Argue all you want that the so-called Twitter Revolution in Iran has supplanted classical news reporting; the best piece of analysis on the post-election furor was published today in The New York Times. Neil MacFarquhar profiles Ayatollah Khamenei, who appoints both half of the 12-member Council of Guardians—the ruling clerical body of Iran—and the judiciary that appoints the other half. That makes him, in the long view, almost solely responsible for cooked election results last week as well for the blood-brutal acts his assorted goon squads have committed since then. The most fascinating disclosure about a seldom-scrutinized tyrant was the fact that Khamenei didn’t really have the metaphysical chops to become ayatollah, and thus he lacks credibility among even hardline clerics. “Ayatollah Khamenei was elevated from the middle clerical rank, hojatolislam, to ayatollah overnight,” MacFarquhar writes, “in what was essentially a political rather than a religious decision. He earned undying scorn from many keepers of Shiite tradition, even though Iran’s myth-making machinery cranked up, with a witness professing he saw a light pass from Ayatollah Khomeini to Ayatollah Khamenei much the way the imams of centuries past were anointed.”
One reason Joseph Stalin felt the need to liquidate all of the Old Bolsheviks in the mid-1930s was that he knew that so many of them were his intellectual—and revolutionary—superiors. His usefulness to Lenin before 1917 was as a murderer and bank robber, not as a Marxist, and certainly not as a war strategist. There are myriad ways in which Stalin’s enemies might have bucked his consolidation of power had they been as opportunistic and merciless as he. Resentment and inadequacy have long shelf lives in dictatorships, and so a minor biographical detail about the man now unleashing hell in Tehran helps explain why presumptions of Khamenei’s core “rationality”—presumptions now being scuttled by formerly gullible observers such as Ezra Klein and Roger Cohen—were so misguided to begin with.