Posts Tagged ‘Iranian Elections’

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.]

What the Iranian Green Revoltion Has Accomplished

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Jack DuVall in The New Republic explains (with useful historical examples if you follow the link to read) what the Iranian Green Revolution has already accomplished no matter where it goes from here:

Regardless of whether or not the Green Revolution in Iran succeeds in the coming days, the collective recognition by ordinary Iranians that it is, after all, their country–that its guidance and direction are not the property of one ideological faction or certain privileged clerics–is unlikely to fade. Once you learn how to drive a car, you don’t forget. Once you’ve created space that has commanded the world’s attention and caused armed rulers to hesitate, you are a factor in history and a force to be reckoned with, whether a million people come back on the street for another six days, or 16 days, or 60 days.

[Image by Hamed Saber licensed under Creative Commons.]

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.]

It Will Be a Revolution

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Andrew Sullivan has mined the internet for information coming from Iran in the past few weeks. One thing that becomes clear in reading Sullivan’s site is that – if the assorted tweets, videos, images, blog posts, and messages are in any way representative – something new is in the offing in Iran. Sullivan quotes one young Iranian on his blog on Friday night, after the Supreme Leader has set out his demand that the protests stop, with the promise of violence in his words:

I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…

Later on Friday, in the night, a woman videotaped the sounds of shouts from the rooftops of Tehran of “Allahu Akbar” and “Death to the Dictator” as she explained the poetry of the moment:

Then, from Saturday I believe, there is this thrilling video from the Persian BBC:


The theme of the coverage of the Iran in the Times and other papers this morning – and indeed since Saturday – has been: “There is no going back from here.” Mousavi has made it clear he is not compromising on his core terms – and is prepared to martyr himself. On the other side, sources suggest the regime is preparing to label Mousavi a terrorist – as official media sources have hinted he is working with a small terrorist group within Iran.

What has become clear – given these sentiments of Mousavi and his supporters – is that what follows will be either a revolution or a crushed rebellion. The legitimacy of the regime has been questioned – and even if Mousavi is able to maneuver his way into taking power without removing Khamenei or the current power structure, the result is still a revolution. Because, as the system is set up, Iran’s democracy is designed to merely provide an outlet for frustrations – not to create a government with the consent of the people.

The candidates are chosen in advance by the ruling class – and alternate candidates are not just shunned, they are excluded. The votes are tabulated in secret – and the results of the election can be invalidated by the Supreme Leader if he deems the result to be improper. What the Iranian people have made clear in the past week is that their consent is required for the state to function. This fundamentally changes the social bargain at the heart of the Islamic republic – and directly challenges the more authoritarian vision of Ahmadinejad and his faction.

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