By Robin Wright
Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How much has changed for Iran in one occasionally breathtaking month. The erratic uprising is becoming as important as the Islamic revolution 30 years ago — and not only for Iran. Both redefined political action throughout the Middle East.

The costs are steadily mounting for the regime. Just one day before the June 12 presidential election, the Islamic republic had never been so powerful. Tehran had not only survived three decades of diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions but had emerged a regional superpower, rivaled only by Israel. Its influence shaped conflicts and politics from Afghanistan to Lebanon.

But the day after the election, the Islamic republic had never appeared so vulnerable. The virtual militarization of the state has failed to contain the uprising, and its tactics have further alienated and polarized society. It has also shifted the focus from the election to Iran’s leadership.

Just a day before the election, Iran also had the best opportunity in 30 years to end its pariah status. Since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy, Tehran has sparred with five U.S. administrations. President Obama’s offer of direct engagement is the most generous to date. He had the world’s major powers and a growing number of Americans on board.

The tide has turned. At its summit in Italy last week, the Group of Eight industrialized nations “deplored” the post-election crackdown and urged “democratic dialogue” with the opposition. At his news conference there, Obama noted the G-8’s “strong condemnation about the appalling treatment of peaceful protesters post-election in Iran” and “behavior that just violates basic international norms.”