Abbas Milani writes:
The failure of American and British governments to predict the fall of the shah in 1979 was one of the biggest intelligence failures of the twentieth century. In the aftermath of that monumental mess, the British government ordered a policy review to learn what went wrong. They identified three main errors: inattention to the brutality of the regime’s secret police (SAVAK), insufficient knowledge of the corruption of the ruling elite and a lack of focus on the intellectual life of Iran.
Today, thirty years later, the dominant discourse on American policy toward Tehran often suffers from exactly the same three maladies. As the nuclear impasse with Iran continues, the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives is likely to pressure the Obama administration for harsher measures against the clerical regime, so the debate about the stability of the Iranian elite and the power of the opposition, and about what would be the right U.S. policy, is only likely to increase.
In the weeks before the policy of ending subsidies on food and petroleum was implemented, several leading security officials of the regime threatened the people with harsh punishment should they react to the new economic landscape. Lest anyone missed the message, and lest anyone did not hear about the prison sentences against leaders of the opposition, the regime also organized a major show of force in Terhan—a “security exercise,” they said—intended to remind the people of what might happen if they dared demonstrate against the new harsh reality. In the days after the implementation of the policy, every night President Ahmadinejad is reported to have convened special sessions with his cabinet to address or contain any problem. The regime was clearly worried that any small incident might act as a trigger that would once again lead to mass demonstrations.