AMERICA AND THE AYATOLLAHS
Western reporters tend to describe the current situation in Iran in alarmist terms, suggesting that the people are near revolt, the regime faces collapse, and the country is prone to political upheaval. Even if these assessments are premature or extreme, the relentless confrontations between the "reformist" Majles (national assembly) and the "conservative" Council of Guardians (which has veto power over Majles legislation and vets all candidates for elective office) augur a turbulent political future. The 1979 revolution faces a profound challenge from a new and disenchanted generation, widely known in Iran as "the Third Force." For this broad swath of society born after 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's promise of a just and free Islamic society has proven a sham. After nearly a quarter-century of theocratic rule, Iran is now by all accounts politically repressed, economically troubled, and socially restless. And the ruling clerical oligarchy lacks any effective solutions for these ills.
The changes wrought by this turmoil call for a new and nuanced U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic -- particularly if the United States goes to war against Iraq. Since the high-profile inclusion of Iran in President George W. Bush's "axis of evil," proposals to deal with that "rogue" state have run the gamut from a preemptive military strike to the pursuit of diplomatic engagement. Between these two extremes, suggestions have included covert action to destabilize the ruling regime, assistance to internal and external opposition groups, financial aid for foreign-based Iranian media, and a call for international condemnation of the ayatollahs. To know what shape U.S. policy should take, however, it is necessary to understand how Iran arrived at its current parlous state.
THE BEST OF ENEMIES
After the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979 by a radical group calling themselves "Students Following the Imam Line," the United States suspended diplomatic relations with Iran. But this "absence" of diplomatic ties has always been somewhat unreal. Mutual demonization has gone hand in hand