This Ain’t Facebook vs. The Man
June 16, 2009
Here’s another good reason for Americans to remain staunch realists about this whole shabang:
What’s often forgotten amid the genuinely awe-inspiring spectacle of hundreds of thousands of long-suppressed people risking their lives on the streets to demand change is the fact that the political contest playing out in the election is, in fact, among rival factions of the same regime. Ahmadinejad represents a conservative element, backed by the Supreme Leader, that believes the established political class has hijacked the revolution and enriched themselves and is fearful that the faction’s more pragmatic inclination toward engagement with the West could lead to a normalization of relations that will “pollute” Iran’s culture and weaken the regime. Mousavi is not really a reformer so much as a pragmatic, moderate conservative who has campaigned with the backing of the reform movement because it recognizes that he has a better chance of unseating Ahmadinejad than one of their own would have. (The reformists’ own economic performance, during their eight years in power from 1997 to 2005, unfortunately also left much to be desired, and was a key reason for Ahmadinejad’s election to the presidency.)
To my mind, this is one of the best reasons behind Obama’s reticence on the whole issue. The problem with being aggressive on the diplomatic front is not just that it gives Ahmadenijad a handy whipping boy to justify his thuggery. Its also that offering an effective endorsement for Mousavi is going to be a very hard thing to deal with once the admittedly intoxicating thrill of the moment is gone and we get back at the same old issues we started with, namely Iran’s domestic troubles and our conflicting international interests. Barring outright revolution, structural change that favor our interests are simply not in the cards. What we have here are two different options for Iran’s future, both of which represent real change either towards authoritarianism or reform, but neither of which escape the basic facts of Iranian political life, including that state’s position towards the U.S. and towards Israel. The only proper response to this kind of situation is an insistence on due process and the rule of law, both of which Obama highlighted yesterday, and, as I’m writing this, today.