Given its monopoly of guns, bet on the Iranian regime. But, in the long run, the ayatollahs have to see the handwriting on the wall.
Let us assume what they insist upon -- that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the June 12 election; that, even if fraud occurred, it did not decide the outcome. As Ayatollah Khamenei said to loud laughter in his Friday sermon declaring the election valid, "Perhaps 100,000, or 500,000, but how can anyone tamper with 11 million votes?"
Still, the ayatollah and Ahmadinejad must hear the roar of the rapids ahead. Millions of Iranians, perhaps a majority of the professional class and educated young, who shouted, "Death to the Dictatorship," oppose or detest them. How can the regime maintain its present domestic course or foreign policy with its people so visibly divided?
Where do the ayatollah and Ahmadinejad go from here?
If they adopt a harder line, defy Barack Obama and refuse to negotiate their nuclear program, they can continue to enrich uranium, as harsher sanctions are imposed. But to what end adding 1,000 more kilograms?
If they do not intend to build a bomb, why enrich more? And if they do intend to build a bomb, what exactly would that achieve?
For an Iranian bomb would trigger a regional arms race with Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia seeking nuclear weapons. Israel would put its nuclear arsenal on a hair trigger. America would retarget missiles on Tehran. And if a terrorist anywhere detonated a nuclear bomb, Iran would risk annihilation, for everyone would assume Tehran was behind it.
Rather than make Iran more secure, an Iranian bomb would seem to permanently isolate her and possibly subject her to pre-emptive attack.
And how can the Iranians survive continued isolation?
According to U.S. sources, Iran produced 6 million barrels of crude a day in 1974 under the shah. She has not been able to match that since the revolution. War, limited investment, sanctions and a high rate of natural decline of mature oil fields, estimated at 8 percent onshore and 11 percent offshore, are the causes. A 2007 National Academy of Sciences study reported that if the decline rates continue, Iran's exports, which in 2007 averaged 2.4 million barrels per day, could decrease to zero by 2015.
You cannot make up for oil and gas exports with carpets and pistachio nuts.
If Tehran cannot effect a lifting of sanctions and new investments in oil and gas production, she is headed for an economic crisis that will cause an exodus of her brightest young and quadrennial reruns of the 2009 election.
And there are not only deep divisions in Iran between modernists and religious traditionalists, the affluent and the poor, but among ethnic groups. Half of Iran's population is Arab, Kurd, Azeri or Baluchi. In the Kurdish northwest and Baluchi south, secessionists have launched attacks the ayatollah blames on the United States and Israel.
As they look about the region, how can the ayatollahs be optimistic?
Syria, their major ally, wants to deal with the Americans to retrieve the Golan. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are hostile, with the latter having uncovered a Hezbollah plot against President Hosni Mubarak.
Hamas is laser-focused on Gaza, the West Bank and a Palestinian state, and showing interest in working with the Obama administration.
Where is the Islamic revolution going? Where is the state in the Muslim world that has embraced Islamism and created a successful nation?
Sudan? Taliban Afghanistan? Somalia is now in final passage from warlordism to Islamism. Does anyone believe the Al-Shahab will create a successful nation?
As for the ayatollahs, after 30 years, they are deep in crisis -- and what have they produced that the world admires?
Even if the "green revolution" in Iran triggers revolts in the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, can Iran believe Sunni revolutionary regimes will follow the lead of a Shia Islamic state? How long did it take Mao's China to renounce its elder brother in the faith, Khrushchev's Russia?
When one looks at the Asian tigers -- South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia -- or at the China or India of recent decades, one sees nations that impress the world with their progress.
Iran under the mullahs has gone sideways or backward. Now, with this suspect election and millions having shown their revulsion of the regime, the legitimacy and integrity of the ayatollahs have been called into question.
Obama offers the regime a way out.
They may exercise their right to peaceful nuclear power, have sanctions lifted and receive security guarantees, if they can prove they have no nuclear weapons program and will cease subverting through their Hezbollah-Hamas proxies the peace process Obama is pursuing between Israel and Palestine.
If Iran refuses Obama's offer, she will start down a road at the end of which are severe sanctions, escalation and a war that Obama does not want and Iran cannot want -- for the winner will not be Iran.