Iran’s Tragic Joke

Iranians do not take kindly to seeing their country turned into a laughing stock.

Comments: 87

  1. It would have been helpful if Roger Cohen had reported on what is actually going on in the streets and homes of Iran, if he had that is remained in Tehran and reported from there. Here he makes a resistance hero of Rafsanjani whose credentials as corrupt totalitarian are not small. The frequent note of praising Iranian civilization historically seems more empty bombast than anything else. Cohen should have been providing his readers with a more detailed look at opposition groups in Iran, including the very large minority groups. His presentation here is simplistic and without the kind of new information, and particular insights required of real journalism. Anyone can 'opinionize' A real reporter has a different story to tell.

  2. Perceptive commentary that limns the Islamic republic in all its functional and ideological complexity. As to whether the forces of democratic reason ultimately carry the day, as it were, remains to be seen. One thing, however, is certain: the hitherto taken-for-granted mythological innocence in the post-1979 revolutionary era has been shaken to the core, and there is ample evidence of Iran not returning to business as usual, at least not in the long haul.

  3. Mr. Cohen,

    Thanks for continuing to write intelligently -- and hopefully -- about the trials and tribulations of the Iranian people and the Country of Iran.

    I worry that the two sides are drifting further and further away from each other and that cannot be good for the people, or hopeful.

    I will like to see some form of power-sharing arrangement that will allow for Rafsanjani and Mossavi to be introduced in to the government and for meaningful reforms and freedoms to be granted to the people. For that to happen, it requires fissures internal to the Clerics and pressure from them on Ahmadenijad to pull back Revolutionary Guards. Without them being put back in to the barracks it will be more blood on the streets and not much to show for.

    I still am keeping hope alive but of course with no knowledge of the back door politics that is taking place. Hope there is enough influential Clerics and politicians on the side of the reformists.


  4. Rafsanjani has a reputation for being a shrewd and calculating political animal. I've no idea why he took the grave risk of indirectly challenging the supreme leader in such a public manner. But I hope that, unlike Mr. Cohen, Rafsanjani was not carried away with romantic notions of "a venerable civilization deserving free press..etc.".

  5. I think it is no joke when a president of a country about to posess nuclear weapons is widely thought to be insane and paranoid. It is no joke that he has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map". It is not a joke that Israel is seriously engaged in detailed final military planning for a large scale preemptive strike to delay his plans to develop and deploy nuclear weapons. It is sobering to think that from the point of view of an Israeli military planner who really believes Iran is about to develop and use nuclear weapons on Israel, then to be sure of destroying hardened and deeply buried nuclear factories, a strike with nuclear weapons is required.

  6. Sounds like you'll be sick for a while then, because Iran's leadership won't be collapsing any time soon. Not unless Obama wants to get his hands really dirty, and apparently he doesn't like to.

  7. The question of peace as a universal value needs to be faced with extreme intellectual honesty, sincerity of spirit and an acute sense of responsibility to oneself and to the nations of the earth. I would ask those responsible for political decisions affecting the relationships between North and South, between East and West, to be convinced that there can be ONLY ONE PEACE. Those upon whom the future of the world depends, regardless of their political philosophy, economic system or religious commitment, are all called to help construct a single peace on the basis of social justice and the dignity and rights of every human person. Sahit Muja CEO & President Albanian Minerals Bytyci SHPK

  8. After tennis and monkeys, you came back again, but did you have to extol Iran at the expense of China and America? They have been such a proud people that the legacy of their ancient Persian civilization is almost buried by their current faith.

  9. Thank you for bringing a much needed perspective to discussions of Iran today--and millenia ago. There were those at the time who predicted the Iranian Revolution would last 10 years at most. The consequences of adhering to a spent revolution means admitting times have changed and a new generation is at the threshold of leadership. Amazingly some of the old guard is leading the change to help the impressively educated and youthful population into the mainstream of political discourse. If this happens, there will need to be a sea change in policy orientation of the western democracies. Hopefully the same western and regional "democracies" will not meddle in the internal affairs of this country--as so often happened before--for self-serving geopolitical ends at odds with world--and especially regional--peace.

  10. I appreciate that Mr. Cohen now understands the pathological nature of Ahmedinejad and the extremist nature of Khameini. But I have to wonder how a journalist of Mr. Cohen's stature took so long to understand the real nature of Iran's government. It was not as if the signs of Ahemedinajad's fanaticism and Khameini's extremism were hidden from view. The Bajilis operated openly in Iran before the election. Bahais were treated brutally. Scores of Bahais were imprisoned. The names were well known. There were brave Iranians like Ali Afshari who were risking life and limb to expose the true nature of this regime. At a time when Iran was suffering from unemployment, rising prices and huge deficits, the Ahmedinajad/Khameini regime was pouring hundreds of millions of dollars of weaponry and assistance to the fanatics of Hamas and Hezbollah. There was never any rational explanation for this conduct. Could anyone really expect rationality and normal behavior from an unelected ruler like Khameini, who calls himself "The Supreme Leader"? George Orwell never came up with a term to rival that one. Sadly, Mr. Cohen, prior to the June 2009 Iran election, was like journalists in the 1930s who saw nothing alarming about the behavior of the military dictaorship of Imperial Japan. There were many journalists and diplomats in the 1930s who insisted that Imperial Japan was interested only in its own survival and would not do things that were irrational. How wrong they were. I appreciate Mr. Cohen's emergence as a critic of Ahmedinajad and Khameini. I suppose it is better late than never. But all the signs were there. Mr. Cohen missed them.

  11. Thank you, Roger Cohen. You have visited Iran. learned to appreciate it, tried to understand it and empathize with its people. we have to thank journalists who actually go in the field and try to understand the situation. They are a lot better than pundits and think tankers who puff hot air in a vacuum and see everything through ideological lenses.

  12. Dear Mr. Cohen: I have great respect for your writing and am happy to see you comments on the true nature of the regime in Iran;however,I still remember your past comments on the treatment of minorities in Iran e.g. the Jewish community in which you wrote about their "fair" treatment. Nothing was further from the truth.Moreover,you simply ignored the past brutal executions of some Jews,many more believers in Bahaism and of course Gays(although the despot ruling Iran says there are "no Gay People" in Iran)The election putsch only confirmed what many already knew about Iran's rulers;they are all despots of the worst sort

  13. Lets be real here. Cohen continually tries to paint Iran as this mystical magical land guided by such romanticism, which the combined conventional wisdom of all 'brutish' western states, and 'paranoid' Israel, cannot begin to grasp (save Cohen himself, the only apparent Iranian 'expert'). It is a complex REAL country, populated by REAL people of all persuasions, run by REAL power-hungry fanatics.

    Israel was pleading with the world to recognize the danger posed by the leaders of Iran. Despite it becoming totally obvious that Israel was completely correct, Cohen of course will refuse to acknowledge this, and i am sure will even defend all his past Israel bashing. Now he points to Ahmadinejad's comments as 'dangerous'. Unbelievable. When will the NY Times notice that this series has become laughable?

  14. This column is far more hopeful than Slackman's story on the power of the Revolutionary Guard. Iran as a Burma, Pakistan, North Korea, or even Putin's Russia?

  15. I admire Mr. Cohen's efforts toward nuance and humanizing the Iranian people. However, Mr. Rafsanjani is simply a crook lusting after power. It's the curse of the Middle East. Everyone who wants democracy when they're out of power says "Democracy, what democracy? That's an evil innovation of the West" when they're in power.

  16. Take a look at the news item on the front page of your own NYT. This details the economic and commercial might and position of the Revolutionary Gaurd(RG) within Iran and the RG's close relationaship with China.

    The RG in Iran now occupies the same position as is occupied by the People's Liberation Army(PLA)in China and the Pakistani Army(PA) in Pakistan.

    These armies have used their arms, their thousands of regimented soldires(and also their unique position in their countries), to convert themselves into a vast military/industrial/commercial conglomerate, in uniform, and with access to armed regiments,fighter sqardons,navies and,unfortunately,nuclear weapons.These have now replaced the landed and feudal elites in Pakistan; in the case of China the PLA has replaced those who came up through the Communist Party cadres; and in the case of Iran they appear to be replacing the clerics.

    Pakistan and China, both controlled by the military, cannot afford to "solve" regional and international problems. They have a constant need for confrontations since without a confrontation and without enemies, they cannot hold on to their special position in thier societies as the sole and last "protector" or bulwark against chaos and conquest.This fear has to be there within the country and has to be constantly stoked so that all questions about their legitimacy can be crushed as anti national and pro enemy.

    The same script is now being followed by Iran and, it seems, in close consultation with China.

    China is the real threat, first to the countries in the region(especially India) and eventually to the USA. China gobbled up Tibet and now seeks to gobble up thousands of sq miles of indian territory.China has encirled India by penetrating Pakistan and Burma.

    Once it brings Iran into its orbit,its sway will extend to the Persian Gulf and into the wider Middle East and it will start to go beyond threatening India to being a threat to the interests of the USA.

    And Obama can do little about it, since China holds the debt of the USA and can bring down the financial and economic system in the USA very easily by just selling a fraction of its holdings of the Sovereign debt of the USA.

    The recklessness and sheer myopia and stupidity of the Bush administration in putting chains around the USA, with all the keys in China's hands, goes beyond incompetancy and well into treason.

    This is a very, very dangerous time in the world, when the dominant economic and military power in the world has a gun on its head.



  17. Cohen writes:

    "So the line I take away from the important Friday sermon of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the two-time former president who believes that the Islamic Republic’s future lies in compromise rather than endless confrontation, is this one: 'We shouldn’t let our enemies laugh at us because we’ve imprisoned our own people.'"

    Rafsanjani opposes imprisoning Iranians? Maybe that’s because he was too busy executing them in the past. Cohen remarkably ignores what his own newspaper recently told us about Rafsanjani:

    "After Mr. Rafsanjani became president, perhaps thousands of Iranians were executed, including drug offenders, opposition guerrillas, Communists, Kurds, Bahais, even clerics." {

    Roger continues:

    "It’s an Islamic Republic and, as Rafsanjani said, 'If the Islamic and Republican sides of the revolution are not preserved, it means that we have forgotten the principles of the revolution.'"

    Cohen would have us believe that Rafsanjani is a man of "principles"? Rafsanjani is considered the mastermind of the 1994 bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, which left 85 dead and more than 300 wounded, and is the subject of arrest orders issued by the Argentine state prosecutor.

    Concerning Hussein Moussavi, Cohen labels him a "reformist" and would have us imagine that "Moussavi, with his impeccable revolutionary credentials, was the very emblem of unthreatening change."

    Cohen fails to tell us that as prime minister, Moussavi presided over the execution of thousands of dissidents. Cohen fails to say that Moussavi defended the taking of hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran and backed the fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie.

    Reporting requires that readers be informed of relevant facts. Opinion, I would like to believe, also requires balance. Be this reporting or opinion, something is tragically missing.

  18. Easy on the Banana Republic comparative figure of speech. We had bananas to sell, and people to feed, as well as a powerful neighbor to please. None of these conditions apply to Iran. Also, we were more into bananas than into religion! It appears that Iran has gone so much into religion, they are actually going bananas!

  19. Among global political commentators and columnists Roger Cohen is alone in understanding the depth and breadth of dissatisfaction with the regime. By claiming that the 3 million Tehran demonstrators on June 15th were just "a few thousand", and by insulting the Tehran demonstrators (and by inference the 30 - 40 million nationwide) by labelling them "tools of foreign agents", Khamenei exhibited the same lack of tact and political awareness as the Shah during the final years of the monarchy.

    What the regime does not understand is that Iranians are not North Koreans, Burmese or even Chinese: A repeat of Thianamen would backfire because, unlike China, the Iranian economy is in total meltdown despite $ 290 billion in windfall foreign exchange revenues during Ahmadinejad´s first selected tenure, in dire contrast to the economic progress achieved by ex-President Khatemi during his corresponding initial term with only $ 50 billion at his disposal.

    What Ayatollah Khamenei has done is to transform dissatisfaction with the Ahmadinejad Government into disgust with the Islamic Republic itself. Ayatollah Rafsanjani, for all the controversy surrounding his family´s business dealings, was quick to understand the threat posed to the regime and is scrambling to defuse popular resentment with every means at his disposal. The longer Khamenei procrastinates, the more difficult it will be to re-establish the regime´s legitimacy, and from what I have witnessed so far he is playing out the final scenes of a Greek tragedy. Khamenei and the Shah both confirm the maxim that "Absolute power corrupts absolutely".

    One final point: For the past 30 years many Iranians have fiercely defended the Islamic Republic against U.S. and Israeli intrigues. Now that these nationalists are supporting urgently needed domestic reforms, Khamenei has suddenly turned on them and depicts them as foreign agents and traitors. In actual fact, the only foreign agents and traitors are those who are weakening the nation through corruption, nepotism and mismanagement. THESE are Iran´s real traitors, not those who are demanding fair elections and the rule of law.

  20. At present, it is a ruthless dictatorship, however, the aftermath of the election indicates that there is a large fissure in the Islamic Republic. Hopefully, the blatant election fraud, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad's arrogance and stubbornness, and people's movement will expedite the demise of the Islamic Republic.

  21. Dear Roger
    You are right. Iranians are really proud of their history. The first human right law was written by great Cyrus. The theater you were writing about was started before the election. Now Iranian should think about their second republic. Many of Mr. Ahmadinejad supporters are now talking about “Islamic state” instead of “Islamic Republic”. It is the real dangerous thing about their thought.
    Mr. Hashemi, Mr. Mussavi , Mr. Khatami or many other reformist cant be the leader of the second Iranian republic. Many Iranian elites thinking about having a secular state which the clergies out of politic. It would be good for Islam and politics both.
    In Middle East many Governments are allies of US but their people hate Americans. In Iran the government says the US is “Great Satan” but the people are real allies of west and US.
    President Obama should be very caution. If he and his government by the name of “US national Interest” make any engagement with Ahmadinejad, then Iranian people never forget or forgive it. You know many Iranian elites are still not forgetting and not forgiving US because of the coup in 1953 and collapsing Dr. Mossadegh Government.

  22. An Iran self-absorbed in internal strife and conflict is, hopefully, an Iran too pre-occupied with itself to continue to export terrorism and mischief to the rest of the world. We should all pray that that the situation in Iran continues indefinitely, or at least until a moderate government takes power that will strive for peace rather than dominance.

  23. I agree with the views expressed here. Ahmadinejad is very insecure. If he is such a great leader, then why does he feel that is necessary to curb freedom of speech and association and imprison his rivals? If he and his regime are the best for Iran and if the people are convinced of that, he shouldn't fear competition. I agree with former Pres. Khatami. Let the people decide through a referendum. Pres. Khatami was's too bad that Obama was not president at the time he was in control. The two of them could have normalized relations and accomplished a great deal together.

  24. Well said indeed. Iran's people, with the support of the world, will emerge with a democracy fitting their enormous potential and innovation. Stay tuned.

  25. Off the mark, Mr. Cohen.
    You are getting drawn into the Khamenei-Rafsanjani rivalry, probably becasue your English speaking contact and "source" in Iran is tilting towards Mr. Rafsanjani.

    The bottom line of all this storm in a tea cup is that Ahmadinejad has named the Rafsanjani family as corrupt, rightly so too! And as a result, Rafsanjani is dropping alligator tears for Iranians in a faux "I care a lot" kind of story. The man didn't even offer condolences or prayers for 168 people that expired in a plane crash, only 48 hours prior to his Friday sermon.

    Moreover, it was during the years of Mousavi as PM and Rafsanjani as president that Iran earned the "terrorist" label for getting involved abroad. It is a fact that during the Ahmadinejad years, Iran has not conducted any such operations and in fact encouraged Hezbollah and Hamas to transform themselves into a political party, with a military wing, akin to the IRA.

    Finally, Messrs. Rafsanjani, Mousavi and Khatami must make up their mind whether they accept the existing system, as is and how is, warts and all....whether they win or lose elections. They signed up and accepted it upfront and played by the known rules and their sour and crying foul after losing is dumb. If the table was reversed, would they have tolerated the same kind of protests by the Ahmadinejad's side? Chances are a BIG NO.

    The fact remains that, regardless of who is in charge in Iran, it is the season to negotiate with USA as Mr. Obama has uttered the words "Islamic Republic of Iran" and this storm in a tea cup is just a game--both sides know that negotiation with USA and recognition means long-term political life insurance for the winner. In other words, the Iranian people are just pawns in their mind. In this game, I prefer Ahmadinejad as he speaks more clearly with no veils.

  26. The point is that we live in an accelerated World. The Equilibrium between the Rulers and the Ruled in a state of major flux wherever, you care to turn your gaze. You can sense the Citizen flexing its new found muscle all over the Globe. And the c21st might well be remembered as the Information Century. Information is a stream that cannot be staunched. The Citizen via the Mobile and these new uber Platforms like Twitter and Facebook can morph from single Lone whispers into scale and they can roar.

    In Iran, the demographic skew [60% under 35] has further accelerated this disconnect. Khamenei unleashed Terror onto the Streets which is an age old Playbook. Rafsanjani took the higher ground and quite rightly. You do not confront a SledgeHammer as if you were a Nut.
    You wait and then you surge and wash things away at a time of your choosing and like a Tsunami wave.

    Khamenei has blown it. It is only a question of time.

    Aly-Khan Satchu
    Twitter alykhansatchu

  27. This was no joke; but, rather a draw play to open and remove and worts of freedom. Unlike the Turkish experience, the Iranians failed to remove at modernization feudal religious organizations with their mythical venom and murderous tendencies. They now are faced by totalitarians with religious inspirations.

  28. They need Rafsanjani like they need a hole in the head,

    The common denominator here is that, no matter which strawman candidate wins election, the religious hierarchy stays in place.

    Now if they wanted some real democracy and liberty they need to oust the ayatola and his moolas.

  29. A casualty of the recent events in Iran is Roger Cohen's credibility, despite his acknpwledgment that he erred. Reading his post "election" columns has become interesting only for the sport of catch-the-columnist.

  30. Ahmadinejhad wouldn't exist if Saddam was still in power.
    I'm certainly not claiming support for that deposed tyrant,
    just reemphasizing the total lack of cause and effect in the
    decisions of George Bush and his merry band of warriors and

  31. Its hard to get onboard with your assertion that Iran is a sophisticated country of 75 million. However, here are two web based definitions of sophistication that you may find enlightening:

    "The quality or character of being intellectually sophisticated and worldly through cultivation or experience or disillusionment"

    "Enlightenment or education; Cultivated intellectual worldliness; savoir-faire; Deceptive logic; sophistry; Falsification or contamination; Complexity"

    Perhaps you are correct. Iran does seem to be at once affected by disillusionment and surely utilizes deceptive logic, sophistry, falsification and contamination.

    But that which escapes Iran at the present is the resolution of the contest between the desire of its citizens for modernity and democracy and the resistance to these dreams by those who rule via an ancient and outdated version of a theocratic Islam. Say what you will about millions of peace loving Muslims, these millions allow and/or support the violence of the "jihadist". Look at the world today. the theocracy of Islam is at the root or world wide terrorism, the violence of Georgia SSR, Chechnya, Serbia, Kosovo, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and the civil unrest by Muslims who refuse to assimilate themselves into western Europe and now parts of the US. Iran is only a litmus of world wide Islam. At the root, they care not about Sunni or Shia differences, its the infidel who needs to be converted or subjugated. Its happening.

    It's possible for Islam to sleep next to all other religions but it can not and will not until Muslims accept the fact that its theocracy can not live in peace with other religions unless they practice Islam as a religion only and not a theocracy. As western Europe has discovered, it is impossible to practice democracy when each state has more than one set of rules for its citizens. Muslims must update their religion to reflect the realities of a world that has long ago left behind the thinkings of desert nomads who conquered the known world in the 7th century. Muslims have much to be proud of in their history, but the violence of jihad and a world class intolerance of other religions are not counted among these.

  32. Today Mr. Cohen observes that Iran's Supreme leader "...(ignored) the will of the people...," and he thinks that its President is "suffering from a pathology" and "dangerous."

    Another really tragic joke is that a scant few months ago Mr. Cohen advocated for "recognizing (Iran's) inevitable mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle" and for a change in U.S. foreign policy that would "allow Khamenei to claim that his demands for Palestinian justice — as the self-styled leader of the world’s Muslims — have been heard."

    Perhaps Mr. Cohen and others who embrace a "blame the victim" analysis of threats to the United States and to the only democratic state in the Middle East will reevaluate their worldview.

  33. The recent coup by the thugs surrounding Ahmadinejad did achieve one positive thing: it replaced chants of "Down with America" and "Down with Israel" with chants of "Down with Russia" and "Down with China". Now there is clarity as to who the main backers of the corrupt regime are. It is Russia and China. Just as the Shah's regime collapsed once America withdrew its moral support, the current regime too will wither away once foreign powers stop supporting it.

    So shame to both Russia and China. And shame to that small segment of Iranians who continue to make deals with foreign powers in order to stay in power.

  34. Evil always self destructs,just not in a timely way. It's happening right now. Just sit back and watch. No intervention.

  35. Great Persian empire? What is the writer talking about. All we see voters (Muslims) being disenfranchised by other Muslims. Is not the country called Islamic Republic? Is not that an insult to other religions? Where are the minorities?

  36. The best thing the US can do do is let events in Iran take their course. Iran's young people are by and large favorably disposed to the American people (though they undoubtedly despised the Bush administration). They will be running their country within the next 20 years and it is America's long-term interest to just await developmeents and in the meantime do nothing foolish - like dropping bombs on them.

  37. Shalom, Freedman (#1): Your prejudice (fear) concerning Iran is obvious. Roger Cohen has been sending excellent journalism from Iran since the election, until he was required to leave. Granted, Rafsanjani's record is spotted; but everything Cohen said here is worth thinking over, as contrasted with your rant. Israel's best hope for peace with Iran is that the people who are now protesting somehow come to power.

    With respect to Hamid Varzi's (#19) reference to the maxim, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely", it was Aung San Suu Kyi who said that it is not power that corrupts, but fear: those who do not have power fear those who do, and those who have it fear to lose it. Let us pray for the courage of the Iranian people.

  38. Clearly, an attack upon Iran will only abort the internal process of normalization that its people began on June 12.

    Let us stay out of it for heaven's sake. The new generation there wants basic freedoms, and the economic stability that comes with international ties.

    Let's deprive the hardliners of the enemy they so desperately need to survive.

  39. Ahmedinejad and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) he represents are much more a product of the long and brutal Iran-Iraq War (1980-88) than the original revolution that overthrew the Shah (1979). The IRG's current leaders are the 50-something survivors who gave up their youth to defend the country, and now are taking their piece of the pie. They are now in the process of consolidating their power at the expense of both the previous generation of clerics and technocrats who once led them - Rafsanjani, Mousavi - and even moreso the much larger generation of peace-time baby-boomers coming up behind them.

    At the moment, the IRG leaders control the kleptocratic military-industrial complex that drives most of what passes for an economy, and derive their entire livelihood and political control from it. Ali Khamenei, originally a relatively liberal old-guard cleric, has chosen (or more likely been forced) to move definitively in the direction of the right-wing IRG leadership in order to maintain his position as 'Supreme Leader'. In doing so, he provides the IRG kleptocracy with a fig-leaf of legitimacy. Similarly, the elements of the 'old guard' now out in the cold have been forced to back to opposition in order to maintain whatever power they have left.

    In the end, simple demographics will win, as today's young come to demand their own share of power and money. The only question is: Will this happen sooner or later? Already, those who can not tolerate yet another 30 years of repression and kleptocracy are now willing to risk life, limb and livelihood on the streets.

  40. Mr. Cohen has correctly read the pulse of the Iranian people. I am thankful that he has expressed his view and in the NYT where it will be widely read.
    The political genius of the Iranian people is that they have seized this opportunity to ride the available horses--Mousavi, Rafsanjani, Karroubi--to their goal of an open society wherein they can express themselves freely as they seek to contribute to their society and the world's. These are good horses. They have good legs, strong backs and great lungs. And they know how to run the race. Paint them green and they become downright likable.

  41. Perhaps an apropos comment is what Chou En-Lai said when asked about the effects of the French Revolution. "It is too early to tell."

  42. ...why shouldn't a people feel good about themselves? good for you,
    roger. now let's work on those dismal banana republics where democracy
    just passes the cape over the horns of more serious social problems.

  43. Mr. Cohen's writes almost obsequiously of honoring the "duality" of the "Islamic Republic," while ignoring the irony inherent in his concomittant distate for the duality of, for example, Israel as a "Jewish State." Repeatedly, Mr. Cohen has expressed disdain for this very Mideastern "duality dilemma" except as applied to the "Revolution," meaning not the American one for freedom, but the Iranian one which has morphed into tyranny.

    Amazing what the inexorable drive toward nuclear weapons will achieve as columnists like Mr. Cohen genuflect in the face of a "Revolution" gone terribly wrong.

  44. Except for our endemic apathy, the Iranian election doesn't sound dissimilar to ours in 2000. Rather than an Islamic Republic we're a Capitalistic Republic, with the Capitans of the "market" as our "supreme leaders". If we stand for it, we deserve it.

  45. Iran was great when it was Persia, over 3000 years ago. In the last 2000 years "Persia" has added nothing to global events, except the capture and kidnapping of the US embassy. Is this the tradition the Iranians aspire too? Neither of the 3 men running in this past Iranian election was a moderate in any possible description. It would be like having 3 Dick Cheneys in an election here, an we voters get to fight over which Dick Cheney wins. Yippee!

  46. I would point out that the US has no particular credibility in calling Iran a laughingstock, since here we had two elections in a row stolen (FLA 2000, OH 2004) with no demonstrations and no investigations. The thin veneer of legality provided by a corrupt SCOTUS has made a joke of US claims to be a democracy.

  47. I am pleased to see Rafsanjani stand up and defy Khomenei's brutality and abuse of position. The fact is Iran has much in its history, traditions and people to be proud of, and I think it is far better for Iran (or any country, really) to draw on its core strengths for the purpose of advancement rather than to define itself and its policies as a reaction against its enemies. The former is an expression of confidence and the latter is an expression of weakness and fear of losing power, which I believe is at the root of any regimes belligerence.

    Yes of course Rafsanjani is at heart a politician and power player and is using the rift in Iran as leverage for his own political gain. I have no delusions about this. But honestly, what politician doesn't? We'd be hard pressed to find anyone in power anywhere who is totally altruistic. It's a matter of better and worse, and I appreciate your nuanced perceptions and how you encourage what is positive in this development.
    It is my hope that Iran can abandon its fear and hatred of Israel and the West and procede from a position of dignity and pride. It would be good for Iran and good for the region and the world.

  48. The USA's national obsession with Iran continues. While this piece is well written I still wonder why, since 1953 the US has decided to confront rather than cooperate with iran, its people, and their leaders. Nothing fruitfull has been achieved by this confrontation. Does America's need for enemies to justify its military budget and its civilian CIA global forces require her to create enemies? In my view, the turning point of this rather belligerant policy was Vietnam. Now a friendly country full of progress and making products for America, Vietnam should be ample proof that countries can progress by themselves and do not need to mirror American political systems and economic models to participate in global business. In fact, Americans as welcomed in Vietnam. Should Iran be given the same opportunities?

  49. You are right that Iran has brought scorn on itself for cracking down on their most recent "election", but most of the world never thought Iran had free elections anyway. Let's not forget, the mullahs pick who runs. I am, however, extremely impressed by the resolve of the Iranian people to stand up to this tyranny, and know they will overcome it soon.
    However, I was struck by your line about Iran imprisoning its own citizens. I am sure they do, horribly. But let's not forget that the nation with the largest incarceration rate, by far, is the United States. We are the true laughingstock of the world, with over 2.3 MILLION Americans behind bars today, most of them for non-violent "drug crimes" like owning a pot plant, or for drinking some alcohol and driving, without an accident or even impaired driving. Our national and state budgets are bankrupt now because of America's intolerance of its own citizens, and misguided drive to address undesirable behavior through punishment and jail time instead of education and free counseling. 2.3 MILLION Americans behind bars!! And the families and lives ruined, and supporting the system to keep them there is costing us trillions. We wonder why we are in a Depression now? This and the War are the reasons, and America is truly the biggest laughingstock of the world. We can fix it now, but time is running out!

  50. Keep on writing about Iran Mr. Cohen, measured by response to your articles, you have gathered abundant credibility as an honest and courageous journalist. Your fresh and close to the ground input is needed to somewhat counterbalance the steady stream of blind hate filled propaganda against the country of Iran so prevalent in most U.S. mass media.

  51. Thank you, Mr. Cohen for another masterpiece about Iran. I should remind the first commentator (Shalom Freedman) that it was Cyrus the Great who rescued the Jews over 2,000 years ago. I respectfully believe his/her commentary about Iran is totally misplaced. He/She should look at his/her own country's treatment of the minority. Iran will recover from this shameful Islamic government and one day she will find her place in the "civilized" world seeking peace with all countries including Israel.

  52. Whatever. I'm tired of hearing Iranians (and their sympathizers) lecture us about how "great" their nation is. What's great about it? That it manages to alienate virtually everyone on the planet? That its economy is in the toilet, or that its people are being repressed, or that it contributes virtually nothing to the global community?

    Stop blaming everything on imagined outside scapegoats and start earning some of that respect you claim to deserve.

  53. Methinks, Mr. Cohen doth protesteth too much!!

  54. If an ancient civilization of 75 million is willing to be pushed around by a small group of medieval clerics then it needs to look in the mirror. It cost 500,000 lives to end slavery in the U.S., not twittering and caving in to thug enforcers.

  55. The “Laughing Stock” is a perfect categorization . That’s what happened to this quite special country with civiliazational traits which can be compared just to a few humanity delivered to us, not too many.
    Iran became a laughing stock to the others and to its own people.

    Remember, communism - it became a laughing stock, too, and ... it failed. The same outcome can be expected for Iran, sooner than many of us can predict.

    The other country with a dangerous potential to be called a laughing stock still did not emerge with fool clarity. The observed symptoms, however, are strong enough...
    Which country has this potential? Give me your best guess...

    Rolland Norman

  56. "Iran is one of the most venerable civilizations on earth: it makes China look like an adolescent, and America look like a stripling"

    May be your civilization-measuring instrument is upside down. I know China invented gun-powder and paper, while American invented a large number of things within a very short period of time... But I don't recall what Iran's contribution has been...

  57. And who is to blame for the current cleric control of Iran? Their banana republic history began in the 1950's when our CIA ousted, in a well documented coup, Iran's pro-western, honestly elected prime minister. We overthrew their government because they wanted to throw out British Petroleum’s foreign control of their oil. We installed a repressive totalitarian leader, the Shah, because he colluded with the West to continue controlling the country's oil. It's well documented in the history books and everyone knows about it now. But the Shah's repressive regime gave rise to the Ayatollah because the mosques were the only refuge for an educated but repressed people. We caused the slaughters and the Western threat now posed by a cleric-controlled country. Like we did in Latin in America, where we overthrew their nationalist governments in order to continue extracting their wealth for our own wealth, we are responsible for the mess of Iran and the slaughter of innocents. All so that we could have our affluent lifestyle.

  58. Yes, there's a joke here. It's that unprincipled crooks like Rafsanjani and Mousavi are being held up by US press as champions of freedom and democracy.

  59. I agree with the sentiments that what is happening now in Iran has similarities to the 1979 Islamic Revolution itself. The mistrust of government and the government's use of repression is a deja vu for the people. I think the key to the outcome of the current situation is the loyalty within the militias. The more this breaks down, the more emboldened the protesters will get. I think this is what happened to the Shah (perhaps some Iranian readers can confirm this). Right now the ruling force is on the side of Ahmadinejad/Khameini and they'll be struggling to maintain it. But it can crack, as it did in 1979.

  60. At least the Iranian hit the streets when someone stole the election. Americans stayed at home when Bush did the same thing.

  61. Why do some readers in this forum (usually writing from Israel) keep accusing Roger Cohen of having been on the wrong side of things before with regards to the Iranian regime? Mr. Cohen always, implicitly or explicitly, distinguished between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people. Even when he was writing about the status of the Jewish minority in Iran, he was not extolling the virtues of the Islamic Republic; he was talking about the tolerance that Persians have historically had for minorities. There is no conflict here. Iran/Persia is several thousand years old; it was an empire, and empires develop a culture of tolerance as a necessity.

  62. Good God. The desire for extreme liberals to "see both sides" of any issue, regardless of how clear it may be, truly knows no bounds with Cohen. Muslim values are incompatible with modern society, period.

  63. Dear Mr. Cohen, I wasn't sure who the "we" was in the following statement in your piece. Did you mean the Iranians or the British?

    "(The former British ambassador to Iran told me with a smile last January that Tehran was an interesting place to serve “because it’s one of the very few places left on earth where people still believe we have some influence!”)"

  64. Iran is a dictatorship run by fanatics and backed up by raging killers. I feel sorry for it's people, who are manipulated, as if they were pawns on a checkerboard, by religious zealots!

  65. A well deserved laughing stock, I might add. But they will have the last laugh when and if they acquire nuclear weapons. Then what, President Obama?

  66. Roger, it's nice to see an optimistic perspective on this political pornography. But we are also seeing how proud and sophisticated nations turn themselves into banana republics. It seems to always happen with an established minority with just enough guns to kill enough people to make fear the logical structure of government. The self-hypnosis of violence and death is always lurking. That's how powerful, established minorities convince themselves of their own deep seriousness of purpose. And speaking of the Chinese option, this is what Mao did, and the poison is still in their system. But the current Chinese leadership has managed to turn their routine recourse of violence into a patriotic effort, approved by most Chinese. That is no doubt what the current reactionaries in Iran are considering: How to bring about patriotic violence and eat up their own former colleagues of the Revolution. It almost always happens this way.

  67. Roger,

    Iran's leaders are building a nuke and believe that starting a war will bring on the "end times" and bring back their missing Imam! No one is laughing!

  68. Quite the change of tune! Before their election, Roger, you called Iran an"imperfect democracy". Now you recognize it as a fake democracy, but it really is an iron-fisted dictatorship. Don't hold your breath waiting for Iran to become a truly free country.

  69. Of course the Revolutionary Guard are violently opposed to demonstrations about the election. If Iran had a really democratic election, they might well be out of their jobs and perhaps in jail. Were Iran's leaders were really courageous, they would have another election supervised as they have been in other countries by the UN or some other organization. Then an election result would be credible.

  70. Let's cut to the chase, if the Iranian people want freedom - they need to take to the streets and fight - not with hairdo protests or marking currency with green ink. They need to physically remove the religious tyrants if they are going to have a place in the modern world.

    In WWI and WWII, people conducted protests against the monsterous regimes of the time in Germany. They came to naught. Trading folks in internal disputes over power but keeping the same world view is really not something for Mr. Cohen to get all hot and bothered about.

  71. Thank you Mr. Cohen!

  72. Israel also knows of their president's pathology, but it must preserve itself. What I fear is the Israeli leader contacting him and saying, "You now have three choices. You can dismantle your nuclear facilities and allow inspections, or you can allow us to fly conventional missions and destroy them. If you fail to take one of those courses, we will use dozens of nuclear missiles and obliterate your facilities."

    Regrettably, Israel will soon have no alternative to this. They will never again suffer a madman intent on their destruction.

  73. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. You no what Cohen, the whole world is watching and already laughing. Get used to it. Iran is due for another revolution, a revolution called the 21st century.

    Lary Waldman

  74. Pfft. What has Iran invented in the last 1000 years? You expect too much Roger.

  75. Obama, who is coddling the exiled communist dictator of Honduras, should be vocally
    preaching support for change in Iran, and the death of despotism!

    The mixed messages international are very poor!! This nation does not support despotism in any form and neither should it's President!!

  76. My guess is that now Roger Cohen wants to jump back and say that Iran is a pardise once again even though he condemned that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the election about a month ago and started to see Iran for what it really is. The problem in Iran is that the government is to oppresive to allow for criticism let alone protest. For example, if anyone did try to protest the election, they will either be shot or arrested for it. Calling the protests a Zionists plot is wrong on numerous levels, because there is no proof that Israel let alone Jews had any role in starting the protest, because it was more likely to be homegrown by Iranian scholars who are Muslim. Iran is proof that a theocracy in the present just can't work, and needs to remove that in order to have true freedom to others.

  77. Mr Cohen does not deny that about two thirds of the Iranian voters could support Ahmadinejad. If this is true, the official results of the contested elections reflect the sacred will of the Iranian people. Sorry, case closed.

  78. Iranians do not know their history. When Persia was great there was no Islam. When Cyrus ruled there was no State religion imposed on its population. Freedom of religion resulted in freedom of commerce and exchange of ideas, not something laughable like Sarah Palin or Mullahism.

  79. Ever notice the similarities between Ahmajinedad and Palin? The most The weepy overwrought endless recitation of victimization coupled with a sense of having been favored by God? The constant finger pointing at internal enemies who are unIslamicRevolutionary -- (or unAmerican)? The stoking of fear of external enemies? The false populism (though in his case, he is son of a blacksmith, in her case she's the daughter of educators)? Are you having fun yet? The religious fundamentalism? The hatred of "elites"? Don't know that it means anything. Just an observation.

  80. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mohammad Khatami, the ex-presidents of Iran or Mir Hussein Moussavi, the defeated presidential candidate- they all might well be favourably viewed by the west and branded liberal in political disposition, as they never seem to have antagonised the west or asserted as strongly as the present incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadenejad, while facing the western pressures on Iran and its nuclear programme; nonetheless they all are the political products of Islamic revolution, spearheaded by Ayatollah Khomeini, as such, they all share, in common, the goals of revolution, and believe in enmeshing Islam and democracy of Iranian version. Thus, what is going on in Iran is not any confrontation on basics, but simply an internal power struggle among various contenders, and the lost out ones are being supported by the non-resident Iranians along with the western elite and media in their futile search for change in Iran.

  81. We're not laughing, we're crying.

    I used to look at people like the student in Tiananmen Square and wonder where that kind of courage came from. Over the last 8 years as I watched our country descend into fascism and our civil rights begin to slip away, I began to understand it. America invaded another country on false pretenses, committed acts of torture, outed a CIA agent for political gain, spied on its own citizens, yet, where were the Americans massing to protest in the street?

    The Iranian people are showing an amazing courage, and I hope they are successful in getting out from under this new mililtary dictatorship. We might, in this country, learn from them about what it means to defend your freedom.

  82. I'm afraid that Mr. Cohen continues to engage in wishful thinking.

    I don't see any cracks in the armor of the Revolutionary Guards or Basij militia. I see an Iran that has moved decisively in the direction of dictatorship, and the leadership has a network of grassroots support.

  83. Roger Cohen calls Persia a venerable civilization that doesn't choose to be a laughing stock. To be sure the trace of arts, poetry, music, ideas and innovation of Persia is enormous but so is the brutality and the meglomania of its rulers. And that strain of outsized ego--a reversion to the days of empire, now exhibits an Islamic veneer over an embedded historic culture. Culture persists, even when it changes its outer dress. Just as the Russian aristocracy was overthrown and replaced by Communist Apparachiks, with their own czar-like Comrade Stalin in a Soviet dictatorship, so too has the Shah given way to a Supreme leader with puppet vizier, now termed president, and legions of spies and enforcers to control and direct behavior. The one and significant difference being that these political constructs can no longer insulate and isolate themselves from a world requiring some accommodation whose goods and trading system they need to survive as the outside is no longer ripe for conquest.

  84. The way I read it, Bush may have been right all along about Iran?

  85. I am a bit puzzled by Mr. Cohen's reference to the past greatness of the Iranian / Persian culture. No doubt that this nation has a rich history and contributed to art, poetry and science in it's golden days of yore. However, Rafsanjani and Moussavi do not appear to be the torchbearers of that past, and are not the enlightened leaders that Mr. Cohen seems to suggest. Rafsanjani is most certainly responsible for a wide range of atrocities just as Ahmedinejad, and so is Moussavi. The problem for the Iranian nation is to choose the lesser of the evils, until a true democratic leader emerges from the masses.

  86. I am one of those who appreciates Roger Cohen's observations because he has some genuine empathy for the Iranian predicament and attempts to place current events in their cultural context. The fundamental issue appears to be whether over the long term the depth and sophistication of traditional Iranian civilization can inform and temper the raw radicalism of Shi'ite fundamentalism.

    As the pro-Israeli apologists never tire of reminding us, figures like Rasfanjani and Moussavi have long histories of complicity in supporting revolutionary excesses. But that really isn't the point. The point is that as revolutionary fervor wanes and the excesses become more visible to the Iranian mind the force of the traditional culture seems capable of moving former radicals toward a more civil and tolerant politics. Israeli hawks don't want to acknowledge this tendency because it undercuts their preferred policy option, which is to bomb Iran back to the Stone Age. For the rest of us, however, it offers the possibility of viewing the current Iranian machinations in a broader and less bleak framework.

  87. Roger Cohen makes the Iranian situation seem like a pretty open-and-shut, black and white conflict: the bad guys, power-hungry theocrats and demagogues, are struggling ruthlessly against the rising tide of good guys: the majority of enlightened, middle-class Iranians who want a kinder, gentler, more secular Iran, and who embrace Western values, technology and popular culture while rejecting the hard-core, militant Islam of Iran’s Clerical rulers.

    The truth seems to me far more nuanced and complex, if not confused: Of course there exists a growing population of tech-savvy middle-class professionals and students who are fed up with their isolation from the Western culture and technology, and who see the Mullahs and their allies as oppressive old fogies. But they still constitute a distinct minority, having political clout only in Teheran and a few other cities and university towns. Iran is, after all, still a nation of small towns and cities, with a large provincial population that remains, at best, barely literate. This group, which constitutes a kind of silent majority, is probably still loyal to the current pious, authoritarian but economically populist clerical regime.

    But Iran is a nation of intrigues, subtleties and conspiracies --at least history seems to reflect that-- where the truth lies hidden beneath the surface (like the true face of an Iranian woman concealed by the Chador). Consequently, I'm inclined to believe that what we see is merely the tip of the iceberg, under which intense power struggles are disrupting Iran’s inner circle clerical leadership, where the conflicts have more to do with personal ambition and warring cliques, than with genuine differences of intellectual opinion about, say, the West vs. Islam, authoritarianism vs. liberalism, planned vs. free-market economics, or authoritarian vs. liberal interpretation of the Koran. The fact that one side --the "old guard"-- is demonizing the British, while the other --the "opposition"-- is shouting: "The Great Satan: Russia!" tells you that there's more to this business than meets the eye.