Daniel W. Drezner

What happens next in Iran?

My pace on commenting on Iran has been about as sluggish as CNN’s.  By my rough estimate, I’m now approximately 4,567 posts behind Andrew Sullivan on the Iran election. Let’s try to get back in the game!  In this post I want to look at what’s likely to happen in Iran; the next post will ...

My pace on commenting on Iran has been about as sluggish as CNN’s.  By my rough estimate, I’m now approximately 4,567 posts behind Andrew Sullivan on the Iran election. Let’s try to get back in the game! 

In this post I want to look at what’s likely to happen in Iran; the next post will look at what the Obama administration’s response. 

OK, so, Iran. There are protests, riots, and Twitters galore — will it amount to regime change? 

Alas, I think the answer is no.  I don’t want this to be the answer.  No matter how I slice the data, however, I get to that outcome.

Let’s stiputlate that the election results were rigged.  Here’s the question — why were they so blatant about it?  The speed and skewness of the "official" results seemed design to trigger disbelief. Was that intentional? 

Hey, you know what, I think it was.  University of Chicago political scientist Alberto Simpser has written about why authoritarian leaders like Khamenei would engage in electoral corruption (.pdf). The answer is not pretty: 

[A]n overwhelming victory today can send a powerful signal to the citizenry tomorrow – a large margin of victory can deter opposition turnout, discourage opposition coordination (e.g. when the opposition is fragmented into a number of parties), and increase the winner’s bargaining power with respect to electorally important social actors by rendering it less likely that they are pivotal in a winning coalition.

I suspect that this was the intent in Iran. The question is whether it will work. Khamenei has backtracked a little from his endorsment of Ahmadinejad as the winner, and now wants the Guardian Council to investigate allegations of election fraud. I suspect this is an effort to play for time, however, in order to get his security apparatus prepped for a more brutal crackdown. Twice in the past 10 years (1999 and 2003), this regime has been perfectly willing to crack down on reformist groups to secure its hold on power. I see no reason for Khamenei to hold back this time around. 

In other words, unless Iran’s security apparatus starts to split, I don’t see how this ends in any outcome other than Khamenei staying in power. 

What does this mean for the rest of the world?  On to the next post! 

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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