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June 25th, 2009
10:26 AM ET

Can the U.S. deal with a divided Iran?

Hard-line Iranian students mock British, U.S. and Israeli flags outside the British Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday.

Hard-line Iranian students mock British, U.S. and Israeli flags outside the British Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday.

Joe Klein
Time Magazine

The most treacherous government is Britain," Ayatullah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, intoned at Friday prayers on June 19, and I had to laugh. The Supreme Leader, in the midst of announcing a crackdown on the Green Revolution demonstrators, was sounding like the lead character in the most famous contemporary Iranian novel, My Uncle Napoleon, a huge hit as a television series in the 1970s. Uncle Napoleon is a beloved paranoid curmudgeon, the Iranian Archie Bunker. He blames everything — the weather, the economy, the moral vagaries of his family — on the British. This has been a constant theme in Iranian public life for at least 100 years, although the U.S. has supplanted Britain as the Great Satan, the source of all Iranian miseries, since the revolution of 1979.

Suddenly, now, the Brits were back, and you had to wonder why. Certainly the BBC's Persian service, the most popular source of news for better-educated Iranians, was a real problem for the regime. Khamenei and various flunkies also blamed the U.S., especially the CIA, for the unrest, but the attacks on the Great Satan were muted — a curious development.

Was it due to Barack Obama's initial, temperate response to the rigged election results? Was it a recognition that Obama's Cairo speech and New Year's greeting to the Iranian people had made him popular across the Persian political spectrum, a less convincing Satan than George W. Bush had been? Was it a pragmatic recognition that one way for the regime to regain credibility with its own people would be to open negotiations with the Obama Administration, thereby demonstrating that it had credibility with the most powerful country in the world?

These questions, which roiled Obama's foreign policy team and the international community as the Iranian crisis ended its second week, reflected a growing sense that the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime would prevail against the demonstrators, but had seriously wounded itself in the process.

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Filed under: Iran • Joe Klein
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. earle,florida

    Yes, they certainly can overcome their differences. Today in Iraq,the so-called free democracy just auctioned off several "Oil Well Fields" to foreign investors at the highest bid? Now,with this happening next door,don't you think it will raise a few eyebrows for all Iranians to reconciliate,and come together to start a dialogue? These people are fiercely independent,and very well educated,and have been burnt twice!

    June 25, 2009 at 4:49 pm |
  2. Sharon S

    I think the US should stay out of it and leave Iran alone!! And besides we have the worst man in office Obama he does not have the experience or knowledge to deal with this kind of situation so basically he should stay away from it!!

    I feel bad for the people of Iran but hey we have a crisis in our own country going on a man who is trying desparately to be a King/Dictator to America so I feel we need to step back from Iran and it's problems and deal with our own!!!

    June 25, 2009 at 2:59 pm |
  3. Rick

    The US dealing with Iran is a complete waist of time, The best thing for the US to do is just tell Iran that we are over it. From now on you deal with Isreal.

    June 25, 2009 at 1:35 pm |
  4. Michael C. McHugh

    Obama offered to deal with this regime in good faith, and we have seen how they responded like lunatics. Even if he wanted to, he wouldn't be able to make the same offer to them again, because public opinion in America would oppose it. Most of us would prefer to have no dealings or discussions with the Iranian regime at all.

    June 25, 2009 at 12:42 pm |