Swans Commentary » swans.com July 13, 2009  



Iran, The U.S., And Demonstrations


by Michael Doliner





(Swans - July 13, 2009)   How should we think about the demonstrations in Iran? First let's remember what is happening in the neighborhood. Iran is a country beset by enemies. Both Presidents Bush and Obama have said that when it comes to Iran "all options are on the table." That is a threat of war, and it is not an empty threat given the American invasions of neighboring countries Iraq and Afghanistan and the large American armies in both of those countries. What is more, at least two aircraft carrier combat groups and sometimes more are within range of Iran. The war in Georgia last summer, just to Iran's north, revealed that there was a plan to use its airfield as a staging area for an attack on Iran. Secretary of State Clinton has threatened Iran with nuclear weapons. Israeli politicians have repeatedly called Iran an "existential threat" to Israel and have staged war games that look like practice runs for an attack on Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's recently elected prime minister, has compared Iran to Germany in 1933, which is code for saying that stopping, that is destroying, Iran is equivalent to preventing the Holocaust. Because the Iraq War destroyed Iraq, a force that had counterbalanced Iran in the region, Iran has emerged as a regional power that threatens the Arab states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and a number of other small oil producing states. In any case these countries are American vassal states and would almost certainly aid any American war effort against Iran. In addition the United States has supported the MEK, the Mujahideen al-Khalq, a terrorist group dedicated to overthrowing the regime in Iran. In short, Iran is beset by enemies who are right on the border, or, in the case of MEK, have committed acts of sabotage within Iran.

It is within this context that the election was held. Ahmadinejad won the election but Moussawi claimed that there had been election fraud. Demonstrations erupted almost immediately, demonstrations for both candidates. Although there was no obvious evidence for fraud extensive enough to swing the election, Moussawi inflamed these demonstrations and they turned violent with fires in the streets and people being shot. The demonstrations seemed to be turning into a revolution. Western corporate media misrepresented the demonstrations, showing only those supporting Moussawi and other candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad, and ignoring those supporting Ahmadinejad. President Obama "restrained" at first from supporting the demonstrations for Moussawi, but then did support them. Europe, more or less, joined this chorus.

Leaving aside what actually happened in the election itself, let us look at the demonstrations. Originally, it was said that the demonstrations were not against the regime, but were about a disagreement within the regime, since Moussawi is really an insider. It is hard to understand how bonfires in the streets can be other than a revolutionary act, but when Neda Soltani was killed and became the face of the demonstrations, inflaming them even more, the demonstrations became unmistakably revolutionary, for the demonstrators were now calling the regime murderers. The regime reacted more and more harshly and drove the demonstrations off the streets with clubs. At least 14 people died.

Given the situation the regime had no other choice but to suppress the demonstrations with whatever means necessary, and any other regime, democratic or otherwise, would have done the same. The only other choice was to allow the revolution to succeed with the enemy on the doorstep. For a regime to just give up sometimes happens, but it is rare. It happened in the Soviet Union, to its immense credit. The communists, when they lost their raison d'être, did not fight to hang onto their power. In this sense the Soviet Union ended gloriously, proving that the cadres had at least not fallen into the Western trap of greed. They retained their honor. When no one could any longer believe in the worker's state, they went away.

But the mullahs have not lost their raison d'être. Shi'ism is an old religion nested in elaborate medieval arguments. As the world picture of the West crumbles into an ugly Darwinian free-for-all, Shi'ism becomes a more formidable ideological opponent. It has hardly been shaken by recent events. But even if it had been, the mullahs could hardly both be loyal to their country and give up power now -- not with the US armies surrounding them and the United States having shown through the color revolutions just how easy it was to manipulate chaotic situations. Money wins elections, especially in chaotic conditions. The mullahs didn't need to know whether or not the United States was behind the demonstrations. They had to assume they were. The students might have wanted freedom, but what they would have gotten is neocolonialism and then civil war.

What must we think of Moussawi, a former prime minister? He is an odd hero for these young demonstrators, given that while he was prime minister the regime carried out some of their most brutal policies. But why did he incite the demonstrations? He is a seasoned politician. He must have known that the regime could have acted only as it did. And once the demonstrations happened the regime could not have reversed itself about the outcome of the election without inflaming the revolution. If he really thought the vote had been stolen from him this was certainly not the way to have the vote reviewed. One demonstration might have been effective. Had the regime not responded then, the mullahs might have lost credibility. Phony elections do not look good. Look how the credibility of the United States government took a plunge right after the phony election of 2000. It has never recovered. Moussawi's having announced that he had won only three hours after the vote is suspicious, as is his continual support for the demonstrations given Iran's immanent peril, and how such action could only benefit him if there is indeed a revolution. It is hard to believe he has Iran's best interests at heart, and it is only a small step from there to thinking that the United States is somehow supporting his effort. For he surely knows that if there is a revolution the U.S. will be there with money and a lot of other help in support of a candidate they can "work with." That is just how the color revolutions the United States did engineer worked. Moussawi can only gain if the regime is overthrown, and to overthrow the regime in the present situation is to hand the country to its enemies. How is this not treason?

Within the United States the response has been, as usual, cretinous. Everybody, left and right, seems to want to support the demonstrators. After all, the regime is barbarous. Look at what they make their women wear! The right, at least, is thinking straight, if pathetically short term. They want the Iranian regime to fall so that the United States can pick up the pieces and regain control of the Middle East. It is at this point a pathetic dope-hope. The Iranians will never allow a puppet regime to rule after what they have been through. The right, knowing they can't go to war with Iran, hope to grab it this way without war, but civil war would follow any installation of a politician with even the slightest American taint. If chaos led to civil war the Iranians would close the Straits of Hormuz, and the world as we know it would end, probably in a mushroom cloud.

The left however, seems to be hooked on its commitment to democracy. The demonstrators are sincere. They truly want change, openness, the chance to dance, sing, and have sex. They love the United States and honestly, truly want Iran to open up. The girls want to show their hair. The demonstrators are fighting a repressive regime. They want to be like us. It's all about democracy and free choice.

People who think this way seem to be completely unaware that "democracy" is no longer a word to conjure with. To many people the word "democracy" means "United States domination." I suspect the Russians will not soon forget how, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States looted their country in the name of democracy. Nor will the people who live in the countries that enjoyed color revolutions, such as Georgia and Ukraine, likely forget just what has happened to them after they embraced democracy. Even in the United States democracy is beginning to lose its color around the gills as first one president steals two elections and then another one betrays his supporters. Greed is good applies to politicians too, and they sell out in droves.

Democracy equates with gangster capitalism. The truth is that democracy is easily manipulated. Elections in the United States and elsewhere have shown that clearly. As long as most people can't think for themselves, money can win elections and when that doesn't work you can use fraud. Allow the average politician to think he is joining the "happy few" and he will trot right along behind like a spaniel, gobbling up the tidbits tossed his way. Representatives represent money, not people. A glance at congressional elections shows that the candidate with the most money and best organization almost always wins.

If democracy is supposed to guarantee that policies will be developed for the good of the population as a whole, then the system of voting fails. Instead it serves only to justify a kleptocracy, a government by people who are interested only in enriching themselves and their masters, a slave state in everything but name. The Founding Fathers saw this clearly and hoped to solve the problem with a system of checks and balances. It has now proved ineffective. In any democracy, a power elite will inevitably emerge, debase public education and discourse, and render the population stupid. Given the power of money, how could such a fate be avoided?

The left's adherence to "democracy" seems to be a legacy of the sixties. The New Left rejected all principals as slogans and embraced the process of participatory democracy, a process in which everybody has his say. In the end it seemed to mean everybody should get whatever he wants as long as it doesn't interfere with anybody else. I'm sure it will seem odd to historians of the future when they look back at this strange embrace of the satisfaction of childish whims as the essential measure of a society. The Old Left had no such inclination, as the name Bolshevik Revolution indicates. The word "Bolshevik" means "minority."

I have no doubt that the students who demonstrated for democracy in Iran were sincere, and truly wanted a more open, Westernized state. Nevertheless the West manipulated them, if only through the images with which it manipulates its own citizens. In image of the West is California, in reality the West is an image of California waved to distract you while your pocket is picked. Wouldn't a wise leader prevent ignorant citizens from lunging at this dazzling lure? To embrace the value of every whim might look to some like embracing Sodom and Gomorrah, and many Americans, and many people elsewhere, have said as much. To me it looks as if some clever con man has convinced people to pay for the right to twitch.

By having corrupted American democracy, the poster child for "democracy," through debased education and fake discourse, the governing elites have dirtied "democracy" itself. By showing their skill at corrupting democracy, they show that democracy has no defense against such corruption. Indeed saintly "democracy," by shielding such corruption, blesses it and makes it look good. That's the way democracy works! Democracy unleashed unlimited greed, the ultimate childish whim that thus became the ultimate good and so sanctified all the dirty tricks done in its service. But the answer is not to somehow restore some earlier good democracy. Democracy's flaws are inherent and unavoidable. Democracy collapses into gangster capitalism. No regulation can prevent it, since the regulators too are greedy.

Finally, what does the American government, the Obama administration, want from the Iranian situation? It is no secret that the U.S. wants regime change in Iran. This is a longstanding policy that Obama has inherited. To achieve regime change in Iran, was the US government directly involved in the demonstrations? One can only ask: if not, why not? There is no doubt that the United States has engineered revolutions and coups before. Why not now? It is no secret that they want to. Why wouldn't they?

George Little, spokesman for the CIA, said of Neda's death, "Any suggestion that the CIA was responsible for the death of this young woman is wrong, absurd, and offensive. Mr. Little seems to be offended that anyone could possibly suspect the CIA of assassination. Such a suspicion would be, in Mr. Little's word, "absurd." He assures us (and who could doubt his word?) that this is "wrong." However, Neda's death was bad for the Iranian regime and it is hard to see why they would have killed her. A sniper killed Neda so that even though cameras recorded the murder, they did not see the murderer. She was not in the middle of a demonstration, and seemed to be quite far from what was going on. Yet there was a camera ready to record her death, and the resultant video was quickly up on the Web. Such a killing of a woman far from the demonstration could only serve to inflame the demonstrations, but the regime had every reason to want the demonstrations to calm down. Was this simply a stupid miscalculation on the part of the regime? I doubt it. It is not hard to anticipate the effect of Neda's death on the crowd of demonstrators. Crowds feed on outrage. Nor can we say that some Revolutionary Guard or an inexperienced member of the paramilitary shot her in the heat of the moment. For she was shot by a sniper. In any case it is clear that the United States wanted the demonstrations to flare up and that Neda's death made that happen.

The obvious US hope was that the revolution would succeed and overthrow the regime. But, as I have said, this is a dope-hope and not likely to be the real end of US policy unless that policy is completely delusional. If he were rational, Obama must have expected the demonstrations to fail. What then could they achieve for the U.S.? I have no clear answer to this question. The demonstrations have certainly helped demonize Iran within the United States. But the U.S. has had a will-I-won't-I policy about a war with Iran for years. It is not the supine American people who prevent war with Iran, but the certain knowledge that such a war would be a catastrophe for the whole world. The sudden oil shortages would inflame social unrest everywhere and would almost certainly lead to hot politics and eventually total war. The U.S. would like to overthrow the regime in Teheran without disrupting the oil flow through the Strait, and that seems impossible.

The Iranian regime's repression of the demonstrations does give Obama an opportunity to withdraw from negotiations with them, but these negotiations were a farce to begin with. There is nothing to negotiate. Iran will not, cannot, end its pursuit of the peaceful uses of nuclear power, and that is precisely what the U.S. wants to put on the table. If Obama merely wanted an opportunity to withdraw from this farce, he is playing for awfully small potatoes. To be sure such a withdrawal would make the Israelis smile, but only for a moment until, remembering the Holocaust, they would call for war. At that point Obama would be less able to resist them, but the impossibility of war will have remained what it was. The U.S. can't go to war with Iran without causing catastrophic energy shortages, to say nothing of many other likely calamitous consequences. Did Obama want to be pushed towards war knowing full well that edging towards war is edging towards doomsday?

Since none of this makes much sense, I can only think that Obama, trying to please his masters, does not know what he is doing. Negotiations with Iran could only go nowhere, so Obama could only have engaged in them in the expectation that they would fail. Their failure had to be his goal, but what then? The same for support of the demonstrations. The demonstrations must fail, American public opinion will be inflamed against Iran, and what then?

American foreign policy is now completely incoherent, for its goals, once clear, are now unreachable. Our refusal to accept even total surrender from Saddam Hussein guaranteed that we can no longer threaten anyone effectively. For who would yield to threats when the threat is carried out, yield or no? His execution has guaranteed no leader of a foreign country will ever acquiesce to our demands unless he is already our stooge playing a part in a farce. Thus diplomacy, for the U.S., is "off the table." Stupidity upon stupidity has left the U.S. all but lost. The Iraq War was supposed to end quickly with a permanent American presence inside Iraq. Instead it is still dragging on, exhausting the US military. There is a large American presence that will remain in Iraq, but strangely, it will have almost no effect on events. American soldiers have withdrawn from the cities. Some say this withdrawal is in name only, that the troops remain on the outskirts. But it will be very hard for these troops to enter the cities now with the Status of Forces Agreement forbidding them to do so. There will be all kinds of squawking if they show their faces on the street, and Maliki, weak old Maliki, has shown that he can tell the Americans where to get off. I suspect the soldiers in Iraq will not like being treated as too uncouth to be allowed into town. That might be demoralizing. As time goes on their entry into the cities will become more difficult as American exclusion from the cities becomes an unquestioned custom. They will become helpless, expensive, scorned hostages, whose vulnerability will only deter war with Iran by making the U.S. reluctant to put them at risk. Meanwhile the expense of maintaining this useless army will drain the treasury. Yet we doggedly cling to our presence in Iraq, for our leaders know that to leave Iraq is to leave the Empire, and no one can face doing that.

And what are they trying to achieve in Afghanistan? Everybody knows Karzai stays in power only by spreading around American lucre. One of the world's amusements is watching Americans criticizing Karzai for being corrupt. But the rent-a-thug model of state domination clearly doesn't work here. You are dealing with huge tribes. Those who rule them come from ancient families with reputations for honor and must themselves have distinguished themselves though display of their personal qualities in face-to-face encounters and war. What could you pay them to make them sacrifice all that? Since to win the U.S. needs Pashtun leaders to double-cross the Pashtuns, winning is impossible. Everybody knows the Pashtuns will still be there long after the U.S. is gone, and that the Pashtuns never forget. Who is going to side with the U.S. under those conditions? Only those who have already booked space on the helicopters. And yet the U.S. pours more money and troops into Afghanistan.

Of course this is part of a much larger problem. The U.S. has been faking it for so long that they are now faking that they are faking it. Obama's fake offer to negotiate with Iran is a good example, as were earlier fake negotiations with North Korea that North Korea now scorns. How about a health care fix that fixes nothing? Ditto the futile bailouts in the financial crisis. But nothing compares to churning out more useless weapons to fight wars we can pretend we have won. The country is bankrupt, but feeds the bloated Pentagon as if the U.S. were still stuffed with cash. There are many reasons for this, but none of them really matters. The simple truth is: we feed the Pentagon because nobody knows how to stop feeding it. You can't just leave those military guys high and dry. They've got all those weapons. The Pentagon itself may be the U.S.'s greatest enemy.

The US elites have been so far above the fray for so long that they can't believe anything that actually happens down below really matters to them. Millions of foreclosures? Just a blip on the screen. Problems with unemployment? Change the definition. All their thought has been dream thought full of numbers and charts that they doctor to look good. All you need to join this happy few is groupthink and a Yale degree. The Bouvards and Pécuchets of the US ruling class cling to the groupthink ideas such as that the Pentagon must be fed. Anyone who thinks otherwise is shut out of hog wallow paradise. No one who can even smell power can think anything but that the Pentagon must be fed and the Empire maintained, even though the weapons are useless and the Empire is doomed. Riding high up with the captain and looking far into the misty distance, they can't see that the ship of state is as rusty as Detroit.

The elites have been juiced up for years. When Nixon ended Bretton Woods because the country was going broke from Vietnam, we discovered that dollar hegemony, combined with the dollar's now having become an uncollectable I.O.U., made it possible to borrow from the whole world and never pay it back. Something like that is sure to rocket any elitenik straight into fantasyland, if he isn't there already. And ours were certainly there already. But we are scraping the bottom of this cornucopia and the rest of the world is now waiting for us to go broke, which we are doing at an alarming rate.

Obama, with the enormous goodwill he gained in the campaign, had a chance to try to change the direction of our titanic ship of state. That he chose instead to adopt the groupthink dream and carry on dead ahead is a disaster for the whole world.


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About the Author

Michael Doliner has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He lives with his family in Ithaca, N.Y.



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Published July 13, 2009