What did the world see as Iran celebrated the 31st anniversary of its Islamic revolution on Thursday? A hollowed-out regime that is better at repressing its own people than at governing, and that after three decades of fervent belief has reached a cynical middle age.
The Iranian regime’s success in intimidating demonstrators was a show of strength, but only superficially. A Lebanese Shiite friend reported last week that the Iranians were spinning rumors that there would be a bloodbath in Tehran, in hopes of frightening off Thursday’s protesters. That’s hardly a signal of stability and confidence.
“It’s the Enron of governments,” says Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “If Iran were a stock, nobody would buy shares in it.”
But saying something is unsustainable isn’t the same as knowing when it will collapse, as we discovered with the financial bubble. That’s the tricky problem with Iran: It’s a safe bet this regime will eventually break down, but the process could take years, even as Iran pushes toward nuclear-weapons capability. If you want an example of how long a hollowed-out, repressive regime can last, just look at the Soviet Union.
The Obama administration has been struggling with the Iran conundrum — looking at the range of policy options and, in effect, checking the box that says “all of the above.” I think this is the right approach — a mix of what President Obama warned last week would be “a significa…