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

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Hard Men in Black Robes

It is truly fascinating to watch members of Barack Obama's foreign policy team (what I call the Team of 2s) try to spin their lead-from-behind approach to the 2009 Iranian protests as somehow more nuanced and appropriate than the more aggressive tone taken by the Trump White House. Obama's shameful non-support for those in Iran who wanted to be free of a totalitarian theocracy was one of many low points of his presidency. We now know that Obama's silence was precipitated by his craven desire to cut a narrow nuclear deal with the world's biggest sponsor of Islamic terror. A deal so bad that it was largely unverifiable, allowed the continuing development of ICBMs, provided no mechanism to control Iran's hegemony in the Middle East, and provided Iran with hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief and hard cash in the form of subtle bribes.

Even some of Obama's supporters are taking a second look at his actions. Left-wing New York Times columnist, Roger Cohen, writes:
I have a New Year’s confession: I retweeted President Trump with approval, not something I had expected to do, especially on the subject of Iran. But Trump has been right to get behind the brave Iranian protesters calling for political and economic change ...

For a few days [in 2009], the Islamic republic stood on a knife’s edge. I have often asked myself what would have happened if Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leader of the reformist Green Movement who was later placed under house arrest, had told that crowd to march on the seats of power in the name of the ballot box over theocratic whim.

Signs of disarray were palpable before the regime led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cracked down through the thugs of the Basij militia. As I wrote at the time, “There’s nothing more repugnant than seeing women being hit by big men armed with clubs and the license of the state.”

In Tehran, then, the silence of the Obama White House was deafening: too little, too late. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed regret over this in 2014. Excessive caution was the mother of the Obama administration’s worst failures, not least in Syria. The slippery slope school of foreign policy has its limitations. Inaction, in the name of the ninth unanswerable “And then what?” question from the president, is as emphatic a statement as action. President Vladimir Putin, among other American rivals, took note.
To paraphrase Cohen, I rarely agree with anything he writes, but on this, Cohen is spot on.

As the days pass and the protests continue, it's surprising that more people on the Left, you know, the ones who tell us over and over again that they have great concern for human rights, seem oddly ambivalent about taking sides. They suggest that Donald Trump is wrong to get involved. Here's a typical snippet from Robin Wright of the left-wing New Yorker:
The unrest has also further increased tensions between Tehran and Washington. From vacation at Mar-a-Lago, President Trump seemed to delight in Iran’s situation. “Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad,” he tweeted, on Friday. “Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests.”
The Administration’s tone has become more belligerent in the new year, with Trump alluding to support for regime change “Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration,” Trump tweeted, on New Year’s Day. “The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!”
Why wouldn't anyone "delight" in a popular movement in Iran that just might overthrow the Mullahs and their anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-Semitic government policies? Why is it that Barack Obama's post-Iran Deal promise of better relations with Iran and a reduction in their hegemonic approach to the Middle East never came to pass? Was he simply naive or worse, dangerously ill-equipped to negotiate with the hard men in black robes? And why are "increased tensions" and "a more belligerent tone" between adversaries a bad thing? For eight years we made nicey-nice, and it got us very little in return.

But back to Iran today. Michael Ledeen breaks down the current unrest:
Is it a revolution? Can it succeed? Should we support it, and if so, how?

Surely this tumult is very different from the protests of 2009. It’s different in at least two ways, geographical and demographical.

Geographically, whereas the 2009 protests were mainly limited to Tehran, today’s phenomenon covers the whole country, from major cities to smaller towns and even rural villages. That’s significant, because those who do not believe in the prospects of an Iranian revolution invariably argue that opposition to the regime is restricted to the elites of the big cities, and that rural populations are pro-regime. It’s difficult to judge how many rural residents are protesting, but it’s a significant number. That’s new, and I believe it surprised both the regime and the leaders of the uprising.

The demographic difference is class: the 2009 demonstrators were Tehrani bourgeoisie (bazaaris, for example). Today’s masses are proletarians: workers, unemployed, failing farmers and the like. Notice that trade unionists are being arrested in Tehran, because the tyrants fear they are the real organizers of the uprising, and because workers and the unemployed are not as easy to intimidate as professors and businessmen.
Despite protestations from Obama apologists, Donald Trump has reacted quickly and appropriately. Richard Goldberg and Jamie Fly make a number of suggestions on how to proceed:
Instead of continuing to protect the supreme leader and his tyrannical regime, the White House and Congress should move in a new direction — backing policies that hold the regime accountable and siding with the Iranian people.

All regime officials and assets should be re-designated under US sanctions, immediately freezing the supreme leader’s vast business empire in all its parts.

Any person or company found complicit in the regime’s attempts to block communications between protesters should feel the enforcement of US sanctions prohibiting censorship in Iran. Key entities involved in the oppression of the Iranian people and in the diversion of resources from the people to terrorism and missiles must be targeted with maximum sanctions as well — starting with Iran’s terror-finance headquarters, the Central Bank of Iran ...

President Trump must also confront Iran’s regional aggression, especially by blocking Iran’s attempts to establish a permanent presence in Syria. Iran, as well as our regional partners, needs to understand that America isn’t abandoning the Middle East.

The president should announce a comprehensive review of US assistance to the Iranian people and reallocate and increase funding to groups and activities that have the best chance of assisting change from inside Iran.
In addition, I think all aspects of cyberwarfare should be brought to bear as soon as possible. Allow social media to flourish, thereby providing command and control for the protesters. Keep up the call for international condemnation for any human rights abuses (many have already occurred). And lastly, decertify the Iran deal in mid-January. It buys us nothing and serves only the interests of hard men in black robes.