Tuesday, June 23, 2009

McCain is Wrong About the Iranian Upheaval

As anyone reading this blog knows, I was a supporter of John McCain’s through the Republican primaries, especially during and after the Surge in Iraq, when most Democrats and Republicans were unwilling to support the action with a ten foot pole in the public sphere. I ended up not voting for him in the election, but it was for reasons outside of his positions on foreign policy matters.

But McCain’s approach and comments on the Iranian upheaval have been incorrect, even if I like the sound and spirit of his case, as they will likely not serve either American interests, or those of the Iranian dissident movement. McCain made a passionate plea for the Obama administration to stand up and support those marching in the streets of Tehran.



Powerful and necessary words. One would have to be a special kind of reactionary to not support the basic rights of a people to protest and dissent, and not be shot and killed by government goons for doing so. But those words of support do not define a policy; they are important, but how should the government forge them into policy?

McCain pressed Obama to take a firmer stand on Iran. In a Fox News interview, he stated:
And one of those rights is to be able to disagree with your government peacefully, and not be subject to beatings and killing in the streets of — of any country. And, by the way, we sent an envoy over to Iran to tell the shah of Iran that we had to leave.

But, look, the point is that, all during the Cold War, there was the liberal elites who said we should not do anything to upset the Russians, whether it be the Prague Spring or the workers in Poland, in Gdansk
.”

McCain has reiterated in other interviews that he does not want Obama to support a candidate or party, and that the U.S. simply should come out in defence of the right of a people to oppose and dissent. Something I agree with, and that Obama eventually got around to doing.

What I found strange, was McCain’s willingness to bring up the revolutions in communist East Europe as positive examples of American political prose. Looking back at the Hungarian Revolution, where the United States told protesters through Radio Free Europe that NATO would come to their aid if they overthrew their Soviet overlords and then failed to deliver as the rebellion was crushed, it can be dangerous for the U.S. to give strong moral support and backing if it is not willing to commit itself physically to the cause. Norm writes on Obama’s limited vocal support for the Iranian protesters, and sees it the same way I do.
At least two reasons justify Obama's stance up to this point. First, he should not offer a level of rhetorical support to the democratic movement in Iran that cannot be matched by more direct material backing. It would raise false expectations. In the coming days and weeks that movement depends on its own internal resources and there should be no illusion about this.”

McCain went on to say that if he was President:
I would say, we support the rights of all human beings, especially those in Iran who want to peacefully protest and disagree with their government. We support those fundamental, inalienable rights.”

Meaningful words, but again, coming from the President’s mouth means a level of support that the United States will likely not provide. It is the duty of all liberals to stand up and help spread the Iranian oppositions message, but let us not make the mistake of giving them a false sense of hope as to America’s response to these developments. I would also agree with comrade Hitchens, and his idea of what a “non-interventionist” policy looks like.
Want to take a noninterventionist position? All right, then, take a noninterventionist position. This would mean not referring to Khamenei in fawning tones as the supreme leader and not calling Iran itself by the tyrannical title of "the Islamic republic." But be aware that nothing will stop the theocrats from slandering you for interfering anyway. Also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them just what you were doing when they were being beaten and gassed. (Hint: Don't make your sole reference to Iranian dictatorship an allusion to a British-organized coup in 1953; the mullahs think that it proves their main point, and this generation has more immediate enemies to confront.)"

4 comments:

Tom said...

Interesting take on the election. See Video: Iran Election Questions: Noam Chomsky's Speculation

TNC said...

I agree Hungary is a bad example to use. But what about Poland?

Roland Dodds said...

That is a good question TNC, sorry it has taken me so long to respond.

As in some of my previous pieces on Poland and their relationship to the U.S., opposition leaders in Poland clearly did not forget American support for their cause. This left Poland a very pro-American nation that has supported many of our foreign policy efforts overseas.

So while I think America and its president should say that we support the right of a people to basic human rights, I do not think that Reagan’s words furthered the process of de-communization in Eastern Europe, although his words were timely. Solidarity was in a political position in the 80s that allowed them to succeed in a way they could not have 20 years prior (weakness in the Soviet system, the slow liberalizing of Poland and other Eastern states since the 50s, general disillusionment with the communist system).

I see Reagan’s speech in the same way I see Obama’s recent Cairo one. It is important for Presidents to make their case on the world stage and articulate his administrations position, but that these events do not play a great affect on the international order.

TNC said...

No worries on the lag in your reply. I imagine you are quite busy right now, with your impending move from Asia to the UK.

"...I do not think that Reagan’s words furthered the process of de-communization in Eastern Europe, although his words were timely. Solidarity was in a political position in the 80s that allowed them to succeed in a way they could not have 20 years prior (weakness in the Soviet system, the slow liberalizing of Poland and other Eastern states since the 50s, general disillusionment with the communist system)."

Agreed. Speeches only go so far. What about the material support provided to Solidarity via the Free Trade Union Movement (including the AFL-CIO) as well as the U.S. Intelligence community (including the CIA, I think)?