Suzanne Maloney has recently written an excellent piece on the situation in Iran, with which I was very impressed. She also gives this list of required reading on Iran.
She also recommends an author named Akbar Ganji. She writes:
Akbar Ganji’s biography itself offers a trenchant commentary on the ebb and flow of ideological orthodoxy in the Islamic Republic. Having served during the regime’s early years in the Revolutionary Guards and the fearsome Intelligence Ministry, Ganji progressively became disenchanted. By the mid-1990s, he had transformed himself into an influential political journalist, assailing Iran’s senior leadership in newspaper columns on the regime’s excesses. Arrested in 2000, he later spent nearly six years in prison, where his fate attracted worldwide attention. Today, Ganji remains passionate about realizing a genuine representative state in Iran, although he effectively lives in exile. These writings present his erudite denunciation of Iran’s current system and his effort to chart a path forward.
Quite an endorsement. He has also written an article recently for Foreign Affairs. It's a very good read, and brief. He writes:
This is nothing less than an electoral coup, and its aim goes far beyond bringing victory to Ahmadinejad; it is a full-fledged takeover of the state...one of Khamenei's central goals is to create a new unified ruling elite with vast political and economic power. Khamenei and his supporters have been snuffing out dissent among intellectuals, political parties, labor unions, clerical seminaries, and civil society groups. They have been enhancing ideological uniformity at the senior level of government by defaming previously high-ranking officials, such as former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. They have also been extending their control over state corporations, large industries, and banks in a bid to create a state-run form of capitalism that would benefit them.
Wow. That's much the same thing that Reza Aslan is saying. Our gut reaction to things like this is to smile and say, "Ah, you're just a conspiracy theorist." But this is being said by a lot of people who have a LOT of credibility, lots of credentials - people who know what they're talking about. We in the West need to open our eyes.
Of course, once we realize the truth, then usually people in the US say, "Yes, let's topple their government just like we did to Iraq!" That's not the right reaction. Toppling Iran, believe it or not, would be VASTLY more difficult than toppling Iraq. It would take much, much longer. It would be a lot of urban warfare. A lot of American troops would die. It took Americans about a month to grow weary of the war in Iraq. Americans have a very weak stomach. This is not the 1940's anymore, when everyone pitched in for the war effort. We live in a different world. Many, many people in the US are squeamish about warfare, and as soon as someone dies they'll be screaming for it all to be over, for it all to end. They will stop caring about what's at stake, choosing instead to just be offended at the shedding of blood. Our country has forgotten that there are some things worth dying for.
We can't go to war with Iran. We don't have the stomach for it. We don't have the troops for it. We're not willing to pay for it. If we go to war with Iran, they'll win. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't understand what's taking place there.