15 Jun

Looks like the Iranian people are fed up with 30 years’ worth of clerically-induced pariah status.

Remembering the upheaval in the Eastern bloc in the late 80s, once the people stop fearing the police, the army, and the secret police and their enablers and collaborators, the regime’s days are numbered.

As for the United States and President Obama, we’re best off being quiet for the time being. We don’t want the hard-liners to be able to use us as a bogeyman against the protesters, and we can stay out of what is quite clearly an explosive internal political situation for Iran while expressing respect for the will of the people and the rule of law. Obama said quite a mouthful to the people of Iran at his speech earlier this month in Cairo:

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America’s interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

We are prepared to move forward. It appears that the people of Iran are, too.

22 Responses to “Revolution”

  1. Jon Splett June 15, 2009 at 9:07 pm #

    First time I can really say I’m truly relieved Obama won the election.

    If McCain was in office right now, you can damn well bet he’d be itching to use this as an excuse to start some military action in Iran.

  2. Ben McD June 15, 2009 at 9:42 pm #

    “If McCain was in office right now, you can damn well bet he’d be itching to use this as an excuse to start some military action in Iran.”

    Or, he may have continued to foment liberty in Iraq and give the Iranians something to shoot for, like Bush did.

  3. Jon Splett June 15, 2009 at 10:02 pm #

    Yes, that’s exactly what Bush did in Iraq.

    Give people something to shoot for.

    Not start a war that resulted in over 110,000 dead bodies.

    I’m sure Iran wants to sign right up for that.

  4. Colin June 15, 2009 at 10:58 pm #

    Is Iran a pariah? Plenty of countries are perfectly happy to trade with them. Plenty of folks are perfectly happy to travel there. They’re an important regional power, and one of the most successful societies in the region, with the kind of civil society and democracy — on display right now in the streets — that their neighbors can only dream of.

    Our government has treated Iran like a pariah, but that doesn’t mean they are one.

  5. hank June 16, 2009 at 5:55 am #

    Not Surprised that Obamaites are using this election to proclaim the “Sermon From Cairo” is responsible for this.

    The seeds of this revolt have been germinating for several years.

    If the hard liners squash the protests, Iran will have a green light to nuke Israel. And I doubt the Jews are going to wait patiently for the bomb to drop like their grandparents went meekly to the slaughter in eastern Europe 60 odd years ago. ‘

    The US doesn’t have to deal with Iran militarily. Israel knows its survival depends on their response.

  6. Colin June 16, 2009 at 8:02 am #

    Except that Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons, and if they did they’d be used as a deterrent against the US, not as an offensive move against Israel. It’s no coincidence that Iran (and North Korea) ramped up their nuclear programs in the wake of Afghanistan and Iraq.

  7. Russell June 16, 2009 at 8:26 am #

    Colin, taking your life into your hands by protesting in the streets is not exactly a good sign of a healthy civil society. Most of the institutions that actually comprise a civil society are illegal in Iran. It certainly is not a democracy either. I have no idea where you’re getting your definitions for those terms from, but you are way off. Iran may be an important regional power, but its society is not enviable and it is no shining example of democracy or civil society. What you’re actually seeing are the results of a government’s failure to keep a civil society from forming and to prevent democratic values from taking root. This may be the beginning of the establishment of a civil society in Iran, but it hasn’t existed there for about 3 decades now.

  8. sbrof June 16, 2009 at 9:29 am #

    True this is a civil uprising for democracy from a current regime that doesn’t want one… Going in there militarily will only unify both of them against us, or Israel.

  9. Colin June 16, 2009 at 10:03 am #

    Uh, my statement was in the context of the region — this kind of public protest simply doesn’t happen in a place like, say, staunch US ally and non-pariah Saudi Arabia. Iran is a haven of democracy and civil rights in comparison to its neighbors. Yet Iran is the supposed pariah.

    Everyone has their own definition of democracy. It’s a typically American trait to insist that there is no democracy that doesn’t look like ours. Yet Iran elects its political leaders, opposition parties enjoy relative freedom, the issues are debated vigorously and openly, etc. By regional standards — the only standard that makes any sense to apply — I’d say Iran is quite democratic.

    It’s also interesting that you would say that civil society hasn’t existed in Iran for 3 decades. That would seem to imply that it did exist under the shah. Iran is unquestionably a more democratic and free society now than under the shah.

  10. Russell June 16, 2009 at 11:35 am #

    The criteria for democracy and freedom are not determined regionally. Iran is not a free state. The society is not free. The government is not free. The elections are not free and fair. The press is not free. I have no idea where you’re getting information from, but you are very wrong. If you can find any legitimate, credible international organization that labels Iran free or democratic, in any context, please post it here. Freedom House, for one, lists all aspects as not free.

    The issues are not debated openly and vigorously in Iran. In fact, some basic human rights are denied. Opposition parties do not enjoy relative freedom. All parties must be approved by the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader. Most real opposition and dissent has been outlawed.

    I have studied democracy and democratization for most of my adult life. I have even taught it at the university level. My focus has never been on American or even North American democracy. I don’t care what our democracy looks like. I am not comparing Iran’s form of government to anyone else. They simply do not meet the criteria for a democracy. They are not a free and open society by any standards.

    I am no expert on Iran’s entire history, but my understanding is that the institutions of a civil society were more permissible before the revolution. In fact, some aspects were even allowed up until around 1989 or so. Regardless of when a civil society did or did not exist earlier in Iran, it does not change the fact that it is definitely not today. Stating that they are a haven for civil rights is absurd and an insult to all those that have and are suffering under this regime. Do you remember Ahmadinejad’s answer to the question of gay rights in his country when he spoke at Columbia?

  11. hank June 16, 2009 at 12:58 pm #

    Colin’s likely not old enough to remember Shah being alive.

    And, when you have a maniac at the wheel, who denies the Holocaust and says Israel should be wiped off the map, how long do you think the Iranian uranium enrichment program will need to produce a nuke? They already have the missle as a launch vehicle that can hit Israel.

    Colin–get back to Fort living room, get the tinfoil hat and the blinders on, and stare at Olbermann for a while—you’ll feel much better.

  12. Colin June 16, 2009 at 1:45 pm #

    Relative. I assume you all know what the word means.

    So no, by the absolute measure of places like Freedom House or Amnesty, Iran is not free. But then it’s nutty and counterproductive to judge Iran by the same standard as Sweden or Canada, or even a far less democratic country like the US. Freedom and democracy take root at different times and at different speeds in different places. And there are serious national and cultural disagreements about the meaning of words like “freedom” and “democracy.”

    The only sensible way of measuring these things is by the standard of somewhat comparable countries. Iran elects its political leaders, opposition groups operate in the open, power has (in the past) transferred peacefully, people have had real options at the polls between reformers like Khatami and hardliners like Ahmadinejad, etc. Compared to its peers in the region, Iran comes out looking ok. I’d rather live in Sweden than in Iran, but I’d rather live in Iran than US government-approved places like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.


  13. Russell June 16, 2009 at 1:52 pm #

    Colin, for the record, the Freedom House Index does list Iran as ‘Partially Free’ for some of the early 1970s and through most of the 1980s. Since then it has only been considered ‘Not Free’. Although it clearly was not a free and democratic society under the Shah and during the early years of the revolution, it did enjoy more freedoms in society and among the press than it does today or has for the past two decades at least. Apparently a civil society has not existed for much longer than I first implied (and probably never has existed there), but it was clearly further from one over the most recent two decades than it was in the two decades prior to that. Iranians enjoyed more freedoms in the 70s and 80s than they have in the 90s and 00s.

  14. Russell June 16, 2009 at 2:04 pm #

    No, it’s not sensible to determine democracy and freedom by comparison. As I asked before, show my one credible, legitimate organization that actually does that. No one measures democracy and freedom that way because it makes absolutely no sense. It’d be like saying a glass of water at 70 degrees is more frozen than a glass of water at 90 degrees. Just because one is at a cooler temperature than the other does not mean it’s more frozen. There are specific criteria for being frozen that neither one meets.

    It does make sense to make the claim that Iran might look better than its peers in the region, but it does not make sense to say it is democratic or free when compared to them. Political leaders are not freely chosen. Elections are not free and fair.

    And again, you are completely wrong when discussing Iranian politics and government. Real opposition groups do not operate openly. Only the ones that are not suppressed. The others are in jail. The only reason why power has transferred peacefully after elections was because it was between two groups pre-approved by the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader. Do not be naive in thinking that the mere presence of an election is all that’s needed. You shouldn’t let yourself be fooled that easily. Look, people in Iran who have never even experienced democracy know better than you do.

  15. Colin June 16, 2009 at 3:20 pm #

    Again, democracy and freedom are defined differently in different cultures, and in countries with different histories. Your definition is yours, and is determined by your particular circumstances. Others have defined it differently, and to me it makes sense to judge these things in a local or regional context. To judge them according to your definition is to make western experiences the norm, rather than one experience among many.

    According to the definition of democracy created in the region, Iran has been quite democratic. That’s important to note. It’s also important to note that that definition is theirs to make, or to remake. It would seem they’re remaking it even as we speak. I wish them luck.

  16. Russell June 16, 2009 at 3:26 pm #

    No, they are not. Once again I’ll ask you, show me any reputable source that backs up your claim. The definition of democracy is not up to individuals to make up. Specific types may differ but not at all what you’re claiming. Nothing and no one supports your ridiculous point. I’ve never heard such a claim from anyone, regardless of country of origin.

  17. Colin June 16, 2009 at 3:52 pm #

    My claim that people define democracy differently? How about the fact that we have a 50% + 1 system, while other countries reserve some power for less popular candidates/parties. Both sides call their system democratic. Different definitions.

    Some countries have public financing, while others allow money to sharply constrict what is or isn’t feasible electorally. Both sides call their system democratic. Different definitions.

    Some countries define democracy in electoral terms. Others include economic and social factors in their definitions. Both sides call their system democratic. Different definitions.

    You may think these kind of differences are minor, but I would disagree. I think they go a long way to determining outcomes before anyone casts a vote.

  18. Russell June 17, 2009 at 7:55 am #

    That’s not a different defintion of democracy. No one defines democracy as 50 + 1. That’s just how it’s practiced. Like I already said, specific types and practices may differ, but the fundamental definition does not. Freedom and democracy are not defined by each country or region to region, but how they’re instituted is. No, you’re right, that’s not a minor difference, but it is entirely different from what you are claiming.

    You seem quite confused and uninformed. You obviously have no idea what you are talking about. Try learning something about this subject first. Like I said numerous times, try to find one single source that supports your claims. Don’t try too hard, though, because there aren’t any.

  19. Colin June 17, 2009 at 9:22 am #

    Um, I’d say that a society that defines democracy in terms of electoral machinery and one that includes social and economic well-being in the definition are in fact fundamentally different, and not just engaged in “different practices.” In one, citizens freeze to death in the streets. In the other, they don’t. Yet both define their system in terms of popular rule.

    It’s pathetic — but typically American — that you can’t understand how your insistence on a single definition of democracy imposes a western norm on the rest of the world. And let’s be clear — your definition isn’t some culture-neutral ideal. It’s a western ideal, and you’re saying that the rest of the world has to emulate that western ideal to pass your test.

    In fact, the rest of the world — you know, the majority — will continue working to create and perfect their own democratic institutions and cultures, in accordance with their own needs and according to their own timelines. If that offends your western chauvinism, tough shit.

  20. Russell June 17, 2009 at 9:47 am #

    Colin, democracy is a Western idea, however, I have studied it in countries all over the globe and I have worked with scholars on every continent. Not one, even people hailing from the Middle East, would back up your claims. And as I already stated, I have never studied American democracy.

    You are still confused and make no sense. No one defines democracy by electoral machinery. One criteria for democracy is free and fair elections. How a country wants to institute that is entirely up to them. The elections just need to be free and fair. That is culturally neutral and fundamental.

    No one defines democracy by social and economic well-being. Society must be open and free to be democratic, but there are no value statements placed on any society. That’s culturally neutral. And democracy is not an economic concept so that doesn’t even enter into the discussion. No one defines democracy by economics or economic structures.

    Finally, NO ONE defines freedom and democracy in terms of secret police, brutal repression, an unelected Supreme Leader that oversees all aspects of government and society, brutal repression, and denial of basic human rights. No matter where you come from, those are not democratic values and they certainly do not define freedom. Iran is not free by any standards. Iran is not democratic by any standards.

    You have absolutely no clue what you are talking about.

  21. Colin June 17, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    This is my last go round. No point in a pissing match.

    “The elections just need to be free and fair. That is culturally neutral and fundamental.”

    I think these two sentences demolish your whole point. Notions of “freedom” and “fairness” are not culturally neutral. They are defined quite differently in different cultures. What we as Americans or westerners define as freedom and fairness are not universal, culture-free ideals. They are the product of a particular culture.

    Beyond that, there are serious disagreements about what constitutes electoral fairness within the west itself. And these disagreements aren’t just “the way things are” — they’re the product of differing definitions of democracy. A 50%+1 system is designed to achieve a different kind of democracy than a proportional representation system. Are these differences as stark as those between democracy and dictatorship? No, but they are real and significant nonetheless.

    “No one defines democracy by social and economic well-being.”

    Actually, lots of folks do this. Social Democratic and other left parties are based, in part, on this definition. Most important social critics have couched their arguments for reform in the language of democracy, even though their demands may have had nothing to do with electoral mechanisms or elections.

    “And democracy is not an economic concept so that doesn’t even enter into the discussion.”

    Well, lots of people think that democracy should apply to economics. That belief is at the heart of much of the activism aimed at eliminating the gap between rich and poor. The idea is that those gaps are undemocratic in and of themselves, and that they damage electoral democracy, as well. You may disagree with that idea, but that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or that no one thinks it. Once again, you insist on making your particular belief a universal norm.

    “Finally, NO ONE defines freedom and democracy in terms of secret police, brutal repression . . .”

    Duh. I didn’t do that either. I said that Iran is relatively (you have trouble with this word, don’t you?) free and democratic when compared to its peers. That point is so obvious that I couldn’t imagine someone getting upset about it. Congratulations on being so special.

  22. Russell June 17, 2009 at 11:46 am #

    You are still so confused. Social Democrats do not define what democracy is. They defined what they value most within a democratic society. Once again, 50%+1 or proportional representation are not definitions of democracy. They are can be democratic institutions, but they are not fundamentally what democracy is nor determinants of a democracy.

    It doesn’t matter what lots of people think. Democracy is a political concept, not economic. There are some economic institutions that are more in line with democracy and fit democracy better, but they are not fundamentally democratic because economics is a separate (but perhaps related) issue.

    It doesn’t matter how individual cultures or groups define freedom or other values. There are universal and international standards for freedom and democracy. Too bad if you think those are too Western-centric, the standards were not determined by you.

    Terms like democracy and freedom are not relative. You cannot compare two non-free societies and claim one is more democratic or one is democratic because it’s better than the other. Neither one is democratic. Neither one is free.

    If you actually want to learn what really does constitute democracy I suggest Robert Dahl’s On Democracy. Don’t worry, there is VERY little reference to America in that book, but it is very international. It’s perhaps the most well-respected work on the concept of democracy. If you want a truly international perspective comparing differing institutions and multiple forms from many countries, I suggest Linz and Stepan’s Problems of Democratic Transitions and Consolidations. Before you jump into those levels, though, you might want to head back to grade school and get at least a basic understanding of democracy.

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