Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More on Iran

More on Iran

If you knew that you were likely to be framed by the police, would you go ahead and commit the crime anyway, reasoning that you had nothing to lose? Would that be the sensible thing to do? Then, at trial, suppose you decided that, even though you were innocent of the charges brought against you, it would be sensible to behave in a manner that gave the jury reason to suppose that you might in fact be guilty after all. Would that be a sensible policy?

Alex Massie stands firmly by his argument that Western politicians’ vocal support for the Iranian protestors is counter-productive.  I argued yesterday that David Cameron’s support for the protestors was, at the very least, not harmful to the interests of those protestors, and also that the opposite policy, of refusing to give verbal ammunition to the Iranian regime, was not working.  With some trepidation, since I usually agree with Alex about most things (except Graham Gooch), I maintain my position.

I think that Alex is in slight danger of engaging with the Ayatollah purely on his terms.  Voicing support for democracy and opposition to a military dictatorship shooting its own citizens is not a crime.  Stating clearly that the will of the people should prevail, and that attempts to rig elections or suppress demonstrations with violence are abhorrent are not, on any meaningful level, attempts to interfere in the internal politics of Iran – the overthrow of Mossadeq this ain’t.

Secondly, I think that Alex might be putting too much faith in the announcements of the Iranian press and regime.  Christopher Hitchens has a piece more or less on this theme in Slate.  The spirit of Uncle Napoleon is alive and well in the Iranian Government – but he is a figure of ridicule for the Iranian people.  The idea that because David Cameron voices his support for the protestors, the Iranian public will believe that the whole protest has been orchestrated by MI6 seems a little far-fetched.  As Hitchens says:

There is nothing at all that any Western country can do to avoid the charge of intervening in Iran's internal affairs. The deep belief that everything—especially anything in English—is already and by definition an intervention is part of the very identity and ideology of the theocracy.

So I don’t think that the ‘Marg bar Ingilis’ point really stands – for evidence of this, as I noted yesterday, the British Government is already being described as evil, and our diplomats are already being expelled.  What higher diplomatic stakes are there?  When state prayer meetings end with a rousing chorus calling for the death of your country, how much further have you to fall?

…there's the thought experiment Daniel Luban conducts: suppose Khrushchev had come out and endorsed Martin Luther King and called for the international community to do more to support the civil rights movement. Do you think this would have increased support and sympathy for MLK inside the United States? Or would it have been, from the perspective of the civil rights movement, an unwelcome and counter-productive intervention?

As comparisons go this doesn’t seem terribly helpful.  It is certainly hardly more apposite than the attitude of Thatcher and Reagan to the Solidarity movement in Poland, that Alex was so quick to dismiss on Monday.  Neither example is a parallel to modern Iran.

So what are we left with?

…if rhetoric were likely to change the Iranian regime's behaviour then it might have done so by now. And of course it hasn't. So one is left with the suspicion, alas, that all the fine words uttered by western politicians are really designed for domestic consumption, not in any expectation that they'll bring the mullahs to their senses.

There is of course one consideration that Alex hasn’t factored in.  Voicing opposition to the stifling of democracy in Iran might be the right thing to do because it is the right thing to do.  As Peggy Noonan says, you shouldn’t need to ask whose side we’re on in a battle between freedom and autocracy.

I would tend to agree with Alex: there is nothing that the Western Governments can do that will be of much help to the protestors in Iran.  However, our conclusions are different.  His is that we should therefore do nothing, for fear of playing into the Iranian regime’s hands.  Mine is that giving support to this cause is “due to our own character and called for by our own duty.”

Which is a suitably melodramatic and self-aggrandizing way of saying that in a conflict between a regime that does not scruple at shooting teenagers dead and those teenagers themselves, it should not be considered unacceptable to voice a preference.

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