Thursday, July 30, 2009

Iran in Perspective

Few stories have been commanding as much attention recently as the elections and protests in Iran. This attention is deserved. There are few moments in history when both issues and actions culminate as they have in Iran. Despite the complexity of the situation in Iran, it is an important milestone that demands our focus and attention.

First, I want to make a plug for anyone interested in following the election protest. This blog, written by a Persian Literature professor at Washington University and native of Iran, is highly recommended for anyone interested in following the election protests more closely. The blog has been providing detailed and well reasoned accounts of the political, social, and cultural effects of the Green movement protests in Iran.

The outcome of the election appeared to be very certain at first, and many groups within Iran had little hope that anyone could present a challenge to Ahmadinejad’s populist appeal and control of government. However, nationally televised debates that exposed the holes Ahmadinejad’s economic record, and an election campaign by the challenger Moussavi that focused on civil liberties and political freedom, made the election seem close during the campaign. For the first time in a long time, the presidential campaign had people excited about the possibilities of reform politics in Iran. When the results of the election were announced and evidence of fraud and corrupt voting polices emerged, the people were too overwhelmed and their emotion spilled over into protest.

Most information about the protest in Iran should only be used to make the public aware of what is happening in that country. However, the experiences of the people of Iran should generally shape our understanding of Iranian politics and culture in regards to other issues. There are two obvious questions that the public should ask in regards to this issue: 1) What has the United States done about these elections; and 2) What should the United States do about the elections and protest? Our response has been limited and well measured. The U.S. has consulted with its allies about the situation, extended an invitation to Iran to talk about human rights and other issues, and tried to protect its citizens from harm when possible.

The second question is a little more difficult to answer. Many people familiar with the situation, including this commentator, who is also recommended for anyone wanting more perspective on the protests, want the United States to take as limited an approach as possible. This appears to be what the Obama administration is doing. However, it does not appear that the administration is following the tenor of these commentator’s arguments. One of the underlying assumptions of many who seek a hands off approach is that it is inherently difficult for the U.S. to ever understand Iran’s politics and, furthermore, even more difficult to take any constructive action with regards to Iran’s politics. I believe that this is not the position of the administration. If the administration seems limited and well measured, it does so because it is in the interest of the United States in pursuing our foreign policy goals that we seem limited and well measured. But this approach does not change the United States’ goals of a world where freedom and individual liberty is respected. Sometimes the biggest stick just happens to be the one that makes the least amount of noise.

The latest reports from Iran are of protesters being abused during their time in Iranian prisons. Mr. Moussavi and others are continuing their protests despite government arrests and reports of abuse. Meanwhile, Mr. Ahmadinejad has been experiencing backlash from conservatives in Iran over his cabinet appointments because of the continuing protests.

For anyone interested in reading more then this brief summary, this article provides an in-depth account of the issues at stake during the campaign.


Post a Comment

<< Home