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June 16, 2009

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FWIW, "deeply unwise" is looking like the most probable scenario.

Though I would probably use some different wording...

Question: do the people who make these arguments not know this?

Some do, some don't. But that's not why they make these arguments. They make these arguments for domestic political gain, no more, no less. And if the consequences are a few hundred thousand dead non-americans, and only a few thousand dead Americans? Meh, they'll play golf this weekend, just like last weekend.

If you hadn't've brought up this Hungary analogy I probably never would've heard of it. Your just giving them traction. The fact they got Cheney's daughter on the tube means they're down to their last news cycle. WOn't you let them pass in peace?

I really, really hope these people are being hypocritical and insincere, that they're scoring cheap points by climbing up on their soapboxes and posturing about the need to stand up for liberty, secure in the knowledge that no sane President would follow their advice and that they need take no responsibility for advocating anything that will actually happen.

Because if they really are so ignorant as to think that stronger American denunciation of Ahmedinejad will help the reformist side of this struggle, or if they really are so callous as to think that actual American intervention can do any good for anybody who's not a defense contractor, it would really be scary.

I realize that means I'm hoping they're evil, but at this point I'd rather have them be evil than be as deranged as their pronouncements appear.

I hadn't heard comparisons Hungary yet, but I have seen comparisons to South Africa (as in, if this were South Africa in the 1980s, Obama would be speaking out).

What I gather from the criticisms of Obama's restraint is: unintended consequences only occur in domestic politics. What a fantastic world we would need to live in for that to be true.

Yeah, these are the same people who wanted to bomb, bomb, bomb Iran, thus killing the very demonstrotors that they claim to support now.

thank god mccain lost -- this is truly where he would have been a total disaster.

Couldn't have said it better myself hilzoy. I also agree with ugh that this is all about playing to a domestic audience for political gain and with publius that Obama's handling of this crisis has been far better than McCain's would have been. As a soft libertarian I've been pretty disgruntled with many of Obama's domestic policies, but I voted for him primarily out of a belief that he would represent a vast improvement over Bush Republicanism on foreign policy, and he has vindicated that belief.

Xeynon: I also think it's for domestic political gain, though I suspect that (e.g.) AllahPundit and Ed Morrissey probably just don't know better. Nor, more scarily, does McCain, I suspect.

That said, the idea of playing this of all things for political gain is appalling.

The 1956 Hungary example seems to me to favour circumspection. Eisenhower and Dulles were right not to do anything to support the revolution in Hungary, since that would have meant World War III. Where they were wrong was in encouraging the Hungarians to think that they would do something.

OTOH, I think you exaggerate the extent to which a US tilt to the protesters would be a genuine political problem for them. The government is going to say they are CIA backed anyway.

Americans aren't actually that unpopular in Iran. According to the Terror Free Tomorrow poll that put Ahmadinejad ahead in May, 48% of Iranians view Americans positively and only 20% have an unfavourable view. That's basically the same as Iranian views of the French. I imagine the 20% are hardcore supporters of Ahmadinejad.

So I"m not sure about your reasons, but I agree with your conclusion. Obama should restrict himself to bromides, just as Bush I and Baker did back in 1989.

"thank god mccain lost -- this is truly where he would have been a total disaster."

Posted by: publius

You are so right. I am a Canadian who has been dismayed by the foreign policy performance of every American President since I became politically aware in the '60's. Back in the days of LBJ it used to drive me crazy when people would say that you had to trust the President because only he had all the facts. With the hearings on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution it became clear that even if the President had more facts, he often lied and manipulated. Even though Obama is rather conservative for my taste and I do not always agree with every policy, I enjoy his articulate thoughtful approach. I find myself giving him the benefit of the doubt- i am willing to trust him.

On Iran, I think you and Hilzoy have the correct approach. Isn't it wonderful you have this President.

Amen to Pithlord. I actually like the Hungarian analogy to some extent -- "a popular uprising coalesc[ing] around a figure . . . who had once been a creature of the system" and quickly spinning far out of control. But Pithlord is quite correct. Intervention would have led to WWIII which would not have done any good for anyone, least of all the Hungarians.

But let's not forget here, we are dealing with people who believe that Reagan saying, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" was enough, by itself to bring the wall down. Of course, John Foster Dulles said things a whole lot stronger than that. So why didn't it work for him?

Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, we have been consistently hostile to the Iranian government.

Could also be worth mentioning that business of openly supporting your man Saddam Hussein during the 1980-1988 war... not to mention killing 290 civilians by shooting down a passenger jet within Iranian airspace.

A harsh person would say "You've already had your (proxy) war against Iran; you lost; get over it."

I think you guys are being a little too tough on them. You should be giving them credit for finally being able to remember and reference a historical event that ISN'T the Munich Agreement.

what Ugh said.

it's all about posturing for the other wingnuts.

it wasn't too long ago that Allahpundit was calmly discussing the best routes for Israel to attack Iran. oddly, he spares not a syllable in defense of the lives of people he now claims to support.

I vote for "vile beyond belief." The hallmark of criticism on the right these days is bad faith. Partisan hacks like these are cynically unconcerned with their own hypocrisy. Their sole idea is to attack and smear Obama, and any stick will do to beat him with, regardless of any other consequences.

Almost all my life, I have heard members of the US right complain about Eisenhower's inaction in the face of the Hungarian uprising of '56 (2 years after I was born).

I have never, never heard anyone suggest anything sane that Eisenhower could have done to bring about a different outcome.

Tough talk and posturing would have been futile and counterproductive then, as it is now. And military action, in either case, would likely kill a lot of those we were ostensibly trying to help, without any sensible chance of acheiving anything.

IMO they're neither evil, nor guilty of pure political calculation.

They're in thrall to a myth. They're nostalgic for an American Golden Age that was only ever possible because the rest of the world had pummeled itself into utter ruin. And which wasn't so unambiguously golden at the time, anyway.

To me, that's actually more dangerous than either evil or political calculation, because it prevents realistic self-reflection.

All of the fascisms of the 20th century were based on a sentimental nostalgia for a mythical bygone national golden age. The ideological justification for 20th C fascism was the restoration of that lost national paradise.

So, I find these folks kind of disturbing.

Tough talk and posturing would have been futile and counterproductive then, as it is now.

Eisenhower was a tough talker - his official stance was that expansionist Soviet aggression would be met with "massive retaliation". The Hungarians took that at face value and assumed they had U.S. support; the USSR called his bluff knowing that there was no way Eisenhower was going to set off a thermonuclear war in defense of some dissidents in Hungary.

Idealistic rhetoric has its place - Reagan is actually quite revered in eastern Europe for his willingness to full-throatedly denounce communist oppression, irrespective of whether it actually hastened the fall of communism - but Iran 2009 is not it, as Hilzoy has said. Not only is this is a domestic conflict in a country in which the actions of the U.S. government are looked upon with great suspicion and expressions of support for one side or the other are unlikely to be helpful to that side, there is also a very good chance that in the end the conservatives will win out and Ahmadinejad will be re-installed as President. If we throw in our lot with Mousavi now it will make things much more difficult for us if that happens.

Abstractly denouncing abuses of the democratic process and expressing concern for human rights is the right move right now - it makes clear our sympathies without seeming meddlesome or further antagonizing the hardliners in the event we are forced to deal with them in the future. Iranians aren't stupid - they know who's committing the abuses of power here and who isn't, so the protesters will get the message that we support their grievances loud and clear. At the same time, by emphasizing that this is an internal issue and not our business to directly interfere with, we are establishing that we respect their sovereignty and do not wish to intrude on it.

If/when the regime actually starts to crumble, and/or the mullahs respond to the protests with a Tiananmen-style crackdown, stronger rhetoric will be called for. But we're not at that point right now, and there's no indication yet that we're going to get there.

Thank you, hilzoy, for your clarity, your eloquence, and your well-grounded common sense (which is, as we all know, fairly rare in practice).

Just thought it was time to say it straight-out: the national conversation is demonstrably improved by your participation.

If/when the regime actually starts to crumble, and/or the mullahs respond to the protests with a Tiananmen-style crackdown, stronger rhetoric will be called for.

By all accounts (few as they are in English and in detail), even Robert Fisk's, the army are in quasi-mutiny and a several people have been killed and buried anonymously.

Are we there yet?

Mousavi is also no Imre Nagy. Nagy may have been a Marxist, but the fact that he was not aligned with the Soviets was in itself a big deal. But it's not like if Mousavi becomes President, the clerical leadership of Iran is going to be any different.

If a Mousavi victory were going to mean a more fundamental change in the nature of Iran's government, maybe the analogy would have some merit. Of course, even then we'd still have the problem that vocal support for Mousavi would be counterproductive.

I don't agree that Obama's critics are arguing in bad faith though, for the most part. They're simply advancing an idealistic view of foreign policy where you condemn stuff that's condemnable and, through some process, the power of your righteousness shines through. They think Communism was defeated through "moral clarity" and so too with all other foreign policy challenges.

Pithlord wrote: " According to the Terror Free Tomorrow poll that put Ahmadinejad ahead in May"

Yeah, a poll by an organization with John freaking McCain on the board of advisors.

I'm sorry, but any American politically-influenced group with "Terror" in the name is automatically suspect.

Steve,

To me, at least, the analogy is this. Imre Nagy was a Communist who never wanted more than reform within the limits of the Communist system. But rebellion broke out in the streets, events quickly moved beyond his control, the system buckled, and his role became little more than a symbol -- he could opposed the rebellion or let it sweep him along. (He chose the latter course).

Moussavi, too, never sought more than reform within the system, but events are quickly moving beyond his control, and he is little more than a symbol, swept along by events. Whether the system will survive this rebellion remains to be seen.

Why is the Monthly website down?

the people in the street aren't actually revolting to change the system of government, right? they just want a fair election. that's a pretty big distinction.

cleek, I think different factions of protestors have different motivations. But that in itself is worth pointing out: it is not one unified movement to change the system of government.

"the people in the street aren't actually revolting to change the system of government, right? they just want a fair election. that's a pretty big distinction."

I would think the goal could change over the course of the demonstrations, depending on how participants react to their treatment.

They might start out wanting a new election, but after a few days of beatings and shootings, might well lean towards "F this, we need a new system of government"

By all accounts (few as they are in English and in detail), even Robert Fisk's, the army are in quasi-mutiny[...]
Are we there yet?

Well, if some commenter on the internet has asserted that "all accounts" have the army in "quasi-mutiny," even invoking Mr. Fisk's latest missive, that's pretty much good enough for me. A few questions, though:

(1) If the US does succumb to your demands for rhetorically strongly picking sides, what's your next step if that backfires, or the current government otherwise regains the upper hand?

(2) If your next step aligns with the inevitable next step of most of the right-wing voices currently demanding action, what do you think Robert Fisk would think of it?

However, Fisk's article does provide much food for thought:

There were stones and tear gas but for the first time in this epic crisis the cops promised to protect both sides.

He draws a somewhat optimistic comparison between this and the Shah's army refusing to fire on protestors in 1979. And it certainly is suggestive that there's not much to the speculation of an Ahmadinejad coup against the Supreme Council.

Yet this is not a revolution to overthrow the Islamic Republic.

and

neither Mousavi nor his millions of supporters are against Ayatollah Khamenei (albeit that the two men dislike each other); it is Ahmadinejad for whom they have a visceral hatred and whom they are trying to depose.

Important to keep in mind, since even if some of the government's occupants change, we'll probably still be facing a clerical council + president with constrained powers. If the Islamic Republic isn't swept away, how many of the new cheerleaders will resume their bellicosity against Iran?

As for those killed and buried anonymously:

No such honours for the seven victims of the Basiji. They lay beneath a covering of earth, no markers on their graves, no word sent to their families of their fate.

But the pro-government newspapers in Tehran did report their deaths and one even gave its front page to the outraged condemnation of Tehran University's Chancellor at the Basiji intrusion onto the campus on Sunday night, when the security forces killed seven young men, wounded several others and smashed and looted the university dormitories.

So pro-government press isn't always cooperating with Ahmadinejad's cronies.

Meanwhile, Fisk asks:

Is it too late to end this fratricidal violence now?

Well, we could give one side an even stronger notion that the other side is composed of US puppets. That might help.

Just maybe a foreign power getting involved in an occupation by another foreign power might be treated slightly differently than a foreign power getting involved in a domestic dispute? I seem to remember some Brits wanting to make phonecalls to red states on the Democrats' behalf during an election cycle and most of the left blogosphere telling them what a bad idea that was, for the same reason. Multiply that by a thousand and that's what meddling in another country's political crisis is like.

I think this goes back as well to a modern conservative feeling that forcing people to Do The Right Thing is no different than having people choose it of their own free will. They have no problem forcing people to do what they think is right with their bodies, lives, and social interactions, instead of letting people make their own decisions: abortion, gay marriage, religious practice, and so on. The only exception is money, and I think this has more to do with the Frankenstein nature of the Republican party than anything else.

It's true that there is a scenario under which the protests could lead to a fundamental change in Iran's system of government - something that almost certainly would not have occurred if Mousavi had simply won a fair election. But that brings us back to the fundamental question: is taking sides helpful or harmful to our goals?

I think some of the people calling for a Berlin Wall speech ought to think about what they would do if the situation were reversed and the more "pro-Western" candidate had been declared the winner of the election under similarly questionable circumstances. Would they still want the President to openly call for the will of the people to be upheld, even if the will of the people means someone like Ahmadinejad? If not (and I realize some of the neocons would prefer that Ahmadinejad win, but I'm not sure that means they would want the President to openly support him), then this isn't really about moral clarity at all.

I think Ugh nailed it at 10:59am 6-16. US Domestic politics is framing this issue for far too many folks. The vileness of that is only highlighted even more by the fact that some on the right, including those who are not exactly Obama fans, can see a broader picture ( http://www.librarygrape.com/2009/06/surprising-source-credits-obama.html ). So partisanship alone is no excuse - instead this stubborn determination to fit the events in Iran into US domestic political frames tells us what we need to know about the character of the political actors in question - vile, nasty and willfully pig-ignorant.

I'm no expert on the Hungarian Revolution but my memory is that American rightwing politicians encouraged the Hungarians to think that we would help therm if they revolted, then betrayed them when Eisnhower decded to stay uninvolved. So please correct me if I have this all wrong.

There is a pattern with rightwing public figures, a pattern I can't quite describe adequately. It has something to do with substituting thier imaginations for the real world, but everyone does that. Maybe the pattern is that they do it more. Their ideology and/or religion trumps facts. The ideology can fail a thousannd times and it doesn't matter. They don't build policy from a practical assessment of data. Instead they just reach into their mental grabbag of beliefs and say, "We have to do this!" They think that statements are events or entitites; their Word makes everything manifest. So McCain is a strong leader because he says so, Ensign is a moral leader because he said he was and will say he is again when he decides that he is forgiven. In spite of being unable to process the world outside their heads, their values are very concrete: flag fetishism rather than a patriotism derived from understanding the principles of governemtn, property rights over civil rights, demands that the government serve them and no one else, gunfetishism substituting for the the stregnth of character of a person who is capable of thinking, learning and changing.

And, yeah, sweeping genrealities, certainly not applicable to all Repubicans. I'm just trying to see the pattern in the vocal ones who are so prediticable in their kneejerk talking points behavior.

There is a pattern with rightwing public figures, a pattern I can't quite describe adequately. It has something to do with substituting thier imaginations for the real world, but everyone does that. Maybe the pattern is that they do it more. Their ideology and/or religion trumps facts. The ideology can fail a thousannd times and it doesn't matter. They don't build policy from a practical assessment of data. Instead they just reach into their mental grabbag of beliefs and say, "We have to do this!" They think that statements are events or entitites; their Word makes everything manifest. So McCain is a strong leader because he says so, Ensign is a moral leader because he said he was and will say he is again when he decides that he is forgiven. In spite of being unable to process the world outside their heads, their values are very concrete: flag fetishism rather than a patriotism derived from understanding the principles of governemtn, property rights over civil rights, demands that the government serve them and no one else, gunfetishism substituting for the the stregnth of character of a person who is capable of thinking, learning and changing.

Because it takes so little effort to take them at their word, and not actually analyze their actions to see if their words follow their behavior (see the bruhaha over Sotomayor).

A lot of it is Pharisee behavior for the 21st Century.

pithlord: "Americans aren't actually that unpopular in Iran. According to the Terror Free Tomorrow poll that put Ahmadinejad ahead in May, 48% of Iranians view Americans positively and only 20% have an unfavourable view."

That's the result for Americans, and the question (here, p. 37) makes it clear that it's about American people, not the government. When asked about the US as a country, about 29% are either very or somewhat favorable; 56% are very or somewhat unfavorable (and the overwhelming majority of those -- 47% -- are 'very unfavorable'.) 73% think that the US poses either the biggest or the second biggest threat to Iran (slightly behind Israel, but way ahead of anyone else.)

This doesn't surprise me: there are lots of countries in which people like Americans as people, but dislike our government.

Both sides are missing the point: Hilzoy is correct that we have no standing with the Iranian public (for reasons we can debate later), with the short term effect being that it is better for our president to lay low, as he is doing, and the McCain camp is correct that if this regime retains control and continues to develop nuclear weapons, 'engagement' and 'light handedness' will not only not be ineffective, but could have the unintended effect of signaling weakness and unwillingness to act, thus encouraging Iranian adventurism.

Von wrote earlier--and was largely savaged for his trouble--that reminding the current regime, quietly, that we do hold the big stick and would, if pushed, use it, is part of the diplomatic options to be played. We should , privately and clearly, communicate to the current regime, after the dust settles, that adventurism comes with an unacceptably high price to Iran's military and petroleum infrastructure.

"Wednesday, 17 June 200
AP
Robert Fisk: Fear has gone in a land that has tasted freedom

In defiance of the ban on foreign reporters, The Independent's Middle East correspondent ventures out to witness an extraordinary stand-off on the streets of Tehran

Supporters of Mirhossein Mousavi protest on the streets of Tehran yesterday


The fate of Iran rested last night in a grubby north Tehran highway interchange called Vanak Square where – after days of violence – supporters of the official President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at last confronted the screaming, angry Iranians who have decided that Mirhossein Mousavi should be the president of their country. Unbelievably – and I am a witness because I stood beside them – just 400 Iranian special forces police were keeping these two armies apart. There were stones and tear gas but for the first time in this epic crisis the cops promised to protect both sides."

This made me think, at first read of the day the first Russian Army brigade marched out of a Petersburg barracks to join the Revolution, but the parallel is not valid. As the title of this blog indicates, every country is different. The article goes on to say that the historical parallel is to the day the Shah's troops refused to fire on anti-Shah demonstrators back in, I believe, 1979.

This doesn't surprise me: there are lots of countries in which people like Americans as people, but dislike our government.

This is such an uncontroversial statement that you'd think it would be self-evident. I think projection might be at work again. Many of those who will no doubt soon be asserting that we'd be welcomed as liberators in Iran, took a disagreement with the government of France and decided that real patriots don't call them "french fries." So they apparently have a hard time separating the government from the populace (except when playing schmibertarian blues about their own government). In fact, as has been repeatedly pointed out, up until extremely recently plenty of these cheerleaders were advocating the "preemptive" slaughter of untold thousands of Iranians, regardless of their political leanings. And will again.

mctex: Iran doesn't have the money for adventurism. Heck, our adventurism in the region set us back considerably, and will leave us with a multi-trillion dollar price tag that will be passed on generation to generation.

Iran is barely getting by. There are no excess billions or trillions left over for adventurism. Empire is expensive. As we are learning first hand.

The article goes on to say that the historical parallel is to the day the Shah's troops refused to fire on anti-Shah demonstrators back in, I believe, 1979.

Really? Well, thanks for pointing that out.

(In today's performance of Obsidian Wings, the role of "Gary Farber" will be played by mds.)

This is just classic Likudnik-style argument. I remember arguing with one of them after I'd been to Syria and meeting with the statement that Syria was "exaclty like a European communist country." I pointed out that this couldn't really be true, as Syria was neither European nor Communist, but the fact that I'd been there and the Likudnik hadn't didn't change his crazy mind one wit.

mds,

You are welcome.

Why is the Washington Monthly website shut down? Anyone know?

Eschaton too.

I was about to post a thought, but I see Ugh already got there in the second comment:

"They make these arguments for domestic political gain, no more, no less."

Yup.

I'll join the chorus of voices asking what's going on with the Washington Monthly website. It's been down all morning.

hilzoy,

The whole poll is interesting, and I should have given more context.

I'm not sure it quite gets to the question at issue, which would be, "If Barack Obama said nice things about a domestic political faction, would that make you more or less inclined to back them?"

For example, most Iranians think Israel and the United States are the biggest threats to Iran. But that is probably because Israel and the United States are the biggest threats to Iran. Agreeing with that doesn't commit you to being anti-American or even anti-American government. It just shows some awareness of basic geopolitical facts.

Washington Monthly website seems to be back up

Washington Monthly website seems to be back up

Posted by: Johnny Canuck | June 17, 2009 at 01:28 PM

Sorry, i may have spoken to soon. i can now get yesterday's posts but not access to comments. restoration seems to still be work in progress

"But the better Eisenhower parallel is with Hungary in 1956. Then as now a popular uprising coalesced around a figure (Imre Nagy in Hungary; Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran), who had once been a creature of the system. Then as now it was buoyed by inspiring American rhetoric about freedom and democracy coming over Voice of America airwaves. And then as now the administration effectively turned its back on the uprising when U.S. support could have made a difference."

What's so utterly loopy about this is that every historian agrees that the error made by the Eisenhower Administration was to allow Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to broadcast vastly over-enthusiastic messages to the Hungarians promising all sorts of support the U.S. was in no position to give; this led the Hungarians into delusions about what was possible that led to far more deaths than were necessary.

The fact is that the Eisenhower administration could do effectively nothing to support the Hungarian rebellion.

Bret Stephens writes: "And then as now the administration effectively turned its back on the uprising when U.S. support could have made a difference."

Really? How? By doing what? Invading Eastern Europe? Dropping weapons to prolong the fighting against the Red Army? I mean: wtf?

Why is the Washington Monthly website shut down? Anyone know?

[...]

Eschaton too.

They're both working now.

Would they still want the President to openly call for the will of the people to be upheld, even if the will of the people means someone like Ahmadinejad?

Sure they would -- they were cheering the victory of Hamas in the palestinian elections, weren't they? Um... Oops!

What Gary Farber said about Hungary. Even if Ike had thought sending in U.S. tank cavalry was the answer, exactly HOW was he going to get them there?

The only non-Warsaw Pact nations bordering Hungary were Yugoslavia and Austria, neither of which was likely to allow us the right-of-way in 1956. The year before, as the Allies ended their post-WWII occupation of Austria, Austria had issued a declaration that their nation would be permanently neutral. And Yugoslavia, while independent of the USSR, was Communist after all.

I swear, some people are more stupid than can be believed.

Eric writes, "Iran doesn't have the money for adventurism." Yet, they subsidize Hezbollah, import missiles from North Korea, provided covert support to like-minded militias in Iraq and are clearly spending billions on nukes, which they need neither for peaceful nor non-peaceful reasons. Seemingly, financial limitations are not as limiting as one might wish.

they subsidize Hezbollah, import missiles from North Korea, clearly spending billions on nukes

I hear they are also shipping uranium from Nigeria as well

hilzoy's title alludes to Joseph Butler.

" Seemingly, financial limitations are not as limiting as one might wish."

Wars are a lot more expensive than any of the things you listed.

We probably spent more in a month in Iraq than Iran spent on all those things over many years.

Nuclear tech isn't *that* expensive. Hell, the Large Hadron Collider only cost about 6 billion euros, and that's doing things that have never been done before.

The National Ignition Facility has only cost $4 billion.

(So how many LHC/NIF-scale Big Science projects could we have paid for with the money spent on Iraq? Yow.)

"What Gary Farber said about Hungary. Even if Ike had thought sending in U.S. tank cavalry was the answer, exactly HOW was he going to get them there?"

Submarine Ninja Tanks up the Danube.

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