A couple more thoughts about 2000 and 2009...
Had a long talk tonight with a friend who is deeply involved in international aid and finance. He was very curious about how this current situation would play out vis a vis other successful and unsuccessful revolutions in the past two decades. We ran through a lot of different scenarios.
A) Best case: Public outrage and street protests coalesce in a largely peaceful manner toward radical and positive political change. My pal brought up the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989 but I think I convinced him that that was essentially a fait accompli after Hungary and East Germany. (For alternative scenarios, see below.) More relevant I think is Ukraine's Orange Revolution, where long supressed but politically inevitable forces seize upon an opportunity to accelerate change. This is the best case for Iran. Protests keep momentum and persist until victory.
B) Worst case: Bloodbath sustains ruling party. Let's call this the Tiananmen scenario. The government first targets sympathizers within ruling clique, eliminates them, then strikes at the head of the leadership of protests, neutralizes that key element, and then sends in the troops to terrorize and mop up. I'm reading lots of reports that seem to argue that this is the present Iranian government strategy, with conflicts within the ruling clerical class and Basij night terrors seizing leaders of the protests.
C) Ceaucesculand: The revolt turns violent and kills off key government figures. Or vice versa. Steve Clemons at the Washington Note featured a guest post of sorts that posited this scenario a few days ago and there is part of me that really feels in my gut that this is a very strong possibility. The two sides are very equal and poised for a zero sum game of sorts. At this point, who controls munitions and the airwaves gets very important.
D) Strategic Retreat and Reposition of Reform: If both sides pull away from overt blodshed now, what happens? Likely Ahmadinejad remains president but with a very tenuous grip on power. The opposition regroups -- and a few of its leaders get out of prison -- and a renewed effort takes shape. It follows the strategy of calculated outrage and outward conformity with law that Serbia's 2000 opposition adopted. Negotiations are opened with key elements of state security in aid of a peaceful transfer of power.
Of course this course of action opens the way to compromises and caviling. Some of the guilty will escape. But the orderly transfer of power is accomplished.
The question is whether or not the opprtunity for option (D) is open if there is a strategic retreat. The Serbian reformers of 2000 did their electoral math and decided that there was no need to retreat... and thus took to the streets. Iran's reformers could make a similar calculation -- that retreat only enables a tottering regime -- and thus reject it.
What I see in Iran is numbers. What I don't see yet is a viable strategy to use those numbers. Serbia's reformers had Otpor as shock troops, Vojislav Kostunica as the beard of legality and a clear strategy for winning over even the most vicious paramilitaries of the regime to their side. Serbia had a largely peaceful but much compromised revolution.
Let's see what happens in Iran.