23 June 2009

Iran: Don't Hold Your Breath

The Iranian opposition now appeals to diminished expectations, since it's become apparent that they don't have the manpower or the guts to keep up the street fighting of the weekend. Now we're supposed to look for odd car lights and other subtleties as signs of resistance. Good luck with that. Meanwhile, the Russian government has reiterated its superfluous endorsement of the election, as if Putin's people had any credibility of the subject. It amounts to a personal endorsement of President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, with whom Putin and Medvedev would apparently prefer to deal regardless of how they hold or keep power.

Leaders like these have a good racket going, since they can appeal to the struggle against "hegemony" to partly justify increasingly authoritarian rule at home. It's almost as if the only way you can prove that you'll stand up to the U.S. is to affront blatantly the (admittedly inconsistent) American sense of fair play in politics. This is a kind of argument against American aspirations toward hegemony, since renouncing all claims to be "sole superpower" would strip the likes of Ahmadinejad/Khamenei, Putin/Medvedev, Hugo Chavez et al of some of the extra-legitimating rationalizations they offer for every new power grab. I'm not saying that they don't have purely domestic motives for power-grabbing, but they clearly present themselves as a group as a resistance to American hegemony or "arrogance," and without perceived U.S. interference as a common point of reference they might have less reason to reach out to one another for mutual reinforcement. Having said all this, I can't reproach the Russians for taking the stance they have. It is no more their business than it is Americans' how the Iranians conduct their elections, and I'm sure they have good, pragmatically strategic reasons for cultivating good relations with Iran. Maybe they felt they'd win brownie points by putting in a good word now, but it insults the intelligence of the rest of the world.

The latest from the Guardian Council is that the irregularities reported yesterday do not count as fraud and are insufficient cause to annul the election. Their view, apparently, is that all the over-voting that happened in the 50 electoral districts resulted from technical errors. This is an unsurprising conclusion. For all the show their making about investigating and discovering irregularities, if their motive is simply to confirm Ahmadinejad's reelection they really can't give an inch on the question of fraud. Acknowledging that fraud might have happened in the disputed districts forces the possibility that it happened elsewhere. Rather like Republicans in the winter of 2000-1, the ruling faction would like to nip such speculation in the bud. Technical errors can't be ruled out absolutely, but I need to know more about how Iranians voted before I can judge the possibility of honest mistakes. All we know is that we've seen the equivalent of "Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago" in the streets of Tehran. If those alone can discredit a political process, history requires Americans to take a long look in the mirror before assuming moral superiority.

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