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Already the flames of anti-Western fanaticism that Khomeini fanned in Iran threaten to spread through the volatile crescent of crisis that stretches across the southern flank of the Soviet Union, from the Indian subcontinent to Turkey and southward through the Arabian Peninsula to the Horn of Africa. Most, particularly, the revolution that turned Iran into an Islamic republic whose supreme law is the Koran is undermining the stability of the Middle East, a region that supplies more than half of the Western world's imported oil, a region that stands at the strategic crossroads of superpower competition.
As an immediate result, the U.S., Western Europe and Japan face continuing inflation and rising unemployment, brought on, in part, by a disruption of the oil trade. Beyond that looms the danger of U.S.-Soviet confrontation. Washington policymakers, uncertain about the leftist impulses of Iran's ubiquitous "students" —and perhaps some members of Iran's ruling Revolutionary Council—fear that the country may become a new target of opportunity for Soviet adventurism. The Kremlin leaders in turn must contend with the danger that the U.S.S.R.'s 50 million Muslims could be aroused by Khomeini's incendiary Islamic nationalism. Yet if the Soviets chose to take advantage of the turmoil in Iran as they have intervened in neighboring Afghanistan, the U.S. would have to find some way of countering such aggression.
Khomeini thus poses to the U.S. a supreme test of both will and strategy. So far his hostage blackmail has produced a result he certainly did not intend: a surge of patriotism that has made the American people more united than they have been on any issue in two decades. The shock of seeing the U.S. flag burned on the streets of Tehran, or misused by embassy attackers to carry trash, has jolted the nation out of its self-doubting "Viet Nam syndrome." Worries about America's ability to influence events abroad are giving way to anger about impotence; the country now seems willing to exert its power. But how can that power be brought to bear against an opponent immune to the usual forms of diplomatic, economic and even military pressure, and how can it be refined to deal with others in the Third World who might rise to follow Khomeini's example? That may be the central problem for U.S. foreign policy throughout the 1980s.
The outcome of the present turmoil in Iran is almost totally unpredictable. It is unclear how much authority Khomeini, or Iran's ever changing government, exerts over day-to-day events. Much as Khomeini has capitalized on it, the seizure of the U.S. embassy tilted the balance in Iran's murky revolutionary politics from relative moderates to extremists who sometimes seem to listen to no one; the militants at the embassy openly sneer at government ministers, who regularly contradict one another. The death of Khomeini, who has no obvious successor, could plunge the country into anarchy.
But one thing is certain: the world will not again look quite the way it did before Feb. 1, 1979, the