Scattered Thoughts on Iran

The paradox of the situation in Iran is how such an opaque regime operating in such a confusing media landscape can be revealing so much about itself. One thing I’d add to the list of “minutae” to be watched are any Revolutionary Guard deployments to locations that are not on our list of “known knowns.” My hunch is that this is the kind of climate in which the regime will secure the most sensitive facilities involved in the nuclear program. Since any weaponization activity at this point has to be conducted in a “black site,” a major deployment could be a tip-off.

Another thought I’ve had since the weekend is reflected in this remark by “Shane M.”, who’s been guest-blogging from Tehran at the Washington Note: “Power is about this. It is quickly becoming about place, about who can stand where and when.”

He’s right, but I can’t help but wonder whether the urge to contest “place,” as opposed to invest it, might be a fateful tactical error on the opposition’s part. In this early stage of a movement taking shape, if that is what’s happening in Iran, power comes from assembling in a mass, wherever that happens to be. Instead of trying to contest the symbolic spaces of the capital, the opposition should simply try to gather, even if it means investing a peripheral location that the riot police and security militias aren’t securing.

The message that needs to get out is the visual message of numbers, not of force. Because when it comes to force, stones against bullets is a losing communications strategy. But tens of thousands of people in a solid mass, even on a thoroughfare outside the city center, would make it clear to those who want to join the demonstrations that they are not alone. It would also force the police to come to the demonstration, instead of bringing the demonstration to the police, thereby ensuring the safety of noncombatants.

Finally, any attempt to predict what will happen ignores the factors that make everything taking place so unpredictable — namely, that in addition to the institutional power structures and ideological factions, there is the human element that defies reason. The weight of inertia, to say nothing of firepower, is certainly stacked against the disparate aspirations that for simplicity’s sake I’ve been calling the opposition. But those aspirations have a powerful inertial force of their own, even if it sometimes operates on a slower cycle than more visible demonstrations of power.

Which again supports the argument I’ve made from the outset of this crisis: that the Obama administration can afford to exercise strategic patience. Even taking into account Iran’s still-advancing nuclear program, the events of the past week demonstrate that time is on our side.