I don't think that Reuel Marc Gerecht is overstating this:
A democratic revolution in Tehran could well prove the most momentous Mideastern event since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. A politically freer Iran would bring front and center the great Islamic debate of our times: How can one be both a good Muslim and a democrat? How does one pay homage to Islamic law but give ultimate authority to the people’s elected representatives? How can a Muslim import the best of the West without suffering debilitating guilt?
I am, of course, distressed at the rank show of force in the streets of Iran today, the brutal intimidation of peaceful protestors. But this strength is as brittle as all raw force without legitimacy, and something very profound has occurred in the Iranian soul this past year.
How we cope with this, try to leverage this, try to help the people of Iran is a delicate matter.
I think Obama has handled it with great skill, making sure he does not take the regime's bait, and patiently revealing to the entire world that he is not the obstacle to Iran's peaceful nuclear power aspirations, that he is not belligerent, that his open hand remains open as a way to expose and thereby isolate the junta in Tehran.
The case for targeted sanctions against the junta, not the people – and the support for them – is stronger now than it was a year ago, and it is stronger in large part because of the skill with which Obama has played his hand. There remain the huge problem of China's UN veto, and Israel's potential for a pre-emptive attack. But there is also great reason for hope, resilience and patience.
Kevin Sullivan interviews Ali Alfoneh, an AEI research fellow:
Any student of political science and history knows that prediction of political revolutions is almost impossible, while social revolutions are more easily detectable. Iran has been going through a social revolution for the past one hundred years, which on two occasions led to political revolutions: The constitutional revolution of 1906 and the revolution of 1979. The ability of the Islamic Republic to suppress the democratic opposition in times of weakness in order to fend off regime collapse – and reversely to give considerable concessions such as political liberalization in more stable periods – could secure survival of the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, the Iranian leadership does not seem to have learned many lessons from the past, it commits mistakes of His late Imperial Majesty the Shah and will therefore sooner or later suffer the destiny of the imperial regime.
Greg Scoblete counters Peter Feaver's denunciation of Iranian "doves":
Surely Feaver can't believe that the administration should commit itself to a course of war with Iran if it does not, in fact, desire one? And this is the problem with the "Iran hawk" position: there is no credible way to threaten to use military force against Iran unless you are really willing to use military force against Iran.
And in this way, at least, the Iran "dove" position is intellectually coherent. They have concluded that a war with Iran is costlier than a nuclear Iran, and so can structure their policy accordingly. The hawks either believe that war is the lesser evil, or they have a naive faith that they can structure a too-clever-by-half means to convince Iran we're carrying a big stick when they actually have no intention of swinging it.
Robert Wright notes that even the reformers in Iran are in favor of a nuclear energy program:
Why don’t we offer Iran something its public cherishes — the acknowledged right to enrich uranium — in exchange for radically more intrusive inspections, along with ratification of the additional protocol? A version of this idea has been advanced by a group of experts that was convened by the American Foreign Policy Project and co-chaired by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and the aforementioned Gary Sick. It’s worth checking out.
I’m not betting that Iran would accept this deal, but I don’t see the downside of finding out, and that’s something we’ve never done; no comparable deal has ever been put on the table. The closest such overture was a 2008 offer that would have imposed tougher inspections but denied Iran the right to enrich uranium as allowed under the N.P.T. until “the confidence of the international community in the exclusively peaceful nature of your nuclear program is restored” — which to the average Iranian means, “not until America says so.”
It’s worth emphasizing that it’s not unusual for a country to possess a full-spectrum of scientific and technical aspects of nuclear technology without building nuclear weapons. Germany, Japan, South Korea, Sweden, and I believe some other smaller European countries are in that boat. What’s more, Iranians seem committed to enrichment even if it means sanctions…