Why Obama has it right on Iran, while many of us have it wrong
A lot has been said about Obama’s position on all these goings-on in Iran. I’ve been fairly disappointed to read that some elements of the GOP and other neo-conservative elements have been trying to politicise the issue by putting pressure on Obama to be more strident in his condemantion of the Iranian regime. I have equally been disappointed to hear the thoughts of some in the Middle East (apart from Khamenei) suggesting that this is some sort of US/British-backed coup, or that the West is somehow causing the unrest. It saddens me because these people are largely missing the point.
On Tuesday, 23rd of June, Obama made a statement at a White House news briefing, which came directly after an appalling level of violence was reached in Iran, including the murder of the now famous Neda Soltan. Reading the transcript at Foreign Policy’s The Cable, I noticed a few things:
I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society. And we deplore violence against innocent civilians anywhere that it takes place.
This statement sums up Obama’s position on the affair, and it also sums up my position, so I am quick to throw my support behind it. It is important to understand that now is not the time politically to try to cynically manipulate Iranian internal politics for what the West may think will be its ends & gains. Apart from being a largely unethical strategy continuing the decades of Western powers manipulating affairs in the Middle East, it will, like those strategies before it, fail to succeed in any credible gains for the West. We saw what happened in the aftermath of the coup in 1953, the Iranian people have never forgotten, it led to a bloody revolution and a 444 day siege of the US Embassy, it led to the regime painting the US as “The Great Satan” and as an enemy to its revolution and its progress (in many ways this did prove correct, even if it was highly exaggerated), a focal point of rhetoric that was then used as an excuse to supress Iran’s own people. What good did it bring the West? Or the world in general? Increased tension over vital natural resources such as oil and gas, a race for influence in unstable states such as Iraq and Afghanistan, stupid, belligerent rhetoric from both sides and a contested nuclear program.
This is what we have witnessed. We have seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands Iranians marching in silence. We have seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and their voices heard. Above all, we have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets. While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history.
Once again, Obama is correct. We have witnessed these things, I particularly like his use of the words timeless dignity, because they underline the long history of the Iranian nation and are a testament to the power of Iran’s people, to whom the history and glory of the nation should rightly belong. My position on these protests is and always will be the same until new details proving otherwise came to light. Yes, there are a lot of very convincing arguments that the election was rigged. Yes, I am almost convinced that it was. But most importantly, this cannot be proved, Iran has no international observers and neither I, nor Obama, are willing to launch a full-scale attack of any sort on the regime without evidence that proves beyond doubt that the election was indeed rigged. My beef with the regime lies in its inability to manage peaceful protest and discussion in its own streets, and that it is insecure enough to have to crush it with military force. Much like a man who beats a defenseless woman to elevate himself and deal with his insecurities and issues, that is what Iran’s regime is doing to its own people on its own streets, streets which have been running with blood for weeks while the world has stood mute in amazement over the continued violence.
There have been many comparisons to Tiananmen Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall among Western pundits intent on being able to categorise, contextualise and ultimately limit an event that is all about Iran and not at all about anything else. These events have so far proved to be comparable to neither. While we can do little but watch in amazement and report our thoughts through our blogs and twitter accounts, we are witnessing a change of some sort in Iran, that is for sure. The political establishment appears to be shifting under Khamenei’s feet and the legitimacy of his regime, his grip on power, appears to have weakened. Iran is not China, nor is it Germany, Iranians are not Burmese, this is a country with a young population, with educated and affluent elites and with growing dissatisfaction among its working class. A country that has witnessed hugely increased revenues from its massive stores of oil and natural gas, and yet no tangible improvement in the lives of its people. A people like the Iranians, responsible for arguably the most dramatic revolution of the 20th century, a people of passion and free will, will not sit idly by. Things are changing in Iran, our role is to watch, report and make sense of events, not manipulate them to suit our narrowly-defined ideological or selfishly-concocted geopolitical agendas. The country is being built for the next generation, a 30-year old revolution is evolving. Watch and learn instead.