Just as the objective reality of Lebanon's recent "cedar revolution" is Hezbollah capturing a significant number of parliamentary seats, just as Egypt holding elections really just means finding a politically astute method for Hosni Mubarak to pass the reins of power over to his son, so too has much of this talk of a westernized Iran been just that -- talk. The people have spoken, and it appears that they mean it.
Maybe they really do enjoy having satellite dishes and watching Leo DiCaprio, but this should not be mistaken any longer for culture envy. They are enjoying western gadgets on their own terms, and we keep misinterpreting this as some sort of collective yearning for the sappy, brainless decadence of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. We keep assuming that Iran is split fairly equally between orthodox Islamists and liberalized youth, a 50-50 split obviated by the mullahs' iron fist.
61.8% to 35.7% -- unless the whole thing was completely fixed from top to bottom, there's no mistaking the message of this outcome. They may like TVs and blue jeans, but they clearly resent our threats and meddling, and our clumsy little Axis Of Evil® references.
Iran is not the popsicle stand Iraq was once thought to be, but since most Americans for starters automatically assume that Iranians are Arab, good luck trying to communicate to them just how dangerous this could get in a hurry. Iran could very easily play Russia, China, and even Saudi Arabia off against us, all while they continue to meddle in postwar Iraq's attempt to get back on its feet and get a constitution written.
Had we left things alone, continued the policy of containment on Saddam and used a combination of carrot and stick on the mullahs, and played Russia and China against both of them more effectively, we could very well have gotten both Saddam and the Iranian mullahs toppled from within by now, and all without doing what we've been doing.
Yes, we also might be right where we were in the summer of 2002. I submit that as untenable as that may have seemed at the time, as far as a long-range policy was concerned, it's a damn sight better than being caught with your pants down, and having the entire world see just how ineffective you've been in taking care of the so-called low-hanging fruit.
The whole region has its collective back up now, not a one of them appears terribly infatuated with the idea of a genuine democracy, and more likely they'll continue to go the route of theocratic dictatorships. Hell, we can't even lean on the Saudis to democratize anymore, lest they decide they'd rather be swing producer for the cash-flush Chinese instead of us.
Not that you want Saudi Arabia to be a democracy anyway, you really don't. The Sauds are the liberals in that country, something which just never seems to get sandwiched in between runaway bride/lost doofus in Utah stories. Bush will never acknowledge that fact, because it directly contravenes all the feel-good democracy claptrap he's been pimping all this time. Sorry if this comes off as cultural arrogance, but societies which treat women as third-class citizens, and which violently enforce even dress codes, are clearly not ready to have real democracy dropped into their laps. I don't like it that way, but that's the way it is.
Look. They gambled, the neocons. They lost. You gotta know when to hold 'em, when to fold 'em, etc., etc. Doesn't necessarily mean we have to walk away or run, but it does mean we better think long and hard about our next move. Despite the Brush Clearer's bravado about resolute resolve and gumption and moxie and the rest of it, this is not poker. This is chess, and we're playing with the people that invented the game. They're not falling for this "cowboy up" bullshit, so we better have a contingency plan, or get ready to start rationing gas.