Work and Days

Voting Present on Iran

Apparently the Obama administration is quietly watching the situation, serially voting present, and unwilling to say much until the final outcome is certain. Meanwhile, debate here centers around whether Bush’s past “Axis of Evil” approach to Iran’s theocracy, or Obama’s “We are sorry for what we did in the past” lamentation is the better course for dealing with a thug like Ahmadinejad. Some thoughts:

1. Conventional wisdom insisted that we had “empowered” Iran by removing Saddam and allowing the Shiites to gain democratic majorities in Iraq. It is at least as possible that we are destabilizing the autocracy in Iran by promoting Iraqi democracy that is no longer just a warning about civil chaos, but a positive view of a Shiite-majority democratic society unknown in Iran. The notion of two large contiguous oil producing democracies in the Middle East is unacceptable to the radical Islamists and most of the Sunni Arab dictatorships as well.

2. When one apologizes to a contemporary terrorist-sponsoring regime for events that occurred 60 years ago at the beginning of the Cold War, and does so without context of the past, then naturally one is self-censored, and will be reluctant to comment on contemporary events in Iran — relegated to a bystander watching the flow of events, predicating the response on who wins.

3. We are seeing in Washington that the multiculturalism impulse — one does not use Western paradigms to judge others — is far stronger than the supposedly classical liberal idea that human freedom is a universal concept that trumps culture. In other words, multicultural foreign policy is a sophisticated and politically-correct version of the old, far more intellectually honest realist notion that we let the bastards do what they want to their own people, and then deal with the thug that emerges in the real world of mutual self-interest.

4. For the probable majority of Iranians who voted against Ahmadinejad, the idea that the US was reaching out to him, despite his subsidies to terrorist killers in Lebanon and Iraq, and his brutality at home, was not necessarily a sign of American good will. If the prior policy of disengagement with the Iranian theocracy, while appealing to the good will of the Iranian people was so flawed, why was it, then, that despite America’s bad global PR, the Iranian people remained far more pro-American than did the Arab Street, whose autocrats about four years ago we ceased pressuring to liberalize?

For at least a decade, liberal icons like Bill Clinton (“Iran today is, in a sense, the only country where progressive ideas enjoy a vast constituency. It is there that the ideas that I subscribe to are defended by a majority … (It is) the only one with elections, including the United States, including Israel, including you name it, where the liberals, or the progressives, have won two-thirds to 70 percent of the vote in six elections … There is no other country in the world I can say that about, certainly not my own.)”,  Jimmy Carter and NY Times columnists have tried to make cute points that our worst enemy in the Middle East, Iran, was in fact the most democratic — ridiculing the notion of others that rigged plebiscites, pre-screened candidates, the absence of a truly secret ballot and free press, organized thuggery against dissidents, suppression of women’s rights, etc. were hardly democratic.

Iran, let us now confess, understood the America utopians very well, offering them both the thin veneer of “democracy” and at the same time the notion of revolutionary opposition to “imperialist” and “capitalist” America.  When Clinton in 2005 said that nonsense at Davos he was simply playing to the international politically correct Western bunch, the subtext was “hey, that awful Bush is running things now in the US, and it is a lot worse over here than it is in the Iran that he demonizes (cf. Clinton’s flourish: “…certainly not my own”). That Iran was killing soldiers in Iraq, sponsoring killers in Lebanon and the West Bank, trying to get a nuke to do worse to Israel did not mean all that much to Bill Clinton, at least if he could sound nuanced, neat, and contrarian among the international drones at Davos.

I’ll take axis of evil and evil empire any day to serial apologies to this creepy regime, and “certainly not my own” comparisons.