Iran's two-week-old "Green Revolution" is being crushed by the iron fist of state power. The million strong Iranians who turned out on the streets of Tehran last week screaming "Where is my vote?" and "Death to the dictator" have learned the ugliest of lessons about what the hard-line Islamists, who have ruled Iran in the name of God The Merciful for 30 years, are prepared to do to retain power.
This is a bitter moment not only for Iranians seeking change, but for all who have watched their bloody repression from afar. The hard-liners, or "principalists," as they are known, won easily, alas. They never even had to mobilize the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp or send tanks out into the streets. They quelled the rebellion and restored order, if not peace, with only the Basiji's bullets and clubs.
But despite the embittered frustration of the courageous Iranians, there may be a silver lining to this defeat. The true essence of the Islamic theocracy in Iran has been exposed, the sham of its "Islamic democracy" revealed. The Islamic Republic's legitimacy is now in question as is the presidential election staged to ratify the status quo.
This farce, hopefully, will have shown Iranians that there is no "enlightened Islamic" alternative to the Islamic hard-liners.
However painful, this defeat may persuade Iranians that political Islam, or Islamic government, is not the solution, that religion and politics, or Islam and republicanism, should not mix, and that their sclerotic clerics should return to their spiritual business. In other words, in the long run, the secular opponents whose voices have heretofore been suppressed may finally be called upon to deliver the change Iranians have been seeking.
It should have been clear all along that the fix was in. Of the 475-odd candidates who sought to challenge Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the incumbent hard-line president, the Guardian Council approved only four - all dependable veterans of the old order. None was likely to threaten the theocracy, only to present a more moderate face to the world and a better management of growing domestic problems.
However, even the prospect of a mumbling Mir Hossein Mousavi was too much for Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the Supreme Leader, and the military-security forces around him. They had played this game before. In 1997, Iranians elected Mohammad Khatami their president, flirting with a more modern Islamic face. But time and again, the radical clergy spurned even the modest reforms that Khatami proposed.
This time around, the theocrats were unwilling to give Iranians even new window dressing. Nor have the winners been gracious in victory. They used force to quell peaceful objections to election results, killing scores of people, injuring thousands and imprisoning hundreds, including seventy members of the Islamic Association of University Professors and over 50 "reformers," mostly members of the Islamic Participation Party.
Having worked himself up to deploring and condemning the violence against peaceful protestors, President Obama is officially waiting to "see how this thing ends" - as if there is any doubt about that now. Washington has made one symbolic concession to the Tweeters before preparing to rush off to the negotiating table: American diplomats will not break bread with Iranian counterparts on the Fourth of July.
However unsatisfying America's studied neutrality, the President is absolutely right about one thing: Iranians must decide their own future. Those who want freedom may have to pay a dreadful price to secure it.
But this time, those who pose a true alternative to theocracy, the secular Iranians, must find ways to unite, make their voices heard and their clout felt. The next time, when Iranians are ready to say no, they may get it right.
Miller is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of "God Has Ninety-Nine Names: Reporting from a Militant Middle East." Amirahmadi is an Iranian academic and political analyst and president of the American Iranian Council.