Monday, June 22, 2009

Supporting the Iranian opposition

Baby Shah Reza Pahlavi II: aren't we still trying to clean up the foreign policy mess that Papa Shah left us?

Eric Alterman is hopeful that the neocons have had their day of influence on US foreign policy. I would like to think that optimistic scenario is true. In any case, he's looking at the neocon bigwigs who are so passionate at the moment about the democratic rights of the Iranian people that they've spent years demanding that we bomb massively. And he makes an informed speculation about what motivates their sudden deep admiration for the Iranian people in Death of the Neocons The Daily Beast 06/22/09:

More likely is the belief that the more the U.S. involves itself in the Iranian standoff, the greater the momentum will be for an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, something these same neocons have been advocating for nearly a decade. Whatever the argument, almost nobody’s buying. They have not even sold Peggy Noonan, George Will, or Henry Kissinger on their argument this time around. (It is an iron law of American politics that you cannot go to war if Henry Kissinger does not want to.)

Barack Obama is not George W. Bush. He does not have a daddy complex or a religious obsession to rid the world of “evildoers.” He has genuine missions to accomplish, and none of them require the kind of bar-room boasting that is the basis of neocon ideology. Americans have been to that movie, thank you very much, and have no interest whatever in being dragged to its sequel.
Sen. Lindsey "Huckleberry" Graham was on This Week on Sunday, overflowing with his commitment to democracy in Iran:

He's certainly moving in the right direction, but our point is that there is a monumental event going on in Iran, and you know, the president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it. Other nations have been more outspoken, so I hope that we'll hear more of this, because the young men and women taking the streets in Tehran need our support. The signs are in English. They are basically asking for us to speak up on their behalf.

And I appreciate what the president said yesterday, but he's been timid and passive more than I would like, and I hope he will continue to speak truth to power. ...

Any time America stands up for freedom, we're better off. When we try to prop up dictators or remain silent, it comes back to bite us.

You know, Ronald Reagan spoke in front of the Berlin wall, he said tear it down, he's ready to negotiate. When he was silent on the 1986 election in the Philippines, said there was fraud on both sides, that hurt the cause, so I would -- I would hope that the president would speak truth to power.

This regime is corrupt. It has blood on its hands in Iran. They've killed Americans in Iraq, innocent Iraqi people; now they're killing their own people. Stand up with the protesters. That's not meddling. That's doing the right thing. ...

Well, my goal is to make sure that we do not lose this moment in history. If we could get the Iranian people to speak out -- stand behind them as they speak out. They want more freedom. They want to be part of the international community. They do not like the way they're being lead, the way they're being isolated by the saber- rattling from Ahmadinejad. The supreme leader is losing credibility with their own people.

The regime, to me for the moment, is more important than negotiating about nuclear weapons. If we could empower the Iranian people by giving them the moral support they deserve, then -- and do sanctions and stand tough against this regime. ... [my emphasis]
My favorite part is Huckleberry saying he thinks Obama needs to "speak truth to power", or "continue" to do so. The notion and image of speaking truth to power is normally associated with someone of lesser power telling someone with greater power things they don't want to hear. This is a popular image among conservatives, who enjoy posturing as "speaking truth to power" when they are repeating the same old reactionary slogans over and over. When Hugo Chávez goes on a rant against the United States, that comes off to his fans as boldly "speaking truth to power", and to the rest of the world as verbal posturing. If the United States rants at a much smaller and weaker power, to most of the world that's going to look like a real threat. Especially so in the case of Iran, when prominent Republicans have been threatening war with Iran for years now. When we hear Huckleberry making statements on foreign policy, it's worth remembering that he was an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq War, possibly the greatest strategic disaster in the history of the US.

I've appreciated Obama's restrained response to the Iranian situation since their presidential election. I want to see a human rights component in American foreign policy. And it certainly makes sense to encourage democracy where we can. That doesn't mean we should be naive about how warmongers use slogans about democracy and human rights to create a climate for war.

What the US needs with Iran is a workable nuclear nonproliferation arrangement to forestall Iran becoming a nuclear-weapons powers. And we need their help in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially Iraq; if not active help, at least passive cooperation. And we need for Iran to move toward a more stable role in the Middle East mix.

The coming to power by those who are coded as reformers by our press and politicians may benefit those goals, or may make them more difficult to achieve. Since we're still dealing with the blowback effects from the 1953 coup the CIA staged in Iran, we'd be better off not working to actively politically destabilize the country. But, as Helena Cobban writes in Americans, the events in Iran, and nuclear prospects TPM Cafe 06/21/09:

In Iran, the situation is further complicated by the involvement of the US government-- as started by Bush but also, sadly, continued by Obama-- in covert projects to foment dissent inside different parts of the country. And of course also by the tragic record of what happened in Iraq under a US occupation regime that for several years tried to justify its existence primarily in terms of a campaign for "democratization." [my emphasis]
She also talks about the ways in which continued political turmoil itself could interfere with needed progress on normalizing relations between Iran and the US and in limiting Iran's nuclear program.

Gary Sick, an expert on Iran who served in the Carter administration and was closely involved with the difficult diplomacy during and after the 1979 Revolution, has been writing about the current situation on his Gary's Choices blog. In Mousavi's new revolutionary manifesto 06/21/09, he writes:

Today, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the presidential candidate who has come to represent the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people, issued a formal statement. The text is available at the title link.

Although he denounces the “lies and fraud” of the leadership, particularly in the recent election, he views the fraudulent election as only as the symptom of something far more serious. He describes a revolution gone wrong, a revolution that was originally based on attention to the voice of the people but has resulted in “forcing an unwanted government on the nation.”
Mousavi sees himself as continuing the Islamist revolution in Iran, though apparently he has a more democratic version of it in mind:

He denounces both extremes of the political spectrum: those on one hand who believe that “Islamic government is the same as Tyranny of the Rightful;” and on the other, those who “consider religion and Islam to be blockers for realization of republicanism,” i.e. those who believe that Islam and democracy are incompatible. ...

... He says he will stand by the side of all those seeking “new solutions” in a non-violent way. He accepts the principles and the institutions of the Islamic Republic, including the Revolutionary Guard and the basij, but denounces “deviations and deceptions.” He demands reform “that returns us to the pure principles of the Islamic Revolution.”

He calls for freedom of expression in alll its forms, and says that if the government permits people to express their views “there won’t be a need for the presence of military and regulatory forces in the streets.”
But his brand of democratic Islamism, if that's really what it is, is no guarantee that his actions with be more convenient for American foreign policy if he were to become president of Iran. Still Gary Sick thinks what's happening is something to be excited and optimistic about, saying that "for outside observers, it is like standing on the edge of a glacier and feeling the ice begin to crack under your feet."

Claus Christian Malzahn in Spiegel International (Europe Must Stand in Solidarity with Iranian Protesters 06/18/09) compares the current events in Iran to the so-called Velvet Revolutions in the former East Bloc 20 years ago:

The mass protest in Iran, the scope of which throughout the country can only be surmised, due to the government's strict censorship, was unexpected -- just as hardly anyone anticipated the June 17 uprising in East Germany, the protests in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the demonstrations in Leipzig or the mass protests in Beijing 20 years ago. And there is another thing these events have in common: Every protestor in Iran knows that he cannot expect any help from abroad. "No one will help us," a Tehran artist wrote in a recent e-mail to a Polish friend in Wroclaw. The Poles know all too well -- and more so than the Germans -- what that can mean. However, mass protest cannot come about without the tremendous courage of the individual. It is the precondition for political change, not its outcome.
He calls for a protest in the form of EU governments not immediately recognizing the validity of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election:

But the European countries, as they celebrate, with great pomp and circumstance, the 20th anniversary of their liberation from Soviet dominance and communist control, should also take their own history seriously. We cannot deny the Iranians the solidarity today that the opposition movements in Central and Eastern Europe hoped to find in the West for their struggles for freedom 20 years ago.

This means, in concrete terms, that the governments in Berlin, Warsaw, Prague and other capitals should refuse to grant the despot of Tehran the recognition he desires, they should not recognize the elections and they must demand new elections. This is not interventionism but merely a modicum of political support. At any rate, it is no longer enough to simply wrinkle one's brow and express concern over the course of events.
It's worth remembering here that it was the improvement in relations between West European countries and the Eastern European Communist nations that gave internal dissidents a measure of increased freedom to organize, which eventually led to revolutions of 1989. But a major factor there was the withdrawal of the Soviet Union's protection for those regimes; there is no parallel to that in Iran's situation today.

Reza Pahlavi, former crown prince of Iran, was on C-Span today talking about the situation in Iran. Great, that's all we need. Another Shah in Iran. He was pretty much echoing Huckleberry Graham's position. He also said that Iran has brought Hamas members into Iran to help suppress the crowds, which doesn't make much sense to me and seems very unlikely. I hope this is the last we hear of Baby Shah. But it probably won't be. I wonder what mothball closet they pulled him out of for this.

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