Unjoined at the Hip?


President Barack Obama’s historic speech at Cairo University sought to reach out to moderates in the Muslim and Arab worlds, and to encourage the rejection of extremism. His efforts were rewarded in the outcome of the subsequent election in Lebanon, and may have helped trigger the brave protests in the aftermath of Iran’s apparently rigged vote.


Are the recent events in the two countries related? Beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Lebanon, more than 70 percent of eligible voters turned out for parliamentary elections, which were conducted peacefully and seemningly honestly. The pro-Western March 14 Coalition, led by Saad Hariri, achieved a narrow victory over the radical March 8 Alliance and its leader Hassan Nasrallah, of the Syria-Iran supported terrorist group Hezbollah.

How significant is this election in the grand scheme of things? Sufficiently so that a senior U.S. official was quoted as essentially reaching out to Hezbollah following the election. Per VOANews.com: “The senior official said the United States would be ‘happy’ to reconsider its position on Hezbollah — if it were to lay aside its weapons and become ‘just a normal political party’ in Lebanon.”

Maybe that will happen, maybe not. But one scintilla of evidence that it might lies in the dramatic events unfolding in Iran. If things continue the way they appear, the fundamentalist Iranian regime will have more than enough on its plate at home– and continuing a forceful disruptive presence in Lebanon may be next to impossible.

As we go to press, the events unfolding in Iran seem a mirror of the 1979 revolution that unseated the repressive but U.S.-friendly monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in favor of an Islamic republic. The overthrow of that year is widely credited with spurring on radical Islam’s influence throughout the Middle East.

Now the tides have turned. A population dominated by those who have lived less than a quarter century is evolving into a young professional class laden with tech tools and craving free expression. Also, long-suppressed Iranian women have taken a leading role in Iran’s “Green Revolution.” This growing majority has use for religious extremism; many of these young adults have more in common with, say, Israelis on the street than with the mullahs.

So when the announced results of the national elections showed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with a surely fabricated two-to-one margin of victory over Mir-Hossein Mousavi, this new generation flexed its muscle with myriad peaceful street demonstrations, demanding new and legitimate elections.

It is unclear how the Iranian election drama will play out. With violent crackdowns by military forces and pro-ayatollah thugs occurring, the existing government might be able to keep control in the short run. But they will do so only by oil-bought guns; there is no longer a mandate for the mullahs.

This bodes poorly for Hezbollah’s (and to some extent, Hamas’s) ability to foment terrorism and deconstructive efforts in and around Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and the remainder of the Mideast. With Iran having to protect its rear flanks from internal revolution, Syria will be left without a key partner in disruptive influence.

None of this is to say that Iran has ceased to be a threat in the region. The nation will undoubtedly continue its quest for nuclear armament under any but the most radical of political transformations. So sanctions and cautious diplomacy will continue to be required even if there’s a transition of power.

But absent a Tienanmen Square-like slaughter (over 2,500 Chinese students reported dead and another almost 10,000 injured, per the Red Cross), it’s going to be hard for the current regime to maintain power, let alone assert itself in other countries. And if there is mass murder of that magnitude, the international microscope will itself put a damper on Iran’s ability to act externally, at least for the near future.

While there may be tremendous personal sacrifice and bloodshed in Iran to secure it, there’s a brighter future ahead for the millions of Iranians who have been emboldened to act and have tasted the first fruits of freedom. And as a result, the tendrils of Islamic fundamentalism could temporarily retract, allowing a window of opportunity for Obama’s message to take a foothold and begin to spread.