Monday, 15 June 2009

Getting our man

Wonder why the reaction of European and US leaders to events in Iran has been so muted? No, it isn't because (as some of the self-hating Leftists who hang out on CIF imagine) the Iranian people joyfully voted for Ahmadinejad in their tens of millions and only a handful of elitist western stooges and spoiled rich girls supported the "moderate". Time has the answer:


When it came time to confront a stalling Iran by dropping the carrots and applying the sticks, said a senior European diplomat, "Try to imagine how difficult it would be to say 'I stop, I don't negotiate anymore,' " if a moderate were in charge in Tehran.

In the days since Iran's troubled election, hard-liners in Israel and neoconservatives in America have made no secret of their glee at still having Ahmadinejad as an antagonistic foil to help build support for taking a tougher line on Tehran's nuclear ambitions. But there is also widespread relief in the Administration, as well as among some moderates on Capitol Hill and in Europe, at the result. Despite all the attention paid to the office of the Iranian presidency, nuclear policy is set by the religious leaders of the country, and they have shown a determination to amass enriched uranium regardless of whether hard-liners or moderates have been President.


The same "European diplomat" - I'm guessing a Brit - described a Mousavi win as "a nightmare scenario". There's no doubt that as a pantomime villain Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fills a Saddam-shaped hole perfectly. But the cynicism of the policy recalls earlier Western interventions in Iranian politics. Mir Hossein Mousavi, latterly a liberal hero, would have done little fundamentally to change Iran, or its nuclear ambitions. Yet he offered some hope to growing numbers of Iranians out of tune with the restrictions and propaganda of Ahmadinejad's Islamist utopia. He and his puppet-masters now seem bent on a cultural revolution that will either break Iran - with all the unpredictable and destabilising results that implies - or, more likely, turn it inwards. It will regress to the condition of a theocratic North Korea, dominated by paranoia and antagonism, its people condemned to years more repression just as they were daring to imagine new freedoms, its regime maintaining itself by talking up external threats. I can't see that as being in anybody's interest.

12 comments:

Scott said...

Of course, publicly backing the 'reform' candidate could have the opposite effect from that desired, effectively rousing nationalist sentiment and unifying Iranians around the hardline candidate.

Either way I think the argument vastly overestimates our influence.

The best policy is always to maintain a studied neutrality - in public at least - and let people resolve their own internal affairs. Which seems to be pretty much what we are doing.

Charles Crawford said...

Some fine judgements are needed in cases such as this.

Western silence may deny an oppressive regime a further propaganda stick to beat its own people (good). But it may demoralise the very people we need to be supporting, just when they need to be bravest (bad).

The best policy is (probably) to say not much but strive quietly to support more liberal tendencies , while also trying craftily to drive wedges into the regime and/or sow panic there. If that latter is going on, best if it is done very secretly for best impact.

This, by the way, is in part how Milosevic fell...

http://charlescrawford.biz/blog.php?single=1027

Charles

cabalamat said...

What Obama should say is something like "it's not for us to decide who is president of Iran, it's for the Iranian people. But for the Iranian people to make that decision, the election must be run fairly withour serious irregularities. There have been reports of signiificant irregularities in the counting of the election, reports that put the validity of the election into doubt. Therefoe I suggest that according to Iranian election law, a run-off be held between the two main candidatates, Mr Ahmadinejad and Mr Mousavi. The run-off should be closely monitored by UN observers. If Mr Ahmadinejad really won by a landslide, he won't object to a second round since he'll win again."

This supports Mousavi without saying so directly. It also lays down a challenge to Ahmadinejad.

The Heresiarch said...

Scott says: Of course, publicly backing the 'reform' candidate could have the opposite effect from that desired, effectively rousing nationalist sentiment and unifying Iranians around the hardline candidate.

But if Time's sources are accurate, that is precisely what the US administration wants to happen. At least some of them. If your major concern is building an international coalition against Iranian nukes, then having a comedy villain as Iranian president would seem to help. On the other hand, if Obama is sincere about wanting engagement with Iran, a "moderate" establishment figure like Mousavi would be easier to deal with.

The question isn't just about who's running the show in Tehran, it's also about who's running the show in Washington.

I don't know. Obama's pronouncements have so far been fairly bland - "it's up to the Iranian people", and so forth. Which could be interpreted either way. Another revolution is probably the last thing they want. Obama had plenty of warm words for Middle Eastern despots in his Cairo speech - and he's been taking advice from Brzezinski, a fabled practitioner of realpolitik. Bush would have been cheering the would-be revolutionaries on, I can't help thinking. Oh well.

Anonymous said...

Any cheering from Bush would serve as a Judas kiss.

Scott said...

Iran is the most intractable foreign policy problem out there. I think there is very little upside to either outcome. In the end it all depends on whether or not you think you can live with a Nuclear Iran.

Once you have made that basic calculation, everything else follows. If you decide we can, then clearly a more reform-minded candidate is to be favoured. Anything which moderates Iranian policy is a plus.

If we cannot, then it matters not one bit. Diplomacy will ultimately give way to our preferred policy whether the rest of the world goes along with it or not. Would it make it easier to build support for that policy were Ahmadinejad still in place? Marginally. But don’t underestimate the capacity of the Europeans, especially Germany, to find excuses for inaction whoever is in charge in Iran.

My worry is that the United States still hasn’t made that basic calculation and is pursuing a diplomatic opening as a cover for its lack of resolve. If that is the case, then we really are in trouble.

Edwin Moore said...

One thing curiously missing from this debate is the Arab angle - what do Iran's neighbours make of the Persian crisis?

And not just Arab reaction: it's only a few months since a mob attacked the Pakistani embassy in Tehran, burning the Pakistani flag - another (very curiously) under-reported incident.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see Heresiarch comment on The Times' revelation of Nightjack's identity. I think that this is one of the more disturbing events recently, and I'd welcome comment from a fairly prominent anonymous blogger

The Heresiarch said...

I am appalled and disturbed.

valdemar said...

Well, what do we wish would happen? A popular revolt producing a genuine democracy is hard to credit, but it could happen. More likely is that the ruling religious elite will be weakened - perhaps greatly - by the way they've firstly backed their stooge, then undercut him by tacitly admitting that the vote was dodgy. There are signs of confusion on high, notably in the way they ease then restrict media access. The stooge hasn't exactly done himself a favour by leaving the country, either.

lost causes said...

The thing to be hopeful about is not what Mousavi or any other politician would do with power, but rather that Iran's 24million internet users have the power to stir things up. The genie is out of the bottle. I quote the great John Farnham:

We have
The chance to turn pages over
We can write what we want to write
We gotta make ends meet before we get much older
We're all someone's daughter
We're all someone's son
How long can we look at each other
Down the barrel of a gun?

You're the voice try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear
Whoa oh oh
We're not gonna live in silence
We're not gonna live in fear
Whoa oh oh

This time
We know we all can stand together
We have the power to be powerful
Believing we can make it better

We're all someone's daughter
We're all someone's son
How long can we look at each other
Down the barrel of a gun?

You're the voice try and understand it
Make a noise and make it clear
Whoa oh oh
We're not gonna live in silence
We're not gonna live in fear
Whoa oh oh

Anonymous said...

"as some of the self-hating Leftists who hang out on CIF imagine"

You now become a mind reader!

Congratulations Heresiarch


PS Egypt had a Presidential election where all the candidates were barred apart from one last year.

The Military Dictator, I mean President Mubarak polled 90+% and has in every Presidential election over past 206+ years.

Did the media made a fuss about election rigging in Egypt or wanting true democracy for the people?

Of course difference here is Egyptian dictator is our ally, as was the Shah!