12 June 2009

Democracy in Iran, Part II

The state-controlled media has called the Iranian presidential election for the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on the basis of early returns. Even before the polls closed, however, Mr. Mousavi, the leading opposition candidate, declared himself the winner, warning that any deviation from that prediction would result from fraud by the incumbent's party. Many Americans will give Mousavi the benefit of the doubt based on their hatred of Ahmadinejad, but they ought to acknowledge that an American candidate -- Republican, Democratic or other -- who pre-emptively declared himself the winner of an election before the polls closed would universally be deemed guilty of bad form. Mousavi may be the good guy in the race from our perspective, but he should be judged the same way for his little stunt.

If the final result bears out the official call, I'm sure there'll be millions of Iranians who'll feel just like millions of Americans did following the 2004 election. That would be a mix of despair plus guilt on behalf of the whole country. Ahmadinejad is the Iranian equivalent of George W. Bush in many respects -- there's even a slight facial resemblance if you imagine the Iranian clean shaven -- and he clearly stirs up the same pro and con passions among Iranians as Dubya did here. His re-election would force the same questions as Bush's. Was every Ahmadinejad voter voting for Holocaust denial and The Bomb, or were there other reasons to stick with the incumbent? Just as Bush's win over Kerry was blamed on socio-cultural divides in America, similar ones may exist in Iran that don't necessarily have much bearing on the country's foreign policy. We know that Ahmadinejad is a kind of populist who ran originally and again this time against an alleged class of political fat cats, so it's quite possible that an Iranian voted for him as much to stick it to some imagined domestic oppressor as to stick it to the U.S. or Israel. That doesn't mean that no Iranian voted to send a message abroad, however. If you can imagine an American yahoo rallying to Dubya precisely because he was so despised outside the U.S., then it ought to be easy to imagine his counterpart Iranian yahoo interpreting international condemnation of Ahmadinejad as the perfect endorsement. However these factors balance out, we ought to be careful about declaring the Iranian electorate to be complicit by virtue of their votes in all Ahmadinejad's schemes. Collective guilt, after all, is how terrorists see things.
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Would it surprise you to learn that at least one American neocon is rooting for Ahmadinejad to win? Daniel Pipes's logic is that, so long as Iran continues to develop nuclear power regardless of who wins the presidency, the country ought to have a creep in office to remind us that they should never be allowed to get The Bomb. I don't like to use Hitler analogies as a rule, but this attitude reminds me of those German Communists who preferred the Nazis over the Social Democrats back in the 1930s because they thought they'd benefit from his misrule. I am not equating Ahmadinejad to Hitler, but I am equating stupidity to stupidity through history. I leave it to you to choose between Pipes and Rev. Wright for Idiot of the Week.

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