Iran crisis: Leave Iran alone

Iran crisis: Leave Iran alone June 22, 2009
No great Satan here?

So despite the cacophony of mock-solidarity echoing from all echelons of the US neo-conservative establishment, when it comes to doing what’s best for the Iranian people and indeed for the world, the US must do nothing at all.

“We’re all neo-cons now,” announced a recent article published by the Wall Street Journal on June 18, 2009. The article reiterated what has become the Republican Party’s refrain following the tumult of the Iranian presidential elections: President Obama needs to take a stronger stance in support of the protestors demonstrating against President Ahmadinejad.

“Obama’s timidity on Iran leaves him increasingly isolated,” the piece announced, insinuating that even the president’s own staff, like Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, were dissatisfied with his lack of overt support for Mir Hossein Moussavi’s supporters, risking arrest to take to Tehran’s streets.

Indeed, American neo-conservatives within the Republican Party finally have something to harp on about. After years of an unabashed hate-fest against Iran, neo-cons previously used to championing the obliteration of Iran have spent the past week appearing on American news channels in paroxysms of delight over the darling democracy-loving Iranian public.

One prominent neo-conservative columnist, Jonah Goldberg, went as far as to exhort President Obama to “Do it… please President Obama. Take the side of democracy”. In the same essay, the previously bomb-worthy terrorist masses of Iran are now the “huddled masses of Iranians yearning to breathe free and think hope and change” urging the realisation of democratic dreams while the new American colossus stands silent.

Not once in the past several months of President Obama’s presidency has the world had more occasion to celebrate the end of Bush than over this current cataclysm over the Iranian election. While the Obama administration takes pause to measure its words and recognise how the inevitable malign of American intervention may impose on Moussavi’s supporters, the neo-conservative has suddenly awakened with heretofore-unseen concern for the Iranian people. Sudden recognitions of the “advanced” nature of Iranian society have emerged from mouths who had just months earlier refused to recognise the barest humanity of the Iranian people.

It is early yet to judge whether the coming of the Obama administration and the change in rhetoric, towards reconciliation rather than confrontation, marks a change in the global discourse that has marked the first decade since 9/11. The first few months of the Obama administration have seen markedly adventurous overtures between the US and Iran. What Obama started as a controversial campaign promise to engage adversaries without pre-conditions was taken further into a Nauroz message delivered by the president, and significant mention in the historic address to the Muslim world delivered in Cairo.

It is undoubted that the substantive impetus for Moussavi’s supporters in Iran is indigenous and local. As many experts on Iran have pointed out in recent days, the devastation of the Iranian economy during the Ahmadinejad years and growing concerns over militarisation have all produced a public weary of an establishment whose claim to “revolutionary” credentials is becoming increasingly remote. Add to this the division between the ruling clerical elite and the fact that while Ahmadinejad is supported by Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani supports and in turn gives legitimacy to Mir Hossein Mousavi.

However, without minimising the crucial role of domestic dynamics in the Iranian election, some note must also be taken of the change in global dynamics. Mere days before the Iranian election, President Obama exhorted the Israeli government to stop building new settlements on occupied Palestinian lands. Moreover, the friendly overtures made by the Obama administration marked by the visible changes in rhetoric and willingness for dialogue created a notably different global climate around the Iranian election.

It is rumoured that the dismissal of Special Envoy to Iran Dennis Ross was also motivated by the desire to appoint someone more appropriate, given Ross’ connection to Israel. The gist of developments can be summarised as a marked changed in political weather that may have made it harder to sell Ahmadinejad’s populist fiery rhetoric, which directed hatred toward the United States and deflected attention from Iran’s own problems.

In optimistic terms then, the emergence of a visible opposition movement in Iran may well signal a shift away from the fire and brimstone rhetoric of hatred that had defined both the United States and Iran in recent decades. Both Bush and Ahmadinejad relied on the verbiage of hatred, on the convenient political trick of focusing attention on an enemy that is without rather than within.

Obama’s America is waking up to confront the wreckage of many internal problems ignored, and if Moussavi’s Iran ever comes to fruition, it may well find itself confronted by similar ailing and ignored sores festered into fatal wounds.

Yet these are hopeful words whose promises lie in a tenuous future punctuated by an overwhelming array of contingencies and qualifiers. Before they are entertained, the reality of Iran and the ignominy of American involvement in it must be contended with. The memory of previously betrayed democratic movements, de-legitimised and quashed, will require more than the recent salve of recalcitrant speeches to wipe away.

American hands, at least where Iran is concerned, are still dirty hands and stand to stain what is otherwise a sincere and awe-inspiringly brave political uprising. Iranian human rights activists like Akbar Ganji and Shirin Ebadi, who have been walking on the tightrope of critiquing the Iranian establishment whilst maintaining the crucial distance from the United States, are evidence of the de-legitimising force of the United States.

So despite the cacophony of mock-solidarity echoing from all echelons of the US neo-conservative establishment, when it comes to doing what’s best for the Iranian people and indeed for the world, the US must do nothing at all. The lessons of history and the vagaries of memory say the same thing: for this once, leave Iran alone.

Rafia Zakaria is Associate Editor of and an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at rafia.zakaria(at) This article was previously published in The Daily Times, Pakistan.

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