Free Iran

In the proud tradition of news photos of beautiful women protesting against political oppression, the Boston Globe provides a series of photos of the protests over Iran’s apparently rigged presidential election, but the first is this one:

Free_Iran
(In all seriousness, this is some of the best photo journalism I’ve seen in a long time, go check it out.)

There’s some reasonable dispute as to whether it would help or hurt the protestors for the Obama Administration to break silence on the issue and speak in support of the protestors. Given Iran’s history and the fierce national pride across the political spectrum, if Obama openly supported the protestors it might give Ahmadinejad the ability to paint Mousavi’s supporters as stooges of the US. However, the US and the rest of the world should make it clear that a violent crackdown ala Tiananmen Square would be absolutely unacceptable.

21 Responses to Free Iran

  • Yes, and China sure did pay the price for Tiananmen, right? Most favor nation trade status, billions upon billions in foreign investment, hosting the Olympics…

    Yeah, we don’t like to talk about China. But, the good news for Iran is that 75% of its population is under the age of 30 – plenty cheap, exploitable labor to get itself back into the world’s good graces if it wants. Like Chinese communism, Islamic theocracy can learn to play ball too.

  • Joe: You’re giving me whiplash. I went from disagreeing with you quite strongly in recent days to saying “Amen!” to what you expressed here. Thanks!

  • Trade between the U.S. and Iran has been largely illegal for the last 30 years. Are the Iranian people better off on account of this fact? It’s hard to see how. Would the Chinese people be better off if the U.S. had adopted a similar set of sanctions against China twenty years ago? Again, it’s hard to see how.

  • Blackadder: Your reasoning is consequential here, which seems problematic to me.

  • I think you mean consequentialist. I deny the charge. Consequentialism is not the view that consequences matter (something it would be insane to deny), but the view that *only* consequences matter. There’s nothing intrinsically evil about not having sanctions against China or Iran or whatever, and as such whether sanctions are a good or bad idea is going to turn on whether the overall consequences of those sanctions are good or bad.

  • The “turn” you describe is what make it consequentialist, I think, for precisely the same reasons you gave with a minor adjustment: consequentialists do not say that *only* consequences matter, as you say, but, instead, that consequences are *the* criterion by which we ought to judge things, especially morally relevant actions. So, by judging things as they “turn” on overall consequences, you seem to be making a consequentialist point, which, for reasons that should be obvious, I find problematic.

  • Sam,

    That’s like saying it’s consequentialist to tell someone to take an aspirin for their headache, since whether taking the aspirin is a good idea or not turns on whether it will help with your headache. It would be consequentialist to argue that we should use an immoral means to achieve a desirable end. There’s nothing consequentialist in arguing that we should use a morally indifferent means to achieve a desirable end. Nor is there anything consequentialist about saying we shouldn’t use a given means to achieve a desirable end because it won’t actually do so.

    What, exactly, is the point of sanctions if not to help the people of Iran? If sanctions don’t actually do that, then the sanctions would seem to be pretty pointless, no?

  • I think this could lead to a clearer understanding of what my general problem is with what I see as consequential, instrumentalist reasoning (and the problems with that reasoning, perhaps). I promise to resume this one tomorrow.

    Peace.

  • Interesting stuff viewing those photos. I have vivid memories of similar scenes 30 years ago. A generation of young rising up to shrug off a regime that was by regional standards fairly lenient and Western influenced (for better or worse) and establish an anti- West (especially US) and oppressive regime. Thirty years later their children are attempting to shrug off the stifling regime in favor of some degree of liberty and one with (at least) a not-so-anti-Western flavor. Interesting, really.

    I agree too that Obama should be prudent in any vocal support. Better at this crucial time to do a Reagan/JPII and work through back channels to facilitate communication to and among the populace.

  • The mass protests today were organized on twitter. The mullahs apparently forgot to shut that down as they did Facebook. Those protesters in the street are the future of Iran, and I would not bet against them toppling the mullahs.

  • I think Blackadder makes a good point that at a certain point tools such as sanctions should only be used if they are effective. I am one who sees a place for retributive justice, but it has its limits and I’m not even sure it’s appropriate when dealing with groups (such as nations) rather than individuals.

    It did upset me at the time that Bush didn’t call on the Chinese government to avoid violence against the protesters back in 1989, and that there was basically no effort to distance ourselves from them afterwards. But at the same time, I have to admit that in many ways the openness to trade in the twenty years since has achieved more in getting the regime there to loosen strictures on most Chinese citizens than long term sanctions would have.

    I would like to think that there is a right balance to hit, where countries threaten disapproval of wrong actions and imposed sanctions at times because of bad behavior, but don’t let things stretch on endlessly (as with Cuba.)

    Frankly, one of the things I like about “neo-conservatism” rather than the realism of a Henry Kissinger or Brent Scowcroft (both of whose mantles the current administration was eager to assume) is that I think the neo-cons tended to assert that one should at least denounce bad regimes and seek to support good ones. (Queue someone saying that talking about “good” and “bad” regimes is dualistic…)

  • Those protesters in the street are the future of Iran, and I would not bet against them toppling the mullahs.

    I would like to think that this will happen and that the current situation will have a storybook ending (I’m a red blooded American and hence incapable of not rooting for the protesters and wishing they would kick the mullahs out on their asses), but I’m pessimistic. Typically repressive regimes either collapse under their own weight, or they are overthrown by force. The fall of the Communist regimes twenty years ago was an example of the former type. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not really getting that vibe from the mullahs.

    So that leaves option two, violent overthrow; which is all well and good, except that the people in Iran with all the weapons aren’t exactly the ones you’d want replacing the mullahs. Here, for example, is a brief analysis of the possibility of overthrow at The Corner by Michael Rubin. He says that “the key isn’t how many people are out on the street, but whether the security forces and, particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, switch sides.” Am I the only one who finds that a terrifying sentence? A takeover by the Revolutionary Guard doesn’t strike me as being something to hope for. If you think nothing could be worse than the mullahs, I’d say you lack imagination. Most revolutions start with people in the streets chanting about freedom. That’s how the revolution that brought the mullahs to power started. Most of the time they end up in a much darker place.

  • “That’s how the revolution that brought the mullahs to power started. Most of the time they end up in a much darker place.”

    The historical record is mixed Blackadder. The Polish Revolution led by Solidarity led the people of Poland to a much brighter place. The 1916 Easter Rebellion, a completely hopeless and quixotic adventure, ultimately led to independence for most of Ireland. I imagine most Tories at the time of the American Revolution thought the country was ruled by mobs and was on a path to anarchy, but they were completely wrong. Rebellions and revolutions can lead to people being worse off, and they can also lead to the people being better off. If I were an Iranian I would certainly be willing to roll the dice in the hopes that something better would result.

  • Reagan didn’t just work backchannels, nor did JP II. Both spoke up loudly in support of individuals and organisations standing up for their legitimate rights.

    In this case any active participation is ill advised, but at least the moral support of the US would be of great assistance. They are asking for our support… instead of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”… we hear…. “” from the “One” who stands for change.

    There are several interesting points here. The conventional armed forces is of course the most powerful military force, but they are not acting, they almost certainly would join the protesters if it seemed likely to succeed, and/or the security forces began mass killings. The Republican Guard are loyal to the regime, but probably don’t have a taste for slaughtering their own people. The real danger is the thousands of Arabs (probably Hezbollah) that have been brought in, they have no love for the people of Iran, and no compunction about killing innocent men, women and children.

    Seriously, this is an issue that should bring all elements of the spectrum together. Toppling of the Mullahs would be good for the Iranians, the region, and US interests.

  • The historical record is mixed Blackadder. The Polish Revolution led by Solidarity led the people of Poland to a much brighter place. The 1916 Easter Rebellion, a completely hopeless and quixotic adventure, ultimately led to independence for most of Ireland.

    Those are cases where the ruling power capitulated. As I said, I don’t see the mullahs just giving up. Do you?

    I imagine most Tories at the time of the American Revolution thought the country was ruled by mobs and was on a path to anarchy, but they were completely wrong.

    The American Revolution is a somewhat different case, since the goal was not regime change but independence (the same is true, of course, of the Irish example). I would note that the Americans almost did end up with a military dictatorship, and that it was only avoided because George Washington happened to be a man of exceptional character. I somehow doubt the same can be said of the members of the Revolutionary Guard.

    I hope you’re right, though.

  • I agree with Joe here.

    Communist China gets off way too easy.

    I still abhor their human rights violations. No matter how ‘capitalistic’ they look, they still are a totalitarian regime.

    They kidnap businessmen to resolve bad business debts, suppress opposition in the Church, and still occupy foreign territory, ie, Tibet.

  • My attitude towards the PRC is indicated by the fact that I still prefer to refer to it as Red China.

  • Blackadder: I’m back for some more. Let’s pick up when you wrote:

    “That’s like saying it’s consequentialist to tell someone to take an aspirin for their headache, since whether taking the aspirin is a good idea or not turns on whether it will help with your headache.”

    This will depend on whether we understand sanctions (which includes non-sanctions) and other things as justifiable in the way that aspirin is justifiable. Medicine like aspirin seems pretty different than the valuation of the scenario according to the anticipated effects. I know it seems weird, but, as I see it, policies in general ought to be guided by a sense of what it is intrinsically for, not the mere consequences.

  • Sam,

    That would lead to the question, though: Are sanctions (or the lack of them) or formal denunciations) or the lack, for any intrinsic purpose other than reducing repression and helping the citizens of the target nation?

  • Speaking of China, Falun Gong has excellent news coverage, Epoch Times for whatever one thinks of them.

    What a sea of humanity: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/content/view/18205/

    I really feel bad for them.

  • Well, apparently Obama thinks North Korea is to be stopped at all costs: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/americas/8103807.stm

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