Roger L. Simon

President Zelig

Many of Woody Allen’s movies–particularly later ones–are not standing up to the test of time, but one that does is my favorite Woody movie of all, Zelig. Filmed as a mockumentary, it has a great theme – how we change our views, personality, even looks to get along.

The movie is a comedy with obviously disturbing implications and, for the last few days, I have been thinking about it with reference to this Amir Taheri article, concerning appearances by Bill Clinton on the Charlie Rose Show and at the World Economic Forum in Davos (two centers of Zeligry if there ever were ones). Apparently the former president made several statements implying that Iran’s mullocracy was a democracy. Taheri writes:

Clinton’s declaration of love for the mullas shows how ill informed even a US president could be.

Didn’t anyone tell Clinton, when he was in the White House, that elections in the Islamic Republic were as meaningless as those held in the Soviet Union? Did he not know that all candidates had to be approved by the “Supreme Guide”, and that no one from opposition is allowed to stand? Did he not know that all parties are banned in the Islamic Republic, and that such terms as “progressive” and “liberal” are used by the mullas as synonyms for “apostate”, a charge that carries a death sentence?

More importantly, does he not know that while there is no democracy without elections there can be elections without democracy?

Clinton told his audience in Davos, as well as Charlie Rose, that during his presidency he had “formally apologized on behalf of the United States” for what he termed “American crimes against Iran.”

But what were those “crimes”? Clinton summed them thus: “It’s a sad story that really began in the 1950s when the United States deposed Mr. Mossadegh, who was an elected parliamentary democrat, and brought the Shah back and then he was overturned by the Ayatollah Khomeini, driving us into the arms of one Saddam Hussein. We got rid of the parliamentary democracy {there} back in the ’50s; at least, that is my belief.”

Duped by a myth spread by the Blame-America-First coalition, Clinton appears to have done little homework on Iran. The truth is that Iran in the 1950s was not a parliamentary democracy but a constitutional monarchy in which the Shah appointed, and dismissed, the prime minister. Mossadegh was named prime minister twice by the Shah and twice dismissed. In what way that meant that the US “got rid of parliamentary democracy” that did not exist is not clear.

There are at least two things that Clinton does not know about Iran and Iranians.

Well…no. I think Clinton actually does know those things – at least to the degree many of us do. The one thing we can say about Bill is that he is informed. His problem is that he was and is President Zelig, unable to experience conflict at a level which would allow him to stand by his opinions or even remember them. In some ways this kind of excessive empathy has value. When it comes to dealing with religious dictatorship, it is a moral and physical disaster, for the people of those countries most of all.