As we watch the unfolding situation in Iran, one of the most frustrating aspects from the United States vantage point is the credulity granted to neocon commentators. The same coterie of warmongers who got it so disastrously wrong in Iraq are being given a bully pulpit to get it disastrously wrong in Iran. The target of their ire is Obama, who — while speaking out against state violence — refuses to come out in favor of the Moussavi party, or to threaten the regime with “consequences” at the present time. And they are given a voice, on television, and on the op-ed pages of leading newspapers (and the Washington Post is the worst offender). Yet again, we are hearing that the regime is about to fall, that American support will embolden the opposition, that American style “freedom” and democracy are coming to Persia. Remember Iraq? Remember the flowers that were supposed to welcome the American occupation militia? Remember the utopian discourse of “freedom and democracy”, a discourse unmoored from history and context? And now we are seeing it all again, with the same names and the same aims. And, as always, the solution is war, and the creed is the redemptive and transformative power of bloodshed.
A quick history lesson is all that is needed to bury the neocon argument. It would be an understatement to say that American intentions are treated with great suspicion in Iran. Here is Johan Hari:
“The current Iranian leadership’s pursuit of enriched uranium is a response to a long history, too often scrubbed from Western textbooks. By the 1950s, Iran had developed a thriving democracy and its people decided rationally, correctly, to take control of its oil and use the profits for its own people. The governments of the West ruled that this was unacceptable (“it is our oil under their soil, dummy”), so they toppled the democracy and installed a dictator. From 1953 to 1979, the Shah was paid by the Americans and British to suppress the Iranian population and keep the petrol pumping. Khamenei is one of the many people he jailed and tortured.
When the Iranians rejected “our good friend”, we paid for Saddam Hussein to attack their country using chemical weapons. Ahmadinejad saw some of this mass slaughter (death toll: one million) as a young volunteer.”
What people also forget is that the hostage crisis was provoked by a fear that the Americans were trying to repeat history and re-install the shah a second time. I would add to that George Bush’s appalling “axis of evil” speech, which (surprise, surprise!) managed to offend all shades of opinion in Iran. But of course, the likes of Fred Barnes can tell us with a straight face that the younger generation has forgotten all about 1953, and will look kindly on US intervention.
What is also forgotten is that the 1979 revolution was universally popular. Here’s Hari again:
“The Shah, the torturing dictator installed, armed and adored by the CIA was overthrown by a chasm-wide coalition stretching from Communists to Islamists. My parents lived in Iran at that time, and they remember the raw hatred of the Shah that was felt by bearded mullahs and hijab-free feminists alike. Almost everybody rose up in 1979. But, once the Shah was toppled, one wing of the revolution hijacked it. The Grand Ayatollah Khomeini installed himself as the Supreme Ruler and started killing off the democratic wing of the revolution.”
What we are seeing is a domestic Iranian agenda, and internal conflict between different interpretations of the 1979 revolution. I’m sure there are some believers in western style democracy, but they are probably confined to affluent north Tehran. The sheer size of the Moussavi coalition speaks of a more widespread appeal. As Hooman Majd puts it:
In other words, what the neocons are proposing — a more strident public statement by Obama, threats and bluster — will actually work against the very protestors they purport to support. Majd again:
“But this is an internal matter. For the U.S. to get involved in any way is a huge mistake in my opinion. It makes Iranians very suspicious. One reason they were able to get 3 million people out on the streets from a broad socioeconomic spectrum across all political lines — you don’t get 3 million people on the streets of Tehran if they’re all students like in 2003 — is because the lower class, the middle class, the upper class, students, old people, families, religious families, women in chadors, men in beards, they all came out. These people also voted against Ahmadinejad or felt the vote wasn’t fair.”
“The neocons know nothing about Iran, nothing about the culture of Iran. They have no interest in understanding Iran, in speaking to any Iranian other than Iranian exiles who support the idea of invasions — I’ll call them Iranian Chalabis. It’s offensive, even to an Iranian American like me. These are people who would have actually preferred to have Ahmadinejad as president so they could continue to demonize him and were worried, as some wrote in Op-Eds, that Mousavi would be a distraction and would make it easier for Iranians to build a nuclear weapon and now all of a sudden they want to be on his side? Go away.
I’m not saying Obama is the most knowledgeable person on Iran, but he’s obviously getting good advice right now. He understands way more about the culture of the Middle East than any of the neocons. For them to be lecturing President Obama is a joke. I have criticized Obama; for instance, I criticized him for having a patronizing tone in his Persian New Year message. But right now I think he’s doing a good job. The John McCains of the world, they’re Ahmadinejad’s useful idiots. They’re doing a great job for him.”
Ahmadinejad’s useful idiots. That pretty much sums it up. The sheer tone-deafness of hyper-nationalism neocons to the sway of nationalism in other countries is nothing short of stupifying. As Majd notes, how would Americans have reacted if Iran had meddled in the Florida recount, and refused to support one side? I think most Americans would have come together against this “foreign meddling”. Daniel Larison also makes this very point:
“Americanists believe that any statement from the President that fails to build up and anoint Mousavi as the preferred candidate is discouraging to Mousavi and his supporters, because they apparently cannot grasp that being our preferred candidate is to be tainted with suspicion of disloyalty to the nation. It is strange how nationalists often have the least awareness of the importance of the nationalism of another people. Many of the same silly people who couldn’t say enough about Hamas’ so-called “endorsement” of Obama as somehow indicative of his Israel policy views, as well as those who could not shut up about his warm reception in Europe, do not see how an American endorsement of a candidate in another country’s election might be viewed with similiar and perhaps even greater distaste by the people in that country.”
Then again, thinking outside the Americanist bubble does not come naturally to neocons. They were so wrong in Iraq — so why does anybody treat their musings on Iran as worthy of anything beyond laughter and derision?