WASHINGTON -- Iran today is a revolution in search of its Yeltsin. Without leadership, demonstrators will take to the street only so many times to face tear gas, batons and bullets. They need a leader like Boris Yeltsin: a former establishment figure with newly revolutionary credentials and legitimacy, who stands on a tank and gives the opposition direction by calling for the unthinkable -- the abolition of the old political order.
Right now the Iranian revolution has no leader. As this is written, opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi has not appeared in public since June 18. And the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime has shown the requisite efficiency and ruthlessness at suppressing widespread unrest. Their brutality has been deployed intelligently. The key is to atomize the opposition. Start with the most sophisticated methods to block Internet and cell phone traffic, thanks to technology provided by Nokia Siemens Networks. Allow the more massive demonstrations to largely come and go -- avoiding Tiananmen-style wholesale bloodshed -- but disrupt the smaller ones with street-side violence and rooftop snipers, the perfect instrument of terror. Death instant and unseen, the kind that only the most reckless and courageous will brave.
Terror visited by invisible men. From rooftops by day. And by night, swift and sudden raids that pull students out of dormitories, the wounded out of hospitals, for beatings and disappearances.
For all our sentimental belief in the ultimate triumph of those on the "right side of history," nothing is inevitable. This second Iranian revolution is on the defensive, even in retreat. To recover, it needs mass, because every dictatorship fears the moment when it gives the order to the gunmen to shoot at the crowd. If they do (Tiananmen), the regime survives; if they don't (Romania's Ceausescu), the dictators die like dogs. The opposition needs a general strike and major rallies in the major cities -- but this time with someone who stands up and points out the road ahead.
Desperately seeking Yeltsin. Does this revolution have one? Or to put it another way, can Mousavi become Yeltsin?
President Obama's worst misstep during the Iranian upheaval occurred early on when he publicly discounted the policy differences between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mousavi.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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