Monday, June 15, 2009

A Thought or Two on Iran

I'm sure you're aware of the massive protests in Tehran that have been stoked by the disputed election results from the past weekend, protests so intense that Ayatollah Khameini himself has been forced to call for an inquiry into the election results in an effort to quell the protests (this after announcing his support for the outcome only two days ago.) Naturally this election is of interest to us because a win by Moussavi might further the tentative signs of a thaw in the U.S.-Iran relationship that we've witnessed in the last few months. That being said, John Cole thinks we should be careful about interpreting Iran's election in the light of our own interests and prejudices, and I agree. As Marc Lynch points out, even a win by Moussavi hardly means an end to the Iranian nuclear threat, nor will it radically change Iran's relationship to the rest of the Arab world. If anything, it provides an opportunity, and nothing more. For the American bloggers who are eager to see the election overturned by rioting and/or blood in the streets (even without any evidence of electoral fraud independent of the allegations of Moussavi and his supporters) they would do well to recall that America already has a sordid history in Iran, and that at most our government should offer oblique criticisms of the outcome lest they appear to be making another effort to interfere in Iran's domestic affairs. For better or worse, this is an issue that the Iranians must sort out for themselves, peacefully if possible.

UPDATE: Some absolutely fantastic pictures of the riots and demonstrations in Iran, courtesy of the Boston Globe's Big Picture blog:

UPDATE II: Via John Cole, Daniel Larison reminds us of why we should be a little more standoff-ish when it comes to elections in other nations in general:

We pick sides like this all the time, and when we do it is almost always arbitrary, ill-informed and mistaken. For various reasons, one side in a contest is deemed to be more “pro-Western,” which occasionally even has the virtue of being true, and this side’s victory is then lauded as a great step forward, and anything preventing that victory is deemed inherently suspicious and illegitimate.

Emphasis mine. This is unfortunately quite true. We view elections in nations critical to our interests through the prism of our own self-interest, so that a "legitimate" result in Iran, or Lebanon, or Venezuela, is the result that is most suitable to us, and any other result is greeted-as Larison says-with automatic suspicion. He also explains in great detail why a win by Moussavi would not necessarily be as transformative as some people seem to think it would be, even if our own self-interest is the measuring stick by which we judge the legitimacy of Iran's elections. And as I point out above, even if it were transformative, any appearance on our part to meddle in Iran's internal affairs, however moderately compared to our past efforts, would be damaging to our relationships with the country, whoever happens to be in charge. The best option for our government at this point is to quietly observe.

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