When your op-ed begins with a tired neo-con cliché you know you're scraping bottom

Friday, October 02, 2009

That's in response to this op-ed that begins with the sentence When France chides you for appeasement, you know you're scraping bottom. It comes from a tired cliché trumpeted during the Bush years that France is somehow supposed to be the epitome of weakness and appeasement (and thus anyone seemingly weaker than France must be weaker than weakness itself), a country that does anything to avoid a fight and usage of its military. Oh, except when they have 3,700 troops in Afghanistan. And a force in Côte d'Ivoire. And troops in Haiti. And a few hundred in Lebanon. And the largest military in the EU. Time to take an axe to this sorry excuse for a column.

(the basic argument by the way is that Obama isn't tough enough)

In return for selling out Poland and the Czech Republic by unilaterally abrogating a missile-defense security arrangement that Russia had demanded be abrogated
Wrong - the original plan wouldn't have taken effect until 2017, and the new one to deploy sea-based interceptor missiles will take effect in 2011, and is designed to protect Europe. Whether the new system is even needed is a matter of debate, but there is certainly no selling out here.

More complaints on what Russia does in return:
we get from Russia . . . what? An oblique hint, of possible support, for unspecified sanctions, grudgingly offered and of dubious authority
Nope - in the first week alone they got from Russia a scrapping of their plan to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad. Looks like somebody missed that.

He then goes after the Obama administration for its "feel-good posturing":
all the time spent achieving gestures is precious time granted Iran to finish its race to acquire the bomb.
Sure it is. Except when Iran agrees to send its enriched uranium to Russia to be turned into fuel there, significantly reducing its ability to quickly make a nuclear weapon.

Then a statement on the situation with Iran as being "the most serious security issue in the world." Really? More serious than nuclear Pakistan's fight with terrorists that have every intention of acquiring and using the nuclear weapons the country owns?

This is not an isolated incident either - here's another column (among many, many others) saying pretty much the same thing, also from the Washington Post. The gist of that column is that it's time for the President to begin acting like a president (in other words, less diplomacy and more bombing more stuff).

And who wrote that column? Richard Cohen. He's the guy that acted as a cheerleader for the Iraq War as well before its inception and later admitted (in 2008) that he had been completely wrong in his assessment. But for some reason he must be right this time, even though negotiations with Iran are looking anything but hopeless.

But doesn't negotiating with Iran now legitimize Ahmadinejad's government? Not really. This may seem like a tricky question, but the fact is that the Obama administration has adopted just the right approach. Just after the election and for the next few months afterwards their approach was to state the election as being an entirely internal matter and to let Iranians work it out for themselves. The wisdom in this hands-off approach for the first while was that it kept the reformist side from being seen as foreign collaborators, thus strengthening their legitimacy. The old trick of calling one's political opponents foreign collaborators is still an effective one, and in this case it was also the card they originally tried to play. Though Khamenei tried in the beginning to accuse a variety of countries (especially the UK), he eventually gave up and admitted that the protests were not backed by foreign powers.

As for the protests, they do not occur on a large scale daily, but they still occur quite frequently, with a large protest in the tens of thousands on Ruz-e-ghods (Jerusalem Day, or 18 September), a protest in Tehran University three days ago, and a protest just the next day in Sharif University. They are bound to continue, and since the protests have nothing to do with negotiations on the nuclear issue (reformists also believe Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear power) and everything to do with legitimacy, negotiations on the nuclear issue between the Obama administration and Iran might as well go forward. The Obama administration clearly showed that they did not find the election results convincing, let the situation develop on its own for a few months, and now have finally begun negotiations again after it has become clear that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad's government have dug themselves in for the time being. Given the amount of time that has lapsed since the election this is clearly not an endorsement of Ahmadinejad's government.

What is of crucial importance is that no new sanctions are enacted on Iran that could damage the middle class. The reason for this is very simple: the stronger the middle class and the more access to technology Iranians have, the better. In 2005 when Ahmadinejad was elected only 9 million Iranians had access to the internet; this is now 23 million in 2009 (out of a population of 66 million). Mobile phone ownership also jumped from 40% to around 75% today, and it is thanks to this that we have been able to see so many images and videos of events inside Iran in spite of the efforts by the authorities to stop them. Even if Ahmadinejad's government manages to survive a full second term, without a serious change in the way elections are conducted 2013 will see record low turnout, and more and more Iranians online that will be able to show the election to be a farce if the next one is conducted as the same one in June this year.

In the meantime there is every reason for individuals to aid the protesters through such tools as Haystack. Companies like Google and Facebook also help when they provide more Persian-language service. Even government has a role here, in fact, but it's not to threaten sanctions against Iran but to use bills like these to aid access to the internet or counter efforts to jam satellite signals...just as long as they do not provide money to groups inside the country, as that would be a direct interference.

So in short: it's time to chill. Iran is not a threat, the opposition continues to protest against the illegitimacy of the current government, and negotiations appear to be moving along quite well especially with the aid of Russia, which is one of the only countries in the world that has any real clout with Iran. And there's no reason to worry about Ahmadinejad's government being strengthened by successful negotiations, because 1) Iranians aren't protesting about the nuclear issue anyway; 2) successful negotiations are good for the US as well regardless of which government is in power; 3) Mousavi and Karroubi were also for negotiations with the US with the end goal of securing a solution for Iran where it would be able to produce nuclear energy, so this isn't an issue that they couldn't have solved themselves anyway.


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