Is Katherine Harris in Tehran?

While Iranians yearn for an end to their isolation, what has driven hundreds of thousands to the polls and subsequently into the streets is the boiling resentment of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
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The bloodshed and civil disorder in the streets of Tehran -- unseen since the 1979 revolution that overthrew Shah Reza Pahlavi -- constitutes an appropriate civil rebuke to Iran's ruling mullahs, who badly miscalculated how unpopular their brutish President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad really is among wide swaths of Iran's population.

In just 4 years, through international isolation and rampant corruption, Ahmadinejad has brought Iran's economy to the brink of collapse. And while Iranians yearn for an end to their isolation and resent Ahmadenijad's global juvenile delinquency, what has driven hundreds of thousands to the polls and subsequently into the streets is the boiling resentment against Ahmadinejad's overzealous religious brown-shirt goon squads and his utter indifference to Iran's middle-class economic suffering.

Iranian reporters based in the Persian Gulf with whom I have been communicating are actually shocked that the regime (which has so many secret policemen) could have been so tone deaf as to allegedly attempt to rig this presidential election leaving behind so so many telltale muddy footprints to be contested by anyone who has a fundamental understanding of Iran's jury-rigged electoral system. An election that by all accounts brought out a unprecedented protest vote directly against Ahmadinejad and indirectly, against the Supreme Leader himself. It's as if Florida's 2000 election fraud maven -- Katherine Harris -- was up to her old tricks, this time as a hired gun in Tehran.

For weeks, it was increasingly clear from the electoral fervor that Iranians who had sat out the last election were determined not to commit the same mistake again. The spike in voter turnout among younger, more educated and more affluent Iranians who sat out the election in 2005 suggests that the election had to have been far closer than the comical vote count breathlessly issued by the Ayatollahs' hand-picked vote counters less than 30 minutes after the polls closed.

Did "Supreme Vote Counter" Ali Khamenei actually believe that the voting had to be extended by hours because so many Iranians were driven to express their joyous approval of his hand-picked protege and his bankrupt policies?

While there were no independent international observers to monitor the polls, local polling reports from many Iranian cities where challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi was known to be widely popular point to the strong possibility of a manipulated count. Indeed, Ahmadinejad's Interior Ministry cronies put out voting totals suggesting that their leader overwhelmingly won in Mousavi strongholds, i.e. he piled up huge margins in urban as well as rural areas and allegedly won in Mousavi's home city and home province. Now, we're talking about Ahmadenijad beating a very, very popular opponent on his own turf. Its akin to asserting that "W" beat Gore in New York City and every other metropolitan area in the east and west coasts.

And the way the result was announced was unprecedented. Usually, in all previous elections, the vote came in and was announced province by province. This time, as if on cue from a higher hand, the results came in blocks of millions of votes -- in percentages of the vote in a country where there are no network predictions as soon as the polls close. Votes are hand counted, yet the results were announced in unison as if someone gave the signal to issue the results simultaneously.

It is all very, very suspicious, to say the least!

The fate of the Ayatollah's Shiite paradise may be hanging in the balance. The next few days will determine whether Khamenei can quell the civil disorder.

But do not underestimate the determination of Ahmadinejad and his legions of blindly loyal Revolutionary Guards to use the very violence in the streets of Tehran against Iran's citizens that the Shah himself refused to use against his people in 1979, which ultimately led to his downfall and exile. Just like the Chinese at Tiananmen, the Iranian theocracy has no qualms throwing thousands in Evan -- Iran's notorious prison of torture or killing them. And tonight, Ahmadinejad's police did just that -- fire upon and kill protesters.

In what likely will be a vain attempt to separate himself from the street commotion, Ayatollah Khamenei stated today that he has ordered the Guardian Council to conduct an "investigation" into Mousavi's assertion that the election was fraudulent. A report is supposed to be issued in 10 days.

That has the malodorous odor of a Florida recount!

Unlike his predecessor Jimmy Carter, who grossly miscalculated what the Iranian Revolution would mean to American interests in the Middle East, President Obama's measured statements this evening expressing empathy for the protesters while steering clear of giving any ammunition to Ahmadenijad against the U.S. struck the right measured and sophisticated balance. But this balancing act is going to be hard to maintain if the violence in Tehran's streets sharply escalates. Yet anything more than what Obama stated this evening would clearly risk transforming the situation into an anti-American clarion call by the Ayatollah's henchclerics, and that must be avoided at all costs given the stakes for Obama's policy of engaging Iran.

The whole world is watching, because even if Ahmadinejad is able to cling to power, the rioting has shaken Iran's clerical establishment to the core. The consequences may not be seen for weeks, or even months, but for once there is little doubt that Ayatollah Khamenei is the one not sleeping well at night while Ahmadinejad plots his next repressive moves against Iran's protesters.