Ronald Reagan used to marvel at the tendency of intellectuals and diplomats to get so involved in “understanding” other countries and cultures, no matter how hostile to the USA, that they ended up apologizing for them. It’s an occupational hazard known as “clientitis,” and Reagan once remarked that he’d like to have a Bureau of American Affairs in the State Department so we could have some diplomats who would plead our case to THEM instead of the other way around.
Clientitis afflicts many Iran experts, in part because the country has a fabulously interesting history, and even today produces some impressive art, literature, and cinema. There’s also the endlessly intriguing challenge to try to figure out who’s who and what’s what inside the Islamic Republic. I’ve often said that Iran=Italy squared, in terms of political complexity. You can’t identify the players even if you have the latest scorecard.
Still, there’s no excuse for so many articles and official pronouncements exploring who’s going to “win” the Iranian “elections.” Nor is there any excuse for failing to understand the Obama administration’s latest pretense at getting tough on the regime. And there is certainly no excuse for writing about a presumed sexual revolution that is threatening the regime, of all things. Let’s get it straight. In order:
Sohrab Ahmari, as usual, sums it up nicely in the Wall St Journal’s weekend interview:
“Iran is a country with a government that was elected.” So declared Secretary of State John Kerry on a visit to France in February. His statement echoed an earlier one by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who during his Senate confirmation hearings in January pronounced the Iranian government “elected” and “legitimate.”
In the coming days, count on Western media to reinforce that view of Iranian democracy with coverage of the run-up to the June 14 presidential election. The horse-race aspect of the reporting is already in the air. There was breathless news on May 21 about the disqualification of dozens of presidential hopefuls…
He could have added Colin Powell’s unfortunate deputy, Richard Armitage, to the list (Armitage called Iran “some sort of democracy”) and the Mullahlogists are busily writing about “campaign rallies” and the like. We will only have to endure this nonsense for two more weeks, unless Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decides to stage a runoff–unlikely, since it would enable crowds of people to gather in the streets, which Khamenei does not welcome. He remembers the last time that happened, in 2009, when the regime was rocked by monster demonstrations against a fraudulent “election.”
The point is that, as I wrote a while ago, Iran doesn’t have elections, it stages circuses (indeed, this year the families of the candidates will make appearances on television). The regime picks the candidates, and the Leader picks the next president. People do go and vote, but the outcome is not determined by their votes. To treat the circus as a real election is to demonstrate your ignorance of Iranian politics. Stalin had “elections” too, remember, as did his student Saddam Hussein.
The Big Change in Technology Sales to Iran
The U.S. government has made it possible to export smart phones, laptops, tablets, and computer software to Iranians who are not part of, or associated with, the regime. It’s years late, and dollars short. Back when the Green Movement was preparing for the 2009 uprising, some of us asked for an export license to send secure satellite phones to anti-regime Iranians. If permission had been granted, it would have been possible for the opposition leaders to be much more effective, but the export license was not approved. Now the Obama administration is trying to play catch-up, but I’m afraid it may be too late. In the interim, the Iranian regime has created its own Cyber Army, and, armed with technology and expertise from their Chinese friends, they have become frighteningly effective at monitoring internal communications and Internet activity.
Many members of the Iranian opposition now fear the use of these devices, because they believe the regime can track usage and find the users. My own research bears them out, at least in some cases. A while back, an organization with which I am familiar placed some smart phones in downtown Tehran, in several different locations. The phones were programmed to send SMS messages that were designed to get the attention of the security forces. Did they ever! Within minutes, the phones were seized.
Do you still want to send cell phones to the good guys in Iran?
This policy change may be not be helpful, as administration officials have been claiming in their remarks to journalists. Indeed, it may be downright dangerous to Iranian users. If so, it would not be the first time. Three years ago, the American Government issued an export license for “anti-censorship software” called “Haystack.” The State Department bragged about it, claiming it would greatly help anti-regime Iranian activists. It turned out to be a trap, and was hastily withdrawn.
I’m sadly inclined to think that the latest move isn’t any better than “Haystack.” Reading press accounts, I found an endorsement from NIAC, the National Iranian American Council, which is, let us say, not aggressively anti-regime (its chief is Trita Parsi, a very unreliable source who recently lost a libel suit he had brought against a writer who had accused Parsi of being an apologist for, and perhaps an agent of the regime). The NIAC spokesman said “I think it really helps level the playing field with people who want to communicate on the Internet and the Iranian government that wants to stifle that information.”
I figure if NIAC likes it, it can’t be much of a threat to Khamenei.
The Great Sexual Revolution
It’s a happy thought, to be sure, the idea that the dreadful, misogynist regime in Iran is being relentlessly weakened by a great national orgy. And that’s what we’re told by Afshin Shahi in a very readable and in many ways highly informative article in Foreign Policy. Here’s the bottom line:
Slowly but surely, Iran’s sexual revolution is exhausting the ideological zeal of a state that is wedded to the farcical notion of a utopian society and based on brittle, fundamentalist principles.
Color me dubious, please.
Sure, it’s a young population, and Mr. Shahi reminds us, as David Goldman pointed out years ago as part of his analysis of the death of Muslim societies, that Iran has undergone the greatest drop in birth rates in human history. And there are other data showing that traditional relationships are crashing and burning: marriage ages are rising, divorce rates are up, abortions are increasing. Males tell pollsters they are having more premarital sex (Unreliable IMHO, since males always claim that, don’t they?). Let’s assume the numbers are accurate. Do they add up to a revolution? Revolutions are acts of hope, they are carried out by people–invariably young people–who think they can change the world. Does the unprecedented crash in birth rates sound like a characteristic of a society full of hope? Isn’t it rather the opposite, evidence of despair?
Of all the times to talk about sexual revolution, and credit a large part of it to an emerging, educated class of Iranian women, this would seem one of the least suitable. Iranian society–most definitely including the women–is suffering under greatly increased repression. Any sign of independent thinking, writing, movie-making or counter-cultural artistic endeavor is ruthlessly crushed, its practitioners imprisoned in record numbers, the Internet strangled by the regime. And we’re supposed to believe that the Islamic Republic is being sabotaged by free love? Not even the Woodstock crowd would believe it.
By the way, the unhappy fate of Iranian women, well known to all who follow Persian events, caused an extremely embarrassing moment for our diplomats, when a State Department spokesthing wouldn’t denounce the exclusion of all females from the OK List of presidential candidates. Just thought I’d mention it.
The Real Story
It isn’t hard to understand Iran, or what we should do about it. It’s just that hardly anyone wants to get it straight. To its credit, the State Department still knows that the Iranian regime is the world’s greatest sponsor of terrorism. The Iranian who wanted to blow up a restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C., just got 25 years, for example, and you can ask the Syrians and Lebanese about Iranian terror. Iran is our mortal enemy, sworn to destroy us, and working to do just that. It’s a religious tyranny, a theocratic fascism that oppresses its citizens and doesn’t dream of giving them a say in what happens to them. We should do everything we can to bring down that regime, support the opposition, and denounce the evil Khamenei and his henchmen every single day.
Forget about these fairy tales about sex, elections, and miracle software. Get to work. If we could bring down the Soviet Empire without waging open war, we can certainly bring the Islamic Republic to a well deserved end.