- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2003

It’s mullah time. The question now is whether Iran’s ayatollahs and the original “Islamic republic” can survive the summer, or whether President Bush will mark the second anniversary of September 11, 2001, with two-thirds of his axis of evil consigned to the trash can of history.

That would be a remarkable achievement, by any measure save that of Democratic presidential candidates such as Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who seems to be running as the French foreign minister (a niche market of limited appeal even among Dem primary voters, one would think). Mr. Kerry will continue to insist it’s all a disaster and possibly a cover-up, too. But over in North Korea, the third member of the axis will get the picture. For one thing, it’s hard to be an effective axis when there’s just one of you.

As the late shah of Iran observed in exile, “Ingratitude is the prerogative of the people” — a remark so full of rueful wisdom you would think he had been in vaudeville. Right now, the people’s ingratitude to their Islamic Revolutionaries is near unanimous: even the Christian Science Monitor’s mullah-friendly coverage concedes that, according to recent “polls,” 90 percent of Iranians “want change.” If I were one of the A-list ayatollahs, I wouldn’t bet on many of that last 10 percent hanging tough when push comes to shove.

A year ago, I wrote of Iran: “So far as one can tell from the patchy reports, it sounds more like Hungary 1956 than Czechoslovakia 1989.” The reports are still patchy but this summer is looking more like 1989 every day. The only question is which of the European models applies: the Czech version, where the old monsters are civilized enough to perform one real service for their people by handing power over peacefully; the Romanian version, where the saner elements in the ruling party decide to remove the leadership and hope that’s enough to assuage their subjects; the Bulgarian version, where the former royal family returns from exile to spearhead a new democracy … .

I’ll wager there are a more than a few quiet-life mullahs weighing the options. Iran is not a one-man cult like Saddam’s Iraq, and many imams, whether “conservative” or “liberal,” can recognize the smell of death percolating from the head office. The regime begins this year’s riot season seesawing between savage but ineffective crackdowns and humiliating but insufficient concessions. Tipping point beckons.

So what should the West do? The European Union and large elements of America’s State Department can’t seem to wean themselves off the idea that the ayatollahs are “reformers.” In February, a year after the president’s “axis of evil” speech, Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, described Iran as a “democracy,” and State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the country had seen a “democratic flowering.”

No doubt Messrs Armitage and Boucher have many fine qualities, but an ability to articulate Bush administration foreign policy is not among them. The Iranian people don’t need the 3rd Infantry Division right now, but they deserve better than to be undercut by the Western world’s foreign ministries, and they could use a bit more vocal support and a little communications backup. “In Tehran, more people know the direction to point their satellite dish than the direction to Mecca.” That’s not a quote from a culturally insensitive Texan talk-radio host, but from “ahuramazda,” an Internet blogger from Iran.

One reason to get on board with these guys is that it would be best for all of us if the theocracy fell quickly. The former Soviet republic of Georgia has had its scientists beavering away on Iraq’s nuclear program for several months. Yes, folks, it’s WMD all over again. And maybe they don’t exist anymore than the Iraqi ones, according to the Dems and the Europeans. But I’m happy to take Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani at his word. He is Iran’s former president and now head of the Expediency Council, which sounds like an EU foreign policy agency or a State Department think-tank but is, in fact, Iran’s highest religious body. Ayatollah Rafsanjani said last year that on the day the Muslim world gets nuclear weapons the Israeli question will be settled forever “since a single atomic bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel, while an Israeli counterstrike can only cause partial damage to the Islamic world.”

Oh, my. But what about the Palestinian right of return?

As usual, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency is minded to defer further discussion of Iran’s nuclear program until September, by which point, at the speed things are going, Ayatollah Rafsanjani may have his nuke and the question may be moot. In hastening the end of this regime, those Iranian protesters in Teheran and other cities are doing the rest of the world a big favor.

That’s why the term “Middle East peace process” is better applied to the region as a whole than to the so-called Palestinian “road map.” Dignifying the swamp of the West Bank with the name of the entire neighborhood buys into the Arabs’ propaganda that the Palestinian situation is responsible for the wretched nature of the Middle East, rather than the other way around.

Looked at the other way round, peace is processing apace, and the chips are all falling George W Bush’s way. Whatever the defects of post-Taliban Afghanistan, it’s no longer the world’s biggest training camp for Saudi-funded terrorism. Whatever the defects of post-Saddam Iraq, it’s no longer a self-promotion exercise for the ne plus ultra of anti-American Arab strongmen. And, whatever the defects of post-ayatollah Iran, the fall of the prototype Islamic Republic will be a huge setback to the world’s jihadi.

It was Ayatollah Khomeini who successfully grafted a mid-20th century European-style fascist movement on to Islam and made the religion an explicitly political vehicle for anti-Westernism. It was the ayatollah who first bestowed on the U.S. the title of “Great Satan.” And it was the ayatollah who insisted this Islamic revolution had to be taken directly to the infidels — to the embassy hostages, to Salman Rushdie, and, ultimately, to America itself. Twenty years ago, there was a minor British pop hit called “Ayatollah, Don’t Khomeini Closer.” He came too close. And the end of a regime built on his psychosis is good news for Iranians and Westerners alike.

Mark Steyn is a senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group and North American editor for the Spectator.

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