14 February 2011

Another confusion

I keep seeing right-leaning talking points on Egypt presuming that somehow this is comparable to Iran in either 1979, or 2009, and that somehow, someway, in both cases Democrats fucked it up (and it continues the right's healthy and persistent narrative that Carter/Obama are replaceable nouns). Not only does this tacitly ignore that somehow, someway, a Republican administration fucked up Iraq, in some measures far worse and far to the detriment of Iraqis, but it also implicitly suggests a course of action that Obama in particular should have taken vis a vis the Green revolution in 2009 and that there were somehow benefits that would have resulted in the Iranian regime.

So far as I can tell, the Iranian revolt was never very positively oriented around the removal of the Iranian regime of a theocratic constitution in the way that Egypt's protests have become about the Mubarak regime and its "emergency" powers (and not just about Mubarak at the head of it). Instead it was positively oriented around what was perceived as a fraudulent election. Despite this agenda, I don't see how this is the same as perceiving widespread changes to the overall structure of Iran's foreign policy, agenda on nuclear power/enrichment, or any other immediate gains that could be declared as obvious and sweeping resulting from a successful Green revolt taking power. Maybe a few social internal policies would moderate (though this also is doubtful given that the Iranian mullahs sign off on the choice of high officials open to elected offices), but you weren't getting a lot of change in the perceived hostile space between US and Iranian interests. But even if it were so that supporting such a change would have resulted in something, how would we have gone about this? Rhetorical support (beyond simply protesting the use of violence and suppression of free expression)? Funding for anti-regime forces? Military attack or sabotage on regime centers of support? In autocratic regimes, it is typical to blame outside influences and forces for the failures of internal policies. It's an old legend, and it's one that regimes can use to rally bases of support against perceived traitors in their own midst in a population accustomed to somewhat reporting on itself to authoritarian security forces. Iran was no different. And so we would propose to associate ourselves, clearly, philosophically, and financially with the people who were being called out as American agents already? As satisfying as it can be to root for freedom of millions of oppressed peoples, what we may yet learn out of Egypt is that these things can form organically, and do not necessarily require our influence and guidance to sustain themselves. And that baldly associating ourselves with one side or the other risks much, providing fuel for the oppressive leader should he remain in power (as well as alienating them if they were modestly pro-Western, as Mubarak has been), and often weakening the position of the eventual pro-democratic revolutionaries to a position perceived as illegitimate to former regime bases of support or other nationalist interests. It is enough to simply declare the "American" set of democratic values and demand that the people's grievances receive their airing and appropriate responses (and not tear gas and brutal arrest crackdowns). And then move on. Which is basically what Obama did in Iran, and Egypt. It is not often that I can look at our policies somewhere and say at least "well we didn't fuck ourselves too badly.", and I am inclined to give some modest kudos for doing so.

In the airing of this set of criticisms, there is left unexpressed what course of action would have been preferred to this. The people are invited to suggest their own internal preferences, perhaps a more pro-democratic promotion stance, or perhaps more militant responses, without clearly stating which stance is preferred by the critic, if the critic holds any such policy preferences at all (other than cynical political resistance to an opposition party). Maybe sometimes it is enough to see weakness in the position taken by one's leaders, but I prefer seeing someone have the guts to say what they might do differently in this situation before acceding that maybe they know of what they speak. I'm not sure what exactly it is that many critics think we had the power to do (both in 2009 and now), and whether or not they are aware of the consequences of their proposed actions or whether or not they are aware that we often did not even possess the powers they imply we should use instead. And this makes such criticism seem a little more ridiculous than it really is.

(After offering some faint praise for Obama here, I'm about to offer some significant "fuck off" for his pandering on the budget he just released. Give me back the Obama who speaks to us like adults and at least mentions entitlements, tax complexity, and defence spending in a budget. I'll probably outline my own idealistic cuts at the same time, so that may be a couple days... but just.. yeah. He really should have proposed something, even if Republicans in the House would have just reflexively opposed it and nothing would happen)
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