Iran: Hold your Horses!
The US media is predictably awash with euphoria at the latest protest movement in Iran. Originating after the botched election of June 2009, this anti-Ahmadinejad movement has whet the appetites of our policy planners, who clearly hope it will lead to a “more democratic” (read: pro-west) government in the place of Ahmadinejad’s “repressive” regime. Though the original movement died down after a couple months, this latest resurgence, on the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, proves it has not quite vanished. The US establishment could not be happier.
Read for instance this joyful op-ed in today’s Times, entitled “Will Iran become a Beacon of Liberty?” (like Iraq was supposed to be?):
A democratic revolution in Tehran could well prove the most momentous Mideastern event since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. A politically freer Iran would bring front and center the great Islamic debate of our times: How can one be both a good Muslim and a democrat? How does one pay homage to Islamic law but give ultimate authority to the people’s elected representatives? How can a Muslim import the best of the West without suffering debilitating guilt?
Wow. That’s pretty optimistic.
Two notes in connection with this:
First, it remains clear that the main opposition candidate, Mir-Hossein Moussavi does not seek a dismantling of the Islamic Revolution, likely seeks to keep Khamenei in the seat of power, and has spoken repeatedly in favor of the current constitution, claiming it carries within it the “seeds of democracy” (source). We in the West like to demonize Ahmadinejad, but the fact remains that he is a relatively minor player in Iranian politics. Ayatollah Khamenei holds all the real power, and any “reform” which leaves him in place is no reform at all.
On that note, Khameni’s behavior in this struggle is utterly inscrutable. Why does he continue to support Ahmadinejad, who is clearly unpopular, and probably incompetent to boot? Why not just tell Ahmadinejad his time is up, and let Mousavi be the puppet for a while? Khamenei’s vacillation has cost him, because now Mousavi’s supporters are shouting “death to Khamenei!” – something which Mousavi never endorsed. A situation which he could have easily contained now presents him a significant problem.
Secondly, it is clear that America is making heavy use of this protest movement, while it appears to refrain from actively funding it. Twitter, and Google, to take just two examples, have made millions off of these protests – indeed, a few bloggers have cynically termed the movement “one big advertisement for Twitter”. And while the US may have hidden its hand in these particular protests, the fact remains that it has attempted continuously to destabilize the Iranian Government for years. As Paul Craig helpfully notes in Counterpunch:
On May 23, 2007, Brian Ross and Richard Esposito reported on ABC News: “The CIA has received secret presidential approval to mount a covert “black” operation to destabilize the Iranian government, current and former officials in the intelligence community tell ABC News.”
On May 27, 2007, the London Telegraph independently reported: “Mr. Bush has signed an official document endorsing CIA plans for a propaganda and disinformation campaign intended to destabilize, and eventually topple, the theocratic rule of the mullahs.”
A few days previously, the Telegraph reported on May 16, 2007, that Bush administration neocon warmonger John Bolton told the Telegraph that a US military attack on Iran would “be a ‘last option’ after economic sanctions and attempts to foment a popular revolution had failed.”
On June 29, 2008, Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker: “Late last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership.”
Whether these protests are a product of such “covert action” – or even what that action entailed – we’ll never know. However, recall the “National Endowment for Democracy”, a US-sponsored group which promoted several ‘color revolutions’ across Eastern Europe, and which is known to have given money to the Mousavi clique.
In the end, I wish the Mousavi protesters all the best in their efforts. I don’t think Iran will become signifiantly “more democratic” so long as Khamenei is allowed to remain in power, but with Mousavi in the presidency, it is likely to become more “western-oriented”. This, of course, means relinquishing its right to sell oil in whatever currency it wants (infuriating the US via the Iran Oil Bourse), and also relinquishing what should be its right: to develop nuclear power. So the United States’ agenda will thus be fulfilled. But one hopes the Iranian public would also incur some benefit.