Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 22, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Iran's Election Protests


  • A disputed election in Iran has led to street rallies, resulting in fatalities. Get the latest on the situation in Iran from Thunderbird School of Global Management Professor Paul Kinsinger, who also worked for the CIA.
Guests:
  • Paul Kinsinger - Thunderbird School of Global Management Professor


View Transcript
Ted Simons: The protests continue in Iran over what some are calling a stolen election. Today, police fired live rounds in the air to disperse a crowd of demonstrators. More than a dozen people have died in the protests. It's making for a lot of concern for Arizonans with ties to Iran. I'll talk to an expert about all this, but first, here's how an A.S.U. student from the Iranian student organization sees it.

Amir: I'm upset and sad about the violence in the streets. And -- but I'm still hopeful about the outcome of whatever has happened and whatever is going to happen. The text messaging service, S.M.S., in Iran, where we're disconnected from one -- maybe before the election up to now, there's been over all been disconnected and many phone services has been disconnected periodically. The internet is either disconnected or not available or if it's available, it's very, very slow and people are not available to upload like video, so -- and the international journalists and reporters who were in Iran, their visa expired and they had to leave the country. I don't believe there's an international journalist in Iran. This is what I think. So people, every individual person is now a reporter. They take video, pictures with their cameras, with their cellphones upload it. And whenever they can and however they can. It's not been easy. But they have been doing it. And they have been using like facebook or twitter or email to distribute their -- the news. I have talked to my parents a few times. They're fine. But I'm concerned about my own family and friends and family members and even the people who I -- they're my fellow Iranians and country mates and don't want anything but justice and they're being killed for asking for justice. Trying to have their own voice heard on the street, but they're not being allowed to.

Ted Simons: Here now to talk about the turmoil in Iran is Paul Kinsinger, a clinical professor of business intelligence at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale. He is also formerly with the C.I.A. Thanks for joining us.

Paul Kinsinger: Thanks for asking me. I appreciate it.

Ted Simons: Is there more being protested in Iran other than election results?

Paul Kinsinger: Well, that's a great question. I think it's becoming even clearer as we go along that that's probably the case. The election is just the -- it's the tip of the iceberg. It's a pretty big tip we're seeing above the water line, but the sense I have is that the actual tumult behind the opposition is -- the TUMULT represents a deeper sense they want to see Iran become a more modern place and loosen its hostility to the outside world and have the revolution move into a moderate stance in middle age.

Ted Simons: How likely is it that we will see a changed Iran, either in the ways you mentioned or ways we can't even perceive right now?

Paul Kinsinger: That's the big question right now and I don't think anyone has an answer to that. I think at this point, it remains pretty clear that the regime, the hard line regime is in power and intends to do what it has to to stay in power. As things unfold over the next several days and weeks, there's a lot of things that could happen that could start to change that. And we'll see. There's some events this week. There's -- there appears to be news out of Iran that the ruling -- the rulers are having a debate. I doubt we'll see that the hard line will say, ok, you know what? The jig is up. We're stepping down. That's not going to happen. But it is possible that out of this could come some movement that could lead to a loosening of the threads of hard line power that have been there. I give that a remote chance at this point. But there's a thread or two -- a thread or two.

Ted Simons: Is there a better chance to see loosening or a harder line?

Paul Kinsinger: Also a great question and I think if I had to bet right now, I'd say I think the chances of any fair -- are fairly remote at this point. I think the chances that things go harder over a longer period of time are maybe a little bit less than loosening and I say that only because there appears to be some concern at the top of the theocracy, the ruling mullahs, over the way the things should go. The sense is in the hands of those who want to crack down on the opposition and keep the current regime in power. But we'll see how things unfold this week.

Ted Simons: Yeah, the internet, twitter, YouTube, these things, how much of an impact is that having? The old line, the revolution will be televised. It sounds like it will be on youtube pretty soon.

Paul Kinsinger: It's been fascinating to watch this whole thing. Those around the world who remember the revolution of the late '70s will remember that technology played a great role in that. The SHAH and the regime in Iran tried desperately to crack down in the late 70’s and the thing that was getting through were audiotape of and smuggling into Iran and listened to by the revolutionaries in Iran all over the place. The SHAH could not stop it. That was the technology of the day. The audiotape. Today we have the current version of that, the internet, basically. And here in the west, we look at YouTube, facebook, myspace and twitter, all of which are kind of a cultural social phenomenon. In Iran, you can bet the regime are looking at this as a viral infection.

Ted Simons: Indeed. Do we really know what's going on other than -- you can see a little bit of video here. There's a gruesome video of a young woman. But how do you get a big picture when it's so small?

Paul Kinsinger: I don't think anyone is getting the big picture and I think that's what the regime is trying to control. Because of technology, there's so many little pictures available. And it's like pixels in a high-screen definition TV. There's so many pixels available that even the connecting of a few of them give you a glimpse of what's going on, and just as you pointed out, the shot of this young woman and her death, the picture is worth a thousand words even if it's coming across the cellphone. This has got to be driving the regime nuts. They wish they could snuff this all out. But they can’t. Iran, as much as it's perceived as being hostile, it's not a south Korea or a Burma, where they turned off the electricity and living on dirt floors so they can control everything. Iran is not that country. It's very much connected to the outside world and this is part of the price they pay for that.

Ted Simons: Talk about America's role in this situation. Are we doing the right thing right now? What should we not be doing?

Paul Kinsinger: I believe we're doing the right thing right now. That is to speak softly and watch closely what's going on. Americans over 40 remember the outrage over the fall of the Shah and the holding of hostages for 300 and 60 some odd days. Everybody remembers that searing event but so too in Iran does any Iranian remember the British and American role and the coup that brought the Shah back to power. As a result, the United States and United Kingdom are blamed for everything. There's no way we can have a positive influence on things in Iran if we start speaking out and trumpeting the goals of -- trumpeting the goals of the opposition. The opposition that has not asked anyone for help. They're doing fine just by themselves. This is an Iranian issue. They know it. We have to be careful. What are our real goals? We would like a moderate government that is willing to be part of a family of nations again. There's virtually nothing we can do to make that happen.

Ted Simons: With that said, most folks, the average Joe and Jane over in Iran and in the suburbs, do they still at their core distrust, dislike, even hate the United States?

Paul Kinsinger: You know, most of what is understood about this is that you have a kind of bifurcation in Iran. There's 60 some odd million Iranians, and including a large community in the United States, the sense I have is that the Iranian people generally have a fairly warm feeling toward America, toward the west, toward cultural exchanges and greater freedom and the ability to be part of the world again. This is an ancient, very highly civilized and very proud culture. This is not a hermit kingdom. It wants to be connected to the outside world and I believe that millions of Iranians, especially the 70% under 30 years old -- a striking statistic. The government-to-government relations that come up out of the coup and the fall of the SHAH in the late '70s.

Ted Simons: Could the government provoke an incident with an Arab neighbor somehow with the United States to take the concentration off the demonstrations and put it on whatever happens to wander by?

Paul Kinsinger: That's the fear. If the regime finds itself hard enough pressed that it will find some incident to turn the attention to some outside peril. I think that's going to be a harder sell in this case in Iran. I think things have gotten along too far on that. The opposition to the regime, to the fraudulent election, is so substantial that I believe it would be difficult to convince all of those people to put everything behind them and say, oh, it's the U.S. It's Israel again. Let's get in line behind the regime. That doesn't mean they won't try it. That's one of reasons that I believe that the United States over all of the western powers has to be the most careful over the way we talk about what's going on in Iran. If we align ourselves too much with the opposition, it will give the regime the excuse they need to squelch them.

Ted Simons: Unstable Iran, unstable middle east follows?

Paul Kinsinger: Yeah, it's a very remote thing right now because this is a contained issue. But an unstable Iran has unstable neighbors that it plays a role in. Secondly, the Israeli equation because if an Iranian government to reach out and try to start something with Israel over this, is a way to tip the balance in this debate, that would be huge.

Ted Simons: We have to stop it there. Paul, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.

Paul Kinsinger: Thank you. My pleasure.

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