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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Should The US Support Iranian Protesters More Vocally?

The hot political topic in the last few days seems to center around what the US should do about the protests that have broken out in Iran over the disputed election results. Some people want our President to be more forceful and give vocal support to the protesters who support Mousavi, while others want the US to take a wait-and-see attitude, and just make some non-threatening noises from time to time.

To put some context on this, all this wouldn't have come to pass at all if someone with more than 2 brain cells had been in charge of the elections in Iran. Everyone knows that in that basket-case of a country, the elections mean nothing anyways. The supreme council of clerics holds all the power and they had already revealed their cards when their supreme leader, Khamenei, had thrown his support behind the incumbent, Ahmadinejad. Everyone went through the motions all the way until the elections and then it was the responsibility of the election board or whatever its equivalent is in Iran to go through the motions.

The problem is, instead of going through the motions, they dropped the ball and shattered it into a few dozen pieces. The idiot in charge will probably be beheaded or put to death by the latest and greatest public execution method approved in Iran (or maybe he already has been). In any case, there was no reason to signal to the public that their votes were not going to be counted in the sham election that was held. They could have just waited for a while to give the impression to the public that their votes were actually being diligently counted, and then come out with a plausible result that would be hard to protest, given that the polls going into the elections were not very lopsided to begin with. Instead, they released completely implausible results, not soon after polling was closed, but actually, even before the polls were closed. As I said, they botched it up so thoroughly, it was quite comical, even for a third-world banana republic.

So, the public gets all offended that their voices have been ignored and they take to the streets. Never mind that the election was rigged from the beginning in several ways. First of all the President is a figure-head post whose only job seems to be to make a complete ass of himself on a regular basis by making outrageous public comments. He does not seem to have any real power unless he gets in the good books of the supreme council of clerics. Secondly, the supreme council did not allow any real boat-rockers to get on the ballot in the first place. All the candidates on the ballot were carefully vetted to make sure they would spew hate and rhetoric of the appropriate type before they were allowed to run in the election. So, there is probably no real difference between the two candidates as far as the public was concerned. If the supreme council had quietly announced after a couple of days that Ahmadinejad had won by a small margin, we would probably not hear about Iran except when he shoots his mouth off as he is wont to do at regular intervals.

Instead, someone goofed up and got the masses pretty irritated. It is one thing to cheat the public. It happens all the time and people either don't know or turn a blind eye to it. If somebody thinks there are truly honest elections taking place somewhere, I have a nice bridge I want to pitch to them. But it is something else to cheat them without even making the slightest attempt to pretend that you are not cheating them.

So, all this has come to pass, and now the President is in hot water. He can't make everyone happy whatever he does. He has taken a cautious, low-key approach to the protests so far. After all, when all is said and done, it is an internal affair of Iran and no concern of the US one way or the other. I am sure every Texan worth his salt would have bristled if Iran had condemned the fiasco in Florida in 2000 and asked the supreme court to declare Al Gore the winner of the election. Of course, I also think most foreign countries do not interfere in US elections because most people don't even understand how the whole charade even works, with all this electoral college and other riggings set up to confuse the whole issue.

There are obviously people out there that think he should take a more aggressive stance on Iran. These are mostly the same people who advocate taking an aggressive stance at anything and everything that moves. They stand to make enormous profits from any confrontation that happens anywhere in the world, so they pitch conflict and confrontation as the solution to every problem out there. To cover up their greed and avarice and their patent lack of any scruples or morals, they start spouting all this feel-good talk about how the US is the upholder of all things sacred like liberty, democracy, etc. There is another category of people who want a more aggressive stance out of the US and that is composed of poor gullible people who actually believe in all the verbal diarrhea that is coming out of the first camp.

And then there are the people in the opposing camp who also seem to fall into two categories. One category thinks we should lay low because we have to do unto others what we would like done to us. They point out (rightly) that we have enough election irregularities in this country to keep us busy for the next few generations, so we should not be poking our noses into other countries' elections. So, just as we don't want outside interference in our election results, we should not question what happens in other countries either. The second category of doves is composed of more pragmatic folks who point out that US interference all over the world has resulted in a significantly more unpleasant world overall rather than the little paradises that such a US policy is supposed to have produced. After all how many times have we intervened on behalf of liberty and democracy, and in how many countries in the world? All the world's statisticians and mathematicians couldn't keep track of such large numbers!

In particular, these people point to the dismal US record in supporting groups of people in the world for a little while and then dropping the ball, resulting in these people getting massacred or worse. These people fear that an aggressive stance by the US would encourage more protesters to take to the streets and then the support would suddenly dry up, leading to carnage on the streets of Tehran.

In all this argument, what people don't want to acknowledge or address is the fact that the US has never been about supporting people's rights to liberty or supporting democracy. Sure, we make the appropriate pronouncements about these topics to keep the more gullible among us thinking it is true. But this country has no great record of liberty or democracy. Equal rights was not even paid lip service to until well into the latter part of last century. African-americans and native americans know full well the bloody record of this country at giving them liberty, equality or democracy. Even white women did not have the vote until the early part of the last century. This country has a pitifully low number of women and minority elected representatives at every level of government starting from city councils and county boards, all the way up to Congress and the Presidency. Most other younger democracies have had female and minority heads of government, female and minority heads of state, etc., and the overall representation of women and minorities in all levels of their government are orders of magnitude higher than in the US. And let us not even get into a discussion about what the usually low turnouts at the polls in the US mean as far as a vibrant democracy is concerned.

The basic fact of the matter is that the US will interfere or choose not to interfere in any world affair based on whether that interference or non-interference will better suit US national interests. The national interest of the US is the only thing that matters, and the only thing that has shaped US policy in the past. Past actions could have been couched in various terms and overflowing with lofty rhetoric, but what it ultimately boils down to is the national interest of the US. At least, the action will be based on someone's assessment of what suits the US national interest. That assessment could be completely wrong, leading to wrong-headed action that backfires, as it has frequently in the past (like the Mujahideen transforming into the Taliban in Afghanistan, or a secular state like Iraq becoming a breeding and training ground for the worst terrorists in the world), but utlimately it is the assessment of US national interest that will get the US involved or get it to stay detached from any situation in the world.

And really, this is no different from what any other country in the world does. It is nothing to be ashamed of. Every country throughout history has acted in its self-interest, and still continues to do so. National interest drove the US to support Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and then national interest drove us to invade Iraq a couple of decades later. The appropriate evidence was manufactured to convince people it was the right course of action to take for the right reasons, once the assessment of national interest pointed out which course of action to take. And inconvenient evidence was conveniently hidden away so that the appropriate course of action could be followed without guilt.

Some countries are fortunate enough to have never acquired illusions of grandeur (temporary or permanent), so their self-interest is pretty limited. Others, like the US, have had a taste of grandeur that is hard to give up after a while (even though no country has ever held a monopoly on grandeur through the ages), so their self-interest dictates that they project their power in places where they have no business being, and in ways that are not very productive. Ask Alexander the Great, or the rulers of Rome before its fall from global power. Ask the prime ministers of Britain when the colonial era finally ran its course, or the Japanese emperor before World War II.

Ultimately, this projection of national interest bankrupts and exhausts the nation completely and the hubris comes home to roost. The US is not yet there, hence all these calls for more aggressive words and actions towards a country that is of no real concern to the US right now. The calls come from these people who believe (and have openly voiced the opinion) that the US is ordained by God to be the world's superpower (with national interests in every corner of the globe) forever. They don't want to read or hear about the history of nations that have been in a similar position as the US in ages past, because they are in denial, and want to shut out evidence and historical precedent contrary to their opinions and beliefs. But time marches on and people who seek to cheat history only end up cheating themselves.

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