunity is called Barack Obama.

It is Obama’s policy of reaching out to Iran that offers the country this unique opportunity – if, and it’s a big “if,” the Iranian leadership takes it up. At the moment, however, little if anything suggests that this will happen, because, for Iran’s leaders, Obama’s offer also represents a grave danger. There is nothing they fear as much as opening up and reducing tension with America. Indeed, the regime welcomed George W. Bush and his neo-con administration, because it allowed Iran’s leaders to close ranks, and at the same time delivered free access to influence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like all partial modernizers in authoritarian regimes, Iran’s rulers want an advanced economy, technology, and infrastructure, but not freedom, democracy or the rule of law. This explains their great fear of, indeed an obsession with, “color revolutions,” although they are de factoworking hard to bring one about.

The ongoing drama of mass demonstrations, violence, torture and repression that followed June’s fraudulent election has exposed a fundamental conflict within the Iranian power elite about the basic course of the Islamic Republic. Does the country seek increased openness or isolation? Integration or destabilization? The decisions are anything but final, even though the isolationists now prevail.