AYATOLLAH KHOMEINI'S revolution in Iran did more than sweep away the shah. It swept away, or at least greatly loosened, the grip of a central authority on a nation whose deep class, ideological and ethnic divisions are now emerging into full public view, widening and threatening Iran with chaos, civil war, disintegration and perhaps even dismemberment by foreign powers. Such extreme results are not ensured, but they are becoming more possible as Iran's revolution continues to unfold.
The problem only begins with the differences and lack of coordination between the ayatollah, the floating Islamic committee that issues decrees in his name, and the pitiably ineffective Khomeini-appointed government of Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan. Untamed are the large guerrilla groups, of the right as well as the left, that took arms to fight the shah and that have held arms since to press their own political goals. Summary exections of figures closely identified with the shah have gone on despite the government's efforts to regularize justice. Mr. Bazargan himself has been reduced to threatening to resign if the Khomeini committee does not accept some discipline. The argument between those wishing to remove "foreign hands" from the economy, and those realizing that some foreign hands are essential, is unresolved. Leftist oil workers are ready to bargain their political demands against the government's demand for a referendum on creating an "Islamic republic" is being resisted in various ways by groups unsympathetic to his particular design.
No less ominous are the stirrings among the disparate ethnic groups that compose at least half of Iran's population. The Kurda, Azerbaijanis, Arabs, Baluchis and others have welcomed the revolution not merely for its vanquishing of the shah but for its weakening of the power of Farsi-speaking Persians. The Persian Empire was, after all, a device for imposing central control on a group of peoples not otherwise inclined to live together under the same national roof; the shah's dynasty performed the same function. As you might expect, the ethnic groups reside in the border areas and are vulnerable to manipulation by states on the other side of the border, such as the Soviet Union and Iraq. In brieg, the door seems to be opeining on what could be, if it opened much further, a chamber of geopolitical horrors.
It is, of course, Iran's revolution: They asked for it, thay got it. Any effort by the United States to try to sort out the chaos and lay on a steadying hand would surely provoke a fierce nationalistic reaction; the situation is too turbulent, in any case. We note, nonetheless, a certain lingering tendency among some Americans to believe that by discreet political finetuning the United States could somehow play a useful role. Another current running quietly in Washington suggests that Iran might be a good place for an embattled president to demonstrate that he is not flabbly and supine. We trust the United States can do little more than hold itself ready to resume whatever measure of friendly and mutually agreeable relations the public power in Iran, whatever it turns out to be, is ready to accept. Outside, the United States can bolster its friends and try to restrain others from fishing in Iran's troubled waters. Most of all, the administration can concentrate on moveing toward an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, whose potential importance in countering instability through the whole region grows by the day.