The Obama policy of extending an open hand to Iran is working and ought not be abandoned because of the grim events in Tehran. For the Iranian theocracy has just administered a body blow to its legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people and the world.
Before Saturday, the regime could credibly posture as defender of the nation, defiant in the face of the threats from Israel, faithful to the cause of the Palestinians, standing firm for Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear power.
Today, the regime, including the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is under a cloud of suspicion that they are but another gang of corrupt politicians who brazenly stole a presidential election to keep themselves and their clerical cronies in power. What should we do now? Wait for the dust to settle.
No U.S. denunciation of what took place in Iran is as credible as the reports and pictures coming out of Iran. Those reports, those pictures are stripping the mullahs of the only asset they seemed to possess — that, even if fanatics, they were principled, honest men.
Like Hamas, it was said of them that at least they were not corrupt, that at least they did not cheat the people. No more. Today, in the streets of Tehran and other cities, they call to mind "Comrade Bob" Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will never recapture that revolutionary purity he once seemed to possess as the man of the people who was elected president in the upset of 2005. Today, he appears, as The New York Times puts it, "as the shrewd and ruthless front man for a clerical military and political elite that is more unified and emboldened than at any time since the 1979 revolution."
There are other reasons Obama should not heed the war hawks howling for confrontation now. When your adversary is making a fool of himself, get out of the way. That is a rule of politics Lyndon Johnson once put into the most pungent of terms. U.S. fulminations will change nothing in Tehran. But they would enable the regime to divert attention to U.S. meddling in Iran's affairs and portray the candidate robbed in this election, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, as a poodle of the Americans.
When Nikita Khrushchev bathed the Hungarian revolution in blood, Ike did not break relations. Khrushchev was at Camp David three years later. When Deng Xiaoping and Co. ordered the tanks into Tiananmen Square, George Bush I did not break relations. When Moscow ordered Warsaw to crush Solidarity, Ronald Reagan did not let that act of repression deter him from seeking direct talks to reduce nuclear weapons.
Again, let us wait for the dust to settle. By now, even Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei must recognize that the Iranian revolution is losing the Iranian people. This is the third of four straight presidential elections where the turnout has been huge and the candidate who promised reconciliation with the West and an easing of social strictures won a landslide among the student young. Those are the future leaders of Iran.
Which way the regime will now go is difficult to predict. After Tienanmen Square, the Chinese rulers who ordered in the tanks sought to reconnect with the disillusioned young by opening up to the West and building a neo-capitalist economy. Iran, in economic straits with U.S. sanctions biting, its oil and gas reserves dwindling, could try the same route. Seize the opposition's best issues by seeking accommodation with America.
More likely, the regime, backed by the hard-line military, will try to reconnect with the masses and regain its reputation as defender of Islam and the nation, by defying the Americans, denouncing Israel and pressing forward with Iran's nuclear program. The dilemma for America is that the theocracy defines itself and grounds its claim to leadership through its unyielding resistance to the Great Satan — the United States — and to Israel.
Nevertheless, Obama, with his outstretched hand, his message to Iran on its national day, his admission that the United States had a hand in the 1953 coup in Tehran, his assurances that we recognize Iran's right to nuclear power, succeeded. He stripped the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad of their clinching argument — that America is out to destroy Iran and they are indispensable to Iran's defense.
With the mask of patriotism and the legacy of true revolution lost through this election fraud, Iran's regime stands exposed as just another dictatorship covering up a refusal to yield power and privilege with a pack of lies about protecting the nation. Saturday's election not only revealed the character of the Iranian regime. It also revealed that time is on our side. If the people of Iran can defy this regime, it is no threat to us.
As with the other revolutionary and totalitarian regimes, from the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin, to the People's Republic of Mao, to the revolutionary Cuba of Fidel, America outlasts them all. And the ayatollahs, too.
© 2013 msnbc.com