The June re-election of the firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran's president for another four years caused tremors of dismay in western capitals and triggered angry protests in the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities by supporters of his main rival, former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, who alleged vote-fixing on a breathtaking scale.
Mousavi's loyalists called the affair a "silent coup d'etat". Whatever it was, it caused a political earthquake in the Islamic Republic and even with the authorisation of a recount of the vote, the election debacle will likely have far-reaching consequences within Iran and the entire Middle East in the months ahead.
Whether or not there was wholesale fraud by the interior ministry, which oversees elections and which is firmly controlled by Ahmadinejad, it soon became clear that the blacksmith's son from the south Tehran slums, the wellspring of Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 Islamic Revolution, had the unequivocal backing of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khomeini's successor. No manipulation on the scale alleged could have been carried out without Khamenei's sanction.
The Americans--and particularly their media--were appalled at Ahmadinejad's reelection because of his anti-Western and anti Israeli diatribes and his refusal to abandon Iran's nuclear programme. There was dismay that Mousavi, seen as more amenable than the radical Ahmadinejad, would not take power and respond to President Obama's overtures for a dialogue with Iran.
Most analysts concluded that with Ahmadinejad still in power, there was little chance of any fruitful negotiations. But Americans have a dismal track record in predicting what happens in Iran. In 1978, when Khomeini's revolution was gathering steam, the US embassy in Tehran was adamant right up to the last minute before the Islamists triumphed that Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi would overcome his adversaries. They got it wrong.
It seems that many people in Washington got it wrong again in thinking that Mousavi, who had been prime minister during the dark days of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, was the favourite to win the June elections. They heard what they wanted to hear. They did not appreciate the support Ahmadinejad still had in the countryside, despite his failure to produce the economic bounty he promised when elected in 2005.
George Friedman of the Texas-based security consultancy Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor),...