[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/06/24/iran.election/art.iran.british.afp.gi.jpg caption="Hard-line Iranian students mock British, U.S. and Israeli flags outside the British Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday."]
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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