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Iran After Ayatollah Khomeini

AS chancellories and ministries in the West, the Arab world, and elsewhere try to anticipate Iran's future after the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the best counsel is: Don't just do something; sit there. Ready to reach out - but on guard. They should certainly resist playing another round of that favorite diplomatic party game: Find the Iranian Moderates.

That's not to say there aren't moderates - reasonable people who, though faithful to Islam, are not inflamed with jihadic passion - among those vying for place and power in post-Khomeini Iran. There are (although their degree of moderation tends to vary from week to week as political conditions change), and one can hope and pray for that shattered and demoralized country to awaken and rejoin the community of civilized nations. But there's almost nothing outsiders can do to influence the course of events in Iran, and efforts to do so may lead policymakers down primrose paths.

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Events will play themselves out in Iran according to a political and religious dynamic peculiar to that land. The succession question, though placid during the period of official mourning, is seething beneath the surface. Khomeini's spirit is likely to dominate the process, at least for a while.

As one analyst said, for now would-be successors must be ``more royal than the king,'' and concessions - for instance, on freeing Western hostages in Lebanon or lifting the death sentence on Salman Rushdie - that Khomeini refused to grant are unlikely to be made soon by his aspiring heirs.

History may judge Ayatollah Khomeini ``great'' by that amoral standard that confuses monumental deeds with noble deeds. And of course he did change the face of his country, his region, even the world. But he sent tens of thousands of men, women, and children to their deaths, and he leaves behind a land that is impoverished, defeated, isolated, weary in spirit, and in political chaos. There's no greatness in that legacy. Iran deserves better.

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