Watching coverage of the Iranian election protests, one could easily conclude that the mobs are conducting their own Tiananmen Square, demanding fundamental freedoms from an oppressive regime.
But is this conclusion accurate? Is that what the protesters are demanding? Are they clamoring for free speech and due process? Did our invasion-turned-democratic experiment in Iraq finally catch on to the point that Iranians now get that Western-style freedom is a good thing and are ready to throw their Islamic backwardness aside? Did the Iranians begin saying to themselves, “Hey, it turns out this is a repressive regime that steals elections and abuses women! Let’s revolt and demand our freedoms!”? Or could it be that they are just storming against a regime they believe stole an election from their preferred candidate?
It is tempting for Americans to witness demonstrations such as these and assume that they are being done on behalf of freedom and democracy as we think of it. We as Americans need to be careful when interpreting events from halfway across the globe. When we see people protesting against the reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, many of us are assuming that since Ahmadinejad is the latest reincarnation of Hitler, these people must be demanding a bill of rights.
To be sure, the American media have wasted no time in telling everyone that Ahmadinejad had his reelection stolen for him. They also wasted no time in reminding everyone that he was an Iranian Revolution rebel of 1979 and may have even taken part in the abduction of 52 Americans in that same year. Couple that with his oft-cited remarks on Israel and everyone is told that the world’s largest rodent needs to be stopped, even if it requires the U.S. government’s favorite course of action: military intervention followed by regime change. Based on that logic, anybody would be better than Adolf Jr. and that man was obviously Mir Hossein Mousavi.
The vanquished candidate, Mousavi, was portrayed as a reform-minded pro-American democrat. If he was in fact a reform candidate of any caliber, it was perhaps only because he appeared saner than his rival. Like Ahmadinejad, Mousavi also has ties to the Iranian Revolution and served as prime minister shortly after the shah made his expeditious getaway. Like Ahmadinejad, Mousavi not only sees a nuclear program as Iran’s right, but he was the instigator of the program (and agrees with Ahmadinejad about that Holocaust-denial thingy). But unlike Ahmadinejad, Mousavi was the prime minister of Iran who may very well have ordered the attack on American marines in Beirut.
Knowing this, does it really matter who honestly prevailed in that election?
If Ahmadinejad is Hitler, then Mousavi may just be Mussoulini. And if those simplistic and cartoonish characterizations are true, would this be worth embroiling the United States?
So what is the point of President Obama making any sort of statement of solidarity with the protesters? Again, we don’t know if they’re demanding their Western-style freedoms or if they’re just enraged that their guy lost and think the Ayatollah Khamenei stole it.
Importantly, making any sort of statement, benign or bombastic, could have backlash against the people we want to help and inadvertently empower the current regime.
Why is that? Are those Iranians too stupid to figure out that they should have freedoms like Americans?
Well, the consequences could be dire; for thirty years, America has been seen as their enemy. Four years ago Ahmadinejad was elected after Iranians witnessed the United States invade two of Iran’s neighbors. And if Obama actually talked tough, it would be all the reason the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad need to remind the masses that America continues to be aggressive against Iran. There is no easier avenue through which to consolidate power than under an emergency, or the pretense of one. Just ask Rahm Emanuel.
Making a statement of any belligerence will condemn the protesters to the mercy of the Ayatollah. For decades, the Iranians have been taught that America is their enemy. If we give the protesters the perception that they are pro-American by actively stating our support for them, it will make an already oppressive regime murderous as they will have carte blanche to treat the protesters as though they are American poodles and, ergo, enemies of the regime.
With the perception Iranians have of America, one that is probably shared by more than a few of the protesters, we shouldn’t expect any statement from the United States to benefit the protesters any more than George W. Bush’s endorsement helped John McCain. And no amount of narcissistic posturing about human rights will save a single protestor from the brutality of the Iranian regime.
Also, to show solidarity presupposes that who wins elections in Iran is any business of the United States in the first place.
Another thing to consider is if there is some sort of U.S. involvement in this mess, do we KNOW that the protestors are going to greet us as their liberators? Or are we prepared to demonstrate to the world that we have really learned nothing from our Iraqi boondoggle?
On this occasion, the proper course for the United States should be to stay home and watch. Why stir the pot if the alternative, Mousavi, might not be any better in practice than Ahmadinejad? And whether Mousavi or Ahmadinejad is the titular ruler in Iran is no choice worth making and it is not worth a single American life.
Let us not confuse anti-government sentiment with pro-American and pro-democratic zeal.