Letting Iranians Lead

>> Monday, June 15, 2009

The situation in iran is a potential watershed moment in the way America handles the growth of Democracy and freedom on the world stage. An examination of the situation clearly reveals that the right path and correct attitude is the one currently on display by President Obama. American adventures in democratic intervention do not have a strong history of success. The reason for this is that our actions often end up undermining the legitimacy of the people we want to support out of a misplaced sense of superiority and paternalism. We must avoid such displays at this moment in history.

One of the chief flaws in the traditional attitude of America on the world stage is the belief that every internal or domestic matter of other countries necessitates our involvement or pertains to strategic American interests. These beliefs have lead a mindset that requires action. In the minds of some in the US like Bill Kristol, if we arent acting in some way we arent doing the right thing. Take his position on this Iran situation,

And where is the American president? Silent.

Some argue that the brave Iranians demonstrating for freedom and democracy would be better off if the American president somehow stayed out of the fight. Really? But Barack Obama is president. His statement wouldn’t be crafted by those dreaded neocons who vulgarly thought all people would like a chance to govern themselves and deserved some modicum of U.S. support in that endeavor. It would be written by subtle liberal internationalists, who would get the pitch and tone just right. And the statement wouldn’t be delivered by the notorious George Bush (who did, however, weigh in usefully in somewhat similar situations in Ukraine and Lebanon). It would be delivered by the popular and credible speaker-to-the-Muslim-world, Barack Obama. Does anyone really think that a strong Obama statement of solidarity with the Iranian people, and a strong rebuke to those who steal elections and shoot demonstrators, wouldn’t help the dissidents in Iran?

I don’t believe it. I don’t believe Barack Obama believes it. As he put it in The Audacity of Hope: “We can inspire and invite other people to assert their freedoms;...we can speak out on behalf of local leaders whose rights are violated; and we can apply economic and diplomatic pressure to those who repeatedly violate the rights of their own people.”

Kristol makes a huge mistake in either failing or refusing to understand the dynamics of out history with Iran. President Obama was only just recently able to acknowledge our role in the overthrow of mossadegh.

The crushing of Iran's first democratic government ushered in more than two decades of dictatorship under the Shah, who relied heavily on US aid and arms. The anti-American backlash that toppled the Shah in 1979 shook the whole region and helped spread Islamic militancy.

After the 1979 revolution president Jimmy Carter allowed the deposed Shah into the U.S. Fearing the Shah would be sent back to take over Iran as he had been in 1953, Iranian militants took over the U.S. embassy - where the 1953 coup was staged - and held hundreds hostage.

If there is anywhere in the world that American interference or support for one domestic group or another is counterproductive it is Iran. Kristol seems shocked that merely expressing support for the anti-ahmadenijad crowd will cause problems. He shouldnt be. Hilzoy passes this on,
"When my student bemoaned the cautiousness of Obama administration's statements, his brother confirmed one aspect of Spencer Ackerman's account of the administration's behavior, saying that government forces are already accusing protesters of collaborating with the U.S., and that protesters are actually worried that Obama will make an explicit show of support, as that would restore some credibility to what the government has said about the election and, more importantly, could undermine a reform coalition in which some factions are none-too-fond of America."

This is an Iranian domestic matter. If we want the reform movement to succeed it must maintain credibility. It will not have any credibility if the hardliners manage to portray it as a repeat of the mossadegh coup in 53. Instead of barging into a delicate domestic situation where even our words can cause damage we should refrain and instead we should listen and let the Iranian people take the lead.

Letting the domestic populace choose their own path and destiny instead of forcing one on them is the surest way to establishing an effective relationship with Iran. Only when the Iranian people make their wishes clear in regards to our actions should the US act at all. If the Iranian people need something from us they can ask. It is a sign of respect to allow a country to work out its own problems without believing you can solve it better than they can. It is -- after all -- their country.


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