Posts Tagged ‘Green Revolution’

The Constantly Invoked Hitler-Chamberlain-Churchill Fallacy

Monday, November 9th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Oh, Michael Ledeen, to whom every Democrat is Chamberlain and every Republican is Churchill! And every crackpot is Adolf Hitler. Reading Obama’s statement to Iran on the anniversary of the takeover of the US embassy – which is celebrated in Iran, Ledeen concludes that Obama is merely “mewling and whining, asking for the Iranian regime to make nice,” in “full Carter/Chamberlain mode.” He links to a report calling Obama’s remarks: “Another respectful statement – if wrapped around a threat.” Yet, Ledeen quotes one section – in which Obama explains all of the things we are doing (and not doing) with regards to Iran that the Green Wave supports. Ledeen objects that our foreign policy regarding Iran has mainly been supported by the Green Wave. And he neglects to quote this passage:

Iran must choose. We have heard for thirty years what the Iranian government is against; the question, now, is what kind of future it is for. The American people have great respect for the people of Iran and their rich history. The world continues to bear witness to their powerful calls for justice, and their courageous pursuit of universal rights. It is time for the Iranian government to decide whether it wants to focus on the past, or whether it will make the choices that will open the door to greater opportunity, prosperity, and justice for its people.

Reading Obama expressing support for the Iranian people, bearing witness to the Green Wave, and making a veiled threat against the regime, Ledeen concludes:

A sad day to be an American, don’t you think? As Churchill said of Chamberlain, we can say of Obama:  You had a choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.

In fact, he’s already got it. It always happens when you become an accomplice to evil.

Yet I am not sure what it is Ledeen wants us to do. He has written consistently and often about the need to change the Iranian regime – but is he really so naïve as to believe that a few symbolic gestures by Obama are all that it would take to cause the downfall of that regime? Does Ledeen believe that some money spent on democracy promotion will destroy it? Does he give any credence to the idea that such funding would undermine these organizations? What does he make of the fact that many of these organizations rejected the funds the Bush administration set aside for precisely this purpose? Reading Obama challenging the Iranian regime, Ledeen suggests it is merely “mewling” and that war is inevitable – has he reversed positions and now suggest we invade or bomb the country – in support of the people?

Ledeen’s remarks on Iran clearly demonstrate one of the fallacies of the neoconservative worldview. It is a worldview that did not learn the lesson of Hungary in 1957 where the CIA radio stations promised military support if the citizens rose up, which the citizens did only to be slaughtered. Nor the lesson of the First Gulf War, where George H. W. Bush called on the Shiia to rise up against Saddam, and then stood aside as Saddam made peace and crushed as American forces watched. Nor the lesson of Georgia, where neoconservatives declared, “We are all Georgians!” and proceeded to do nothing as Russian tanks overran the country. Neoconservative foreign policy has consisted of writing “rhetorical checks” that they have “no intention (or ability) to cash,” or more graphically “hip-shooting onanism.”

In every instance, America took the “right” rhetorical position at first but was unwilling to back it up by sacrificing American lives. If neoconservatives truly believe we must have regime change, then they should make the case for why this fight is worth Americans dying, instead of making easy references to Hitler and Chamberlain.

As a people, Americans support the Green Wave. And as a government, the Obama administration should put what pressure it can for the principles it believes in: including the right to self-determination. But American troops and money can’t buy Iranian self-determination – only the Iranian people themselves can:

This is not about the United States and the West; this is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.

[Image licensed under Creative Commons.]

A Different Take on the Iranian Situation

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

M. K. Bhadrakumar writing in the Asia Times last week seemed to have an entirely foreign take on the Iranian crisis. It’s unclear to me if he has a different perspective or if he is just plain wrong. Supporting the idea that he is just wrong is the predictive statement he made about the protests dying out, as he wrote last Thursday – the 18th:

The signs are that the color revolution struggling to be born on the streets of Tehran has had a miscarriage.

He also seems to vaguely suggest that the Iranian Green Revolution is foreign-sponsored – but in a vague way that may just be the result of a poor translation.

Bhadrakumar states that:

Rafsanjani is undoubtedly the West’s favorite poster boy…

I’m not sure where he gets that. Or even what he means by it. But I am pretty certain this isn’t true.

Bhadrakumar also speaks of a Mousavi-Rafsanjani animus which I wasn’t aware of – as most news reports have only mentioned on the Khamenei-Mousavi rivalry – and how Rafsanjani’s timely intervention actually led to Khamenei becoming Supreme Leader.

Finally, he praises the one statement by Obama on the matter that I have seen condemned virtually everywhere:

But Obama is treading softly. He said late on Tuesday there appeared to be no policy differences between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. “The difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised. Either way, we are going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States.”

That’s a cleverly drafted formulation. Prima facie, Obama pleases the regime in Tehran insofar as he appears “stand-offish” as to what ensues through the coming days by way of the street protests or out of the deliberations of Iran’s Guardians Council. Fair enough. But, on the other hand, Obama also is smartly neutralizing any allegation that the Rafsanjani-Khatami-Mousavi phenomenon is in any way to be branded by the Iranian regime as “pro-US”. Obama’s remark helps the Iranian opposition to maintain that its motivations are purely driven by Iran’s national interests.

A Pink Elephant Through the Looking Glass

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]I’ve always thought it was important to get the other side of things, to learn what people you disagree with think, and to consider – at least for a moment – that they may be right. Despite my best efforts, lately, I’ve been finding it harder and harder to understand right-wingers. I can understand many particular positions they take – but on the whole, they seem terribly inconsistent, with their only unifying quality being their abject fear of what Obama will do, and their opposition to everything he is doing. Reading the National Review, I’ve found plenty of plausible arguments – but they seem to be made as debater’s briefs rather than honest attempts at saying what they feel and they all start out with one of two (or sometimes both) competing assumptions: that Obama is idealistic and naive; and that Obama is acting in bad faith by pretending to be naive and idealistic. Yet, having looked at Obama’s character I see something different – an essentially pragmatic man who sees ideals as standards to strive for rather than things attained.

I’ve found that especially on the issue of Iran, the right-wing attacks on Obama’s response to be nearly insane. While the objections themselves are insane, the reason to make them is clear: because politicians are trying to score points against Obama.

After all – the longtime activists for the democracy movement in Iran and experts in the region have said that America must be careful in how it responds to these protests, given our history with Iran. And this is precisely what Obama has done – as he has been cautious to a fault in responding to this rapidly changing situation.

So, yesterday, I was seeking an honest right-winger to read, and one of my Twitter-friends, Tabitha Hale of the Pink Elephant Pundit, posted a link to her opinion about Obama and Iran.  So, down the rabbit hole I went.

The gist of the piece is that American presidents need to cheer-lead freedom  – ’cause that’s just what we do.

This idea is ahistorical to the extent that it does not reflect the many dictatorships we have and continue to support – and more important, the democracies we have overthrown in favor of various forms of despotism. The most famous example of a democracy we have overthrown is in fact Iran – where the CIA (in a rare success) overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran and replaced it with the monarchy of the Shah.  The Shah wasn’t overthrown until 1979 – in a fit of anti-American revolution. (Other instances in which we overthrew democratically-elected leaders: Guatemala in 1954, Congo in 1960, Chile in 1973. And we supported a coup in Venezuela in 2002 that would have removed Chavez, democratically elected there.)

But in our history, there are times when we stood on the side of freedom – and cheer-led – and this itself led to disaster. We cheer-led freedom in Hungary in 1956, telling the dissidents we supported them and leading them to believe that we were prepared to fight with them. And they rose up against the Soviet Union only to be crushed without support. We cheer-led freedom in Iraq in 1991, as George H. W. Bush called on the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam Hussein, only to step aside and let Saddam brutally repress those who had rebelled.

We also have to realize that there are many people in Iran who want freedom but still hate the United States for what we have done to them – and because they have been taught to hate us.

Hale asks at one point  – “Why, then, is the current administration having such a hard time supporting the Iranian people?”

The question itself betrays a basic ignorance of what is going on – the delicate balance that Obama needs to strike (and on which he has occasionally missed.) As good as it might feel to declare America is on the side of the protesters, it is neither in the interest of our government nor of the protesters themselves to closely associate ourselves with them. What Obama has tried to do is to set a standard for judging what the Iranian government does. Explaining that a government that has the consent of its people does not need to resort to violence against its citizens in order to restore order. As one democracy activist said admiringly:

[Obama] shifted the frame from [the question of] ‘were the elections fradulent’ to ‘what’s the responsibility of the Iranian government for peaceful dissent?’

But the most important point to make is that these events in Iran are not about us. It’s about them. And by making it about us, we would be aiding the hardliners in Iran.

Another statement by Hale seems to refer to an alternate reality. She writes: “Some things are more important than your reelection, President Obama” – as a way of chastizing Obama for not speaking out more forcefully. Yet, isn’t it clear that there is nothing the president could do to gain in popularity than to publicly get involved in the Iranian dispute? Liberals are unabashedly on the side of the Iranian people. Conservatives are unabashedly on the side of the Iranian people. Independents too. It might be argued that Obama is being too cautious – but in such a rapidly changing situation, caution is needed. And this caution has nothing to do with politics – but with foreign policy. Politically, some grandstanding would be a no-brainer.

Another gem of a line: “Apparently, Hillary can tell Israel what to do, and pick fights with her counterpart over there… but Iran is a no no.”

There are a few ways to respond to this truly bizarre statement. But one thing that is important to point out is that Obama’s Israel policy is nothing more than the standard U.S. position under George W. Bush, under Bill Clinton, under George H.W. Bush. The difference is that Obama – for the first time since H.W. was in office, is actually serious about the policy.

Implicit in this statement is an assumption that America is the moral arbiter of the world – rather than merely the strongest nation in it. Obviously, one of the reasons that Obama is putting pressure on Israel and not Iran is that we actually have leverage over Israel. We give this small nation over $3 billion in aid a year – a significant percentage of their entire governmental budget. With Iran, we cannot expel their diplomats or withdraw ours; we cannot impose sanctions; we cannot declare them a supporter of terrorism; we cannot stop funding them – we cannot do any of these things because we already did them long ago. Thus, ever the pragmatist, Obama is pressuring Israel to do what is in America’s interest – and is not committing America to a side in Iran (although his recent comments have come very close.) American foreign policy requires America to pursue our interests – not to act as a moral arbiter rewarding those who are just and penalizing those who are not.

Teddy Roosevelt promulgated the African proverb to “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

American administrations have clearly gone wrong when they have spoken loudly without being able to follow up. It dilutes our power to make statements that we are not able or willing to back up.

P.S. Another correction: Hale cites a Steve Schippert from ThreatsWatch as saying that Iran has called in Hamas and Hezbollah to crack down on its internal problems. This is pretty crazy – and would be huge news. Yet so far, Schippert is the only source for this dubious information. I call bullshit.

[Image by ★ maize licensed under Creative Commons.]

The Incoherence of Ajami

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Fouad Ajami wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal op-ed page on Obama’s response to Iran that John McCain (he of the “hip-shooting onanism”) called a “Must read.” You might remember Ajami for writing another op-ed just before the election in which he compared Obama to Eva Peron, Ayatollah Khomenei, and Gamal Nasser – third-world populists who had dictatorial tendencies (if they were not entirely dictators.) Ajami starts from the same starting points most right-wingers take when dealing with Obama – presuming him to be both naive and acting in bad faith. This in itself makes his piece unpersuasive.

But more importantly, in taking on the issue of Iran, Ajami seems to have no understanding of the power struggle actually occuring. Not that I’m an expert – but even I know that the people marching in the streets are chanting slogans from the 1979 revolution – which they still look to as a positive event. They believe they are fighting for the spirit of that Revolution, and they see Ahmadinejad as a perversion of the legacy of this revolution – as the religious order he follows did not participate in it and rejects many aspects of it. Ajami though blunders in the middle of all of this, and lends credence and support to Ahmadinejad by portraying him as “a son of the Ayatollah Khomenei’s revolutionary order.” The crowds Ajami supports reject this – seeing Ahmadinejad’s theft of the election as a repudiation of the 1979 revolution.

At the same time, Ajami profoundly misunderstands Obama’s rhetoric and method. Ajami claims that Obama “believed he could talk rogues and ideologues out of deeply held beliefs.” But what he misses is that Obama actually uses respect and civility as political weapons – in a classic community organizer technique.

And then there is Ajami’s total incoherence on looking at the differences between Obama’s and Bush’s approach to Iran:

[Obama] would entice the crowds, yet assure the autocrats that the “diplomacy of freedom” that unsettled them during the presidency of George W. Bush is dead and buried. Grant the rulers in Tehran and Damascus their due: They were quick to take the measure of the new steward of American power. He had come to “engage” them. Gone was the hope of transforming these regimes or making them pay for their transgressions. The theocracy was said to be waiting on an American opening, and this new president would put an end to three decades of estrangement between the United States and Iran.

But in truth Iran had never wanted an opening to the U.S. For the length of three decades, the custodians of the theocracy have had precisely the level of enmity toward the U.S. they have wanted – just enough to be an ideological glue for the regime but not enough to be a threat to their power.

Ajami doesn’t begin to deal with the coincidence that the fissures within the Iranian regime came suddenly into the open a few months after Obama stopped threatening to bomb Iran and Iran and reached out to them. Yet Ajami admits that the Iranian regime is held together by the “ideological glue” of  “enmity towards the U.S.” If a regime was held together by this, what better way to undermine it than to weaken that glue and break the cycle of escalating moral outrage. (Which again – is precisely the point of Obama’s method of reaching out.)

I don’t claim that Obama’s outreach caused this Iranian Green Revolution – but the removal of the U.S. as a potential invader of your country has a way of freeing up the internal dialogue. Without an external enemy to rally against, you focus on divisions within.

Ajami seems to think that after 30 years of pressure, America needed just a little more time to squeeze the regime before it fell. Now, it’s hopeless. Except, that at the moment, as soon as Obama relaxed our posture, the regime was shaken to its core – with the leading candidate the people rallied behind imitating Obama in several ways and the people on the streets expressing hope that Obama’s election in America might lead to a rapprochement.

The High Point of Web Journalism

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

I’d like to echo Henrik Hertzberg at the New Yorker:

Iran’s Gandhian uprising is one of those mesmerizing stories that some of us want to follow minute by minute, like Watergate or the fall of the Berlin Wall. As many have noted, cable TV news has turned out to be useless; it’s little more than talk radio with pictures of the hosts…The best way I’ve found to stay informed has been Andrew Sullivan’s pioneering blog, the Daily Dish

He aggregates not just the news coming out of Iran but also the domestic debates over what it all means and what the President ought to be doing about it…What really makes the Dish’s coverage of this story so compelling, though, is that its impresario brings to it the same engagé passion that he has brought to the torture revelations and the gay marriage fight. http://mavanational.com/pma/ This is a high point of Web journalism. [my emphasis]

For what it’s worth, Sullivan quotes another blogger who suggests CNN may have turned a corner:

After taking it on the chin from the blogosphere for several days, it’s time to applaud CNN.  Last weekend, CNN was basically dead air on Iran.  This weekend the full power of CNN is on display, in what amounts to a team effort to duplicate what only Andrew Sullivan and Nico Pitney have done from their laptops up to now.

All About Iran: Iran’s Social Bargain, Maximal Uncertainty, and Breaking News

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Now for the best reads of the week – all Iran-related:

buy Lyrical dance costumes online Iran’s Social Bargain. Mark LeVine for Al Jazeera describes “Iran on the Brink” – with a “?” His piece offered insights none of the mountains of commentary seemed to have touched on. As an added bonus, he comments on questions of how a state legitimizes itself and how China’s response to its democracy movement in 1989 is not open to Iran today:

Cultural liberalisation became the safety valve that allowed the emerging generation of Chinese citizens to accept the continued power of the Communist party.

Needless to say, no such safety valve exists in the Islamic Republic, where a cultural perestroika is precisely what Ahmadinejad and his supporters in the leadership and among the people want to prevent…

In China the government struck a bargain with the people, telling them: “You can do whatever you want as long as you don’t challenge the power of the state.”

The Iranian government has over the last two decades negotiated a very different and more narrow bargain with its citizens: “You can do what you want behind closed doors, as long as you keep the music down. But we own the street and the public sphere. So put your headscarf on before you leave the house, and don’t think about challenging cultural or political limits publicly.”

That bargain has now collapsed as hundreds of thousands of Iranians have, at least for the moment, reclaimed the streets…

Iran long ago lost the singular, collective will that enabled the revolution; the protesters are no longer imbued with the idea of bi-kodi, or self-annihilation, martyrdom and complete self-sacrifice that toppled the Shah and helped the country withstand eight years of brutal war with Iraq.

can you buy Dilantin over the counter in uk A maximally uncertain future. David Brooks’s column this morning tries to look at the past week’s events in Iran from an historical perspective:

At these moments — like the one in Iran right now — change is not generated incrementally from the top. Instead, power is radically dispersed. The real action is out on the streets. The future course of events is maximally uncertain.

The fate of nations is determined by glances and chance encounters: by the looks policemen give one another as a protesting crowd approaches down a boulevard; by the presence of a spontaneous leader who sets off a chant or a song and with it an emotional contagion; by a captain who either decides to kill his countrymen or not; by a shy woman who emerges from a throng to throw herself on the thugs who are pummeling a kid prone on the sidewalk.

Brooks quotes on of Obama’s advisers commenting years ago:

In retrospect, all revolutions seem inevitable. Beforehand, all revolutions seem impossible.

Keeping Up To Date on Iran. Andrew Sullivan, the Tehran Bureau, and the Times’ The Lede have made themselves indispensable sources for breaking news and insights on what’s going on in Iran.

A few disjointed thoughts on Iran

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Thomas Erdbrink in the Washington Post:

When asked about protests and complaints, Ahmadinejad said that it was important to ask the opinions of “true Iranians” on the election. “Like the people you meet at my rallies,” he said. He described the protesters as soccer hooligans who were disappointed that their team lost the match. “This is not important,” he said. “We have full freedom in Iran.” [my emphasis]

I’ve already heard Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described as the Sarah Palin of Iran – and this invocation of the “true Iranians” only seems to make the analogy more apt – reminding me at least of Sarah Palin’s invocation of the “pro-American” parts of America.

I honestly don’t know what to make of this – Ahmadinejad’s joke about whether or not Mousavi was under house arrest:

“He ran a red light, and he got a traffic ticket,” Mr. Ahmadinejad quipped when asked about his rival.

The moment I heard that Ahmadinejad was announced as the winner, my mind flashed to an Andrew Sullivan post about a texted joke making the rounds in Tehran:

The Election Commission has announced in its last statement regarding the election that writing names such as monkey, traitor, fascist, silly, and [expletive] on the ballots will be considered a vote for Ahmadinejad.

Pepe Escobar in the Asia Times points out a rather odd statistical nugget about the election results for the other reformer in the race:

Karroubi not only didn’t win in his home province of Lorestan, he had less votes than volunteers helping in his campaign.

Escobar also explains the odd sequence of events that led to the announcement of Ahmadinejad’s “election”:

The polls closed at 10pm on Friday, Tehran time. Most main streets then were fully decked out in green. In an absolutely crucial development, the great Iranian film director Mohsen Makhmalbaf told Radio Farda how Mousavi’s main campaign office in Tehran received a phone call on Saturday at 1am; the Interior Ministry was saying “Don’t announce Mr Mousavi’s victory yet … We will gradually prepare the public and then you can proceed.” Iranian bloggers broke down the vote at the time as 19.7 million for Mousavi, between 7 and 8 million for Ahmadinejad, 7 million for Karroubi, and 3 million for Rezai.

Then all hell seemed to break loose. Phones, SMS, text messaging, YouTube, political blogs, opposition websites, foreign media websites, all communication networks, in a cascade, were shutting down fast. Military and police forces started to take over Tehran’s streets. The Ahmadinejad-controlled Ministry of Interior – doubling as election headquarters – was isolated by concrete barriers. Iranian TV switched to old Iron Curtain-style “messages of national unity”. And the mind-boggling semi-final numbers of Ahmadinejad’s landslide were announced (Ahmadinejad 64%, Mousavi 32%, Rezai 2% and Karroubi less than 1%).

The fact that the electoral commission had less than three hours to hand-count 81% of 39 million votes is positively a “divine assessment”.

Pre-election, Robert F. Worth had a few prescient words in his Times piece:

Some Iranians believe that the unruly democratic energies unleashed over the past few weeks could affect this country’s politics no matter who wins…But hope has often outpaced reality in Iran…

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