In trying to break down the “Obama Should Denounce!” crowd into some subsets, I came up with the following five groups:
Obama is being quiet because he thinks that US intervention would cause the situation in Iran to deteriorate; he’s wrong about that.
Obama is being quiet because he thinks that the US can still win concessions from Iran on the nuclear program, and doesn’t want to endanger that possibility; he’s either a) wrong about the possibility of winning concessions, or b)the game isn’t worth the candle.
Obama is weak, indecisive, and objectively pro-Ahmadinejad.
Obama is pro-Ahmadinejad.
I don’t really know anything about this, but any opportunity to criticize the Obama administration is worth taking.
These groups are not mutually exclusive. Daniel “Go Ahmadinejad!” Pipes probably fits most comfortably into Group 5. Group 4 includes such luminaries of American punditry as Andy McCarthy and Victor Davis Hanson. Group 3 is a touch harder to categorize, because it overlaps a lot with #2, but I’d say it’s a view that’s broadly shared across the wingnutosphere. Group 2, I think, includes Charles Krauthammer, Paul Wolfowitz, and some of the smarter folks at the Corner. Group 1 includes, once you cut through the manifest crazy, Christopher Hitchens.
I think, thus far, that Obama has handled the situation fabulously well. I’m guessing that he believes that any US intervention will backfire, and that the US will need to talk to Iran in the future, whether or not Ahmadinejad remains President. I think he’s definitely correct about the first. I also suspect that it is going to be extremely difficult to carry out any engagement strategy with Iran going forward. If the regime survives, it will be because of the loyalty and brutality of its security forces. With that brutality on display on US televisions (if only rarely) it will be much more difficult for Obama to build any domestic support for talks. Moreover, it’s not clear that he should; knowing that the Iranian regime was repressive before these latest incidents, and acknowledging that many US allies in the region don’t even bother with the fiction of elections doesn’t change the fact that it’s an ugly bit of business. I’d rather, other things being equal, not have my President engage with Iran while the current group of thugs is in power. Finally, I do think that the repression has opened greater opportunity for what might be termed a non-interventionist coercive strategy; this is to say that more and tougher sanctions against the regime are on the table now than was the case two weeks ago.
Reading the comments here, what’s most striking is that Treacher et al. have yet to even attempt an argument explaining, in concrete terms, what more forceful rhetoric or more private dessert eating would accomplish. If I can try to piece together the causal logic:
Obama supports Iran opposition, ignores daughters, eats good American salad consisting of Kraft Mayonnaise over iceberg lettuce rather than those fancy greens and olive oils that people who never leave major urban centers assume that people outside of major urban centers have never heard of
Iranian government uses comments to paint the opposition as the cat’s paw of a hated regime; opposition distances itself from Obama’s comments.
I’m not really seeing it. In fairness, calling Iran the “Axis of Evil” did singlehandedly usher in an era of Democracy, Whiskey, and Sexy in Iran, so I’m sure similar comments from Obama would be equally effectual.
Meanwhile, the ill-named Socrates asks:
Let’s try a thought experiment..
What would you all really be saying today if it had been Booooooosh! doing this while Iran burned, instead of Obama..?
Take a few minites to think; and be intellectually honest about it…
See, this may be shocking news to people who think that Obama can make democracy appear in Iran through his silver tongue (and they call us “Obamabots”!), but Iran is not the only tyranny in the world. This blog has been in operation for quite a long time, stretching all the way back to the Bush administration. So, for example, we can consider the case of Zimbabwe. You may recall that — while Bush was in the White House! — an even worse regime than the current Iranian one engaged in even more egregious and violent election theft. If you search our archives, however, you will note that at no point did I attack Bush for clearing brush instead of spending all of his time denouncing Robert Mugabe, for the obvious reason that you’d have to be a Grade A Moron to think that anything Bush said would somehow cause fair elections to be held in Zimbabwe. The same, of course, goes for the assertion that more forceful rhetoric will somehow produce a fair election in Iran. But thanks for the question!
UPDATE BY ROB: Shorter Andy McCarthy: Barack Obama is objectively pro-mullah!
Why is Al Sharpton on my teevee talking to Geraldo Rivera about Iran? This is to say, what has gone wrong with the world such that I have the capacity to watch Al Sharpton talk to Geraldo Rivera about Iran?
The weight of the world now rests on the shoulders of Mir Hossein Mousavi. I expect that Khamenei’s people have privately sent signals to him that they’re ready for a bloodbath, they’re prepared to use overwhelming force to crush this, and is he willing to lead the people in the streets to slaughter?
Mousavi is not Khomeini, and Khamenei is not the Shah. Meaning, Khomeini would not hesitate to lead his followers to “martyrdom”, and the Shah did not have the stomach for mass bloodshed. This time the religious zealots are the ones holding power.
The anger and the rage and sense of injustice people feel will not subside anytime soon, but if Mousavi concedes defeat he will demoralize millions of people. At the moment the demonstrations really have no other leadership. It’s become a symbiotic relationship, Mousavi feeds off people’s support, and the popular support allows Mousavi the political capital to remain defiant. So Mousavi truly has some agonizing decisions to make.
When it became clear last Friday that the outcome of Iran’s election was going to be controversial, I IMed a friend that there was roughly a 1 in 4 chance that the regime would be gone in a week. The timing was certainly optimistic, and I would still say, Drezner’s analysis notwithstanding, that the regime as it stands will probably survive, and that Ahmadinejad will remain President. In particular, I don’t think that the regime has mobilized all of its assets, and believe that it still retains an enthusiastic core of support with the capability to shut the resistance down, at least in the short term. Doug Muir has a far more thorough analysis; check it out.
Michael Ledeen has a curious way of approaching the social form “accusation”:
You’re going to be accused of meddling anyway, since out there in the real world you are believed to be the leader of the forces of freedom and democracy.
Now, when I apply this logic to my daily life, it would seem to mean that it is appropriate and productive for me to freely engage in any behavior that I have been accused of, whether or not said accusation is true. Accordingly, I now invite the readers of LGM to accuse me of all manner of interesting and potentially lucrative misdeeds; once the accusation hits the internet, it’s all good, baby! I would also add that Mr. Ledeen must have at some point been accused of being an amoral, poorly informed fraud, because, well… you know.
More to the point, the political value of any such accusation is certainly connected to whether the listener believes it is a)relevant, or b) true. In the case of Iran, I think there are fair reasons to believe that such charges are understood to be politically relevant; the opposition has not, by and large, called for US support, and the regime seems to think that accusing the US could have political payoff. On the second point, I suspect that even Ledeen and his ilk would concede that the accusation is implausible, and that the protesters don’t currently believe that the United States is backing them (this is rather the point of his critique). As such, the Iranian regime’s statement would seem to undercut, rather than reinforce, its legitimacy.
What follows is a long, largely unoriginal rumination on the state, coercion, the Odessa Steps, and Tank Man. Skip to the end for trivial observations about the current situation in Iran. Or just skip entirely…
The modern nation state is an extremely efficient killing machine. We know this from our Tilly; the nation-state replaced its competitors, such as empires and city-states, because it could develop and support institutions of internal and external domination. The nation-state successfully extracted a large surplus from its population, which it transformed into the coercive means for acquiring even more internal surplus and for waging external wars.
The most common interaction we have with the state is thus; the state demands property that we regard as our own, and if we refuse to hand this property over it sends men with guns to our house. If we resist these men with guns, they imprison us. If we resist too effectively, they kill us. This is true of every modern nation-state. Liberal democracies differ from authoritarian states in that they allow us to complain loudly about the process, to minimize its arbitrariness, and to have some (very) small say in how our property is reallocated. This difference isn’t trivial, but it isn’t as large as normally assumed.
The modern nation-state is nevertheless tolerable because it substantially reduces private coercion (replacing it with less arbitrary public coercion), creates a relatively safe space in which commerce and the production of wealth can be undertaken, provides regulation necessary for the conduct of a modern (socialist or capitalist) economy, provides social services, and because it creates a sense of identity and political efficacy. Its murderous tendencies notwithstanding, I’d rather live in a nation-state than not, and would prefer a more complete and capable state to the rump that libertarians envision.
The long century (1789-1914) can be regarded as the period of consolidation of the institutions of the modern nation-state. The last competitors were either eliminated or co-opted, small statelets were amalgamated, and the lower and middle classes were fully integrated into the domestic processes of the state. The perfection of these institutions, as much as anything else, allowed European states to conquer the rest of the world, and to apply the institutions of the modern-state to heretofore unfamiliar populations. This was, it is fair to say, a bloody process. It saw untold colonial depredation, from the conquests of Africa, South Asia, and North America to the “opening” of China and Japan. The Wars of the French Revolution exceeded any previous conflicts in size and destruction, largely because of the increased extractive and warmaking capacity of the state. Still, the old ways were not wholly replaced; in Europe, at least, much of the traditional elite continued to hold the reins of the state.
This process of perfection would culminate in 1914, when the truly destructive nature of the state would be unleashed. Internally and externally, the major states of the world set about the task of murdering as many people as possible. Eighteen million or so were killed in World War I. In 1917, the Russians had a Revolution designed to hand their state to right thinking people, and those right thinking people murdered dozens of millions more. Between 1939 and 1945, the German state murdered six million Jews, along with roughly twice as many Poles and Russians. The Japanese state murdered about 20 million Chinese. The good guys in that war (and I use the term with no ironic intent) saw fit to incinerate millions of German and Japanese citizens by dropping bombs on them as they slept. Following World War II, the Chinese state killed some fifty million of its own citizens, concentrated in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. The various combatants in the Vietnam War killed about 4 million altogether, and the Khmer Rouge killed probably 2 million. All of this was made possible by the institutions of the modern nation-state; its extractive capacity, its efficient bureaucracy, and its ability to maximize military power.
The modern nation-state could murder at such an efficient rate because competent, well educated, healthy, efficient people staffed its bureaucracies. The medical systems of the modern state kept its soldiers and policemen healthy and capable. The educational institutions created unprecedented literacy, which maximized its killing capacity; soldiers and police who can read can also fight more effectively. The microfoundation of the story of the twentieth century is, thus, that the state created citizens, and those citizens made possible the murder of vast quantities of other citizens. This isn’t a particularly new idea; it’s more or less Arendt, and it’s something that I talked about in the context of Battle of Algiers a few years ago. Twentieth century evil is the efficiency and enthusiasm of capable bureaucrats.
Tank Man was not the first person to stand up to the coercive power of the state. People defying other people holding guns has a long and distinguished history, from Napoleon forward. The survival of Tank Man and of every other such protester depends on a decision made by the state employee carrying the gun. What distinguishes the few moments near Tiananmen from the Odessa Steps, thus, is not the heroism of the protester, but rather the decision by the tank commander not to run Tank Man down, or to shoot him. The video has always been more compelling to me than the shot; the tank commander actively tries to carry out his job without running over tank man, and eventually decides to hold up an entire tank column while Tank Man clambers on to his vehicle.
I feel that I can understand why Tank Man risked his life to stand in front of the tank column. I have less of a sense of why the tank commander decided to stop. For all I know, Tank Man may have been Tank Commander’s brother. Tank Commander may have been afraid that his superiors would have been pissed if he ran over a guy while cameras might be watching. He may not have wanted innocent blood on his hands, or on the treads of his tank. He may have sympathized with the demonstrators; perhaps his father or mother had been a victim of the Cultural Revolution. Or perhaps he identified the Tiananmen demonstrators with the Cultural Revolution, and sympathized with them. I really have no idea.
The thing is, Tank Commander is far more dangerous than Tank Man. Tank Man can simply be shot; most seem to believe that Tank Man was later executed, far out of sight of the international media. The regime survives if Tank Man dies, even if the death of Tank Man isn’t the optimal outcome. The regime dies, however, if Tank Commander refuses to run over Tank Man. Eisenstein used the Odessa Steps to demonstrate the corruption of the Czarist regime, but the regime didn’t die until the soldiers refused to shoot the demonstrators. The successor regime didn’t die until Boris Yeltsin climbed on a tank in August 1991. While there’s some mystery as to the fate of Tank Man, I don’t doubt that the CCP found Tank Commander and put a bullet in the back of his head at the first opportunity.
1989 is the end of the Short Century, in large part because of the collapse of the Eastern European empire of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War. Although the People’s Republic of China survived, I think that the moment that Tank Man and Tank Commander shared symbolizes the end of the era; the image and video of the moment, spread across the world by 24 hour news networks, signified a shift in the way that the state could interact with its citizens. It made the relationship between state and citizen explicit, and also exposed the weakness at the core of the state. States can still engage in brutal behavior, and horrible things can still happen, but the relationship has changed; the reliability of the bureaucracy of murder is in greater question now than it has been since the creation of the modern state system.
1989 is not 2009. The media trends that allowed the dissemination of the moment between Tank Man and Tank Commander have, if anything, accelerated; the ability of individuals to create their own narratives, independent of the state, is remarkable. At the same time, the state has developed new strategies for dealing with its citizens. This is as true of liberal democratic states as it is of authoritarian. I think, however, that the center of gravity of the state remains with Tank Commander. To the extent that the United States, other Western regimes, non-governmental organizations, and pretty much anyone else want to affect the course of events in Iran, the key is to convince Tank Commander not to shoot. The Iranian state has not deployed its full coercive resources against the demonstrators, and there’s no indication that it really wants to; even the CCP is said to believe that the massacre in Tiananmen Square was a serious mistake. The news to watch for is something like this, in which several members of the Revolutionary Guard were purportedly arrested for collaborating with dissident elements. Without the obedience of the security forces, the state collapses.
So, I’m trying to find out something about what’s going on in Iran, and on CNN I can watch a rerun of Larry King interviewing several gentlemen without shirtsleeves who apparently assemble choppers. On Fox Mike Huckabee is trying to explain why Jesus hates credit card relief. MSNBC is rerunning something about a prison in New Mexico. CNBC is evaluating whether college students should be able to afford Chanel tote bags.
… each major candidate seem to believe that he won by forty points. Such views are not, as they say, reconcilable. Could be trouble on the streets of Tehran tonight…
…Moussavi continues to claim victory, while Iran’s state controlled media claims that Ahmadinejad has won. Obviously, suggestions of election fraud on the part of pro-Ahmadinejad forces should be treated as plausible. At the same time, polling bounced around enough (and was questionable enough in method) to suggest the possibility of an Ahmadinejad victory.
If Ahmadinejad forces did steal the election, or if they are widely perceived to have stolen the election, then violence seems possible. Indeed, even if Ahmadinejad won legitimately by taking large margins in rural areas, the Iranian regime still has a major problem. If Mousavi’s mostly urban supporters believe that they’ve been cheated, then they may well take to the streets, forcing the regime to respond. And then all bets are off.
In any contest there is an outside chance a long-shot could come from behind and win. The race for cyber warfare dominance is no different. In the recently updated “Cyber Warfare Capabilities Estimate” (2009 version) those who could break out of the pack and come from behind and take a leadership position for cyber dominance are listed below.
Wait for it…. wait for it….
1. Iran 2. India 3. North Korea
One of these is not like the other two, in that one of these has a non-absurd prospect for “a leadership position for cyber dominance.” Let’s repeat that for effect: “Cyber dominance.” North Korea and Iran could break out of the pack and take “a leadership position for cyber dominance” ahead of the United States, China, and Russia (not to mention Japan, Canada, Taiwan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, France, and about forty other more plausible countries) if they just try hard enough. Yep.
Here’s a tip; if you have a metric that produces a list of leaders for cyber dominance, and North Korea is near the top of that list, then there’s something wrong with your metric.
Early in 2008, the Israeli government signaled that it might be preparing to take matters into its own hands. In a series of meetings, Israeli officials asked Washington for a new generation of powerful bunker-busters, far more capable of blowing up a deep underground plant than anything in Israel’s arsenal of conventional weapons. They asked for refueling equipment that would allow their aircraft to reach Iran and return to Israel. And they asked for the right to fly over Iraq.
Mr. Bush deflected the first two requests, pushing the issue off, but “we said ‘hell no’ to the overflights,” one of his top aides said. At the White House and the Pentagon, there was widespread concern that a political uproar in Iraq about the use of its American-controlled airspace could result in the expulsion of American forces from the country.
I always knew that George W. Bush was a raving lunatic anti-semite who doesn’t believe in Israel’s right to defend itself. More importantly, I’ll give hearty thanks to a God I don’t believe in for postponing these requests until after the firing of Don Rumsfeld:
The interviews also indicate that Mr. Bush was convinced by top administration officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, that any overt attack on Iran would probably prove ineffective, lead to the expulsion of international inspectors and drive Iran’s nuclear effort further out of view. Mr. Bush and his aides also discussed the possibility that an airstrike could ignite a broad Middle East war in which America’s 140,000 troops in Iraq would inevitably become involved.
…some additional thoughts. The article indicates that the Israelis made the request in early 2008, but had pretty much given up on making the strike work by July 2008. Maybe so, maybe not, but I suspect that the expiration date on this was 12/31/2008, when the UN multinational force mandate ended. Up to that point, the Israelis could make at least a semi-plausible (with squinting) case that crossing Iraqi territory with US permission would not have meant an act of war. Now, not so much. This also renews my fascination with the development of a new Iraqi Air Force. Whatever the legal questions, Iraq can’t do anything right now to prevent Israel from using its airspace. The Iraqi government has, however, made known an interest in purchasing F-16s; whether it’s allowed to do so will tell us a lot about how comfortable Tel Aviv feels about the prospect of a rearmed Iraq. Such aircraft could certainly interfere with an attack on Iran, and (in the long run) could potentially strike Israel.
The article also describes in vague detail a number of covert operations intended to damage Iran’s nuclear program. I have no problem whatsoever with this; if Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons (and the jury remains out on that question), then it’s in violation of treaty obligations. In any case, an Iranian nuclear weapon won’t be good for the region (although I hasten to add that war to prevent such a weapon would be considerably worse).