Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iran's Possible Outcomes

With the recent turmoil in Iran, we’ve begun to wonder what the possible endgames for the situation look like. By my count, there are four possible outcomes from the Iranian election situation, which I’ve ordered here from least likely to most likely.

  1. Current Islamic Republic overthrown – Yes, the number of protesters for some events has been estimated to be over 3 million. However, it is highly unlikely that what is transpiring in Iran will lead to an overthrow of the entire government. The protesters are largely protesting an election result, not the existence of the current government (much as people here protested the 2000 election result). However, if the mood of the movement were altered such that the people wanted to overthrow the government, their ability to do so is doubtful. Without the support of any military/security forces, overthrowing the government is essentially impossible. The likelihood that significant security forces go to the protesters’ side looks minimal. Furthermore, unless the protesters get support from the Revolutionary Guard (which I’m nearly willing to guarantee won’t happen) or some other significant body (slightly more likely than getting support from the Revolutionary Guard), the current government will remain in place. No, there won’t be a V for Vendetta type revolution where government forces refuse to open fire on the people. The Iranian government has already shown a willingness to use brute force to keep itself in power.
  2. Government ‘recounts’ votes that leads to a run-off – While the Guardian Council hinted at a ‘partial recount’ (I highly doubt they actually counted any votes whatsoever, but that’s neither here nor there), the government now holds the position that the amount of votes they’re willing to recount wouldn’t impact the outcome of the election. If the government had ‘recounts’ in such a way that leads to a run off, it would have to admit that over 12% of the vote was somehow fraudulent and admit they were wrong and tried to fix the election. Like the complete overthrow, this won’t happen.
  3. Government ‘ recounts’ votes that keep the result – As discussed above, the government of Iran has already dismissed recounting as the votes they’re willing to recount aren’t large enough to actually impact the election one way or another.
  4. Government violently puts down protests – This seems to be the most likely outcome, especially in the light of recent events. Unless the protesters seek out external help, it seems unlikely they can fight back in a more-than-symbolic way.

The US is absolutely not going to invade Iran over this issue, not that a sustained invasion of Iran is even possible for the US to execute at this time. The US also won’t covertly assist the protesters with military equipment unless they show a willingness to go into full scale revolt. If the US does offer this type of support, it will damage relations with the Chinese (who trade and cooperate with Iran), and cause further tension with Russia. Also, if outside help is given to a revolutionary segment of the protesters, this could cause less determined protesters and supporters of the existing government to find unity, fighting back against ‘American Imperialism.’ Consequently, the US will probably not overtly or covertly assist a revolutionary movement unless they can somehow guarantee its success. Obama, seeing that outcome #4 seems to be playing out thus far, is not condemning the government in any significant way, as he believes that it will have to negotiate with this current power structure in the future.

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