Iranian Sex and Circuses
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.