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June 17, 2009

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nato

As the protests' main weapon is their own legitimacy, Obama would be a fool to show partiality or play into the regime's narrative that Moussavi is somehow 'our' man. As it is, the uprising continues to deny that it is a "velvet revolution." There's plenty of time to demonstrate the greater flexibility we'll afford a more democratic regime later.

Nathan Smith

No, I'm not convinced. That's what I thought at first, too. But the comment about the policies not being so different is a game changer. He's distancing himself from the protesters.

Also, it's stupid to try to avoid "playing into the regime's narrative." The US is popular in Iran. If Mousavi looked like our man that probably wouldn't hurt him and might help him. The danger is to convey the opposite impression: that we don't care or, worse, that we're siding with the regime.

The real problem here is that Obama is borrowing his stances from the anti-Bush liberal counter-narrative of the past few years. And the liberal counter-narrative is worthless. He thinks we need to apologize and keep a low profile and the world will like us. But we don't need to apologize because we were doing the right things, it's good for us to interfere and we ought to keep doing it, and the best people abroad want us to keep doing it, and if we abandon our values that will only make our enemies despise us even more.

nato

"The US is popular in Iran. If Mousavi looked like our man that probably wouldn't hurt him and might help him."

Is today opposite day and no one told me?

Nathan Smith

http://www.persianmirror.com/community/2005/opinion/opinionSlaterBakhtavar.cfm

“As long President Bush stands with the Iranian people, the Iranian people will stand with him.” By Slater Bakhtavar

"The BBC world service website recently released the results of their 2004 presidential poll. Of the sixteen linguistic ethnical groups surveyed, Persians were overwhelmingly the most supportive of President Bush. In fact, over fifty two percent of Iranians preferred Republican George W. Bush to challenger John Kerry who’d received a minuscule forty two percent of the vote. Thus, surprisingly, unlike in the United States where the presidential race was relegated to a couple of percentage points, in Iran - President Bush won by a landslide.

"Numerous other sources of plausible acclaim have confirmed these results. Renowned intellectuals, as well as award-winning journalists have written pieces on this critical issue. For instance, Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times who spent an entire week in the country recently wrote, “Finally, I’ve found a pro-American country. Everywhere I’ve gone in Iran, with one exception, people have been exceptionally friendly and fulsome in their praise for the United States, and often for President George W. Bush as well.” Thomas Friedman another Pulitzer Prize winner and ardent critic of the war in Iraq wrote “young Iranians are loving anything their government hates, such as Mr. Bush, and hating anything their government loves. Iran . . . is the ultimate red state.”

"The well-documented emphatically pro-Bush leaning in Iran, which is relatively widespread, has perplexed many western technocrats. Part of the answer may be that Iran is changing at such a rapid rate that the media has had a difficult time reporting and/or understanding the situation inside the country. Also, Friedman may be right that “young Iranians are loving anything their government hates, such as Mr. Bush and hating anything their government loves”, but there are even deeper social as well as geopolitical reasons such as the availability of satellite dishes and the internet.

"Millions of Iranian homes receive illegal satellite television beamed in by Iranian-American expatriates in California. With a mix of pop music, political discussion and international news these stations have had a profound impact on the cultural, and political situation inside of Iran. The Iranian dictatorship has repeatedly tried to crackdown on these dishes as well as the Internet, but they’ve been largely unsuccessful. Presently, it is estimated that between five to seven million homes receive satellite television and an estimated three million have Internet access. Hence, to the dissatisfaction of the reigning ayatollahs Iranians do not live in a closed off cave.

"Due to the availability of satellite television, millions of Iranians were able to hear President Bush’s State of the Union speech. The Persians were once again encouraged by the President’s vision when he said “To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America Stands with you.” thereby reiterating his support to the Iranian freedom fighters inside of the Islamic Republic. Several political analysts have confirmed that this was in direct reference to the pro-democracy movement in Iran.“ The President was sending a message to the people of Iran that if they rise up America will stand by their side,” said political analyst Charles Krauthammer."

Sorry, I thought it was common knowledge. I should have cited sources.

nato

US and the West in general is quite popular with certain segments of Iran, and I thought about trying to explain the difference between the truth that Iran is not as inveterately anti-American as most people assume and the falsehood that Iranians would generally welcome US influence in their politics, but really I didn't know where to start.

First off, the perspective of the founder of the Republican Youth of America may not be 100% non-biased. Further, the results of a BBC world service online poll may not be quite representative of the opinions of those in Iran. Nor will an experience in the more upscale areas of the country in which western reporters typically roam. A more meaningful survey:
http://www.cnsnews.com/public/content/article.aspx?RsrcID=49304

That there is a large reservoir of desire in Iran for reconciliation with the West is indisputable. A third holding favorable views of the US is still significant support. However, the movement draws deeply on the spirit and traditions of the Islamic Revolution that so many expats revile. One might want to get the views of someone more representative of the Iranian mindset before talking about what is "common knowledge".

Finally, it is rather unlikely that unambiguous support for protesters who want the results of elections thrown out will be seen as obviously "pro-democracy" throughout an Iran with state-controlled media, which is the only place where that perception would matter. Instead, all Obama has done has noted that the US would expect Moussavi et al. to maintain the Iranian national-security status quo but still supported popular self-determination. (Meanwhile the state department asks Twitter to delay maintenance.) This seems to me the exact position he must take, and the foreign policy experts I've seen agree.

nato

Example:
http://theplumline.whorunsgov.com/diplomacy/bushs-iran-ambassador-lauds-obamas-handling-of-iran-crisis/

Tom

I am in 100% agreement with Nato and Obama on this one. We have picked sides in the past and it has always backfired on us. To stay neutral is certainly the best policy, especially when considering that the opposition candidate has little better attitude toward the west than the incumbent. Would Nathan really endorse the Shah for political expedience?

Nathan Smith

Nato, come on now. Is Nicholas Kristof the founder of the Republican Youth of America? Thomas Friedman? Does the BBC have a pro-Republican bias? But whatever. "US and the West in general is quite popular with certain segments of Iran," bearing in mind that those "certain segments" are a majority of the population, is all the concession I need.

re: "Finally, it is rather unlikely that unambiguous support for protesters who want the results of elections thrown out will be seen as obviously 'pro-democracy' throughout an Iran with state-controlled media"

I won't concede this. I think it is quite *likely,* if not almost certain, that unambiguous support for protestors who want the obviously fake results of an election thrown out would be seen as obviously pro-democracy throughout an Iran that is certainly not so stupid as to believe its state-controlled media. To be more accurate, I think it would be seen as pro-democratic if the US pressed for votes actually to be counted and to determine who the next president is. But that's beside the point. If Obama had just talked about peaceful protests and not said much else that would be fine. With his comments that Ahmadinejad and Mousavi are no different, he's effectively going out of his way to be pro-Ahmadinejad.

And he's an idiot if he really thinks that. Whatever Mousavi might have done if election results had been respected in the first place, if he now comes to power with the help of street protests and in defiance of the clerical establishment, that changes the rule. People power matters then. Mousavi will be its champion for the moment and will not want to lose that role. And will be afraid to lose that role.

Note that Obama's dogged pursuit of appeasement is making him look like something of an outlier. Here's what French President Sarkozy said:

"As the landslide victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's disputed election provoked unrest, French President Nicolas Sarkozy denounces the result of Friday's vote as a "fraud."

"The extent of the fraud is proportional to the violent reaction," Sarkozy said Tuesday. "It is a tragedy, but it is not negative to have a real-opinion movement that tries to break its chains."

"If Ahmadinejad has really made progress since the last election and if he really represents two thirds of the electorate... why has this violence erupted?" asked the French leader.

"The remarks come as Iran has decried what it calls interference in its internal affairs by certain countries. On Tuesday, Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned a group of European envoys to Tehran over their countries' "malicious stance" toward Tehran. "

http://aljazeera.com/news/articles/34/Sarkozy_says_Iran_election_a_fraud_.html

To Tom: When have we "always" picked sides in the past and it has backfired? In 1979, yes. Although even then it was really when we started distancing ourselves from the shah that the problems started. But no, I wouldn't particularly want to endorse the Shah for political expediency, because that is (and was then too) against the principles we're supposed to stand for. In this case, though, we would be taking a stand consistent with our principles. If that backfires, so be it; one must do the right thing, even when it's costly. But when have we taken a stand consistent with our principles and had it backfire? THINK, man. We've got to put behind us these habits of repeating what we've heard from ignorant leftie history professors, and start looking at the historical record, and thinking.

nato

"Does the BBC have a pro-Republican bias?"

Not at all. Rather, Persian ("don't call us 'Iranian'!") expats have an unrepresentative stance toward Iran, much as Cuban exile opinion isn't very representative of Cuban man-on-the-street opinion.

Also, the reporters report what they see, and if they're like the vast majority of reporters, they'll tend to stay in the areas that are vastly more likely to be pro-American - not because they're trying to, but because those are (for good reason) the more accessible parts. Rather it's Bakhtavar citing these reports as if they're proof of Iran's broad-based pro-Americanism that's tendentious and suspect.

Further, Tehran is *still* trying to blame the US for its "intolerable interference", though it's having trouble coming up with anything to which to point. Now it's down to complaining about second tier powers, which makes the regime seem shrill and weak. The US is big and scary. France is mostly aggravating. Without a target, they're punching themselves in the eye.

Basically, right now the Army and even the Revolutionary Guard aren't ineluctably on a certain side of the issue, meaning the regime has to be careful of ordering them to attack peaceful protesters. If those protesters become a front for the Great Satan, then the Revolutionary Guard at least is in the bag.

As a side note, Tom said that it has always backfired when we picked sides, not that we always picked sides. This still isn't true generally (supporting one side in the Balkans frequently helped, for example) but it is for Iran. Nathan's (perhaps) right that we would have been better off following our principles, but the fact of the matter is that we didn't always and even when we did it has frequently blown up in our face. Now we have to live with that history, which I didn't learn from any leftie history professor. I learned it, rather, from AO briefings in the Army, from my Persian friends of long standing, from conversations with an Army buddy whose intelligence mission focused on Iran, and from, of course, reading about it during that *last* time there was a big reformist movement in Iran.

We can certainly argue tactics, and it may well be that Obama's comment on the similarity of Mousavi and Ahmadinejad's policies was unnecessary, but I find Nathan's attempts to instruct others on Iranian political perception extremely unconvincing so far.

nato

I should make it clear - it is my perception of ME history that when the US has followed its principles the outcome has been better than when supporting amenable tyrants. That said, I don't think I have sufficient grasp of Persian and ME history in general to feel that my opinion on that is at all well-informed. The Iran of 1999 I can feel confident of understanding to some extent, but not the Iran of 1969.

Nathan Smith

Well, it's really only the comment about Mousavi and Ahmadinejad being the same that I object to so strongly, so maybe we're not so much at odds here. As Nato points out, the Iranian media is *still* accusing us of "intolerable interference": that to me underlines what should have been obvious, that trying to win a propaganda war within Iran when their own state-controlled media is in charge is a fool's errand. I don't find it believable that the "lack of anything to which to point" is a serious impediment to the propaganda effort to this propaganda effort.

Probably Obama can't do much to influence events right now one way or the other. Possibly a hard line-- a statement, say, that the election results cannot be believed and that the Iranian government would hereafter be regarded as unelected if a full recount with adequate oversight is not conducted-- would intimidate Khamenei into backing away from Ahmadinejad. It may matter, too, for future US relations with whatever government emerges. Our relations with a Mousavi regime would be better if it looked like we had stood up for our democratic principles and supported him.

But mostly it's just US dignity that's at stake. This might be the birth of freedom in a nation that's been under a more or less totalitarian regime for 30 years. For a US president to be so uninspired by that that the first thing on his mind is still the same foreign-policy issues he was thinking about before the great events is just shameful. It's like someone who goes to a funeral and devotes the eulogy to complaining that the deceased owed him $50.

Nato

I think the best route may be to use our role as antagonists to the hilt in order to give the reformists an early victory while they're still consolidating control over the various apparatus of government. We take a fairly hard line, then soften up as dramatically as possible in response to reformist overtures. Blammo! The advantages of democratic diplomacy over autocratic confrontation are demonstrated.

nato

from the WaPo:

Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, said she has no complaints about Obama’s rhetoric. “What happens in Iran regards the people themselves, and it is up to them to make their voices heard,” she said in a telephone interview from Geneva. “I respect his comments on all the events in Iran, but I think it is sufficient.”

I think she knows what she's talking about.

Tom

There is a lot of speculation about fraud in the election. Since no investigation has taken place, it's a little premature for someone as important as Obama to issue a verdict one way or the other; that's what bloggers are for, I suppose.

There were significant voting irregularities in the 2000 US election that it is known now to have swung the election. Would Americans have appreciated at all any foreign involvement in the process? Why would you assume the Iranians would be any different?

"In this case, though, we would be taking a stand consistent with our principles."

That is not what you advocated in the original post. You advocated supporting the opposition candidate because "toppling Ahmadinejad must be the #1 US priority", which is a reason of political expedience. I thus responded that meddling in internal power struggles for political expedience has never worked out well for us. Your subsequent response contradicts your original criticism of Obama, because he clearly indicated a desire for a fair election and an inquiry into the voting irregularities, which is consistent with our principles. Obama's response is perfectly reasonable and prudent. Your desired response would possibly alienate the elements in Iran that have the most favorable attitude toward the West, give the current regime ammunition in their propaganda wars, endorse a candidate who may in reality be worse than the incumbent, and ultimately appear to be a weak, flaccid gesture when no action follows the rhetoric.

Nathan Smith

re: "Would Americans have appreciated at all any foreign involvement in the [2000 election problems]?"

Obviously there is no parallel between America 2000 and Iran 2009, but to answer the question, I don't think Americans would have cared much if some foreign leader had commented on the election. Suppose Chirac had said, "I think those Buchanan voters really meant to vote for Gore." No big deal.

If Americans had really believed then that massive fraud had taken place and that the powers that be were likely to get away with stealing an election, I for one, and I suspect many others, would be grateful to foreign leaders for speaking out against it, using moral suasion to try to prevent the anti-democratic power grab from taking place. And I think that's how Iranians would feel if Obama were to do the same thing now.

re: "That is not what you advocated in the original post. You advocated supporting the opposition candidate because 'toppling Ahmadinejad must be the #1 US priority,' which is a reason of political expedience."

Needless to say I meant that it should be our priority to get Ahmadinejad out *because he stole the election.* I wouldn't advocate his overthro by force if he had plausibly won, or if no election had been scheduled at this particular time.

re: "Your desired response..."

My desired response is simply that Obama not make that moronic remark about the two candidates being the same. Clearly none of Tom's threatened adverse consequences would follow from that. But they wouldn't follow if Obama took a braver line, like Sarkozy, either.

Nato

Khamenei's big speech was all about explaining how the protests are a western plot. We'll see tomorrow if that was effective in maintaining control of the apparatus of government.

Tom

If Putin had said "Bush stole the election", the American response would most likely have been the metaphorical extension of a collective middle finger.

Joyless Moralist

"If Putin had said "Bush stole the election", the American response would most likely have been the metaphorical extension of a collective middle finger."

Actually, I think it would have been extremely amusing, particularly coming from Russia. I doubt very much that it would have caused any great angst. But in this case, nothing so forthright was really necessary. It would have been adequate to 1) talk about how peaceful protests are an important and natural part of any democratic society, 2) express hope that Iran will work things out in a way that shows the commitment to free and fair elections that is so critical to a healthy democracy. That's not taking any firm stance on what happened in the elections. It is implying that Iran's status as a democratic country is less than completely settled, but that is obviously fair.

Saying that, well, the candidates are not so different really, gives the impression that the whole thing really isn't a big deal, that the protestors are making a fuss about nothing... and in short, that it doesn't actually matter that much whether the election was fair or not. That is an utterly unfitting thing for an American to say. And if I were an Iranian who thought that my election had just been stolen, I would certainly resent it.

Nato

"Saying that, well, the candidates are not so different really, gives the impression that the whole thing really isn't a big deal, that the protestors are making a fuss about nothing... and in short, that it doesn't actually matter that much whether the election was fair or not."

Actually, in context, it makes it clear that the important part is the democratic process, not policies. See, the two leaders' policies vs. the US are about the same, so that couldn't be the source of our request that the regime respond to peaceful protests appropriately.

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