The Iranian Reformers Have Won: Now Comes the Danger
The big headline today coming out of Iran of course is Ayatollah Khamenei’s ultra hardline stance, in effect laying the groundwork for a coming purge and blaming the potential bloodletting to come on the protesters (and the politicians leading it) themselves: “we had no choice but to kill you.”
Which supports a point I raised in the League’s earlier chat discussion on the Iranian election that I would like to flesh out in more detail. It comes by way of the analysis of military/insurgency theory of Col. John Boyd and 4th Generation Warfare. And it leads me to say some paradoxical things–that the Reformers have won and by winning are now in their most vulnerable (but potentially also most successful) moment yet.
Boyd’s central assertion is framed in the famous OODA Loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Boyd’s thesis was that the winning side in a conflict is the one that can both increase the speed of its own OODA looping–i.e. process information faster and more clearly–while at the same time breaking the learning cycle of its enemy. Each action–done properly–leads to a new cycle of observation, orientation, and decision.
The so-called Twitter Revolution’s primary effectiveness has been its ability so far for the resistance to process the information and decide and act ahead of the response time of the regime. They have been so far one step ahead. And Khamenei’s speech today shows that he has become isolated and paralyzed. He no longer is processing new information because his observational lens is so obscured by his ideological orientation.
Related to Boyd’s theories is the broader school of Fourth Generation Warfare. The central argument of 4GW (particularly through William Lind’s work) is that victory is achieved through breaking the moral foundations of one’s enemy. In 3GW victory was achieved by annihilating the enemy through total war. Think fire bombings in Dresden and Tokyo, atomic bombs in Japan, or the German blitzkrieg.
In 4GW, victory is achieved through breaking the will of the enemy to fight and to have any moral standing left to do so (this played a huge part in the movements for decolonization post WWII).
And here we need to bring back the earlier discussion of Shia theology. Iran is an Islamic Republic. Or at least prior from 1979 until this week was. It no longer is. Khamenei’s speech has clearly announced for anyone with ears to hear that the Islamic Republic is over and if he is to hold power the country must become a full-on totalitarian regime.
The central myth of Shi’ism and therefore the moral-spiritual foundation of the Islamic Republic comes from the martrydom of Husayn. Husayn’s martrydom is the central guiding reality of Shia Islam: to truly practice in its most perfect form is to stand against oppression and to face death. This is why the reformers have been so shrewd to protest/resist non-violently. It is, in 4GW’s terms, attacking the moral foundation of the regime.
If the Iranian regime cracks down then they will be exposed as the oppressor’s, yet again murdering Husayn. Their official position as Islamic guardians will be lost as they will re-enact the very evil murder out of which was born (resurrected we might say) Shi’ism. If they do not crack down then everyday the resistance will grow.
If the reformers had undertaken violence then they would have given license/excuse for the regime and lose their own moral high ground. That they haven’t so far been baited into it, is a sign of the brilliance of their leadership (esp. Mousavi and Kourrabi) and the courage of the people.
For years now (like the later years of the Soviet Union) Iranians have pretended to obey and the rulers have pretended to rule. This mass social movement has allowed those who have participated in it to feel the force (what Gandhi called the force of Truth) of living bodily in another world. In a world in which the oppressor’s threats do not bring fear. They have felt the experience and finally as it were confessed publicly what everyone talked about and knew in secret: that this was all a sham.
That Rubicon has been passed and there is no turning back once the people have had the taste of that reality.
Elections were the last shred of the Republic in Iran. And the appearance (if not reality) of intervention in the elections has left the regime exposed as nothing more than the reincarnation of the tyrannical Shah and therefore the undermining of that for which it was created.
Combining Boyd’s OODA Loop and 4GW’s the Reformers have won. And as I said, now comes the danger. Having lost, the regime has backed itself into the corner and has no choice but to come violently for its life. The only question now will be: will the army and police intervene to stop the paramilitaries.
If not, then Khamenei/Ahmadinejad will likely stay in power through the imposition of a complete militarization/violence-ization of society.
If they do, then I believe the regime is very likely to fall. Or accept some opening that will lead (probably quickly) over time to its dissolution/transformation.
If you would have asked me at the beginning of the week what the odds were I would have said 75% option 1, 25% option 2. Today I would say 50/50. But there’s no knowing what the end will be.
Either way, as I said, The Islamic Republic is no more. The Reformers have destroyed it. What is to come has yet to be determined. Now comes the crucible.