Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Iranian Protests...a Historical Primer.

Note: This article was originally published with the American Chronicle on 06/25/09
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It’s one of those ironies of life that no matter how much education, experience, or power a person has, they will always seem to make wrong choices…especially when their perceived self-interests or emotions impact these wrong choices. That’s exactly the dynamic we are witnessing as events are playing themselves out in Iran following the residential elections of 2 weeks ago.
Many political leaders from both major ideological branches in America (but most vocally led by conservative Republican Party-affiliated lawmakers) have criticized President Obama for not speaking out more vocally in support of the opposition-led mass protests that have been occurring almost daily in the streets of the Iranian capital, Tehran since the disputed election results over two weeks ago…and the deadly violent government attempts to halt the protests. His rationale rightly so, was that publicly coming out essentially on the side of the Iranian government’s opponents would hand incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a propaganda tool for use to justify both government’s violent response to the protests, and to play to his supporters’ fears that the protests are “proof” of “American intervention” in Iran’s domestic affairs. Indeed, foreign reporters have had their visas revoked, have been threatened with arrest if observed openly reporting on the protests, and government officials such as Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hasan Qashqavi has asserted that the “bias” by which foreign media (e.g., the various Western news outlets such as the American networks and the British BBC) has “exaggerated” the scope of police/protestor clashes and numbers of opposition supporters represents the political stance of those Western governments.
A few days ago on June 20th —maybe as a result or in spite of these criticisms—the president called for the Iranian government to “stop all violent and unjust actions” against the protesters. The full-court pressing by conservative lawmakers seemingly put the president on the defensive; both Arizona Senators John McCain and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham made the rounds on the Sunday morning talk show circuit to state what amounted to their party’s viewpoint on the president’s hesitant approach on the issue of the unrest in Iran. For his part, Graham, a de facto opponent of all things Obama, stated that “The president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it. He's been timid and passive more than I would like."
Yesterday, June 23rd, the president gave an address in the Rose Garden of the White House which, despite protestations to the contrary, seemed to be a capitulation to the pressures of the growing chorus of criticism that his response thus far to the situation in Iran has been too passive. This apparent caving-in to pressure is even more problematic for the president considering that during the 2008 election, he made his intentions clear to at least open the door to a conditional dialogue with the Iranian government, partially in the hopes of assuaging the Iranian government’s quest to acquire nuclear capability—a complete 180 degree turn from the previous Bush Administration’s approach of confrontation and military action innuendo. While President Ahmadinejad would have probably won re-election by a slim lead—as he has a substantial level of public support—its obvious that officials went too far in trying to portray his re-election as consensual mandate by the people of Iran; chief opposition candidate, former Prime Minister Hossein Mousavi seemingly “lost” the election overwhelmingly even in his hometown district, an unlikelyhood that is at odds with the numbers of supporters who have gathered in the streets of the capital since the election “results.”
The fraudulent elections, the violent suppression of the mass protests, the propaganda offensive against the opposition and their “Western ‘supporters’” have caged President Obama up his own policy tree in his intentions to deal with the Iranian government. He is now faced with the options of either continuing ahead with his intent to start a dialogue with the Iranian government toward a resolution of the nuclear (weapons) crisis, or abandoning this intent in lieu of the behavior of the Iranian government over the past couple of weeks. On June 15th, 3 days after the disputed elections, the president noted that America would “continue to pursue a tough, direct dialogue between our two countries, and we’ll see where it takes us.” But that was before the growing chorus of criticism against his stance on not commenting openly about the election results and the popular response. Undoubtedly, his continual intent to open talks with the Iranian government will create an open sea for his policy opponents within the Republican Party to attack…and the criticisms already unleashed toward his initial response (or lack thereof) have the sharks circling.
These recent events surrounding the question of Iran are somewhat perplexing to me, in a negative sense. I honestly don’t know what’s more annoying…the obvious politicization of protests in a country that has been out of favor with America since the late 1970s, or our woeful ignoring of America’s foreign policy history as it relates to Iran.
In 1953, the CIA was instrumental is squashing the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people when bringing back to power the Shah of Iran. Under an autocracy every bit as suppressive as the current government (and backed by the American government), the Iranian people slowly began to sit aside their differences, and eventually managed to overthrow the regime of the Shah in 1979 by way of popular, non-violent, democratic mass uprisings among the Iranian people, culminating in the popularly renown Islamic Revolution. That resulted in the installation of a government run mostly by religious clerics, who were rabbit adherents of a conservative and strict interpretation of Islamic law that suppresses many civil liberties of the people, purportedly sponsors known terrorist groups, and is openly hostile toward both state America and Israel in particular, and the West in general. That history is what opponents of the current Iranian government hope to see occur now, either through natural internal combustion, or external intervention.
But external intervention—American intervention—is why we currently have an issue with Iran. The election crisis, the nuclear issue, and Iran’s hostility toward the West would probably never have even emerged had the religious government not come to power after 1979. Things could, and probably would be radically different today. Had America opted to promote the emerging democracy in 1953 instead of working selfishly behind the scenes to suppress it, Iran might instead have become a thriving Western-friendly democracy in the Muslim-dominated Middle East.
Any inclination to intervene in the internal affairs of Iran would ignore the lessons of our last intervention there. It’s not a stretch that, given the events that immediately followed the America’s questionable invasion of Iraq, destabilizing the government of Iran could make a bad situation worse. Without the few controls there are under the current regime, more radical elements could rise to power and create a crisis which could make the current ones pale by comparison. In a worse-case scenario, attacking Iran could marshal the support for the radical government in the Muslim world…a place where the US already has precious few friends as it is. Even support for opposing forces within another country limited to vocal support could be a disaster in the making. Who could forget the first President Bush’s urging for the Iraqi people to “rise up” against a militarily defeated Saddam Hussein after the end of the 1991 Gulf War, only to ignore pleas for tangible assistance as what was left of the late Iraqi president’s military machine brutally suppressed the resulting revolt in the country’s Southern region, and killing untold numbers?
It is a rather disconcerting notion that in America, politicians and political leaders can and do politicize such a potentially volatile situation for no other reason than to one-up their political rivals. And yet, those same individuals don’t hesitate to call “expose” someone publicly who they feel engage in the same practice, but under different circumstances, such as the Republican propensity to call traditional Civil Rights activists “race hustlers.” Not only is such a practice philosophically hypocritical, but ignores the possible perils of future repercussions as well as the cautions of ignoring history.
I know it’s a bit idealistic, but we send our representatives to Washington to work in our—the electorate’s—best interests, not their own. They should have the ability to think for us, not work against the interests of the people. And we the people should be smart enough to know what is in our interests, and what is not. Read people. Learn to understand the historical basis for what is occurring in the world! Learn, and think…stop spouting off some party line just because it runs contrary to the party line!


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