The Closet Moderate: Two questions on Iran

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Two questions on Iran

My fellow bloggards have already written on the Iran situation, so I'll try not to duplicate their work. Instead, I have two questions to think about: (1) was the election result falsified, and (2) how should that question affect America's response to the protesters.

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First: Was it rigged? Did Mahmoud Ahmadinejad actually win, as the Iranian government claims, or did one of his opponents defeat him? According to the twittering classes, the answer is yes. Bloggards have certainly picked up on this interpretation of the data, and Iran's behavior in releasing the results tends to reinforce the suspicion of fraud. Certainly, it would not surprise me that an undemocratic state did not live up to the Western style of elections.

But what facts do we have? Sadly, Iran is not the most forthcoming of governments -- they don't appear to have enacted a Freedom of Information Fatwa -- but based on that information that was released people were claiming fraud from the first day after the election. Still, that "evidence" of fraud was fairly easily debunked by Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com. Even so, the more obvious problems of voter fraud and voter intimidation seem pretty clearly to have swelled Ahmadinejad's totals and reduced Mousavi's, respectively. Ultimately, I'd have to answer this first question "I don't know," since the evidence is not available for examination by enlightened bloggards like us.

Second: Does it matter? This is the real question: how should the truth or untruth of the fraud allegations change the response of the United States? Let us, for the moment, take the Iranian government at its word and assume that every vote was counted accurately and the landslide Ahmadinejad victory really happened. Should this fact allay President Obama's "deep concerns" about the result? The fact is, even if the election followed every rule in the Iranian statute book, it was still a fraud. The mullahs rejected the bids of half the candidates who wanted to run. Even if a free vote were allowed on all candidates, the President's power in Iran is illusory. Real power rests in the hands of a man who does not even pretend to be elected, Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader. This is the true illegitimacy of Iran's elections.

So, should the United States support the protests? Should they enourage a democratic revolution? Whether this election was "stolen" or not, the answer is yes. This election is a fraud, any way you look at it, and the young people of Iran, having lived their whole lives under Islamic theocracy, are sick of it. All the free peoples of the world should endorse their quest for democracy. Even if it requires us to use Twitter.

6 comments:

Statler said...

I'd challenge you to find evidence that a broad segment of the Iranian people are "sick of" the government. They're certainly pissed as hell about the electoral irregularities, but I don't think that translates into "overthrow the government." In fact, I think that stance would undermine much of the legitimacy of the protests, and result in a brutal, defensive crackdown.

I'd also suggest you read the 538 post I linked in my first entry, which gets at the problems in Nate's analysis.

Finally, while I personally support a more representative government of Iran, I don't think the United States government should say anything about the internal politics of Iran for two reasons.

1. Recent attempts to interfere in the domestic politics of states in the region have been wildly unsuccessful and have turned the people of the region solidly against us.

2. Iran has not forgiven us for our past intrusions.

If the Mousavi camp contacts us and asks us for formal support, it would be worth entertaining the idea. They haven't, and until they do, we should respect their right to self-determination and presume that they have greater knowledge of the forces at play in this conflict.

Silent Cal said...

I'd challenge you to find evidence that a broad segment of the Iranian people has not forgiven us for our past intrusions. Neither of us will live up to these challenges, because Iran is not a nation where people may vote or speak as they please.

You say "we should respect their right to self-determination," but is this election a form of self-determination? Is any election under such a government?

I'm not saying we should invade every country that isn't a liberal democracy, but I am saying that democratic leaders should not act as though dictators are their moral equals. The United States is a beacon of freedom to the world. Foreigners may, at times, disagree with our leaders' actions, even vehemently so, but the principles for which the United States stands inspire oppressed people around the world. To accept dictators and democrats as equals weakens our image as (to quote Lincoln) "the last best hope of Earth."

Statler said...

I think it's pretty uncontroversial to assert that love of nationalism > love of other people meddling in your internal politics.

But hey, that's just me. Moving away from that question, what does the US accomplish by commenting on it other than making you and John McCain feel righteous?

Wouldn't it be better to take actions that further our national interest, rather than your parochial interest in maintaining our (somewhat less than credible) reputation as a city on a hill?

Statler said...

Finally, while it's hardly determinative, this article seems to provide some evidence for my contention that the Iranian people want us to stay out of it.

Silent Cal said...

It's confusing, now that the left is realist and the right is idealist.

And what's all this nationalism talk? Are you saying that if Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy went on TV and told America to adopt socialized healthcare, that you would suddenly be against it because some furriners said so?

Silent Cal said...

And I see your blog and raise you a blog.