In 2009, Americans continued to die in Afghanistan, Darfur continued to win the hearts of liberals, Somali pirates--and by extension the country--got some headlines for a week or so, and Iraq became more precarious, but we think the most informative foreign policy event of last year was the almost revolution in Iran over their controversial election. If you needed to study one international event this year, it should be Iran.
Iran's election wasn't the only corrupt election this year, and the revolution that followed it didn't really change anything. But what event combined more forces--globalization, asymmetric warfare, revolution in the classical sense, and the civil war within Islam--into a larger conflict in the last year? More importantly, I consider the almost revolution a subversive example of "political war". The violence of the protesters and the government forces in the end only reinforced the status quo, but it was still a struggle of one group using violence to further its aims.
First, this is a perfect example of revolution in flat world. Other conflicts have occurred since Thomas Friedman first advanced his theory in The World is Flat, but none quite like this. In a state desperately trying to exercise control over the media--kicking out journalists, banning demonstrations--Twitter, Facebook, and cellphones broadcast the revolution to the world. Their revolution failed--we don’t doubt that--but this is the first sign of things to come.
Second, it was an asymmetric fight. Like America's current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the weak struggled against the powerful. In this case, the former were the green protesters and the latter was the state apparatus of Ayatollah Khameini.
Above all, the Green Revolution shows us that Islam is still fighting for its soul and future. Secularism, fundamental Islam, the role of Islam in society, Westernism, the Great Satans (Great Britain and America)--every issue confronting Islamic culture today was present in Iran's almost revolution. The same motivation that pushes Al Qaeda to fight the West pushed Ayatollah Khameini to prematurely declare the election over.
Before I leave, I have to address the two forgotten elephants in the room. The war in Afghanistan made the most news at the end of the year with President Obama’s announcement, but the event wasn't news. Afghanistan was going south when I was there in 2008; 2009 merely continued the trend downward. Iraq is sliding towards sustainable peace, but that occurred after the surge in 2007. Thus, while important conflicts, they are not the story of this year.
More than anything, the Iranian Election saga brought together the things that represent On Violence: the theories of the Accidental Guerrilla (the most important book of the last year), the power of Political War (my most important theory of the last year) and the power of bloggers (something we aspire to here at On Violence).
(The rest of "On V's Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2011" continues in: