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May 24, 2005

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Iran + Democracy = good

but, when conservatives start chanting "Regime Change!", i reach for my pepto.

There's a lot of non-democracies out there. I don't see as how it's our mission to use violent change to overthrow the existing oppression of the masses in any of those countries.

I posted about this two days ago, by the way.

All I could think about when I saw the words "regime change" in the post was this. Why are you posting about this at this time, Charles? Has someone been touting democracy in Iran? If so...why is it bothering you? You've got your guys in the White House. They don't believe it.

My only comfort is that it's going to be a lot harder to drum up support for another military action.

My impression has been that the mullahs have a major demographic problem - that the population is very young on average, and does not like them. Hence one way to hold power is not to give reformers much access to the ballot.

The notion of regime change imposed by American force is absurd, for any number of reasons. The question is what, if anything, can we do to strengthen Iranian reformers.

What do you suggest, Charles?

When American "conservatives" start talking about "regime change" in other countries, it's appropriate to ask, as now:

Would any Iranian vote for killing over one hundred thousand Iranians in order to achieve a country that looks like Iraq or like Afghanistan?

(For "Iranian" one may substitute any nationality chosen, of course.)

And then, supposing the answer to the first question to be "No", it's fair to ask:

Then the "regime change" talked about has nothing at all to do with democracy, does it?

... or maybe ask Iranians if they'd subscribe to a "regime change" defined as: "US or Israeli jets bomb the sh*t out of your suspected nuclear weapons development sites and the surrounding countryside, unleashing clouds of radoiactive contamination, killing or maiming a few tens/hundreds of thousands of people, and reducing entire towns to rubble."

Hey, Charles: thanks for monitoring the RW talking points for us, so we don't have to.

Let us know when the triumphalist blogs start predicting showers of rose petals from grateful Iranians, and how regime change in Iran will pay for itself; and how we'll only need to have 38,000 US troops there a year later, okay?

Y'know, I don't see that CB mentioned "regime change" anywhere beyond quoting a blog title, so it seems a bit unfair to be charging after him as if this post argues for it (although perhaps people are simply reacting to other, past, comments from him on the subject). Otherwise, it's one thing to favor regime change in Iran, or anywhere else, and another thing to be arguing for an American invasion to accomplish it.

it's one thing to favor regime change in Iran, or anywhere else, and another thing to be arguing for an American invasion to accomplish it.

Right.

I don't see Charles calling for an invasion. If he does I'll tell him it's a terrible idea. Meanwhile, I'm sincerely curious as to what he and others think would be a sensible policy toward Iran, beginning with the question of what US objectives should be.

I have to echo Bernard's comments here. I found this post nicely refreshing (kudos to bird dog), and hope the comments will lead to an interesting discussion.

Yeah, that blog title did set me off a bit. I'm all for reading a reasoned discussion, especially one that explores non-military options.

"My impression has been that the mullahs have a major demographic problem - that the population is very young on average, and does not like them."

That is the key fact IMO, the Mullahs are fighting an uphill battle against their own demographics. The fastest and surest way to ruin that fact and get those younger (moderate?) arabs to side with the Mullahs is to invade as we have done in Iraq. IMO any kind of military action by the US against Iran will instantly send most of this pro-reform population back into the arms of the Mullahs.

So it's a damned if we do situation. Any effort we make to force their hand will come back to bite us in the ass. The best we can do is have patience and peacefully influence the moderates.

I am curious if you agree that Military action would be a mistake in Iran Charles, and if you do agree what might be some good non-military actions we can take.

If regime change is needed in Iran, which has the 9th most unfree press, how about Saudi Arabia, which has the 8th most unfree press? Should it also have regime change forced on it? For that matter, I notice that the US is ranked #22. Not one of the worst in the world by any means, but pretty pathetic for the land of the free, eh? And there is a seperate entry for United States in Iraq: number 108 out of 167. Why is the government of the US so afraid of its own people that it won't let them see what it is doing in their name?

I'm curious about the nature of the dissatisfaction with the mullahs. Is it a difference in religous perspectives? Are the young people feeling shut out of the economy? Is it a desire to vote, but not a desire to change other aspects of the society? Is it a desire to vote in order to change other aspects of the economy? Military intervention is impossible. Other interventions have to be based on understanding the nature of the dissatisfaction, it seems to me. Is there any polling data on this?

Charles Bird says nothing about how regime change should be achieved: however, regime change in current usage has strong implications of invasion/conquest, as I presume Charles is well aware.

Should he wish to avoid these implications, the simplest thing to do would be for him to say, upfront, that he's not suggesting the US should attempt yet another invasion.

"Should he wish to avoid these implications, the simplest thing to do would be for him to say, upfront, that he's not suggesting the US should attempt yet another invasion."

Ah. People should be judged by what they don't say. Fair enough, if applied within reasonable limits. If one were consistent about this principle, and didn't have conniptions if the same thought is applied to one's self.

FYI: hoping for some sort of velvet revolution is apparently the mainstream panelist-at-AIPAC-conference position nowaday, according to Laura Rozen.

A velveteen revolution would be a nice way for this-all to be resolved, and there have certainly been stirrings that indicate that the population is more ready for one than not, but I wonder what the spark could be. And I don't really think that an outside menace will provide that spark. An outside menace is more likely to make the Iranians rally 'round their current national structure, no?

"...but I wonder what the spark could be.... [...] an outside menace...."

Robot armies.

Gary, I agreed to quit if you did. I gather others on this blog are less than amused when we persistently snipe at each other.

I'm curious about the nature of the dissatisfaction with the mullahs.

I haven't followed this closely, but I get the idea that the restrictive religious climate is quite unpopular. It's not clear how much dissatisfaction is based on economic conditions. The country is growing, but inflation is high, and unemployment is about 12%, acoording to this.

"...restrictive religious climate is quite unpopular."

That's let up quite a lot, though, in terms of women's dress in public and other public custom, according to all reports of the last few years. Politically, however, little has changed, save for the worse. (Although the Supreme Leader did overturn the decision that CB and I both blogged, not that there's particular reason to see that as significant movement.)

The calculation seems to clearly be to give some on the cultural front, while holding the line on the political front. This is all too apt to keep the lid on for quite some time to come, although such regimes are generally suprisingly (before they shatter) brittle.

Gary, I agreed to quit if you did. I gather others on this blog are less than amused when we persistently snipe at each other.

I don't know, Sebastian seems to have enjoyed it...

Bernard: I haven't followed this closely, but I get the idea that the restrictive religious climate is quite unpopular. It's not clear how much dissatisfaction is based on economic conditions.

I can recommend The Price of Honour: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World (Jan Goodwin, Warner Books, London, 1994). It's a chapter-by-chapter overview of women in many different Islamic countries. The chapter on Iran does strongly suggest that for many, many of the younger generation, the religious restrictions by the mullahs on women are intolerable and enforced by the police state. This article from February 2004 illustrates an increasing dissatisfaction with the electoral process, now so many reformists are barred from standing.

liberal: I don't know, Sebastian seems to have enjoyed it...

:-) Yeah, but he had popcorn.

:-) Yeah, but he had popcorn.

I too can have popcorn! (:

As for "regime change", I'm with Gary, Bernard and Brian on this one: I'm genuinely interested to know what those on the right feel is an appropriate American, Western and/or international response (if any) to the emerging complexities in Iran. I'm also with Bernard about telling people who do suggest forcible military overthrow of the Iranian regime that that's a terrible idea.

When you say "emerging complexities," Anarch, do you mean the possibility that Iran might build a bomb? It seems to me that many of the other problems have been ongoing (rather than "emerging"). The Ayatollah has blocked reformist candidates before, and the situaion for women has been bad (if not worse) before as well.

an appropriate American, Western and/or international response (if any) to the emerging complexities in Iran.

I think to answer this, I'd have to know what an appropriate resolution to the complexities in Iran would be. For me, it would be an absolute belief that they they will not build nuclear weapons (requiring no nuclear power generating capacity) and a free society.

Frankly, I have doubts about either one no matter what response is employed. On the carrot side, what do they want/need? Favored US status hasn't earned the US the love of Egypt, why would it work in Iran? On the stick side, I'd guess that sanctions would have the same unfortunate effects on the populace in Iran that they had on that of Iraq. I'd guess that military action would have even less success than seen in Iraq.

I see no reason whatsoever for Iran not to desire nuclear capabilities. It is wholly reasonable that they should desire the ability to power their homes and industry with materials that are not as fungible as oil. Further, as a Shiite minority in a Sunni world and a likely site of retaliation should Israel be attacked, its just as plausible to me that they desire the deterent effect of nuclear weapons absent US existence entirely.

The difficulty seems to be that the world really can't foment change of the sort that would please me. The stratification of the desire for freedom, i.e. how much they want, is so diverse that we really can't know to what lengths to go to encourage it, can we?

The more i think aobut it the worse of a situation it looks to me.

The Isreali's are simply not going to allow Iran to have nuclear capabilites, they have everything to lose and not much to gain. If/When the Isreali's go after Iran's nuclear capabilities, like they went after the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq in 1981, the country of Iran will flock around it's leaders in outrage.

That's the horrible future I see for Iran, the Isreali's will strike, and when they do the natural reaction will be to rally around the (Iranian) flag. That will be the end of any hope of change in Iran in our lifetimes.

The only way to stop that is to convince Isreal to allow Iran to have a nuclear capability. I am not sure that is a wise decision.

"...that they they will not build nuclear weapons (requiring no nuclear power generating capacity)...."

This isn't so. They could safely be allowed to build a number of kinds of nuclear reactors that wouldn't give them weapon capacity so long as they were amenable to the right sort of inspection and monitoring regime and/or allowing fuel to be taken out of their hands when/if enriched. There's no technical problem here, but simply the problem that they seem unlikely, based upon behavior up to now, to allow sufficient monitoring, inspection, and enforceable agreement.

Israel.

CB, i'd think that Mozambique and Kenya would be higher on your list of fake democracies that need regime change. Iran is a functioning country. Mozambique is not and Kenya remains teetering on the brink.

Closer to home, we could add Haiti to the list.

I assume CB's priority is over the nuclear weapons issue, rather than primarily humanitarian.

(Note: in case it isn't obvious, I offer no support whatever for anything remotely resembling an invasion of Iran, but I also don't see one coming any time soon, either; while we could certainly, in purely practical terms, raid them, and even eventually take Tehran, it would be far, far, far more impossible to hold it than any toal attempted in Iraq, by about two orders of magnitude, IMO, and would be, I understate just a tad, counter-productive.)

All true.

All irrelevant, if Bush wants a war with Iran.

Who's going to say no to him?

A guffaw or a loud snort should follow any statement that puts Iran and democracy in the same vicinity. Why? Because Iran is not free and it is not a real democracy.

I am not sure that we are in a position to criticise considering that we are a Republic and that the Average Congress Critter spent $1,126,880 to get elected. The Iranians use judges to eliminate competitors, we use money.

ABC News|Ordinary Iranians Soften Toward U.S.


"There's a very positive image of American people in this society," said Siamak Namazi, a pollster. "Some almost argue that Iran is the last pro-American society in the Middle East."

The irony here for those who will appreciate it is that the US is admired/respected or at least not hated by the Iranian populace, and we haven't had any business dealings with Iran for over 25 years.

On possible US use of force against Iran: Did anyone happen to catch Tariq Ali on CSPAN maybe a week ago? His argument was that there would be no major operation against Iran due to the influence that nation has with the Shi’ite population in Iraq.

It seems as though Iran has come through a political cycle recently. As we discuss reform, it is important to remember that the Shah, who the US helped install in a coup against Mossadegh for his attempts to nationalize Iranian oil, did not enjoy the same popular support as either the Prime Minister he succeeded or the Islamic revolutionaries who replaced him. A synopsis from the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum’s “The Hostage Crisis in Iran”:

“Early in the 1960s, the Shah announced social and economic reforms but refused to grant broad political freedom. Iranian nationalists condemned his U.S. supported regime and his "westernizing" of Iran. During rioting in 1963, the Shah cracked down, suppressing his opposition.”

“Between 1963 and 1979, the Shah spent billions of oil dollars on military weapons. The real price of military strength was the loss of popular support. Unable to sustain economic progress and unwilling to expand democratic freedoms, the Shah's regime collapsed in revolution.”

But the overthrow of the Shah was a generation ago, and now we seem to be seeing some similar forces at work as younger, reform-minded people confront the politically entrenched status quo. Incidentally, I have heard some good things about what the Iranian film industry has been putting out these days. Has anyone seen something they could recommend?

Also, let’s not confuse democracy or its spreading with the economic and geopolitical interests of the US in regard to Iran. The problem today in this regard is the same as it was in the past: fossil fuel. In the last couple of years Iran has endeavored to make China its primary purchaser of these resources (a $70 billion Sinopec Group deal, Chinese development of the Yadavaran oil field, etc.). I can’t imagine the administration – or plenty of other US business interests, for that matter – is crazy about that.

The assumption that reform should or can be imposed through US pressure seems questionable to me and suggests that American exceptionalism lies at its heart. The political situation should change, if it does, when the Iranians want it, when they are ready for it, and not by US political or military force when it suits our demands or timetable. An important distinction if we mean to use the word democracy as a political system and not as a designator to indicate whose side one is on. I suspect this is what is being expressed by Dianne’s post when she asks, “Why is the government of the US so afraid of its own people that it won't let them see what it is doing in their name?”

Bernard Yomtov and Jesurgislac, thanks for the info.

To pick up Gary, RSL, and Crionna's last comments, I wonder whether a nuclear detente might not be a good thing (while of course horrible in so many ways) for the ME. Israel has nukes; nobody else in the region does. So much of the terrorism seems to have been caused by the sense that no recourse was available. As awful as I find it, a nuclear standoff might even be preferable to the everyday targeting of citizens.

(I'm horrified even to be advancing such arguments, so I'd welcome any convincing rebuttals.)

"...the Shah, who the US helped install in a coup against Mossadegh...."

Now, this is a nit-pick: re-install, actually.

Gary Farber,

Quite right. Re-install more accurate. Thanks.

Jackmormon: When you say "emerging complexities," Anarch, do you mean the possibility that Iran might build a bomb? It seems to me that many of the other problems have been ongoing (rather than "emerging").

A combination of Iran's nuclear potential and the changing American strategic deployments and interests in the region. You're absolutely correct that the problems with democratization, f'rex, have been ongoing but IMO it's a new ball-game what with our presence in Iraq and all.

And who's Savak trained by Schwarzkopf Sr. killed approximatly 20K people in the late 70s attempting to prevent the revolution.

I read a lot of the conversation, but didn't get to all of it. But who said anything about the U.S. using military action to enact regime change?

"So much of the terrorism seems to have been caused by the sense that no recourse was available. As awful as I find it, a nuclear standoff might even be preferable to the everyday targeting of citizens.

(I'm horrified even to be advancing such arguments, so I'd welcome any convincing rebuttals.)"

Happy to oblige. MAD theory and practice deterred nuclear attack; it did nothing whatever to deter conventional military action, up to and including invasion of whole countries (just to randomly pick a few: Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, Panama, Grenada, Dominican Republic) until you get to the top-line examples, the over-the-bright-line examples (Germany/Berlin, China, North Vietnam, Cuba). MAD doesn't deter the lesser stuff that the other side doesn't care to suicide over, thankyouverymuch. It only deters top-'o-the-line, we will do or die to stop this, act.

Israel, for instance, having had at least a couple of nukes since during the '67 events, would only use them in the face of an existential threat (the closest such coming in '73, of course, but it never got really close). So -- in rational terms, at least, Israel doesn't actually need to be deterred from using their own nukes, and wouldn't be anyway if it were their last resort. By definition, they'd have nothing to lose.

"So much of the terrorism seems to have been caused by the sense that no recourse was available. As awful as I find it, a nuclear standoff might even be preferable to the everyday targeting of citizens."

So what we're left with is the idea of deterring Israel from either a) minor strikes against other countries, such as, say, Syria. It's unlikely Iran would actually risk nuclear devastation of their cities (or destroying Jerusalem, need I add?) for the sake of retaliating for some minor bombing raid, so that's really not likely to come up; or b) Iran would risk the same for the sake of retailiation because of Palestinians, unless it perhaps was at the level of full expulsion of the Palestinians. Of course, this attributes a fair degree of rationality to the Iranian leadership, but if one doesn't stipulate this, how one can make a case that a nuclear standoff would be a "good thing," I'd have to have explained to me.

And if one does stipulate that rationality, as I've just gotten through saying, I don't see it significantly changing the balance of power, in practical terms, and therefore see no case for increased stability or improvement. Q.E.D, it would not be a good thing.

Of course, this is the point in the evening where I'm fading out, so perhaps someone will point out huge gaping holes in my theorizing and I'll kick myself. Oh, the thrills and risks of the online world are so exciting!

It happens that Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani doesn't think much of our democracy, in turn:

"There is only a veneer of democracy in the United States, and we have a real democracy," he said, brushing aside suggestions that Iran's election rules unfairly favor the hard-liners who control much of the government. "Election laws are so complicated in your country that people have no choice but to vote for one of the candidates who are with one of the two parties."
It's one way to look at it.

"What if the mullahs hold an election and no one shows up? "

The "low turnout" that the mullahs rightly fear is still likely to be higher than that for most recent US elections - the last Iranian one, IIRC, had the same problems as the current one (ie most reformists banned) but still managed a 70%+ turnout. Rafsanjani has a point.

What does that say about the US government's legitimacy? And why does no one in the US seem to see this as a problem?

And why does no one in the US seem to see this as a problem?

That's unfair. Many people in the US do see low turnout as a serious problem. However, it does seem fair to say that party leaders on both sides only see low turnout on their side as a problem: low turnout on the other side is what they hope for.

I notice the same problem in my own country: the people with the power to make changes to the electoral system that would encourage higher turnout, are the same people who were voted into power with the electoral system as it is.

So, simply because elections are held, one cannot assume that freedom is on the march. If only such powers of analysis would be turned onto the Iraq or Afghanistan situation. Then we could have a rational discussion about the efficacy of US Middle East policy.

Why are you posting about this at this time, Charles?

In no particular order, (1) because I felt like it, (2) because I read the article, (3) because I haven't written on Iran for a while, (4) because Iran sponsors and harbors terrorists and is developing atomic bombs; attention should be paid to this repressed country, (5) because Iran has a homegrown democracy movement that we should be supporting and spotlighting.

Has someone been touting democracy in Iran?

Lots of folks have been.

If so...why is it bothering you?

Who's bothered, Opus?

The notion of regime change imposed by American force is absurd, for any number of reasons. The question is what, if anything, can we do to strengthen Iranian reformers.

What do you suggest, Charles?

I support regime change but not by military means. I also support targeted strikes on their nuclear facilities under certain conditions. But if Iranians want democracy, they're gonna have to do most of the heavy lifting. The U.S. role should be to encourage, exhort and influence. The last thing I want is invasion since we hardly have the manpower to do the job in Iraq.

I am not sure that we are in a position to criticise considering that we are a Republic and that the Average Congress Critter spent $1,126,880 to get elected. The Iranians use judges to eliminate competitors, we use money.

What a silly comparison, Don.

DQ, I agree with Charles that the comparison is silly. Also, how much is a reasonable amount to spend on campaigning? All together, campaign spending on federal races for 2004 was very close to $1 billion, which is less than $4 per person. Is that an outrageous number? What number would be correct?

I'd be all for campaign-spending limits, if someone can figure out a way to do it that doesn't turn out to be a First Amendment issue. The other side of that is any requests that the pig slaughter itself are probably going to be ignored, effectively.

Don = silly. If anything on this Earth had the power to make me conservative, it would be seeing everything he says and want to react in equal and opposite ways. He wishes you dead, which I find is often not the best way to start a discussion.

Thanks for the rebuttal, Gary. It makes a good sense of sense to me. I tend to stipulate the rationality of the Iranian leaders, myself.

Otto, above, asked for recommendations of Iranian films. I'm not sure whether one can rent her stuff from the local video store, but video artist and photographer Shirin Neshat knocks my socks off. She gives a very smart interview here, where she explains growing up mostly in the US yet working some in Iran and also discusses some contemporary Iranian filmmakers.

Carpeicthus, it could be worse. At least he wishes himself dead too.

"...because Iran has a homegrown democracy movement that we should be supporting and spotlighting"

In principle I agree, but how can this be done without making the democracy movement appear to be--or even worse, become--a tool of the US government? I vaguely remember a scandal from the Clinton era in which (I think) the Chinese government had given money to some campaign or another. If people in the US were outraged that the Chinese government might want to influence US elections, one might expect that Iranians would be equally outraged at the US trying to influence politics in Iran.

I support regime change but not by military means.

Oh, good. :-) I do wish you'd just said that in your initial post, though.

I also support targeted strikes on their nuclear facilities under certain conditions.

Oh, bad. It does take a certain mentality to regard "targeted strikes" as "non-military means". But then I suppose you would argue that taking out a country's nuclear facilities has nothing to do with regime change: it's merely a military (or terrorist) attack.

The U.S. role should be to encourage, exhort and influence.

It's interesting that Iran is (according to at least some reporters with local knowledge) one country in the Middle East with which this tactic might actually work, since local reporters say that Iranians tend to have a high opinion of the US and of Americans.

AFAIK, the last US administration to have direct dealings with Iran was the Reagan administration, and there may well still be in the Bush administration some of those who illegally sold Iran weapons when it was at war with Iraq, which should give them some personal pull, assuming they're up for admitting it.

According to a source whose name I have forgotten (I read it several years ago) Iran did better out of the illegal armsdealing with the US and the UK than Iraq did out of the legal armsdealing. Because the Reagan-supported trade with Iran was illegal, under-the-counter, Iran had more power to specify what it wanted, and get it. Whereas Iraq was being sold whatever guns, WMD materiel, or other weaponry that would be most profitable for big arms-dealers to sell them.

The last thing I want is invasion since we hardly have the manpower to do the job in Iraq.

Also, of course, since invasion/occupation has proven a catastrophic failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether because invasion/occupation is the wrong tool to use for "regime change" (assuming you want change, rather than destruction) or because the Bush administration were so incompetent, is something I suppose ultimately historians will decide: I suspect the right answer is something of both.

Footnote: (4) because Iran sponsors and harbors terrorists and is developing atomic bombs;

So does the US.

So does the US.

So does Great Britain, now that you mention it.

Slarti: So does Great Britain, now that you mention it.

True. And we only have the 28th most-free press on the planet, whereas the US has the 22nd most-free press, equal to Belgium. (But we have Jeremy Paxman.)

"It does take a certain mentality to regard 'targeted strikes' as 'non-military means'."

That's not a fair characterization of what CB wrote, either, I'm afraid. He wrote: "I support regime change but not by military means," and "I also support targeted strikes on their nuclear facilities under certain conditions."

He did not write "I'm for targeted strikes as a means of regime change." So he certainly did not characterize "targeted strikes" as "non-military."

"I do wish you'd just said that in your initial post, though."

I also don't know why CB needs to declare in the first place that he's not saying something he didn't say.

For the record, I read these comments, and wrote this response up to this sentence, and only then scrolled further down and saw who I was responding to; prior to that, I didn't even guess or think about it. I swear. This is often the case. (Of course, now that I know, I have to assume that, per the record, this will be taken as either a dishonest statement from me, or an incompetent one; I shan't delete this comment because of this, however.)

It does take a certain mentality to regard "targeted strikes" as "non-military means".

You are fundamentally misreading my mentality, Jes. Gary has read my words accurately.

But then I suppose you would argue that taking out a country's nuclear facilities has nothing to do with regime change

Correct, unless the regime happens to be camping out at a few of their atomic bomb manufacturing facilities.

it's merely a military (or terrorist) attack.

Scratch the "terrorist" part and you'd be correct. Vaporizing military targets (which is exactly what nuclear bomb making facilities are) is not terrorism.

"Vaporizing military targets (which is exactly what nuclear bomb making facilities are) is not terrorism."

So if Iran or North Korea bombed NORAD it would be ok...well, not ok, an act of war or at least a serious international incident, but not terrorism? For that matter, was the Pentagon attack of 9/11/01 not an act of terrorism? The Pentagon is clearly a military target. (Of course, running a civilian airplane into the building does make it terrorism, regardless of the target, but supposing they'd attacked like the kamikazes, killing only themselves?)

For that matter, was the Pentagon attack of 9/11/01 not an act of terrorism?

For the civilians onboard the aircraft, clearly yes.

Jackmoron,
Thanks for the info!

In regard to spreading democracy: How does one reconcile popular national will with external political pressure? If by democracy we are talking about the political will of the Iranian people, foreign encouragement of a system held in esteem and in the interest of those providing the encouragement seems to undermine this. There is as well the underlying assumption that democracy is the best political system available and has the potential for universal applicability, or such possible ironies as dictatorship by popular fiat.

In defense of Don Quixote: I don’t think his comparison is entirely inappropriate if the spirit of his comment was to point out the way in which access to lots of cash affects democracy in ways that limit popular political participation, influences to whom a politician answers, permits money to trump ideas, or otherwise translates into political power.

“Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.”
- Dennis

...and (hit post too soon) for those military people actually in the Pentagon, I have no idea.

I mean, just because some watery tart lobbed a scimitar at you...

Purely from memory, mind you. Now I'm going to go Google it.

Missed...got it confused with the "moistened bint" line.

In re Charles Bird’s comments on targeted strikes against nuclear facilities and regime change:

-"But then I suppose you would argue that taking out a country's nuclear facilities has nothing to do with regime change" -J.

-"Correct, unless the regime happens to be camping out at a few of their atomic bomb manufacturing facilities." -C.B.

There are several ways in which an attack on another nation’s nuclear facilities could be seen as a path to regime change. For example, such an attack could undermine the regime’s support by demonstrating its military weakness in failing to prevent the attack.

I think it is interesting that we have all uncritically adopted the phrase “regime change” since it assumes the illegitimacy of the government to which we are referring and implies that such change is for the better.

-“The U.S. role should be to encourage, exhort and influence.”

Why? What if the Iranians will have none of it? Should the Iranians not interested in democratic reform be dismissed? Whose political interests are more important, theirs or ours?

-“ The last thing I want is invasion since we hardly have the manpower to do the job in Iraq.”

So the rationale for no invasion is the lack of manpower? Does this contradict “I support regime change but not by military means”? If not, how?

"So if Iran or North Korea bombed NORAD it would be ok...well, not ok, an act of war or at least a serious international incident, but not terrorism?"

Of course not. It would be an act of war by a government, and a military strike on a military target, not a strike by civilians on civilians whose purpose is to cause terror amongst civilians. This is not at all complicated.

"(Of course, running a civilian airplane into the building does make it terrorism, regardless of the target, but supposing they'd attacked like the kamikazes, killing only themselves?)"

Diane, you have to be a country to be able to declare war and have it generally recognized as a legitimate war. If it's a bunch of independent civilians running around, by definition it's not a military act. This can be rendered fuzzy and debatable if a group is large enough to be considered genuinely potentially able to conquer some territory and maintain independence, or if it can overthrow a regime and take its place, but below that level, it's not particularly fuzzy.

"There are several ways in which an attack on another nation’s nuclear facilities could be seen as a path to regime change."

This is certainly absolutely true, but "could" does not equal "is." Charles could be arguing for such a strategy, but there's no sign (yet, at the least) that he is.

Jesurgislac: since invasion/occupation has proven a catastrophic failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan

Hard for me to see where someone could identify as a catastrophy a place where women can not only now vote but a woman was elected to head an Afghani province.

Gary Farber,

1st sent.: Yes, yes. Exactly why I used the word "could." But my point was in response to Charles Bird's argument that an attack on a nuclear facility is unrelated to regime change ("unless the regime happens to be camping out . . .").

2nd sent.: Correct again. But not my contention.

crionna, isn't that more properly Afghan? Or have the rules changed again?

crionna,

It looks as if there were only one voter in the election, (from the article referenced) "The former minister for Women's Affairs said she turned down an ambassadorial post to demand the job as governor of Bamiyan province from President Hamid Karzai."

crionna, isn't that more properly Afghan? Or have the rules changed again?

Dunno, perhaps so. My rule is to try not to call people things that they don't care to be called, and it never changes. Apologies any/everyone.

For that matter, was the Pentagon attack of 9/11/01 not an act of terrorism?

The plane that flew into the Pentagon was a suicide bombing, Dianne. The target was not terroristic but hijacking a commercial jetliner and murdering the plane's occupants was a supreme act of terror.

Why? What if the Iranians will have none of it?

The Second Inaugural Address explains why, otto.

So the rationale for no invasion is the lack of manpower?

I was wondering when someone was going to catch me on that. Even if we had the manpower, my answer is the same, and all the more so because we don't have the personnel. Iran has burgeoning democracies on either side of it, so its citizens are seeing new freedoms and democratic transformations right on their front porch. As for targeted strikes of nuclear bomb plants, the primary objective would be to take out the plants. If the regime changes because, call that gravy, but I don't think it would happen.

Vaporizing military targets (which is exactly what nuclear bomb making facilities are) is not terrorism.

Do my eyes mislead me, or is Charles finally implicitly acknowledging that the use of the word "terrorism" to describe insurgent attacks on US troops is an abuse of the English language?

freelunch,

Ah, well, I read it yesterday and went back to find it today. Point taken.

"It looks as if there were only one voter in the election...."

Presumably you meant to say "candidate." But, yes, aside from the fact that there's no indication in the article of an election, and every indication she was appointed by Karzai, as a point of fact, last I looked Governors in Afghanistan were appointed (some self-appointed, and grudgingly tolerated by Kabul so long as they grant some cooperation and lip service), not elected. Elections have been at what one might loosely call a "national" level, for President last year, and the big one is still coming this year for Provincial Council elections. (More here.)

It looks as if there were only one voter in the election....

Presumably you meant to say "candidate."

Apologies. I've realized you were probably referring to Karzai as the "voter."

Do my eyes mislead me, or is Charles finally implicitly acknowledging that the use of the word "terrorism" to describe insurgent attacks on US troops is an abuse of the English language?

Not "finally", Catsy. I've never referred to insurgent attacks on military targets as "terrorism". I have called them guerilla attacks. A gray area to me are suicide bombings of job-applying civilians lined up at police stations.

In re Gary Farber’s comments:

-“Diane, you have to be a country to be able to declare war and have it generally recognized as a legitimate war. If it's a bunch of independent civilians running around, by definition it's not a military act. This can be rendered fuzzy and debatable if a group is large enough to be considered genuinely potentially able to conquer some territory and maintain independence, or if it can overthrow a regime and take its place, but below that level, it's not particularly fuzzy.”

This at least depends upon one’s perspective. Who decides who is a civilian, the person carrying out the act or the country against which they are fighting? Under what category does one place someone who fights one day and the next dons civilian garb and melts into the population? What does one do if their enemy refuses to recognize them as a legitimate political entity or military force? These are precisely the sort of very “fuzzy” issues a legitimate country has to deal with when engaged in a conflict against an irregular force, and just the sort of conundrums one gets into with states declared “failed” by those who wish to treat such irregular forces as “enemy combatants” . . . Oh, the problems for a self-described soldier who can’t get their hands on a uniform.

The inclusion of the qualification of “considered genuinely potentially able to . . .” seems to compromise the level below which you suggest the military-civilian distinction is no longer fuzzy. Where would you place Zionists in 1948, Viet Cong at Tet, or Castro before the Revolution, and what was the considered opinion of their potential at the time? As Dianne’s efforts to understand this issue indicate, I’m afraid it’s fuzzy all the way down. Incidentally, I don’t know if you, or anyone else, are into this sort of thing, but the RAND Corp. has put out a ton of stuff over the last decade or so on terrorism, fighting insurgents, urban conflict with irregular forces, etc. Some of this is available online.

Crionna: FWIW, Afghan is a native of Afghanistan: Afghani is their currency.

Hard for me to see where someone could identify as a catastrophy a place where women can not only now vote but a woman was elected to head an Afghani province.

(Appointed, I think, not elected.) The majority of Afghan "governors" are warlords (the article you linked to acknowledges that Habiba Sarabi's predecessor was a warlord, and does not seem to mention what happened to him): the net effect of the US toppling of the Taliban without then troubling itself to provide the required financial support for continued government was (for the most part) to return Afghanistan to the state of play between the fall of the Communist government and the rise of the Taliban: warlord rule.

Habiba Sarabi, is, absolutely, a woman of courage and resolution, and evidently always was. I sincerely hope that she survives her new appointment.

But picking out small items of good news (and ignoring the legion of bad news) is one way in which many Americans simply wash their hands of Afghanistan - a country for whose current problems their country is significantly responsible.

It may be hard for you to see Afghanistan as a catastrophe, but you might find it easier if you looked at all the news and information available, not just the quickie feelgood stories.

"The inclusion of the qualification of 'considered genuinely potentially able to . . .' seems to compromise the level below which you suggest the military-civilian distinction is no longer fuzzy."

To be sure, I wasn't trying to construct any sort of air-tight, covers everything, system of distinction, since, as you note, that's not possible. I was merely trying to make a loose distinction of scale-and-nature, with one set consisting of generally-acknowledged-governments-or-insurgents, another set at the other end a set of generally-acknowledged-terrorists, and fuzziness in-between. And, yes, of course, there will still be utter disagreement about who is or isn't in the first two groups from some, depending upon "perspective," so I also used "generally-acknowledged" here in a fairly lose sense. Perhaps this is not a very useful schema; it's certainly not rigorous enough for a serious paper, but in a general conversation, I'll toss it in the mix.

"Where would you place Zionists in 1948,"

Proto-government, as acknowledged by, in an extremely non-comprehensive list, the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the League of Nations Mandate given to Britain in 1920 and 1922, Peel and Woodhead commissions of 1937 and 1938, and the UN General Assembly Partition Plan passed on November 29, 1947 (UN Resolution GA 181).

"Viet Cong at Tet,"

Organ of the Government of North Vietnam that never at any time had any significant independence, merely a well-done pretense of it.

"or Castro before the Revolution,"

Military insurgents, but not widely considered capable of success until quite late in the day.

"...and what was the considered opinion of their potential at the time?"

The Cubans, as I said, were taken with a lot of salt until near the collapse of Batista. The Zionists, plenty seriously since at least 1920, but not universally assumed to be going to form a fully independently country. Obviously, despite the UN partition plan of 1947, significant parties still contested it, but, then, significant parties still deny any legitimacy to the government today.

The Viet Cong (more properly Viet Minh or the "National Liberation Front") were taken by many, if not most, westerners to be a legitimately independent group at the time, but they were deceived.

DQ, I agree with Charles that the comparison is silly. Also, how much is a reasonable amount to spend on campaigning? All together, campaign spending on federal races for 2004 was very close to $1 billion, which is less than $4 per person. Is that an outrageous number? What number would be correct?

According to OpenSecrets.org the Candiates for the house spent $644,888,719, the Senate $490,030,259 and the Presidency $827,803,384 to get elected for a whupping total of $1,382,322,362. Not exactly chump change.

Considering that only 54% of elegible voters(120,200,000) voted that comes out to $11.50 per ballot cast.

As to what number would be correct, I have no idea. But I do know that the inability to raise the kind of money required keeps many potential candidates of the Ballot and guarantees that the elected officials will put the interest of their backers in front of that of the public (Tort reform, Bankrupcy, etc...).

Always keep in mind that the average incumbant raised three to four times as much money as his challenger and 98% of the House and 85% of the Senate got reelected.

As for solutions, I can only think of two shorter campaign season and free commercial time on Broadcast & Cable TV for all the candidates.

If anything on this Earth had the power to make me conservative, it would be seeing everything he says and want to react in equal and opposite ways. He wishes you dead, which I find is often not the best way to start a discussion.

It's good to know that you don't believe that US citizens are responsible for the actions of their goverment but that of other countries are.

BTW, Charles

Regime Change, been there done that! 52 years ago, so lets tally the results.

20,000 Killed by the Savak another 20,000 killed by the Mullahs, War between Iraq & iran in which we armed both sides killed another 1 million. When that war ended and Saddam got to big for his britches and invaded Kuwait another 100,000 iragis died not counting the 10,000 Kuwaitis. Sanctions on Iraq killed another 350,000 and this latest war has already killed another 100,000.

At what point is the body count large enough for you people to quit asking for regime change? Haven't uou done enough f*cking damage?

At what point is the body count large enough for you people to quit asking for regime change? Haven't uou done enough f*cking damage?

Seems like the blame should lie with the ones doing the actual killing, DQ. If Saddam didn't invade and didn't violate post-war agreements, he wouldn't have been responsible for all those deaths. The blood is on his hands. You really don't like America much, do you?

You really don't like America much, do you?

I'm wondering if someone can give a coherent argument for the proposition that this statement is not a violation of the posting rules. And an ugly one at that.

Now I don't agree with DQ's point in the comment, at least insofar as it attributes all the death to US policy. It is, however, entirely possible for a person to have a belief about causality (and I don't see much hesitation in some quarters to claim credit for anything good that is remotely related to US policy) and/or an opinion about US policy without disliking America.

In my view, the people in this country who really manifest dislike for America are those who reject the Enlightenment values upon which the country was founded. (In this category, I include those calling people who disagree with them traitors, or devolving to cheap insults like whether or not someone hates America.)

Seems like the blame should lie with the ones doing the actual killing, DQ.

We overthrew Mossadeq & put the Shah in power, all the events I listed occurred as a consequence of that act.

Do you think the Mullahs would have come to power if we had not overthrown mossadeq?

Do you think we would have supported Saddam if he had not been fighting against the Mullahs?

Do you think Saddam would have invaded Kuwait if he had not wasted the wealth of his country on our behalf fight Iran which we were arming by the way?

You really don't like America much, do you?

I just don't like holier than thou hypocrites who have no problem spilling other people's blood as long as they are sure their's won't be.

Oh, and I forgot the 40,000 shias who died after the Gulf war cause Bush Sr encouraged them to rebel and then betrayed!

One miserable coups in 1952 has probably caused the death of 1.5 Million to 2 Million People.

Was it worth it?

Do you think the Mullahs would have come to power if we had not overthrown mossadeq?

Twenty five years is a long time, an eternity during which various counterfactuals can play out. I'm not saying that what we did was a good thing, but I think drawing this straight a line is imprudent. Suppose instead of the Shah, Iran had had a socialist revolution, triggering a religious backlash.

In re Charles Bird’s comments:

-“Why? What if the Iranians will have none of it?”
-“The Second Inaugural Address explains why, otto.”

I understand the rationalization by the Bush administration (e.g. “We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”), but the rub here is the conflation of our interests with those of the nations we have been discussing and the conflation of democracy as a label versus democracy as a system – a conflation informed by, as the language of the Address suggests, American exceptionalism and the necessities of empire. I am not convinced that our best interests are necessarily the best interests of other nations, that “defending our own freedom” necessarily has anything to do with the freedom of others, or that anything in the address or within that argument translates into democracy for Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, et.al. The only way the argument of the administration makes sense is with the assumption that people of other nations want liberty and democracy, that our system is transferable, timeless, universally applicable, etc. (i.e. American exceptionalism). This seems a highly suspect assumption.

If I understand the reasoning here correctly, Iranians should get liberty and democracy whether they want it or not because for them to have it is in our best interests? If the Iranians say, “We don’t want your liberty,” then our response must be, in pursuit of our national interests, “Tough.” (This is precisely the essence of Steven Metz’s response at the American Enterprise Institute last year when questioned about why the regime change/spreading democracy rationale had not been the chief emphasis for going to war: the Iraqi people might not have been interested.) The argument of the administration, then, begs the question I have been trying to get at: If this is our approach – “the expansion of freedom in all the world” in order to ensure “the survival of liberty in our land” – what do we mean by democracy when our interests are at odds with the interests of another nation?

A second question: When our interests conflict with the interests of other nations, whose political will or freedom is more important? If the answer is ours, then we need to be careful what we mean when we talk of spreading democracy and whether we mean this to indicate whose side one is on (as the neo-cons use this term) or whether we are advocating a particular political system where the political power and autonomy of a nation rests with its people. If our use is the latter, then perhaps we should be prepared to permit other nation’s actions or interests that may run contrary to our interests if we do not wish to appear hypocritical about being in support of popular political will abroad.

-“Iran has burgeoning democracies on either side of it, so its citizens are seeing new freedoms and democratic transformations right on their front porch.”

Do you mean Iraq and Afghanistan? If so, and if one’s definition of democracy stops with the ability to vote, you may have an argument. But if by democracy one also means to include questions of money, power, self-determination, and ownership, then what we see in Iraq and Afghanistan is decidedly not democracy. What is the significance of being able to cast a ballot when the money, power, infrastructure, and resources in your nation are controlled by foreign forces (and designed to be so)? Take the example of Iraq. The commercial laws of Iraq have been re-written to enable 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi corporations (to include foreign “leasing” of oil), low import tariffs, no taxation for corporations associated with the Coalition forces or engaged in “rebuilding,” etc. (see United States Agency for International Development and CPA Orders for starters). Makes it a bit tough for Iraqi business to get back on its feet under these circumstances. And that’s precisely the point. A rather odd way to spread democracy, I think. Furthermore, it is these very practices by interloping foreign countries that help foment the domestic unrest, hatred, violence, curtailment of liberty, etc. that Bush’s Second Inaugural Address says we are interested in quashing. With these sorts of laws on the books, to suggest that we are spreading democracy in Iraq is delusional. I am confident that Iraqis understand this, as have many others in similar circumstances (it seems more than coincidental that US involvement in so many countries has occurred when the country in question attempted to nationalize their resources, restrict US business investment, install a popular government, or otherwise try to take the ownership and management of their country into their own hands), and I suspect this is the more reasonable explanation as to why we are still encountering armed resistance and why we have not won the “war of ideas” nor the hearts and minds that go along with it.

In re Charles Bird’s comments:

-“Seems like the blame should lie with the ones doing the actual killing, DQ. If Saddam didn't invade and didn't violate post-war agreements, he wouldn't have been responsible for all those deaths. The blood is on his hands.”

One of the most important questions we can ask on this topic: Why did Saddam invade Kuwait? When we attempt to answer this question as honestly and objectively as we can, to include the relevant historical and political context, then we can start to address issues of responsibility (and there is enough to go around). Unless, of course, we explain Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait as the evil actions of an evil man; an appreciation which in no way helps our understanding and is the stuff of bedtime stories.

What strikes me as strange about Charles Bird’s contention (an argument similar to ones we have used to explain our foreign intervention in the past) is that it suggests that we had no choice in the matter. This seems rather odd since politically, economically, and militarily we were far stronger than Iraq. What does it say for our autonomy if any foreign nation can drag us into war simply by committing a sufficiently heinous act of evil? However, this viewpoint offers, by tying our hands in these matters, a very convenient argument to absolve our level of responsibility.

-“You really don't like America much, do you?”

Charles Bird,

Good God, man! You can do better than this. As for my own comments, they were not an attempt to single out the US for vilification. What we are seeing in regard to Iraq and Afghanistan is simply the way an empire behaves in relation to a colony. It seems that in the history of these relationships that winning the war of ideas and the exploitation of the lesser party for extraction of labor and natural resources and a market upon which to dump finished goods are incompatible. Generally, empires have succeeded in these situations through the support of puppet governments who violently put down resistance to the policies of the empire. My aim is that if we can take off our blinders (myself included) we can better understand these matters.

Although I agree with the spirit of CharleyCarp’s comments, I hope that no one finds you in violation of the posting rules as I have very much enjoyed the topics you’ve chosen to cover and your responses afterward. Thanks.

I assume CB's priority is over the nuclear weapons issue, rather than primarily humanitarian.

The priority is national security, Gary, and human rights in the form of freedom and democracy as much as we can. Iran harbors and sponsors terrorists and terrorist organizations, and they're developing an atomic bomb.

Do you think the Mullahs would have come to power if we had not overthrown mossadeq?

Hypotheticals, DQ. The Shah was responsible for his own misrule and loss of power. I tend to blame those who do the actual killing, not blame America first for the the faults of legions of others. Obviously, your point of view is different.

If I understand the reasoning here correctly, Iranians should get liberty and democracy whether they want it or not because for them to have it is in our best interests?

If you agree that freedom is a universal human right, otto, then the pursuit of it by Iranians would be in their best interests, although the world would benefit from it as well, including of course us. Freedom is the goal and the democracy is the most proven way to get there. Afghanistan and Iraq are in the beginning stages of democratic governance and it'll take some time and effort to move the process forward. I have no doubt that most reasonable Afghans and Iraqis get this.

Why did Saddam invade Kuwait?

Because April Glaspie communicated poorly and Saddam interpreted poorly, with him starting a whole series of miscalculations. The fault is still his for invading a sovereign nation without provocation, and it remained his fault for continually violating binding UNSC resolutions. Good riddance.

Good God, man! You can do better than this.

Well, DQ has a history, and it's probably not worthwhile responding to him. I simply reject that empire business. We were attacked and we appropriately responded by removing the Taliban and starting the process of reconstructing that country. Iraq is also on that same path of moving toward democratic, non-theocratic self-determination. No doubt we're the most powerful country militarily and economically in world history, but we haven't annexed new territory for a long, long time.

We were attacked and we appropriately responded by removing the Taliban and starting the process of reconstructing that country.

followed immediately by

Iraq is also on that same path of moving toward democratic, non-theocratic self-determination.


don't fall in the aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.....

Charles: We were attacked and we appropriately responded by removing the Taliban

Well, responded. How appropriate it was to overthrow a government that had not attacked the US is questionable. (Note, this should not be taken as a defense of the Taliban.)

and starting the process of reconstructing that country.

Started, possibly. Now if only the US had actually continued...

I have no doubt that most reasonable Afghans and Iraqis get this.

Can you possibly get more condescending?

From the looks of it, most reasonable Iraqis are sitting back, cheering on the Insurection & giving the resistance enough intelligence so that they can kill our puppets & our soldiers at will.

Hypotheticals, DQ. The Shah was responsible for his own misrule and loss of power.

And we put him there against the will of the Iranians. We executed a coup, what you call "Regime Change", then for good measusre we trained his secret police the Savak which went out thru the countryside and suppressed all political opposition, throwing human rights, due process and all that good stuff democracies are suppose to have out the window.

And the consequence of that act, that I am sure all reasonable Iranians approved of, flow thru today.

No doubt we're the most powerful country militarily and economically in world history, but we haven't annexed new territory for a long, long time.

Does the word Iraq ring a bell? 2002 if memory serves.


I simply reject that empire business.


According to the Defense Department’s Base Structure Report, 2001, the United States currently has overseas military installations in thirty-eight countries and separate territories. If military bases in U.S. territories/possessions outside the fifty states and the District of Columbia are added, it rises to forty-four. This number is extremely conservative, however, since it does not include important strategic forward bases, even some of those in which the United States maintains substantial numbers of troops, such as Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, and Bosnia. Nor does it include some of the most recently acquired U.S. bases. Through Plan Colombia—aimed principally at guerrilla forces in Colombia but also against the less than servile government of Venezuela and the massive popular movement opposing neoliberalism in Ecuador—the United States is now in the process of expanding its base presence in the Latin American and Caribbean region. Puerto Rico has replaced Panama as the hub for the region. Meanwhile the United States has been establishing four new military bases in Manta, Ecuador; Aruba; Curaçao; and Comalapa, El Salvador—all characterized as forward operating locations (FOLs). Since September 11, the United States has set up military bases housing sixty thousand troops in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, along with Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, and Bulgaria. Also crucial in the operation is the major U.S. naval base at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. All told, the United States now has overseas military bases in almost sixty countries and separate territories (see Map 1).*

U.S. Military Bases and Empire
That's a lot of military bases for a not Empire!

DQ, I'd be all for reeling our forces in from locations where there's no conflict at present that don't want us. But I believe such bases are in place by agreement with the country in question, for the most part. This constitutes empire how, exactly?

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