The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Three Lessons

There are three lessons that can be learned by examining the current unrest in Iran.

First, new technologies (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) have made it difficult for repressive, dictatorial regimes to control information flow. But the key question is: Do these regimes really care enough to modify their behavior? In the short term, it appears that the Iranian regime does care, but it has recruited the fanatic, Islamist, Basij militia to do their dirty work for them.

Second, those have who suggested that past warnings about Iran were nothing more than “fear mongering” have suddenly realized that the Mullahs are not nice people. Little more than a month ago, Left-leaning media and politicians argued that Iran’s threat was overblown, that there is little proof that the country has any intention of developing nuclear weapons, and that Iran's purported support for terrorist organizations through the Middle East and around the world is nothing more than neocon propaganda. Now, the Mullahs crack the heads of young protesters and everything changes. It's sort of like a small child who refuses to believe that the cook top is hot, until she puts her finger on it.

Third, those who praised President Obama’s planned effort at negotiation with Mahmoud Amadinejad and the Iranian theocracy have now become uncharacteristically quiet. As events and violence unfold inside Iran, it appears that Obama’s strategy is in shambles. It will be politically difficult, not to mention morally repugnant, to engage the Islamists who currently run Iran. Barack Obama needs a “Plan B,” and it does not appear that he has one.

Richard Fernandez (Wretchard) of The Belmont Club sums up the situation with his typical clarity:
People who reflect on this debacle may want to ask themselves, ‘why did this engagement with Ahmadinejad go so wrong’. The answer, from first principles, is that stable agreements can only be made with stable partners. You can sign a treaty with Japan, Britain, Canada or France for example, and be reasonably sure the deal will stick. Successor governments will honor the deals of their predecessors. But making a deal with Hamas, Hezbollah and Khamenei, for example, is much more iffy because you never know whether they’ll still be in the saddle the next time you look. ‘Engagement’ with Iran was always going to be subjected to contingent events.

This is why all those negotiations with Yasser Arafat and Hamas and whoever else that Jimmy Carter is so fond of talking to, had the tendency to go nowhere. It wasn’t because, as they were so fond of thinking, that we haven’t bribed them enough or the Israelis were too stingy with concessions. It was simply that their cast of characters kept changing. Their internal politics kept churning like a cement mixer on overdrive. You bought one enemy off only to see another come online. Ultimately, it became like trying to eat soup with a fork.

This doesn’t mean you can’t make deals with shady characters, but it does mean that such deals have an inherent amount of instability inherent in them. The idea that Obama was going to build his Middle East Peace on this foundation of shifting sand seems kind of funny in retrospect. I wonder whether Hillary has drawn the necessary conclusions. But maybe she was playing a different game.

All of us who have opposed negotiations with rouge regimes intuitively understand that “stable agreements can only be made with stable partners.” Unfortunately, there are many on the Left who, ironically, take an ethnocentric and anti-historical view of geopolitical negotiations.

They believe, I think, that everyone acts like a Western democracy, where agreements and promises matter. They create an anti-factual history (e.g., The canard that there was a sovereign state of Palestine prior to the existence of Israel, and it was stolen from it’s citizens—the “Palestinians”). Then, demonstrating an ethnocentrism that they roundly criticize in others and a misreading of history, they build their position. Sad.

The current lessons of Iran matter. I only hope that our President learns from all three of them.