Supporting Iranian Freedom
In his column this morning David Brooks chides President Obama gently:
Many of us have been dissatisfied with the legalistic calibrations of the Obama administration’s response to Iran, which have been disproportionate to the sweeping events there. We’ve been rooting for the politicians in the administration, like Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who have been working for a more sincere and heartfelt response.
But the comments of the first few days are not that important. What’s important is that the Obama administration understands the scope of what is happening. And on the big issue, my understanding is that the administration has it exactly right.
The core lesson of these events is that the Iranian regime is fragile at the core. Like all autocratic regimes, it has become rigid, paranoid, insular, insecure, impulsive, clumsy and illegitimate. The people running the regime know it, which is why the Revolutionary Guard is seeking to consolidate power into a small, rigid, insulated circle. The Iranians on the streets know it. The world knows it.
From now on, the central issue of Iran-Western relations won’t be the nuclear program. The regime is more fragile than the program. The regime is more likely to go away than the program.
Recently, many people thought it was clever to say that elections on their own don’t make democracies. But election campaigns stoke the mind and fraudulent elections outrage the soul. The Iranian elections have stirred a whirlwind that will lead, someday, to the regime’s collapse. Hastening that day is now the central goal.
I’m not as sanguine as Brooks is. While I support the Iranian people in their legitimate aspirations for freedom, it’s not completely clear to me that’s the direction in which a new Iranian revolution founded on Mir Hossein Mousavi would lead. There are revolutions and there are revolutions.
Americans had a very good idea of where their revolution, inspired by men like Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, would lead 300 years ago. They’d made little secret of their views and their views favored freedom.
Russia, contrariwise, has seen four governments in a century: the Tsar’s, the Provisional Government that followed the February Revolution, Lenin’s as it emerged after the October Revolution of 1917, and the present government. Today’s Russian government may be better than the Tsar’s (the matter might be disputed) but it’s not a century better. But, again, it’s no surprise. Lenin was quite clear in his views and his views were not liberal.
If the Iranian people were surprised by the Khomeinist government that was put in place after the Shah was ousted thirty years ago, it can only be because they hadn’t been paying attention. Ruhollah Khomeini, too, had made his views quite clear, bizarre as they might have been to most Westerners. He was definitely not a liberal.
Mousavi was a close associate of Khomeini’s and he has established a substantial public record over the last thirty years. He is rather clearly not a liberal, either.
We can’t be certain what sort of government might emerge if a new Iranian revolution materializes from the demonstrations that are going on in Tehran right now. While I believe, again, that we should be enthusiastic in our support for freedom for the Iranian people, we need to meld that with caution lest we support what’s just a different group of oppressors.