What is President Trump to make of this latest turmoil in Iran?
He looks at how the new President Obama responded to a wave of protests across Iran in 2009:
Huge crowds in Iran are demanding minimum standards of transparency, fairness and democracy. You know, the sort of thing we in the West are meant to support? Regime irregulars and security forces are firing at them.
What is happening here?
The Obama folk appear to be aghast at developments which do not meet their ‘narrative’. They extended the hand of friendship after all that horrid Bush stuff, and those pesky foreigners were meant to be grateful – and, unclenching their fists, rush to shake it warmly.
Instead it is all going wrong? That freaked-out North Korean dude is getting even more belligerent. And now the Iranian regime are messing everything up by holding an election, then beating up the public who say that the regime lost!
Much of Obama’s appeal lies in giving the impression, turbo-boosted by fawning media outlets, that he soars above commonplace squabbling to bestow on a weary planet the loftiest insights into problems and thereby help bridge differences.
And in a way he has a point. Someone high in the sky can look at things from a different, ‘big picture’ point of view. Different patterns are evident.
But down on the ground an ant’s perspective is no less valid. Things invisible from the air loom large. Facts on the ground are established on the ground, not at 10,000m feet above it. As they say in the Balkans, “he whose sheep are on the mountain owns the mountain“.
So Iran, about which I know next to nothing, in principle has to be another simple case.
The current regime with all its obsessive violence and corruption does not intend to cede power to more pluralistic people. Too many people in the system have too much to lose.
Hence a battle of wills. The regime is prepared to use violence to cow the population for a few more years. How prepared is the population to fight back?
And so now President Trump gleefully Tweets away, knowing that if nothing else his liberal elite enemies will be aghast:
Big protests in Iran.The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!
President Trump is firmly on the right side of this one, which is more than we could say about President Obama.
But is he wise to say so? Back to what I wrote in 2009:
This is the Obama policy dilemma. If he and his people come out strongly in favour of the anti-regime tendency, what happens if the regime simply crushes the opposition? Washington will have achieved nothing and will look ‘defeated’.
On the other hand, there might be a real opportunity here for more liberal forces to make a huge dent in the regime’s credibility. To get success here in what could be a vicious struggle, lots of ordinary people hoping for a better life have to find hitherto unknown reservoirs of courage and determination to fight back against the regime’s most ruthless defenders.
By not encouraging them publicly, Western leaders send a signal that they don’t care if they win or lose. Demoralising and profoundly cynical?
Let’s be fair and not exclude one option. Namely that in some way the Americans and maybe Europeans too have agreed with the Iran Opposition leaders not to say anything in public, so as to deny the regime the propaganda momentum of saying that the Wicked West is fomenting anti-Iranian spies and disarray.
This is what happened in the historic Serbia election of 2000. As a matter of deliberate policy the Americans did not come out publicly in favour of Kostunica against Milosevic. Instead they whistled nonchalantly and looked the other way, while quietly throwing technical and other support to the anti-Milosevic organisations.
This crafty silence led to a good outcome for Western policy, viz the giddy collapse of support for Milosevic, precisely because the whole campaign against him was not ‘internationalised’ – Serbs could think of it as a purely home-grown revolution.
Sometimes a policy of a studied silence is, all things considered, the best policy. But that is not President Trump’s style. And it does not exclude all sorts of other wily moves to support #Iranprotests in practice.
How to identify which moves are in fact wily? Not so easy:
President Donald Trump met Tuesday with Vice President Mike Pence and members of his national security team to discuss the protests amid deliberations already under way about reimposing suspended sanctions or adding new ones, according to two White House officials who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations. The meeting came about 10 days before Trump must decide whether to continue waiving sanctions that were lifted under the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
“We certainly keep our options open” on adding to U.S. sanctions, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters Tuesday …
An administration official said that no decision on sanctions had been made, but one of the options being discussed was imposing targeted sanctions on Iranian officials. A more drastic option would be reinstating the sanctions suspended by the nuclear accord, but that would almost certainly destroy the agreement, and the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said such a step would not be taken lightly.
Hmm. Maybe it will all fizzle out again and Iran’s agony drags on for a few more decades.
At least the UK’s lumpen Labour Left will be happy:
This is a sorry testament to the way in which serious analysis on the left has given way to crude anti-western sentiment rooted in a peculiar – and class-bind – fetishization of anyone who points an AK47 at Britain or the United States.
At the extreme end of things, materialism has ceded ground to the notion that it is the left’s highest moral duty to support the ruling class of any foreign nation that purports to be ‘anti-imperialist’. With a country like Iran or Cuba, this entails tacitly supporting regimes that break strikes and suppress grassroots left-wing activism.
But perhaps more depressing – the above being arguably confined to the lunatic fringes of the left – is the sullen indifference that prevails across the wider British labour movement vis-à-vis events in Iran.
A grassroots struggle against the Iranian theocracy – with its deplorable combination of fake elections, brutality and sexual repression – self-evidently deserves the backing of the western left. Yet you would not put money on this solidarity being forthcoming.
Instead, over the coming weeks, I imagine the plight of Iranian workers will be drowned out by sanctimonious finger-wagging at more fashionable causes – causes that will themselves go out of fashion like bell-bottomed trousers as soon as they have served their ideological purpose.
Let’s hear it for the ‘revolutionary’ comrades of Iran who stand for everything progressive in today’s world!