In the early part of the decade, the Iranian revolution looked as if it was well on its way to peaceful reform. In the late 1990s, the Clinton administration had made some openings toward Iran. Iranians had elected moderate cleric and philosopher Mohammed Khatami president. And after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Iran offered generous clandestine help to the American effort in Afghanistan, an offer American forces took up and that proved helpful in bringing down the Taliban, an Iranian foe that had committed massacres against Afghanistan's Shiite minority, the Hazara. But when Khatami made openings toward the United States in late 2001, the Bush administration ignored them--and Bush declared Iran part of the "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union speech. Khatami lost face. Iranian opinion turned swiftly against the United States again. The turn was further fueled by the American invasion of Iraq. Iranians thought they were next. The rise of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was set.
Ahmadinejad's election in June 2005 reinforced Iran's reactionary turn. A poor steward of the economy, Ahmadinejad turned to propaganda and foreign affairs to buttress his popularity, provoking the United States, fueling the Shiite resistance to American occupation in Iraq, refusing to make Iran's nuclear program transparent (though in fairness to Iran, the refusal is identical to Israel's, which started the nuclear race in the Middle East and lied about it), and frequently making racist and intentionally provocative statements about the Holocaust (which he denies took place) or Israel. Ahmadinejad wasn't his own power. He spoke for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But the Ahmadinejad-Khamenei axis positioned Iran as a power to be reckoned with in the region.
The June 2009 fraudulent reelection of Ahmadinejad and subsequent demonstrations, which grew over time, underscored the Iranian paradox. Iran is a country with a mind of its own, but a mind divided. It is a powerful regional force, but is is internally weak, its revolution, as represented by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, discredited.