Magical Thinking on Iran

In an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor international tax lawyer Dashiell Shapiro leaps to the defense of both the Bush and the Obama Administrations’ policies with respect to Iran:

Haifa, Israel – There are two fallacies about American policy toward Iran.

The first, subscribed to by many liberals, is that the Bush administration’s black-and-white, “Axis of Evil” approach to Iran only strengthened the country’s hard-line forces. The second, which many conservatives proffer, is that Obama’s “naive,” blame-America-first foreign policy weakens our credibility and empowers our adversaries.

Both of these simplistic understandings are wrong. Rather it appears that both Bush and Obama applied the right policy toward Iran at the right time, and that the combination of both administrations’ policies undermined the stability of one of the world’s most dangerous regimes.

In Mr. Shapiro’s view President Bush’s “bad cop” approach contributed materially to a “legitimacy crisis” in Iran:

Recent events, including popular unrest and dissension within Iran’s clerical and political elite, show that Iran’s increasingly hard-line approach in past years, both in defiant foreign policy and in crackdowns on civil liberties, was largely an attempt to mask and control a growing popular legitimacy crisis. And this legitimacy crisis can be traced in no small part to Bush’s policies.

Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which brought democracy and placed large numbers of American troops on Iran’s border, combined with his “Axis of Evil” rhetoric, rightfully made Iranian leaders fearful of a US mission to “liberate” Iran or at the very least destroy its nuclear program.

while President Obama’s “good cop” approach exposed the Iranian leaders’ indictment of America for the lie that it was:

But while Bush softened up the regime with these jabs, Obama may have delivered the knockout punch. His extension of a firm but open hand to Iran, the Naruz holiday greeting, and the Cairo speech, all helped to destroy the regime’s narrative of America as the “Great Satan.”

To a regime that had just spent itself into financial disaster, and recently faced a significant drop in oil prices, the Obama approach was perfectly timed to threaten the Iranian government’s legitimacy, coming right before a pivotal election.

While Bush directed his rhetoric to the hard-liners in power, and scared them into adopting policies that would ultimately weaken their own legitimacy, Obama spoke directly to the people of Iran, letting them know that America was ready to begin a new relationship with them if they seized the opportunity.

Is it really all about us? Or did the events in Iran take place in Iran, moved by Iranians, for Iranian reasons?

In my view Mr. Shapiro’s argument is an example of the post hoc propter hoc fallacy (A takes place then B takes place, therefore B took place because of A). It’s magical thinking.

Additionally, implicit in Mr. Shapiro’s argument is that the events in Iran express some sort of conflict between “hard-liners” on the one hand and others, presumably more moderate:

While the hard-liners in Iran did “rise” during the Bush years, it is now clear that this rise was largely illusory, and Bush deserves some credit if they ultimately fall.

Recent events, including popular unrest and dissension within Iran’s clerical and political elite, show that Iran’s increasingly hard-line approach in past years, both in defiant foreign policy and in crackdowns on civil liberties, was largely an attempt to mask and control a growing popular legitimacy crisis. And this legitimacy crisis can be traced in no small part to Bush’s policies.

I see little evidence that one of the competing factions in Iran’s leadership is more moderate or liberal than the other any more than I see evidence that they are Anabaptists. Sitting here thousands of miles away, largely irrelevant to the political situation unfolding in Iran we can only wonder whether the Iranian people are seeing the rise of a better, more liberal alternative to the present leadership or merely deciding between different groups of thugs.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. Furhead says:

    For my sake, can you more fully define your analogy with Anabaptists?

  2. Bill H says:

    It’s always about us, isn’t it? Everything that happens anywhere, happened because the entire world looks to us and bases their decisions on how we are acting; on whether or not we give them permission, or credibility, or whatever.

    Maybe whatever happened in Iran happened for completely Iranian reasons due to Iranian causes in Iranian territory. Maybe, unlike the Iranian government, the Iranian people don’t really give a damn what we think.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    The Anabaptists were a 16th century religious group, the precursors of the Amish. My point is that the idea is far-fetched.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    Shapiro’s argument makes sense if the end game is about us. Specifically, if the purpose of the good cop/ bad cop routine is to build broad public support for military action against Iran, Americans need to know that they’ve exhausted all options. I don’t think so, but that’s where the argument makes sense.

    Also, I’m getting whipsawed by the “It’s all about us” line. Isn’t the general consensus that Obama’s speech in Cairo contributed to the mullahs decision to retain Ahmadinejad ?