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Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Joe Klein has had enough (h/t Andrew Sullivan):

McCain’s bleatings are either for domestic political consumption or self-satisfaction, a form of hip-shooting onanism that demonstrates why he would have been a foreign policy disaster had he been elected.

To put it as simply as possible, McCain – and his cohorts – are trying to score political points against the President in the midst of an international crisis. It is the sort of behavior that Republicans routinely call “unpatriotic” when Democrats are doing it. I would never question John McCain’s patriotism, no matter how misguided his sense of the country’s best interests sometimes seems. His behavior has nothing to do with love of country; it has everything to do with love of self…

The protesters admire our freedom, but…[they] consider Ahmadinejad the George W. Bush of Iran – a crude, unsophisticated demagogue…

Certainly, Bush the Younger, McCain and the rest of that crowd have absolutely no idea who the Iranian people are. The are not Hungarians in 1956. They do not believe they live in an Evil Empire. They still support their revolution. They shout “Allahu Akbar” in the streets, which was the rallying cry of 1979. They are proud of their nuclear program…

Klein’s exactly right on all counts. Except perhaps the “hip-shooting onanism” – that’s an image too far. For those unfamiliar with the biblical term, it refers to the story of Onan who was struck dead by God for “spilling his seed” on the ground. Onan was actually having sex with his dead brother’s wife at the time – but that was okay as his duty was to impregnate her. But he attempted to avoid impregnating her by “spilling his seed” – which wasn’t okay – and thus he was killed by God.
Despite the disturbing image, I can see why Klein found it hard to resist labelling McCain’s foreign policy views mastubatory. The compelling argument for the necessity of the President taking the side of the Iranian protestors is the same as the rationale for masturbation: It feels good, so do it.

Obama, meanwhile, has reiterated his position today:

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.

Obama realizes this is not about us – but about Iran. And though his comments equating Mousavi and Ahmadinejad may have gone too far, it is important to realize that we are not likely to see a Western-style democracy coming out of Iran. Many of the protesters in the street want more freedom – but they still support the nuclear program and political Islam and see the 1979 revolution as a positive event. But the rising up of the people helps to demonstrate why I believed – and still believe – “Iran and America are natural allies on most issues.” It’s why I find Les Gelb’s assertion that “Within ten years, Iran will be our closest ally in the region,” to be convincing despite our history of conflict over the past three decades.

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Posted in Criticism, Foreign Policy, Iran, National Security, Politics, The Bush Legacy, The Opinionsphere | 1 Comment »

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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Posted in Foreign Policy, Iran, Videos | No Comments »

How Does the Iranian Conflict End?

Friday, June 19th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]The stories in the Times and elsewhere turn today to the question of how this stand-off in Iran will end. None of the three most likely scenarios have unfolded in the past week – as the protests have not petered out – and in fact seem to be growing in strength; the government has not tried to put down the protests with violence (on a large scale); and Mir-Houssein Mousavi has not backed down – as Robert F. Worth in the Times quoted a relative of Mousavi’s:

Mr. Moussavi says he has taken a path that has no return and he is ready to make sacrifices.

This last comment – and the growing strength of the crowds – suggest that no resolution is in the immediate offing. Despite this, it’s hard to see how long the type of drama overwhelming day-to-day concerns can last. Eventually, one needs to get back to the business of living. It is this prospect most of all that seems to undercut the ferment for change. I’ve seen 5 basic scenarios outlined for how this could end, listed in order of descending likelihood:

There are a few wild cards at work in all of this however.

Neither Mousavi nor Khamenei nor Ahmadinejad are completely in control of the forces supporting them. Both Mousavi and Khamenei are considered uncharismatic power brokers (with Mousavi even being compared to an “Iranian Michael Dukakis“) – and both have achieved what they have by positioning themselves cleverly rather than by articulating a vision, winning over the people, or the other traditional measures of leadership. Ahmadinejad is charismatic – and has many supporters – but he is generally seen as, not a true leader, but a front-man for the second-generation revolutionaries who are seeking to purge all of the first-generation revolutionaries from power (except Khamenei). It’s unclear what would happen if Khamenei were to push for a new election – would the more radical elements overthrow him? It’s also unclear what would happen if Mousavi were to tell the crowds to go home – he seems to have gained their confidence, but he freely admits this movement is not about him. Mousavi’s external spokesperson admitted to Foreign Policy yesterday:

[T]he young people in the streets are more modern [than the 1979 Iranian revolutionaries]: They use SMS; they use the Internet. And they are not being actually led by anyone, but they are connected to each other.

The power struggle among the Iranian elites has finally come into partial view. There seem to be three basic factions: the Reformers – including former President Khatami, former Prime Minister Rafsanjani, and Mousavi; conservatives led by Ayatollah Khamenei; and the far right-wing religious cultists fronted by Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani is generally considered to be the second most powerful person in Iran as he leads the council which can remove the Supreme Leader, has thrown his support behind Mousavi. In the run-up to the election, he was providing logistical support to Mousavi – and was accused of corruption in a public debate by Ahmadinejad. It is widely rumored that Rafsanjani is now trying to round up clerics to support Mousavi in Qom.

At the same time, the Hojjatiyeh now led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi (who seem to have a set of beliefs similar to the Christian millenialists who are trying to create the conditions for the end of the world) have been gradually infiltrating the government and the Revolutionary Guard, and at this point have many of leadership positions, including the presidency held by Ahmadinejad. Yazdi rejects the idea of elections – and wrote a fatwa two weeks before this election condoning fraud and cheating in an election to achieve the proper ends. Ahmadinejad himself apparently does not refer to Iran as the “Islamic Republic” as it is officially called – but as the “Islamic Government.” The Hojjatiyeh’s views are in many ways antithetical to some of the founding ideals behind the 1979 revolution – which is why the Hojjatiyeh did not join the revolution and did not assume positions of power until recently.

Khamenei has generally opposed the reformers – and has historical bad blood with Mousavi from when they both were in positions of power in the 1980s. But he is of a different generation and background than the Hojjatiyeh. He has tended to support them, but also has sought to check their power. It’s unclear at this point whether Khamenei is simply accepting their position of power or actively promoting their interests.

How this ends is still unclear. Khamenei’s remarks this morning have been described as “ominous.” That seems to point to a forthcoming government crackdown – but is far from clear that this crackdown will be successful – and it could possibly destabilize the regime, forcing many clerics who are suspicious of the Hojjatiyeh and who think the election was fraudulent to come off the fence and back Mousavi. The social bargain that underlied the Iranian government’s rule though seems to have come undone – as the people, in anger at hypocrisy and being robbed of their votes, have braved the wrath of the government, defying clear orders not to assemble. What they have demonstrated, with their massive, non-violent civil disobedience so far has been exceptional – and whether they succeed or not is an example for the world.

[Image by Hamed Saber licensed under Creative Commons.]

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Posted in Iran | 1 Comment »

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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Posted in Iran, The Opinionsphere | No Comments »

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