On War #308: The Iran Crisis and 4GW

William S. Lind
22 June 2009

The current crisis in Iran is not 4GW. It is a struggle for control of a state, not an attempt to replace the state with something else. However, it could prove a harbinger of 4GW in Iran, because what is at stake is the legitimacy of current Iranian political system.

In a manner that was cynical, blatant and remarkably stupid, the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime in effect toyed with its own legitimacy. Nightwatch for June 19 quotes Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei as saying in his Friday public sermon, “There is 11 million vote difference. How can one rig 11 million votes?”

The answer is, “Not without people taking notice.” Stalin, whose cynicism was legendary – one of his remarks was, “The death of one man is a tragedy; the death of a million men is a statistic” – also said, “What is important is not who votes. What is important is who counts the votes.” But throughout the history of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party was careful to seem to take elections with the utmost seriousness. It knew the pretence was important for its legitimacy.

In contrast, the Iranian regime in effect laughed as it rigged its election’s outcome, saying to the Iranian people and the world, “Rig the elections? Of course we rigged the elections. What are you going to do about it, sucker?” The fact that the outcome was announced within three hours of the polls closing suggests they did not count the votes at all. The Interior Ministry was just told what numbers to put down on the tally sheets.

Now it has blown up in the regime’s face, in the worst kind of crisis any government can face, a crisis of legitimacy. The Iranian opposition is able to say, “You did not play by the rules you wrote.” That is a powerful rallying cry anywhere in the world.

The Iranian people have rallied, by the millions, to the opposition. Iran is in the midst of the greatest upheaval since the revolution that overthrew the Shah.

Like governments everywhere, Khamenei seems unable to grasp that he faces a crisis not merely of leadership but of legitimacy. Had he grasped that essential fact, he would have professed to be “shocked, shocked” by the electoral fraud, dumped Ahmadinejad and devoted himself to showing Iran’s political system works.

Instead, he has decided to keep himself and Ahmadinejad in power by force. Today’s Washington Post quotes the opposition’s leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, as saying, “Shooting at the people, militarizing the city, scaring the people, provoking them, and displaying power are all the result of the unlawfulness we’re witnessing today.” Force may keep the current regime in power, but it also completes the destruction of its legitimacy.

Fourth Generation theory warns that when a government loses its legitimacy and attempts to retain power by naked force, it weakens the state itself. Iran has been a relatively stable state. But there is no guarantee it will remain so. Iran includes many different ethnic groups, not just Persians. If the opposition, which is loyal to the Iranian state, is suppressed by force, Iranians may start to transfer their loyalty away from the state.

The current crisis in Iran also reveals a fracture Fourth Generation theory sometimes overlooks, a break on urban/rural lines. Ahmadinejad is genuinely popular in much of rural Iran. His rural strength might have allowed him to win an election where the votes were actually counted. The opposition, in turn, appears to be almost entirely urban. Its urban strength is what has allowed it to contest the announced electoral results with mass marches.

Urban/rural splits were common before the state arose. They sometimes led to bloody wars, usually in the form of peasant’s revolts. Exactly how they might play out in a Fourth Generation world is difficult to guess. Iran may offer an interesting test case.

But the larger lesson from events in Iran is one this column has harped on: few if any governments are able to perceive a crisis of legitimacy. Any governing system in time becomes a closed system, into which the question of legitimacy is not allowed to penetrate. To raise it is lese majesté. So long as that remains the case, the state system will grow more fragile.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Direct line: 703 837-0483

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Filed in Uncategorized | 6 responses so far

6 Responses to “On War #308: The Iran Crisis and 4GW”

  1. loggie20on 22 Jun 2009 at 7:46 pm 1

    The Sha’ria factor should be considered.

    Gandhi warned against the tyranny of the majority over the silent voice within.

    There is precedent in several religions for the preeminence of the one conscience (consciousness) over the many.

    I do not think the mullahs have the same ‘sensibilities’ as Stalin.

    Fatwa against the mob, intoxicated by a Gin or the Infidel, threatening the Islamic republic.

    [CR: Same argument was made during the debates on our own constitution, which is why we have a Bill of Rights.]

  2. HiYouAllitsMeon 23 Jun 2009 at 1:05 am 2

    So if they can do the math to orbit the Earth, why on Earth did they stuff a ballot box with more votes than voters? Well, when they toss out all those foreign reporters, then the phones and internet will go down, caused by terrorists of course, and the righteous will prevail.

    [CR: We used to have that same problem when I was growing up in Mississippi, and I think it’s not unknown in other parts of the country. One can only speculate, but it might have been overzealous subordinates, or, perhaps, a desire to have Ahmadinejad win by such a large margin that recounts could be avoided.]

  3. senor tomason 23 Jun 2009 at 5:15 am 3

    “In a manner that was cynical, blatant and remarkably stupid, the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime in effect toyed with its own legitimacy.”

    How refreshing. Stupidity coming out of somewhere other than Washington, D. C.

    [CR: Yes. Gives one a measure of hope.]

  4. Maxon 23 Jun 2009 at 5:57 pm 4

    “CR: We used to have that same problem when I was growing up in Mississippi, and I think it’s not unknown in other parts of the country. ”

    Something remarkable happened in the most recent Canadian/Quebec successionist referendum vote.

    The pro-seperatist side cheated, then the ruling political party, by deliberate ommision of the results from known non-seperatist
    districts. Many lost and destroyed ballot boxes, and impedements, such as excessive delays and lineups for qualified voters.

    That is a fact.

    And yet still lost, albiet by a narrow margin.

    As an aside,
    Imagine if you will, cheating on a final exam, perhaps successfully but still failing with less than a passing result.

    My considered opinion.

    The “Yes” side cheated, not to win, but in case they won.


  5. n68188on 28 Jun 2009 at 1:50 am 5

    I recall some discussion about a think tank in the late 90’s toying with the idea of a middle east version of the dommino theory in reverse. Instead of communism spreading throughout southeast asia, into New Zealand and Australia, it was proposed that a functioning democratic state within the middle eastern sphere where freedom is enjoyed by its citizens could initiate a kind of democratic domino effect in the middle east. As people of repressive regimes see thier neighbors enjoying greater freedoms than they do (or at least a greater potential for such freedoms in the future) the oppression of thier own government becomes unbearable and they revolt.
    This is not to say the Iranians are somehow jealous of the Iraqis, but it would seem that some of the changes which have taken place recently in the middle east, have gotten a lot of the people in Saudi, Egypt, Syria and Iran to at least re evaluate the conditions in thier own countries.
    But, under the current political climate it would seem that any peoples attempting to rebel and start anew will be left unsupported and at the mercy of reprisals.
    Much like dissenters in Iraq following the first gulf war. Emboldened by Saddams defeat and at the urging of Bush Sr., dissenters in the southern and northern regions of Iraq rose up against Saddam. The US subsequently stood by and watched as the largely intact republican guard crushed them with support from attack helicopters (helicopter flights in the nofly zones were permitted by Schwartzkof in the ceasefire agreement) .

  6. Maxon 28 Jun 2009 at 7:45 pm 6

    “(helicopter flights in the nofly zones were permitted by Schwartzkof in the ceasefire agreement) .”

    I’ll take your word for it, except apparently, and sadly, they made an
    exception when it was one of our own.

    Welcome to the group BTW.


    “The 1994 Black Hawk shootdown incident, sometimes referred to as the Black Hawk Incident, was a “friendly fire” incident over northern Iraq that occurred on April 14, 1994 during Operation Provide Comfort (OPC). The pilots of two United States Air Force (USAF) F-15 fighter aircraft, operating under the control of a USAF airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, misidentified two United States Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters as Iraqi Mil Mi-24 “Hind” helicopters. The F-15 pilots fired on and destroyed both helicopters, killing all 26 military service members and civilians from the United States (U.S.), United Kingdom, France, Turkey, and the Kurdish community.”