U.S. and Iran, natural alliesThe events in Iran after the election on June 12 challenge our understanding of that complex country, but here are a few ideas to consider.
By: John Crisp, The Dickinson Press
The events in Iran after the election on June 12 challenge our understanding of that complex country, but here are a few ideas to consider.
First, I don’t know what the precisely proper presidential response to the current turmoil in Iran should have been. And neither do you.
However, senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain and others on the right seem entirely certain. They’ve been quick to upbraid President Obama for being too slow and too timid to support the protesters and to criticize Iran’s oppressive regime.
But Obama’s caution and deliberation are welcome in light of the overly self-assured but sometimes ill-considered actions of the last eight years. It’s called playing intelligently the hand you have, giving up a little in the short term — in this case, the satisfaction and temporary political capital gained by publicly condemning the ayatollahs — for the sake of a desirable long-term goal, that is, a moderate Iran with connections to the West.
So far, Obama appears to be playing this tough hand about as well as it can be played. Shrewdness, rather than impulsivity, is called for. Graham and McCain, who actually have no better plan, should ratchet down the politics.
Secondly, recently a writer for the Wall Street Journal suggested that the “democracy” we imposed in Iraq helped spur the current protests against the regime in Iran. Others connected them to Obama’s speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. But both of these ideas are mistaken, and they ignore Iran’s long democratic tradition, which dates back at least to the last years of the 19th century.
In fact, many Iranians have more aspirations toward the West and modernism than we’ve bothered to recognize, and they’re unlikely to require the further spur of Iraq’s example or a speech by an American president. Their aspiration arises from within and is thoroughly consistent with traditions that have existed in Iran for a long time.
Third, the movement against the current Iranian regime very likely envisions a future that includes more engagement with the United States. But the birth of more democracy in Iran doesn’t necessarily require U.S. midwifery, and too much U.S. interference — meddling, as Obama put it — may undermine the process.
Meddling doesn’t always pay off. At least one pundit recently recalled France’s material and political assistance during our own American Revolution. Ironically, Britain, our enemy in 1776, is now our great friend; France’s assistance is forgotten by most Americans, and we often see her as our least compliant partner in Western Europe.
Finally, indulge me in a “Kumbaya” moment: Our default position is to think of others — Iranians, Arabs, Africans, Chinese, that is, anyone who isn’t white and Western — as “others,” qualitatively different from us in extreme ways.
This is easy to do with the turbaned, bearded ayatollahs, the rows of men with their foreheads pressed to the floor of a mosque, the stonings and the repressive clothing for women. Islam, after all, is a culture that completely eschews alcohol!
Nevertheless, the protests in the streets of Tehran ought to evoke a sense of a human connection to people who are actually more like us than different from us. Iran’s ancient civilization has suffered from its contacts with the West during the last hundred years. Now, Iran endures the unhappy result of what usually happens when religion gets too much mixed up with governance.
But the term “Axis of Evil” never accurately described the people of Iran, who are young and well educated, largely secular and modern, and who for the most part have the same aspirations that we do.
In many respects, Iran and the U.S. are natural allies: they think they want what we have — abundance, modernity, security, comfort — and they have what we think we want — more oil. There ought to be a way to work this out.
— Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.